Last week we looked at steadfastness in doctrine and focused on the futility of religious rituals (for the Jews of that day) and self-effort for spiritual growth for all believers then and now versus the need for God's grace to grow as believers (See Phil. 2:12-13; Rom. 8:1-4). This week we will look at the next two points.
SEPaRATION (FROM JUDAISM AND THE WORLD SYSTEM) –"We have (or There is) an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate." This difficult passage seems to be an analogy which called the Jewish believers in Jesus to separation from the OT sacrificial system (using a type or picture of separation – the sin offering was not eaten and was taken outside the camp to burn). And all believers are called to separation from: 1) the camp of Judaism (applicable to the Jewish believers in Jesus then and now; the book of Hebrews addresses Jewish believers in Jesus particularly); 2) the camp of ritualistic religion or dead churches (like Sardis- Rev. 3:1-6; 3) the camp of the world system (Luke 16:15; John 5:44; 17:15-19; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17). Political correctness, compromising our faith to fit in, and seeking honor from man more than seeking to please God and receive His praise are some of the greatest temptations to worldliness. "And He (Jesus) said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God." (Luke 16:15) "How is it possible for you to believe [how can you learn to believe], you who [are content to seek and] receive praise and honor and glory from one another, and yet do not seek the praise and honor and glory which come from Him Who alone is God?" (John 5:44)
"So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach." Believers are called to identify with Jesus by baptism (Rom. 6:1-14) and lifestyle (Phil. 3:10) and to the degree we identify with Him is to the degree we will be hated and rejected by the world system (John 15:18-25). "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim. 3:12) "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward." (Heb. 11:24-26). "We are fools for Christ…We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world…" (See 1 Cor. 4:8-13) Across the world (not yet in America) persecution and martyrdom for being a believer in Christ is at an unprecedented level. But Jesus says the fools for Christ in this world are the most blessed in the next! "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:11-12); This leads us to the next point:
"For here we do not have a lasting city (Jerusalem was sacked by Rome just a few years later), but we are seeking the city which is to come." Our full reward/blessing for identifying with Jesus is not here in this fallen, evil world (which is temporal and passing away) but we are looking for a heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. (See Hebrews 11:13-16) Jesus was the perfect example of self-denial in this world for the glory of His Father and His eternal joy/reward in heaven. In this life the cross comes before the crown. (John 17:1-5; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 12:1-3)
SACRIFICES OF PRAISE, OUR GOODS, AND GOOD DEEDS -"Through Him (Jesus) then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Separation for Jesus' sake requires sacrifices in this life. But not the blood sacrifices of animals (as the Jews did for years in the OT) for Jesus' sacrifice is all we need for the forgiveness of all our sins! But now we are called to offer "spiritual sacrifices": "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5) These sacrifices are not for salvation but because of salvation, out of love for our merciful God and for His people knowing (by faith) that God's will for our lives (including suffering and sacrifice for Him) is "good, pleasing and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2).
We see five basic forms of prayer listed in Scripture, listed as follows in their order of importance/quantity: Praise (or adoration); Thanksgiving; Confession; Intercession and Petition. Yet, if we examine our prayers, most of us probably reverse this order and quantity and fill our prayers with petitions and intercession. Although both of these are scripturally legitimate prayers, they should not dominate our prayer time for then our prayers are mainly "man-focused" (self and others) versus "God-focused." Thus, we see why the author of Hebrews calls for a "sacrifice" of praise; i.e., we praise and thank God first and foremost even when we and our loved ones are hurting and needy. For example the Lord's Prayer begins and ends with praise. "Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father, who is in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."' (See Matt. 6:9-13 which also includes petition, intercession- give us, and confession – forgive us.)
Our born-again souls long to worship God just for Who He is. God doesn't need our praise but He knows how much we need to give Him praise. Also, praising God is a powerful weapon against the world, the devil and our flesh. "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened." (Acts 16:25-26) "When he (King Jehoshaphat) had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, "Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting." When they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed." (2 Chron. 20:21-22)
Doing good deeds and sharing our goods/resources (time, talents, treasures and truth) with others often calls for sacrifice and self-denial. The Good Samaritan is a great example of sacrificing all of these. We may be more stingy with our time (because "time=money") than anything. The Bible says that none of our goods or resources belongs to us but are gifts entrusted to us by God to use for His purposes. (1 Cor. 4:7) And Scripture assures us that every little or big sacrifice we make in this brief life is really an exchange for something far greater both in this life (the inward fruit of the Spirit) and the next (eternal rewards that redound to the greater glory of God). ["Money is a resource, not a reward. It is to be used, not hoarded. It is to serve, not become master. Jesus said as much in his own ministry (Mt 6:24; Lk 10:25-28). To love God is to love and show compassion to the humanity he loves (Lk 6:26-36; Jn 3:16; Gal 6:10; 1 Jn 3:18). Where our treasure is, there our heart is. Where is our treasure being stored? Jesus says, "Healthy seed reflecting God's desire is not planted in riches. Rather, it should penetrate the heart and be planted into people, especially people in need." Jesus warns that treasure invested for the self yields emptiness, while treasure invested for God yields compassion." IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.]
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. What is your main take away from the message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life?
2. "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God." (Luke 16:15) How has the Lord led you to "separate" from the world system and bear His reproach? List some ways you identify yourself with Jesus as opposed to the world's standards?
3. Which of the five forms of prayer seem to be the main focus of your prayer life? How does making sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God (even in the midst of pain and trials – like Paul and Silas in prison) speak to you? Do you realize that you long and need to praise God just for Who He is? How do YOU give sacrifices of praise to God?
4. Where do you feel led to give (even sacrificially) your goods and good deeds (time, talents, treasures and truth) or, to phrase it per Scripture, to invest the gifts and talents God has entrusted to you?