The same four words appear on every single American coin and every single American dollar. Four words that reveal a conviction. Four words that confess a truth. Four words that identify a belief. Do you know those four words? ‘In God We Trust.’
That motto first appeared in 1863, right in the thick of the American Civil War. Half of America faced extinction! Ideas and people could be lost! So, a concerned American requested the phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ be stamped onto American coins. Should civilization crumble and return to sand and timber, archaeologists and historians could find these coins. They could read the inscription and conclude that America was not full of godless heathens (https://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx). That motto made headlines again in 1957, just as the Cold War got colder. The Soviet Union outlawed religion and promoted atheism [a belief that no God exists]. So, the motto ‘In God We Trust’ appeared on dollar bills. It implied that God favored American morals and would lend his divine support. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust). That phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ clearly confesses that only God can grant real security.
So, how ironic that a confession of God’s protection is found on an object in which many want to find protection! Ponder that for just a moment. Money is capable of bringing pleasure into your life. It is. It can buy vacations and cars, houses and outdoor toys, clothes and shoes. Money provides for you. Still, stamped on American money is the confession: ‘In God We Trust.’ Only God grants real security. So which one is it? Which one do you expect to provide for you? God or Money? In Whom Do You Trust?
Calamity has a way of exposing the heart’s security. You have an object of trust. When troubles rage, you flee rely on it. In that moment you then determine if that object could keep you safe or not.
Just look at our reading. Calamity barrels towards the leaders in Zion (that’s southern Israel) and against those on Mount Samaria (which is northern Israel). God guarantees punishment. Northern Israel chiseled out figures in stone; they have carved wooden statues. Israelites leave their homes and trot out to a shrine filled with prostitutes. They hope sharing bodies will make for a good financial year. Farmers trust the cow-god Baal, relying on him to make a good growing season. Masses flock to deities that do not exist, shamefully shatter God’s commands— and the leaders do not care. Governors do not shut down these pagan temples. They do not elevate worship of the true God who rescued them from Egypt and gifted this land to them! So, God guarantees: You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god— which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus (Amos 5:26-27).
Go to Calneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Each city once stood equal to northern and southern Israel. They had the same amount of land, the same level of safety, the same economies. Now, it’s all gone! Tiny Calneh destroyed by superpower Assyria! Hamath conquered by northern Israel and Gath held captive by Zion! God warns: Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? No! ‘What happened to them will happen to you! You will be destroyed.’
That warning meant to alert sleepy hearts. ‘Wake up!’ Instead, Israel’s leaders lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on couches. [They] dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. [They] strum away on harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. [They] drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, [no one] grieves over the ruin of Joseph. No one cares about the threat of exile because… well… nothing bad has happened. No armies threaten their borders, and therefore no fear of captivity. Economies flourish; money passes through hands, and therefore no worry of food shortages or home foreclosures. Peace reigns in the region, and therefore no concern that you could lose a familiar landscape or friends or freedom. So, hearts wallow in every pleasure money offers. Getting drunk makes this negatives news of destruction go away. Money spent on choice meat could still be used to hire more armies and better defenses. Little musical fantasies drown out God’s warning. In Whom Do They Trust? They love what pleasure money can purchase. They love how money can make them feel safe. They trust money’s ability to provide everything needed for life.
God has this to say: You put off the evil day and [you] bring near a reign of terror. ‘You worship temporal pleasures and let your spiritual life rot.’ Money can bring satisfaction to every area of life except one. Money cannot save your soul.
Calamity erupted just like God promised. The Assyrian powerhouse that steamrolled Calneh obliterated northern Israel. Governors turned to wealth. They thought it could buy weapons. They thought it could buy armies. They thought it could buy peace. It did not. Even worse, those who placed trust in wealth over God died spiritually bankrupt. Money could not buy their way into heaven.
What a reminder, then, those four words on money serve for us! ‘In God We Trust.’ Do you still pay attention to those words? Do you remember they are even there? Maybe we only care when some group wants to erase it! Yet, the heart does a fine job of erasing it on its own! Do you think that a new house will solve a sore relationship? Or that new a car will finally satisfy you and you will never anything else again? Perhaps you think more income will finally take away every fear— no more restless nights, no more stress about bills, or no more counting every cent you spend. Maybe you find security in a large savings account— relying on this cushion to make you feel happy and secure. Maybe that’s why we can easily forget those four words found on money: ‘In God We Trust.’ We can look at the green paper and shiny coin and think this object will give us the happiness we crave. This object will solve any tension, any struggle, any aching worry. This object will save me.
