Committed to Maturity

Seventh in a series: God’s Mission; God’s Method,
Delivered October 26, 2003 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: What we do teaches more than what we merely say. We are all models of the Christian life for someone. What do our lives say to others about Jesus?

In the series, “God’s Mission; God’s Method,” we will be looking at the Book of Acts to see God at work in the early church. The series will help us start our life together by looking afresh at what it means to be God’s people, caught up in the world-changing action of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to “play church,” just going through the motions. I want us to be the church, the church God calls us to be. ~Rev. John Schmidt

Sermon Text:
1 Thess 1:4-2:12
and Psalm 119:9-16

I’d like to read to you from 1st Thessalonians, Chapter 1, verses 4 through chapter 2 through 12.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed–God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 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. 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.

You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you. We thank you for your presence. We thank you that you speak-still through your Word, and so we ask now, that you bless now this time we have together. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, “do as I say, not as I do.” That is a trite phrase, but it’s one unfortunately I think we are often tempted to use. I am driving in the car and all of a sudden I hear one of the kids in the back seat, “Dad, sister is stupid.” Being a good parent I say, “Son, don’t call your sister stupid.” But you just called that driver over there stupid. And so inside of me I want to say this to them.

Actions speak louder than words. That’s another proverbial statement. And maybe this one is more true because we are all imitators aren’t we? We see that with young children like Isaac and others. You go to a crib and you look inside and you smile at the baby and as a baby just gets old enough, finally the baby smiles back at you. It’s a great great feeling. When they get a little bit older you say things to them. You constantly talk to them. Always in that special little voice that you use when you are talking to children and then the baby starts to babble back imitating what you have done. We learn by imitation. We had a friend back in our days at campus ministry who knew this and what he used to do is he would come and sit next to a family. He was single at the time and he would come and sit next to a family while the children were eating and he would sit next to them and try to get their attention and then he would move his hand and clap and all that and he would wait until their hands were covered with food and all and then he would go (rubs hands up over his hair) and very often the baby would do the same. I have often hoped that he had someone bless him like that once he had children of his own. We are natural mimics. We are natural imitators. We see that if you adopt a child from China or Vietnam, that child begins to know your language as a parent, even to the point of having a Baltimore accent. It’s an amazing thing.

And it’s not only how we learn language and other things, it’s also one of the main ways we learn what it means to be a Christian, by imitation. In Acts 2 where it talks about the fact that this new community devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching. It’s very easy for us to think of large group meetings like this happening where the Word is proclaimed and we know that is a powerful way that God works. But discipling people, having people grow up in the Lord is much more than just pulling them together to hear a message spoken well and spoken truthfully. There is more to it than that. It takes life on life contact. It takes modeling. It takes mentoring. That’s the way that Jesus’ disciples were shaped. They not only heard Jesus speak, but they also spent time with him. They watched Jesus deal with interruptions. They watched him deal with questions. They watched him deal with hostility. They saw him do ministry. They saw him do miracles. And they had his one on one help when they got in to difficulties of their own. This one on one contact was also so important, that when people looked at Peter, James and John and others, they recognized that they had been shaped by their contact with Jesus.

I want to read to you a spot in Acts 4. Verse 13, where we see that happening.

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

This life-on-life contact is very important. The disciples recognized that and Paul later recognizes that as well because in today’s passage he talks about his relationship to the Thessalonian church. And he doesn’t just talk about the content of his message; he talks about how he acted among them. And so in these passages, he focuses on chapter one, verses 5 and 6, he focuses on how they lived among them and then in chapter two, verses 7-12 he talks about how they were gentle like a mother caring for her little children. They loved them so much that they were delighted not only to share the gospel, but their lives as well because they had become dear to them. They toiled, they endured hardship, they worked day and night and they were holy, righteous and blameless. They say you are witnesses and so is God of how holy, righteous and blameless we acted among you. So he recognizes and then mentions twice in this passage. In chapter 1, verse 6 and in chapter 2, verse 14 he says you are imitators. He says you became imitators of us and the Lord. Paul was so convinced of this that this keeps on coming up in other books. In 1st Corinthians he says, “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” In 1st Corinthians 4, verse 16 he says, “therefore I urge you to imitate me” and then here in Thessalonians he says you became imitators of us and of the Lord.

