One thing we should remember when we read our Bible is that the chapters and verses were added for convenience long after the original text was written. The chapter and verse breaks don’t always fall in the best places to help us understand what the text is saying. Matthew 18 is not one of those cases. I think it’s just right. I’m also not a big fan of the subheadings many translations add, especially when they stray into the realm of commentary. However I’m going to provide my own for this chapter, “To Protect and to Save.”
Jesus is telling us many things in this chapter, but we will focus on some main themes. Protect the weak and the innocent. Address sin with love. Strive always for redemption. Forgiveness is essential. I hope this will help us to understand why it is so important that we deal with sin in our lives and in our church body as well as the redemptive purpose that is ever present throughout God’s word.
When I set out to prepare this sermon, I planned a rather straightforward exhortation about how we need to renew our minds by focusing our thoughts on the things of God instead of the things of this world. I began with Romans 12:2, and it remains the key verse from which the topic was launched, but I began to see that I was going to take it completely out of its context. It’s important for us to realize when we read the Bible that it is not a collection of disjointed snippets that we can cut and paste together to fit our fancy. It’s a collection of historical accounts, poetry, prophecies, and letters; divinely assembled to give us the instructions we need to live as God intended. The book of Romans is one of my favorite books to pull from, but it is a single letter and really should be read from beginning to end. However, that can’t be accomplished in 30 minutes, so I tried to extract the sense of the part without violating the meaning of the whole. Let’s look at chapter 12 and maybe just a bit of 11 so we can see what the therefore is there for and see what Paul meant when he said that we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
What comes to your mind when you think about prayer? Depending on your tradition, it may be anything from an informal chat with God to a ritualized recitation. Does the Bible say anything about how we are to pray? What is prayer? Why do we pray? Can we expect God to answer or even to hear us? In Matthew 6:9-13 we find what is commonly called The Lord’s Prayer. Did He mean for us to recite it as some traditions do? Did he mean it as an outline of how our prayers should be structured? Or, did He mean it to be an example of the kinds of things that should be in our prayers? Is it all inclusive?
The above is taken from the introduction that I wrote before delivering the sermon. When I put the notes together I decided to use the version that appears in Luke 11 with its surrounding text. It was good for me to hear it again today, so I pray that it will also bless you. It was delivered in December of 2011. I hope my edges have smoothed a little since then.
I’m probably about to get myself in trouble. I was listening to a book on apologetics this morning when a thought occurred to me. I’m just fool enough to write it down. Now just why did I do that? Was it divinely predestined? Did my genes make me do it? Or did I make a choice, perhaps a bad one?
For centuries, a battle has raged among theologians concerning the rolls of predestination, and free will in the fate of man. I do not claim to have made a deep study of these matters, so I’ll give you the layman’s version. Is the state of your eternal soul predetermined by God regardless of your actions, or can you do anything to change the outcome?
I say the answer is “yes,” and I’ve explained why in other posts. The thought I had this morning is based on that understanding. An omniscient creator knew the course of your life before it began, so in that sense you are predestined, but that does not absolve you of responsibility for the choices you will make.
So here’s the thought. The one who believes in predestination to the exclusion of any free will, is not so different from the a atheist materialist as he might like to believe. One believes the force divine. The other believes we are controlled by wholly natural processes. The end result is the same. We simply do that which we are programmed to do and any control we imagine ourselves to have is an illusion. The Christian may at least hope to be one of the chosen and may conduct his life accordingly. I would rather that than the hopeless end posited by the materialist. Nevertheless, both extremes deny the one thing that gives meaning to life and substance to the idea of a relational creator. We can and must make a choice.