Sermon / August 28th, 2016 / Hebrews 13:1-14 / Practical Christianity / Pastor Terry Defoe
Our sermon text this morning is found in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, chapter 13. I'm reading verses 1 and 8. The writer says:
Keep on loving each other as fellow believers. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
I have a question for you this morning. Have you ever received a gift that turned out to be very practical? Have you ever received a gift that turned out to be really useful -- something you've used on a regular basis ever since you received it -- something you just couldn't do without? Practical gifts get used. They're not put away in a drawer somewhere. Practical things make life easier for us. When we first see them, we think, "Now, why didn't I think of that?" Our text this morning is about practical Christianity. It's about a faith that wonderfully enriches our lives. It's about a faith that makes life easier for us -- that blesses us -- in many ways. Practical Christianity is the kind of faith that we can't live without. Our faith is intensely practical -- it makes a difference every day in all kinds of situations. The Christian faith brings out our full potential. I pray that God would bless the time we spend in His Word this day.
Hebrews, chapter 13 has many practical suggestions for living out the Christian life. As we begin this morning, it's important to remember that the book of Hebrews was written to Christians with a Jewish heritage. Many of them were seriously thinking about leaving their faith in Jesus Christ and going back to their old Jewish roots. It's important to remember, as we get started, that the book of Hebrews was written to people who were growing weak in their faith.
In the previous chapters of Hebrews, the writer had taken his readers on a tour through the Biblical Hall of Fame. He had described many heroes of the Biblical faith. He had encouraged his readers to follow in their footsteps. He encouraged his readers to consider the people he spoke of as role-models for their faith. Our text for this morning has a theme. It's found in Hebrews 13, verse 8. The writer says that Jesus Christ is the same -- yesterday, and today, and forever! Everything we'll be talking about this morning is based on this one verse. Jesus Christ is our Savior. He doesn't change. What he has done for us -- the salvation he earned for us -- doesn't change. We were dead in sin -- unable to save ourselves. We were in dire straits. But we have good news! God sent his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us God's truth. He modelled gracious living. He challenged religious leaders who had substituted their will for God's will. And he gave up his own life as a sacrifice for sin. When we see Jesus Christ on the cross we realize that THIS is how much God loves us.
So according to Hebrews, chapter 13, the foundation of practical Christianity is Jesus Christ. His unchanging love makes God's blessings available to us. He is the unchanging one. He's always with us. His name -- Emmanuel -- means "God with us." In Christ, God is close by. He will never leave us or forsake us. In Christ, we have a Helper and a Friend -- now, and forever.
Christianity is practical. It's faith active in love. It's speaking the truth -- but always speaking it in love. Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith. Christianity is proclaimed by Christian leaders and pastors. They teach us about Christian love and its application in day-to-day life. Christian love is caring and compassionate. It reaches out across man-made boundaries. It listens. It understands. It acts. Christian love, according to verse 13 is something we keep on doing. And the blessing is two-way. It goes from us to the other, and returns, from them to us.
Christian love welcomes the stranger. It looks past the exterior of a person to see the one Christ died for. It receives God's blessings through Word and Sacrament and it shares those blessings with others. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that marriage is God's gift to His people and an important expression of Christian love. And, as we will also see this morning, Christian leaders remind us that our attitude towards material things is another practical expression of Christian love. We know what God has done for us, and we thankfully count those blessings.
According to the author of Hebrews, practical Christianity is based on an unchanging Christ. It's taught by Christian leaders. Christian leaders speak the truth in love. They know what God's word can do -- they've experienced it in their own lives. Their task -- with God's help -- is to "equip God's people for works of service." According to the book of Hebrews, Christian leaders proclaim God's Word -- through the Law and the Gospel. Loveless Christianity is not God's will. Loveless Christians, as a wise person once pointed out, are like pickles. Like pickles, loveless Christians sit, and they soak, and they sour!
As I've mentioned a moment ago, Hebrews was written to people who were in danger of losing their faith. As their faith grew weaker, a coldness and indifference began to creep into their relationships with Christ and with other Christians. That's why the writer says in Hebrew chapter 13, verse 1: "Keep on loving each other as fellow believers." Those who study child development tell us that there are at least three different types of children. Some are easy-going. Others are slow-to-warm-up. And still others are difficult to deal with. We see these basic temperaments in adults, too. Some people are always easy going. Nothing bothers them for long. Others, however, are slow to warm up. After a while, they become comfortable with things. But there are always some people who are difficult to deal with. They're never happy. They're always complaining. The writer of Hebrews wants us to keep on loving each other, no matter what. So we are to keep on loving all kinds of people. Easy going. Slow-to-warm-up. And difficult people, too.
