Read at beginning of service:
1 Corinthians 10:23-33 (NIV)
23 “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” 27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake– 29 the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
What I?m speaking to you about today has been inspired in part by a particular chapter in a book I?ve been reading by A.W. Tozer called “The Pursuit of God” ? I highly recommend it to you for your own reading.
What I want to talk to you today comes out of the comments made by AW. Tozer in his chapter entitled “The Sacrament of Living”, from observations I have seen and experienced myself and from the scripture passage that was read to you at the beginning of the service this morning. I?d like to just repeat one particular verse from that passage,
1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
AW Tozer writes,
One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas ? the sacred and the secular. (p. 111, The Pursuit of God)
I want you to let that sink in for a moment. I remember when I was growing up I understood God to be very real but for the most part he was talked about or thought about mostly on Sundays ? oh and around the table at dinner time and before going to bed at night (prayers). I mean, the concept that God could actually be a part of every activity of my life was a rather distant one. Even as I became more involved in church in my later high school years ? committing my life to Christ and then going off to Bible College certainly Jesus became much more a part of my life but in all honesty he remained just that, a part a significant part maybe but still a part.
There is the continual struggle with the thinking that the secular and the sacred are morally and spiritually incompatible, and as we are driven by the necessities of living to be always crossing back and forth from the one to the other, our inner lives tend to break up so that we live a divided instead of unified life.
I?m convinced that it is exactly this that causes unrest in many professing Christians and at the same time drives many a seeker away because of the seeming hypocrisy of it all. I?m also convinced that it is this that keeps many people from experiencing the full depths of a enriching and exciting life that God wants everyone to experience. I choose my words carefully there because life will never be free of pain and the Christian that is fulfilled by there existence on this world has lost sight of the wonder of the world to come ? for friends that is the world that will bring fulfillment.
Here and now, however God would have us experience His presence in a real and tangible way every day. So, are so many of us missing this?
Our trouble springs from the fact that we who follow Christ inhabit at once two worlds ? the spiritual and the natural. As children of Adam we go about our lives here on earth subject to the limitations of our bodies and the weaknesses and bad things that human nature inherits. Just living requires years of toil and care and attention to the things of this world.
In sharp contrast to this is our life in the Spirit. Spiritually we enjoy another and higher kind of life ? we are children of God; we possess heavenly status and enjoy intimate fellowship with Christ.
This contrast tends to divide our total life into two compartments. Without thinking about it we start to recognize two sets of actions. The first are performed with a feeling of satisfaction and a firm assurance that they are pleasing to God. These are the sacred acts such as prayer, Bible reading, hymn singing, church attendance and such other acts as spring directly from faith. These kinds of acts are recognized by the distinction that they have no direct relation to this world, and would have no meaning at all except as faith shows us another world,
2 Corinthians 5:1 (NIV)
1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
On the other hand there are also secular acts that everyone partakes in. They include all of the ordinary activities of life: eating, sleeping, working, looking after the needs of the body and performing our at times dull and prosaic duties here on earth. For many Christians we often do many of these things reluctantly and with many misgivings, often apologizing to God for what we consider a waste of time and strength. Or at the other extreme feel perhaps that we are enjoying the secular things too much and neglecting the sacred acts and so spend much time apologizing to God for not spending near enough time in the sacred.
Some go about their common tasks with a feeling of deep frustration, telling themselves pensively that there?s a better day coming when we shall shrug of this earthly shell and be bothered no more with the affairs of this world.
This is the old sacred-secular paradox. Most Christians are caught in its trap and most non-Christians recognize it and never consider Christianity because why would they want to add a bunch of baggage to their already overburdened life?
For Christians it becomes a tightrope walk between two kingdoms and they find no peace in either. Their strength is reduced, their outlook confused and their joy taken from them.
Folks, here?s the thing ? all this is really unnecessary. This is a tough dilemma, true, but the dilemma is not real. You see, the sacred-secular paradox has no foundation in the New Testament. Let?s look closer at some important truths that will deliver us from this way of thinking.
Look at the example of Jesus! He knew no divided life!
In the presence of His Father He lived on earth without strain from babyhood to His death on the cross. God accepted the offering of His total life, and made no distinction between all the things He did. What did Jesus say?