So based upon this, I would like us to think about two things together. The first thing is that it is natural; it’s even desirable that we have some Christian people in mind that we want to imitate. This is a natural thing. When I first became a Christian I was sort of discouraged when I started to go into the church atmosphere because I saw a lot of people whose Christian faith became colder as they became older. As I looked around I saw a bunch of people that didn’t seem to expect a whole lot from God and weren’t attempting a whole lot for God. And so I was kind of struggling with this whole thing of what does it mean for me to be a Christian, am I going to cool off too? And then God put a man in my life his name was Don Mostrum. I didn’t even get to spend a whole lot of time with him. Just a few summers and a few short visits at other times. But in Don Mostrum, I began to see that I could grow older in Christ and still have the fire. I could see that he prayed big prayers. I could see that even though he had gotten older, he was quite old at the time, he was about my age now! Even though he had gotten older, he still had a sense that God could use him for something decisive. He was willing to reshape his life. He was willing to have new priorities. He was willing to live differently if God showed him that that was important. And that flexibility and that fire, that faith struck a cord in my life and so I wanted to live like him and I still want to live like him. I want to follow Jesus as he has followed Jesus.

What are your models of faith? Who are the people who stand out to you? Maybe its somebody in Women on Wednesday. Maybe it is somebody in your Presbyterian Women’s circle. Maybe it is somebody in your small group. It might be the person who led you to the Lord or a leader in BSF. There are all kinds of people that God has surrounded us with and some of those people strike a cord and we recognize that those people, those people are the kinds of people that we want to be like and its good and healthy to have people like that in our lives, because we need to see what it is like to have the life of Jesus worked out in a life like ours. So that’s the first thing I would like us to think about.

The second thing is that we all need to think about the fact that we are all models of the Christian life for somebody. We may be good models or we may be bad ones. But we can’t escape the fact that somebody is always watching us. So what are we like at home? What are we like in the workplace? What are we like when we are here at church, when we are working together in different groups? Somebody is watching. Here’s the kicker. What kind of Christian do our kids see at home? We are models for someone. Now we would like to say, now that’s not a good idea. Well Paul recognized that he was a model and he knew what they saw when they saw him. He said, “You are witnesses. You are witnesses of how we were delighted to share the gospel with you. You are witnesses of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you. You were witnesses of how we treated you with the gentleness of a mother. We encouraged, comforted and challenged like a father. You are witnesses of these things.” Paul understood that people were watching and he understood what they saw. And so we need to reflect on what people see in us. We would like to say, “Oh no, not a good idea. I am a sinner. Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” But it doesn’t work that way. People are going to watch what you do. Sure, you are a sinner. But even being a sinner doesn’t mean you can get out of this reality that surrounds us. That we learn by imitation and people are always watching us. So somebody is going to be either copying you because they see something in you that challenges them to deeper faith or somebody is going to be taking a look at your life and they are going to write off Jesus because they are going to think that it doesn’t really work. We need to learn to live lives that can bear scrutiny.

So I want to ask you another question then. Are you ready to invest yourself in someone else’s life? Can you make room for a mentoring relationship in your life? A connection with someone farther along in Christ or maybe a connection with someone or a commitment to someone who is a little bit behind, so that out there in Panera Bread or in Bob Evans or in homes or maybe in some of the rooms in this church, they can be people who are starting to recognize what it really means to walk with Jesus. It might not be a commitment to the strongest or most promising people. In Acts 15 we have a situation. I won’t read it, but there is a situation in Acts 15, verse 36 where Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement over John Mark. It looks like John Mark failed Barnabas and Paul in a previous missionary journey. At that point, Paul says, “Okay he has failed. Gone.” Barnabas instead says, “No, I want Mark with me.” They had such an argument and the word used there was such a sharp disagreement that Paul goes one way and Barnabas goes another. They couldn’t get together on this issue. But later, we get to see that Barnabas was probably right because in 2nd Timothy 4, verse 11, Paul says, “Get Mark. Have him come to me because he has been helpful in my ministry.” Barnabas’ commitment to John Mark seems to have brought fruit, fruit that later even Paul recognized.