When it comes right down to it, practical Christianity changes people. It changes us through the working of the Holy Spirit. Practical Christianity changes people from the inside out. It's love in action. Practical Christianity motivates us to be hospitable to others -- as an expression of our Christian love. As we love others, we put flesh on the Christian message that we proclaim. As we love others, we provide them with a solid support system. Practical Christianity -- based on an unchanging Jesus Christ -- unites people. Practical Christianity -- based on an unchanging Jesus Christ -- builds us up -- according to the blueprint found in God's word. The Christian faith is founded on Jesus Christ -- the same yesterday, today, and forever. It's proclaimed by faithful leaders. Hebrews chapter 13 shows us the practical difference that our faith can make in two basic areas of life -- in marriage, and in Christian stewardship. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Christian marriage is an honorable estate. It's a practical expression of Christian love.
Practical Christianity reminds us of the ever-present danger of idolatry -- the danger of letting other things, or other people, take the place of God in our lives. Practical Christianity enriches our marriages and all of our relationships. And it also changes the way we look at money and material things. The God of the Christian faith, as I have said before, loves to give. He gives us physical blessings, in abundance. And he gives us spiritual blessings, in Christ. We have food for our tables. And we also have food which endures to eternal life. We have water to drink. And we also have living water which satisfies our spiritual thirst and washes our sins away.
It's true. The God of the Christian faith loves to give. Because he has been so generous with us, we return part of what he has given to us. The writer of Hebrews says, in chapter 13, verse 5:
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
Our practical faith is expressed in trust to the Lord. It causes us to seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, knowing that all the other things we need -- including money and material things -- will be given to us as well. I remember seeing an expensive vehicle with a licence plate on the front that said, "MINE!" And I thought that -- for a Christian person -- that licence plate really ought to say, not "MINE!", but "HIS." Every blessing a Christian has comes from the Lord. He lends us everything we need in this life. And He holds us accountable for the way that we use these things.
Jesus once said that where a person's treasure is, that's where you will find their heart also. If our "treasure" is our money, that's where our heart will be, too. But if our "treasure" is the Lord, that's where you will find our heart. One scholar says:
The person whose life consists in the abundance of his possessions has made a god out of himself, and has denied God.
I said a moment ago that practical Christianity sensitizes us to the ever-present danger of idolatry in our lives. Idolatry and coveting are often linked together. When we covet something, we want it inappropriately. The 9th and 10th commandments forbid coveting, because coveting is an expression of idolatry and a lack of faith in God. People can make an idol out of pleasure. And they can also make an idol out of money. Now don't get me wrong. Both of these things are important. But both have the potential to take God's place in our lives, if we are not careful. So, in marriage, we are faithful to our spouse. And in our stewardship, we are faithful to the Lord. In our marriage, and in our stewardship, we give the Lord first place in our life.
The Christian faith is based on Jesus Christ. And he doesn't change. The Christian faith is proclaimed by faithful Christian leaders. The writer to the Hebrews says:
Remember your leaders, (those) who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
In every situation of life, you can ask yourself, "How can I express Christian love right now?" The great power of the Christian faith is its power to transform people. In First Corinthians, chapter 13, the Apostle Paul said that, when all is said and done, three things remain -- faith, hope, and love. But the greatest, according to Paul, is love. Love took Jesus Christ to a cross to die for our sins. Love sparks faith in our hearts, as the Holy Spirit works. And faith, in turn, gives us hope for the future. But it all starts with love. Love is the greatest of them all.
There's a Christian chorus that says, "They will know we are Christians by our love." In the book of First John in the New Testament, it says,
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God. Whoever does NOT love does not know God, because God is love. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. If anyone says, "I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."
Should our faith grow weak, we need to be reminded just how practical and special it is. Should our faith grow weak, we need to remember just how precious we are to God. After all, Jesus died for us. He gave up his life for us. He died so that our sins might be forgiven. It's true -- Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. And so we say, with confidence, The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can others do to me? May God grant us a practical faith -- a faith that enriches our life on a daily basis -- a faith that we just couldn't live -- or die! -- without. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
And now, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in this same Christ Jesus. Amen.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER -- Help us to see just how practical our faith really is. Allow it to enrich our lives. Help us to let it influence everything we do and say. Remind us daily that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Help us to remember and to imitate our Christian leaders. Enrich our marriages and our families. Help us to give back a portion of what you have so graciously given us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.