John 8:29 (NIV)
29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
As Jesus walked this earth everything he did was done with poise and restfulness. The pressure and suffering He did endure grew out of His position as the world?s sin bearer; they were never the result of moral uncertainty or spiritual maladjustment.
Paul?s exhortation to “do all to the glory of God”
This writing to the Corinthian church is not wishful thinking or religious idealism. It is a very important part of what God has revealed to the church of Christ and is to be accepted as the very Word of Truth. What this statement does is open up before us the incredible possibility of making every act of our lives contribute to the glory of God! And in case your afraid to include absolutely everything, Paul mentions specifically eating and drinking ? a privilege we share with the animals of the earth. If these lowly beastly acts can be so performed as to honor God, then it becomes difficult to conceive of one that cannot.
I remember in Bible college reading and studying about certain Christian sects that would speak of the evils of the body and how one must hate every aspect of it?s earthly functions. But the works of certain early devotional writers of this mindset has no support in the Word of God. Yes, you can learn about common modesty and treating the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit but there is never teachings about a false sense of shame. In the New Testament it is an assumed understanding that in his incarnation our Lord took upon Him a real human body, and no effort is made to steer around the downright implications of that fact! He lived in that body here among men and never once performed a non-sacred act. Jesus? presence in the human flesh sweeps away forever the evil notion that there is about the human body something innately offensive to God.
Listen folks! God created our bodies ? and we do not offend Him by placing the responsibility where it belongs! He is not ashamed of the work of His own hands.
However, misuse and abuse of what He has created should give us cause to be ashamed. Bodily acts done in sin and contrary to nature can never honor God. Whenever humans by their choices and actions introduce moral evil we have no longer our innocent and harmless abilities/talents/skills as God made them; we have instead an abused and twisted thing which can never bring glory to its Creator.
Yet, if such misuse and abuse is not present ? if we consider a Christian believer in whose life the twin wonders of repentance and salvation have been wrought ? one who is now living according to the will of God as he understands it from the written Word ? then we could say of this person that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord?s Supper. Now in saying this I?m not bringing all acts down to one dead level but instead lifting every act up into a living kingdom and turn the person?s whole life into a sacred offering to God!
And friends this is truly possible! By once act of commitment of our total selves to God we can make every subsequent act express that commitment. We don?t have to be ashamed of our body anymore ? those ordinary actions that everyone carries out can become extraordinary in bringing glory to God! If Christ dwells in us, we may bear about the Lord of glory as the humble donkey did carrying Jesus into Jerusalem and give reason for people to cry, “Hosanna in the highest!”
But friends, seeing or hearing this truth is not enough! I could talk about it until my face is blue (and the sanctuary is empty) but if we are really going to escape from the snare of the sacred-secular paradox, the truth must permeate our lies and direct our thoughts.
We must practice living to the glory of God, in thought and deeds. Throughout our waking hours as we go through our day to day activities meditate on this though, talk to God about it when you pray, recall it in your mind frequently ? “Every thing I do today brings glory to God”. As you do this you will begin to comprehend the incredible impact this truth has for your life! The struggle between the secular and sacred will begin to dissipate as the knowledge that we are all God?s, that He has received all and rejected nothing, will unify our inner lives and make everything sacred to us.
But don?t misunderstand me ? this is not a simple thing. And by simple I mean it?s not easy. Long-held habits will not die easily. It will be difficult for most Christians to get a hold of the idea that their daily labors can be performed as acts of worship acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. The thought will keep creeping up that the ordinary acts of life cannot bring glory to Him. Not only that, but Satan will not take all this lying down ? He will be there in the office, at the desk, or in the field, or in your home to remind the Christian that he is giving the better part of his day to the things of this world and allotting to his religious duties only a small portion of his time. If we?re not careful, this will create confusion and bring discouragement and heaviness of heart.
How do we deal with these difficulties? Aggressively!
We must offer ALL our acts to God and BELIEVE that He accepts them.
Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in that commitment! Every time you pray remind God that you mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought-prayers as you go about the job of living.
Friends I encourage you ? let?s practice the fine art of making everything we do an offering to God! Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.
When we do this what will happen?
No longer will we confine God to the “sacred” places.
One of the things people tend to believe when trapped by the sacred-secular paradox is that God is only found in certain places or that only certain places are sacred. It?s interesting that in the face of every New Testament teaching to the contrary this idea has been said and sung throughout the centuries and accepted as part of the Christian message when it?s really not.