Gordon McDonald is a former pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts and he is an author of all kinds of fine Christian books and Gordon tells a story about a young Christian named Tom. And Tom is the sort of guy that Gordon McDonald doesn’t naturally like because Tom is one of these young guys whose life isn’t really together. He can’t keep down a job and so he is always short on money. He doesn’t seem to have his schedule organized in such a way that he keeps commitments well with people. He’s a Christian, but doesn’t have much of a testimony and so he is sort of disheveled, disorganized and Gordon McDonald struggles with that kind of person. But he has noticed that if there is any hope for a guy like Tom, it’s going to be in the five people that he has noticed have committed their lives to him. There is a couple that does campus ministry and they have opened up their home to Tom. Tom eats lunch with them almost constantly and they recognize this because he has no money. And so he comes and he talks primarily about himself. And he doesn’t say thank you and yet Gordon notices that these people see something in Tom and they commit themselves to him and with the maturity beyond their years, they just endure this relationship and he has also noticed that Tom has begun to reflect on their relationship and has even said out loud, “You know I would like to be involved like those student workers.” He has watched them talk to students. He has watched them help others. And so he said out loud, “You know, I would like to be a person like that. I would like to help people change lives. I would like to introduce people to Jesus.” A big surprise.

There is another person who has committed themselves, committed himself to Tom and that’s Keith his roommate. Keith is an associate pastor at a small Christian church and Keith has given him a room in his apartment for almost nothing. And Keith has had to work with Tom, you know teaching him the basic things like keeping the bathroom clean and put your clothes away and stuff like that, so they have had a few tough times, but then Tom wakes up in the morning and sees Keith with his Bible, he wakes up other mornings and finds Keith on his knees and they start to build a relationship where Tom starts to see what a mature Christian life is like and begins to actually share about his own doubts, his own temptations and fears with Keith.

There are two other people committed to this young man. And that’s an older couple who he met, Tom met one time when he came in to a church just visiting. They invited him over for a meal and this became a habit across a period of years. And this older couple endured his immaturity and this woman, even though she knows better, she doesn’t even always do this for her own children, but she even offered to wash his clothes repeatedly, because she could see the type of life he was living. And so they made this commitment and Tom in this relationship begins to see what its like for a man and woman to respect one another and what it is like to build a Christian home.

Well I would like to give you the rest of the story in Gordon McDonald’s own words.

“I started out by telling you that I have struggled to like Tom. I have sometimes wondered why anyone would like him, why anyone sees possibilities in him, but I am coming to terms with the possibility that Tom is changing far more dramatically than I thought possible. He is not unlike an enormous number of young men and women today that I meet who are broken. They come from families where little was to be learned about vital relationships. They come from backgrounds where there was minimal Christian discipleship and they come from worlds where leadership was in short supply. But Tom is getting me excited about the possibility that there is hope for all of these other guys. Where I wonder do people like Tom get the mid course correction that will turn them into leaders for tomorrows church? The answer. In personal connections with those who believe in growing people one by one. And this was one of the geniuses of the church. It can be a place where a life change occurs, as people meet one another amid the stuff of real life and show them Jesus there. That means people development, leadership development in the home, in the marketplace, in places of leisure. Tom, of course, is not a fictional person. His 20th year experiences actually happened 44 years ago. Tom is me. Thomas Gordon McDonald. Two of the five people in this story are with Jesus now. Three continue living full productive lives and when I go about doing the things that I do everyday, I remember each of them with gratitude.”

Do as I say, not as I do. It’s a trite saying. It is not appropriate for us as Christians, so don’t say it. Instead, let us aspire to something more than that. To live such lives that along with Paul and mentors like these, we can invest ourselves in other people’s lives and can say to them, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”

Let’s pray. Gracious God, that’s a tall order for us to follow you in such a way that we can call another along side, but Lord we believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit you can help us live that kind of life, so we pray for the grace we need to live faithfully and to invest ourselves in others around us, for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Do as I say, not as I do.
Actions speak louder than words.
It’s natural to have some Christian people we want to emulate.
We are all models of the Christian life for someone.