There is a legend you may have heard which says that when we get to heaven people will be rewarded according to how they have lived in this life with differing forms of transport. When a certain vicar arrived at the pearly gates he was given a bicycle identical to the bicycle he had ridden around his parish all his life. But as soon as he got inside the he saw a man driving around heaven in the poshest Rolls Royce you can imagine. The vicar cycled over to the nearest angel and complained.
“How is it that I am still riding this bicycle when that man is driving a Rolls Royce?
“That’s easy,” the angel explained. “When you were doing your job and preaching your sermons, people fell asleep. That man was a taxi driver. When he was doing his job, people didn’t just stay awake. They prayed!”
A month ago we were thinking about what it means to work for eternity – to do things in this life which will last forever. The apostle Paul spells out more of what this might mean when he writes to the Corinthians.
8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour.
There will be rewards God will give in heaven to those who have served Him here on earth. We do not know what form those rewards will take – but they are waiting for those who have served God faithfully in the strength he supplies. The rewards are for every believer who has helped build up the body of Christ, the spiritual Temple where the Holy Spirit dwells.
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Each and every one of us have a part to play in God’s field and God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
Building with gold and silver. Many of the things we do only last a few seconds or a few minutes. Most of what we do will only last this lifetime. But Paul is saying here that there are things we can do in this life which will endure into eternity. Words and actions which will have eternal value and significance. Building with silver and gold.
Last month we thought about three kinds of things we can be doing which will last forever – faith, hope and love. Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Most of the things we do in this life will not last into eternity. But one day we will see God face to face and we will know God as God knows us. And on that day when imperfection has disappeared in the perfection of heaven, three things will endure. Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love.
So we thought about what it means to live by faith. Trusting in God to guide us and lead us.
Proverbs 3 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
We also thought about our Christian hope. Whatever suffering or trials or even persecution Christians may experience in this life, we have God’s wonderful promise of the happy certainty of heaven! An inheritance which can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us.
We live by faith, we live in hope, and also we love God and we love other Christians and we love our neighbours because God has first loved us with a love which has no limits and a love which will never let us go. Faith, hope and love are three things which will last forever. Because we are not working for time – we are working for eternity.
This morning I want to suggest four other things which we need to be doing if we are serious about working for eternity. But before that I want to say a bit more about love. In particular,
BROTHERLY LOVE and GOOD SAMARITAN LOVE
We last month about what it means in practice to love other people as God loves us. And as well as showing God’s kind of love to other believers, we need to be showing that love to our neighbours and even strangers as well. The Early Church preached the Good News of Jesus. They healed the sick and drove out demons in Jesus’s name. But at the same time those first Christians were also meeting people’s needs and loving their neighbours! They brought people to Jesus by announcing the good news and also by being Good Samaritans – by showing God’s kind of sacrificial love to complete strangers. Preach the gospel. Love your neighbour. By THIS will all men know you are my disciples – by the love you show! The same kind of sacrificial love as Jesus expressed for us dying for us on the cross. Loving each other in ways like that. Loving your neighbour as you love yourself. Loving strangers. Being good Samaritans!
God doesn’t call us to like our neighbours but to LOVE our neighbours. Love isn’t a feeling – it’s a command to practical action! To put our neighbours’ needs at the same level as your needs. If their family are hungry and your family are hungry you share the food you have. That is Good Samaritan love. If they or their family are sick and your family are sick you share the medicine you have. If they have nowhere to sleep you find them somewhere to sleep. That is Good Samaritan love. If they need to travel and you are able to help them travel, you help them travel. That is Good Samaritan love. If their child is lost and your child is lost – you search for both children and not just your own. That is Good Samaritan love. If they are in debt and you have money you help them with money. If they face a problem you help them sort out their problem – however long that takes, however much it may cost you in time and energy and heartache and money. Because that is Good Samaritan love. That is loving your neighbour as you love yourself! And not just our friends but even our enemies because Jesus teaches us to love our enemies just as much as we love our own families.