Let?s look at what God?s word says?
- For 400 years Israel had dwelt in Egypt surrounded by many immoral and oppressive people and religions. By the hand of God through Moses they were brought out at last and set out towards the land of Promise. The very idea of holiness had been lost to them. To correct this, God began at the beginning: first, he manifested himself in the cloud and fire, and later when the tabernacle (place of worship) had been build He dwelt in a fiery manifestation in the Holy of Holies. By a number of distinctions God taught Israel the difference between holy and unholy. There were holy days, holy vessels, holy garments. There were washings, sacrifices, offerings of many kinds. Indeed a read through Deuteronomy and Leviticus can be intimidating with the description of all the things that are holy and unholy. But here?s the important point ? by these means God was teaching them, not the holiness of things or places but that HE IS HOLY! The holiness of God was the lesson that they were to learn (and through them the world to learn as well).
- Then came the great day when Christ appeared. As Jesus began teaching he said,
Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV)21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago?. 22 But I tell you
- The Old Testament schooling was fulfilled in Christ. When Christ died on the cross, the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom. The Holy of Holies was opened to everyone who would enter in faith. Christ?s words spoken at an earlier occasion gained new significance,
John 4:21-24 (NIV)21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
- Shortly after, the apostle Paul took up the cry of liberty and declared all meats clean, every day holy, all places sacred and every act acceptable to God! The sacredness of times and places, a half-light necessary to the education of the race, passed away in the full light of spiritual worship.
Friends this truth remained the possession of the church of Christ until it was slowly lost with the passing of years. Then the natural legality of the fallen hearts of men began to introduce the old distinctions ? the church came to observe again days and seasons and times ? Certain places were chosen and marked out as holy in a special sense ? differences were observed between one and another day or place or person. As the distinctions became more numerous and varied through the centuries it introduced a complete separation between God and life!
There have been attempts to refute this trap but there is a trend back toward that bondage again. It is said that a horse, after it has been led out of a burning building, will sometimes, strangely, break loose from its rescuer and dash back into the building again to perish in the flame.
Certain days are marked as more sacred (Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Pentecost). Now I?m not against the observation of those days but let us not assign to them improper value ? for those days are significant only in the work accomplished that every day may bring glory to God in the life of the believer! Certain places are marked as more holy ? the thought that only in the church can truly spiritual things happen!
So friends the first result of this change of thought is the understanding and practice of the sacredness of every day and of every place!
Your life becomes a more vibrant light of the love of God.
When you believe that everything you do brings glory to God what do you think happens with “everything you do”? Every action, every thought, every speech begins to become more demonstrative of the power and work of God in your life. The tension between is no longer their to perform more spiritual acts as you recognize that actions you already do have spiritual significance. The worker in his place of work gains notice for the joy and excellence he achieves, the parent at home with their children understand their task to be holy and pleasing to God.
The light shines purer and brighter as the fruits of this commitment such as gratefulness, joy, peace, compassion, generosity, and every good work come more and more naturally to your endeavors.
Before concluding I want to make sure I?m not misunderstood. I want to point out against the practical outcomes of this truth what I don?t mean.
I don?t mean, that everything we do is of equal importance with everything else we do or may do.
Once act of a good person?s life may differ widely from another in importance. Paul?s tent-making was not equal to his writing of a letter to the Romans, BUT both were accepted of God and both were true acts of worship. Of course, it?s more important to lead a person to Christ than to plant a garden, BUT the planting of the garden can be as holy an act as the winning of a soul!
b. I don?t mean that every man is as useful as every other man.
Gifts differ in the body of Christ. A Darren Ethier is not to be compared with a Billy Graham or Max Lucado for sheer usefulness to the church and to the world; BUT the service of the less gifted person IS AS PURE AS THAT of the more gifted ? and hear me ? God accepts BOTH with EQUAL pleasure.
In light of that statement?
I don?t mean that the “lay person” should think of what he does as being inferior to that of the pastor.
Every person should rejoice in the “calling” where God has placed them and the work they do will be as sacred as the work of the pastor! Listen carefully, it is not what a person does that determines whether their work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it! The motive is everything.
LET A PERSON COMMIT EVERY WORK TO THE LORD JESUS IN HIS HEART AND HE CAN THEREAFTER DO NO COMMON ACT! All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. As he performs his never-so-simple task, he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3)