If that is where your trust lies, then God has this to say: ‘Woe to you!’ You will leave this earthly life and your wealth will not come with you. You will stand before God naked and penniless. If money remains an object of trust, then Calamity (we could say ‘death’) exposes the heart’s security. It exposes money’s inability to provide real peace.
God makes that point pretty clear on a mount called ‘Calvary.’ There, Jesus hangs naked and penniless. Attached to him is your (and my) trust in everything money could buy. He hates the sight of it so much that he rains down punishment on Jesus. The punishment meant for you (and me).
Calamity exposes the heart’s security— and when you look at the heart of Jesus, you do not find reliance in wealth. You find a pure trust in God to provide! He does! God provides Jesus with life! God provides you (and me) with Jesus’ life! That you now carry Jesus’ innocence. Something money can never buy! Something that allows you to stand before God, completely confident that he cares for you. That he provides for you. That he opens heaven for you.
In Whom Do You Trust? Calamity exposes the heart’s security. When troubles rip into life, you will turn to an object. Money might address physical shortfalls, but it will never satisfy you completely. Only Jesus fills you with real peace. The real peace of forgiveness. The real peace that comes from knowing that God still provides all things in this life. ‘In God We Trust.’ That becomes apparent by the way we use money.
Believers in the Old Testament had an opportunity to give a ‘firstfruits’ offering. They set aside about 10-percent of the crops coming off field first and gave that to God. Now, if you farm, you realize that giving your first crops can be a little nerve-wracking. After all, the previous year’s reserves run low. You could use that corn and hay. Still, God says, “Give me your firstfruits” (Deuteronomy 26:1-15).
People did. They willingly give that offering; you give the first of your resources confident that God will give you more cuttings of hay and more corn. Giving demonstrate a trust in God to provide. A trust that drowned out personal fear. Actions reveal a trust in God’s promise.
What do your actions say? You (and I) are able to evaluate our income and consider what we may set aside. Maybe that means we set aside an amount for offering before we pay bills. You set a portion and then spend what is left over. Maybe that means we determine key bills first and then set aside an offering. If we do not have enough to be at McDonald’s every day, we thank God for still feeding us. Or, if we cannot buy five new outfits this month, we thank God for still clothing us. Setting aside a portion of income for an offering allows us to rely on God to keep providing for us.
We can look at the money in our hand and see those words ‘In God We Trust,’ we can use it confidently. If you’re not sure, then for one month (that’s four Sundays), see what you are able to give. Be bold. Trust big. You offering may increase price of a hamburger spread out over four weeks. That amount might not look like much, but it is much. It comes from heart that trusts God to provide. Maybe your giving increases by the cost of a tank of gas each week. Even that generosity demonstrates a reliance on God. You are not worried that you will need that amount back later. Our act of giving reveals our certainty in God to do what he promises; that he will give what we need.
That phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ clearly confesses that only God can grant real security. So, how ironic that a confession of God’s protection is found on an object in which many want to find protection! Ponder that for just a moment. Money is capable of bringing pleasure into your life. It can buy vacations and cars, houses and outdoor toys, clothes and shoes. Money provides for you. Still, stamped on American money is the confession: ‘In God We Trust.’ Only God grants real security. Which one is it? Which one do you expect to provide for you? God or Money? In Whom Do You Trust?
His little head rises higher and higher. Soon, his hazel eyes stand level with the glowing burner radiating heat. Ever-so-slowly that tiny hand creeps toward that red ring… “Don’t touch!” warns mom. He freezes— and his mind instantly begins dissecting that warning. The orange glow does not appear harmful— after all, the heat feels like summer heat and orange is a pretty color. The circle element kind of looks like a toy-ring. He weighs mom’s warning against his observations and reaches a conclusion: Mom is wrong! Disregard the warning! So, those tiny fingers continue their journey closer and closer to the glowing element. The fingers descend on their goal, and… INSTANTLY pain shoots up his fingers, through his hand, and down his arm. Fingertips turn fleshy red. His hand burns. Tears stream down his face. This young child did not expect the searing results he received.
We have a word for a person who acts like that: a ‘know-it-all,’ someone who behaves as if he knows everything (https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/know%20it%20all). That behavior not only affects little children (and your bossy siblings), it can infiltrate your heart too. Thinking that you already know every Bible teaching and application, warning and encouragement, promise and guarantee leads you to think that God has nothing left to teach you.