The parable of the good Samaritan is so memorable it has given us not one but two phrases which have entered into our language. The first is the example to follow, the “Good Samaritan”, the person who goes out of his way to help out. But the second phrase is the opposite, an example to avoid, “Passing by on the other side”. The priest and the Levite who both go out of their way to AVOID helping out. Are we Good Samaritans? Are we known to be the kind of people who help out? Or are we the kind of people who close our eyes to the needs of others and just pass by on the other side?
EVANGELISM – planting the seed like Paul did
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
1 Corinthians 9:16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is not an offer. It’s not an invitation. It’s not a debate. The true gospel is simply an announcement that Jesu Christ has come, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. And that announcement is so earth-shattering that it demands a response from every one of us who hears it. Repent and believe!
This was the apostle Paul’s announcement in Athens:
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
The world is full of problems. The credit crunch and the crisis in the world economy, as well as the growing threat of terrorism, are causing many people to rethink their lives and their priorities. The false gods of Money and Entertainment and Shopping are empty. People are realising that their treasures on earth are being eaten away by the moths and the rust and the thieves are breaking in and stealing the wealth and possessions so many have relied on and even worshipped. Very many people are more ready to hear about spiritual things – true treasures in heaven. We must be busy taking every opportunity to proclaim the gospel with boldness!
BUILDING UP DISCIPLES – watering the seed like Apollos did
Colossians 1:28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
1 Thess 2:6 As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
When we build up other Christians we are laying up treasures in heaven. Especially when we care for new Christians and young Christians and build them up in the faith. Brotherly love and Good Samaritan love. Preaching the gospel. Building up disciples. In all these things, if we want to be building with gold and silver, we must be
RELYING ON GOD’s STRENGTH
9 For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
So what does it mean to be God’s fellow workers?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. ONLY GOD GIVES THE GROWTH
I am the true vine, says Jesus. Without me you can do nothing!
Zechariah 4:6 `Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.
NOT BY MIGHT collective strength, to armies or forces or warriors or fighting men. In anything God calls us to do for him if we put our trust in MIGHT, we will be wasting our time. Not by might of NUMBERS Not by might of MONEY. Not by might of GOOD PREMISES. Not by might of NEW TECHNOLOGY. Not by might of LOTS of ACTIVITIES. NOT BY MIGHT – says the Lord Almighty. He is the ALL MIGHTY God. In comparison to His great might, all our human resources count for nothing at all!
NOT BY POWER the strength of individual men and women. We must not put our trust in our own power or our own efforts. All our skills and abilities count for absolutely nothing! NOT by power of training or experience or human wisdom or hard work.
Not by might nor by power, BUT BY MY SPIRIT says the Lord Almighty
If people are going to be saved, God is going to do it. Not us, in our strength, by our efforts, but God must do it. By the power of His Holy Spirit. Our part is to make sure we are available to God and ready to obey Him when He wants to use us, and that we don’t get in God’s way by trying to do His work for Him! God gives us Power from on High. Power to be witnesses for Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit. The dynamo and the dynamite of God the Holy Spirit at work in OUR lives, which can accomplish so much more than we can ever ask for or even imagine. Serving in God’s strength for God’s glory – so God gets the credit – not us! Relying on God.
Working for eternity – building with gold and silver. No surprises in those four ways and none in the fifth,
Paul’s own example of prayer for the churches he has planted and the people he cared about so much! We get to know God through prayer. Prayer isn’t just a useful tool to help us in our Christian service. In Richard Foster’s words, “Prayer is nothing more than an ongoing and growing love relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Prayer is the heart of our relationship with God. But then our evangelism and our disciple-building and our loving should also be the topics of our urgent praying.
Eph 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
We must pray to draw near to God, to listen to God and to ask God to move mountains.
“We must write prayer again into the lifestyle of our churches; meaningful prayer, urgent prayer, repentant prayer, constant prayer, Spirit-led prayer, even sacrificial prayer!” Eric Westwood Baptist Union President
I make no apologies for repeating that quote to you. I will keep on repeating it – until we do it! Write prayer again into the lifestyle of our churches!
BROTHERLY LOVE and GOOD SAMARITAN LOVE
BUILDING UP DISCIPLES
RELYING ON GOD’S STRENGTH
12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
We aren’t working for time. We’re working for eternity!