Sermon Options: September 23, 2012

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HONORING THE VIRTUE OF A WIFE

PROVERBS 31:10-31

Often we look at this passage as a standard to which women need to live up to to be of good character. Perhaps there is merit to such an approach, but one truly wonders if the writer is simply considering the blessing of his wife or mother and noting her qualities. The text could read more like poetry expressing deep love and appreciation for labors and qualities rarely found in people of our day. It could be an expression of thanks, noting all the benefits provided from such a noble and caring wife. In fact, the text tells us as much about how to treat a virtuous wife as it describes her.

I. The Virtues of Her Labor (vv. 11-19, 24)

The work of this wife is such that it cultivates complete confidence from her husband because she has consistently worked for his good and not his harm. Such are many of the wives and mothers with which God has blessed the church—often quietly laboring to make a positive effect on their family.

In this text, her work is described as selecting materials for linen and being enterprising enough to provide meals, sacrificing her sleep to maintain such a level of accommodation for the entire family. Her work is accomplished with vigor, and her labor is done to work the advantage toward the family. She does not accept shortcuts to accomplish her responsibilities. This text does not condemn the “working woman”; it takes note and honors the stay-at-home moms.

II. Her Care for Her Family (vv. 21-23, 27)

This wife has tended to her family with preparation well in advance. Verse 23 seems to indicate that she takes a role in the respect that her husband has within the community. How true it is that any spouse can edify or destroy the character of a mate. This is not an idle woman; she is a good steward of her home and all with which God has blessed her. She is a wife who has the management capabilities of a corporate executive.

III. Her Character (vv. 20, 25, 26, 28-30)

One may praise an individual for his or her actions; however, that person’s character involves his or her attitude while doing the tasks that must be accomplished. This woman is praised for her character and for her activities. She is a woman whose lifestyle demonstrates generosity. She is a woman of dignity and strength. There is no sense of femininity equating to “wimpiness” here. Her character is such that those who know her best, including her flaws, call her blessed and praise her. Her nobility is beyond the norm for others; she settles for nothing less than purity in her life.

Finally and most important, all of her character is shaped by her wisdom to fear the Lord. Here is the beginning and the end of such a virtuous woman: her faith in God.

A simple message to us today from this text is to call us to look beyond the choices of career a woman may make and focus upon her character. The next century needs women of character whose values are shaped by their faith in God. (Joseph Byrd)

THE BATTLE WON

JAMES 3:13–4:3, 7-8a

“Love’s redeeming work is done . . . Fought the fight, the battle won.” These familiar words from the hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” by Charles Wesley, remind us that Christians are on a winning team. James and the rest of the New Testament present a worldview that the kingdom of God is in tension with the human desire to be king, the world’s desire to establish its own kingdom, and the powerful supernatural kingdom of Satan.

I. The War Situation

Although the ultimate war is won, there are daily skirmishes. Like a general, James barks out his assessment of our personal and social warfare in verses 3:3-18. The background context for flesh sins focuses on the social sins. He contrasts “evil wisdom” with “wisdom from above.” This evil wisdom reveals itself in the area of destructive interpersonal relationships.

Bitterness is the first identified culprit. This includes bitterness against others, circumstances, ourselves, and God. Next comes jealousy (vv. 14-16), arrogance (v. 14), and self-deception or lying against the truth (v. 14). Encouraging the root of bitterness is always the foul fertilizer of unforgiveness. Refusal to forgive encourages many toxic weeds of interpersonal conflicts and sin. Bitter, prideful, negative emotions yield the fruits of disorder and, as James calls it, “every evil thing.”

The sin energy of our self-centered wills attracts the even greater destructive forces of Satan and his demons. James is not saying that all who reveal negative wisdom are completely ruled by Satan. He is saying those with negative wisdom are allowing confusion and other negative manifestations because they are allowing themselves to be influenced by the evil one. James does not allow for rationalizations. He clearly defines sin as sin and orders his readers to be faithful and loyal.

II. Command One

Therefore, he orders clearly and forcefully: “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” The opposite of rebellious pride is submission to God. Verses 4:3, 7-8a clearly give the Christian his/her orders. As we draw near to God in worship, prayer, and thanksgiving we will know God’s presence as we have never known it before. The book of Revelation describes the work of heaven as that of praise. We can draw into God’s presence by that same activity and focus now, in this present age.

III. Command Two

“Resist the devil” (v. 7b). How? We resist the devil the same way Jesus did—by verbal confrontation based in the truth of God’s word. The word of God in the New Testament is often referred to as a weapon. Resistance of the devil is both offensive and defensive. The promise of God is that the devil will flee from us as we resist him.

IV. Command Three

Verse 8a says, “Draw near to God.” Worship him. Praise him. Glorify him. By deliberately bringing our attention to him, we are putting ourselves in the position to receive his presence. And his presence is what we are promised. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

Clean-up skirmishes against flesh, the world, and the evil one continue. But the praise of God makes the Christian a conqueror so that he may sing: “Soar we now where Christ has led; / Following our exalted Head; / Made like him, like him we rise; / Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!” (Carolyn Volentine)

A DIFFERENT SORT OF GREATNESS

MARK 9:30-37

As a teenager, I always wanted to belong to an “in” crowd. But I didn’t live in the right neighborhood or I didn’t wear the right clothes. I always seemed to stand on the outside looking in. I also wanted to be a leader. I wanted to be in charge and have people respect me and ask me for advice. In the role of leader I saw a certain amount of power and prestige.

I. The Disciples Attitude

That’s how the disciples must have felt. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the privileged class. They got the best seats at banquets. Others paid attention to them. The disciples stood on the outside looking in and longed for what these people had. No wonder they were discussing who among them was the greatest. Maybe, at first, they were innocently discussing how the kingdom would come about and what role they would play. But the innocent talk got out of hand. Then again, maybe the power of their newfound positions went to their heads. Whatever the case, Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about. The look in his eyes told them he already knew. So he taught them about servanthood.

II. Being a Servant Leader

He didn’t berate or belittle them. Instead, he took a child in his arms. A child is the classic example of the powerless. A child can’t reward or repay. Jesus held that child in his lap and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (v. 37).

His message made their arguments about greatness as meaningful as arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35).

That’s an odd way of thinking. Our whole economy and social structure is based on being number one. We constantly push and shove to see who will be in charge and who will have the most influence. We honor those folks who come in first. Contrast that to the portrait of Jesus painted by his own words: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

III. Sacrificial Service

Greatness and servanthood—both attitudes are natural in us. The first illustrates that to which most people aspire. The second illustrates that for which we were created. One indicates our quest in life, the other exhibits our best in life.

A mother celebrating her birthday was treated to a party by her family. Mom was told to sit in her favorite chair. One by one, the father and the two older children solemnly presented Mom her gifts on a tray, as if she were royalty. The youngest girl, who was really too young to have had much of a role in picking out the gifts, had been left out of the plans. But she rose to the occasion. She suddenly appeared with the empty tray. Approaching her mother she placed the tray on the floor, stepped on it, and with a childish wiggle of joy said, “Mommy, I give you ME!”

Jesus, the only Son of God, had everything and yet claimed nothing. Out of his unselfish service and obedience came our salvation. He calls us to live and pursue a different kind of greatness, the greatness that comes from giving yourself to Jesus and being a servant. (Billy D. Strayhorn)

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