A ‘know-it-all’ doesn’t describe you, does it?
This morning, Ponder Wisdom’s Two Questions. (1) What is wisdom? And, (2) Are you wise?
Maybe you find it difficult to define ‘wisdom.’ If you are like me, it’s easier to describe ‘wisdom’ not with a definition, but with an application. You identify ‘wisdom’ when you see it. Perhaps you consider ‘wisdom’ as avoiding harmful choices and selecting beneficial choices. Maybe you equate ‘wisdom’ with experience. You perform some action and gain results. Then you evaluate the results in order to shape future decisions. You realize that we tend to define wisdom as this cause-and-effect notion.
Yet, in Proverbs 9:10, God does not leave us fumbling for a concrete definition of wisdom. Instead, he explains (1) what wisdom is and (2) how wisdom functions. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. So, God links two items together. (1) ‘Fear’ and ‘Wisdom,’ (2) ‘Knowledge of Holy One’ and ‘Understanding.’ Have fear, you have wisdom.
That’s where wisdom begins? With ‘fear?’ That sounds strange. I mean, in our English language, if you “fear” someone that usually means you are scared of that person. So, being “scared” of the Lord is how you become wise? In a way, yes! He is the Almighty God who stretched a measuring line across our universe, who shut the sea behind doors, clothed the skies with clouds, and brings out the sun every morning (Job 38). Your God is the Holy One who lives in heaven, far above all rule and authority, a place reserved only for the perfect! That is scary, that is terrifying because I am not God and God is not me. I fail people; I deliberately choose to do evil. God never fails people; God never does evil (James 1:13). I do not compare to him. In fact, I fall short.
That takes ‘fear’ to admit that. Yes, to be afraid that you (and I) fall under God’s punishment for failure. Yet, ‘fear’ also means something else; it means, ‘to respect.’ It takes ‘fear’ (or ‘respect’) to admit that God judges over me and I stand judged by God.
So, that wisdom places me at a starting point. Real wisdom recognizes two truths: (1) It recognizes the deadly consequences of sin and (2) sees Jesus as the antidote to those consequences. The fear of the Lord… that is, respecting God’s position over me… is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
That ‘Holy One’ is none other than Jesus Christ. Just look at him! He is holy! Morally faultless! The sick crowd around him and he does not prescribe treatments for a better life on earth. No! He points people to a healing for their soul. When he preaches, he points to the Bible—and not what he thinks. Even though he has no savings account, no permanent home, no bed, Jesus still confidently relies on God to provide. Jesus ‘fears’ the Lord; he ‘respects’ God’s impact in his life and proves it by shaping his entire being around God’s commands.
You know that; you know Jesus is the Holy One. You also know just what God thinks about human wisdom: He hates it. The Holy One hangs on the cross, groaning under God’s righteous frown. God finds your (and my) ‘know-it-all’ attitude on Jesus and cannot stand to look at it. So, he turns his back and leaves. He does not rescue Jesus. He answers no cry for help. He forsakes his Son and our worldly wisdom with him—and then he buries it. He buries our wisdom with his Son in the ground. Three days later Jesus comes out of the ground. He comes out without our wisdom and with his message of wisdom: ‘Cleansed! Purified! Pardoned!’
So, What is wisdom? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Quite simply: (1) You recognize the deadly consequences of sin and (2) trust Jesus as the only antidote to those consequences.
That leads to our second question: (2) Are you wise? Wisdom is not a mere definition, but also application. Think back to that little child. He holds a warning about the hot stovetop, but did not put it into practice. Holding God’s Word in high regard brings eternal life. Still, those are not lifeless words. For you, the Christian, those words are put into action. So, Are you wise?
Do you apply wisdom? Verse 8 says: Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you… A mocker is a proud person, a ‘know-it-all.’ He thinks he knows everything there is to know about everything. The worst trait about that attitude is that he refuses to take God’s truth to heart. He refuses to admit that his lifestyle clearly contradicts God’s clear commands. He refuses to admit that his life needs changing. Really, he is pushing God out of his heart—which is foolish because only God brings life. [R]ebuke a wise man— someone who humbly admits that God and his Word carries authority over him-- and he will love you. So the question is: Are you wise?
Today marks the beginning of our Christian education year. Think about many opportunities to grow in God’s Word. Sunday School teaches Bible accounts of God’s love. Catechism class studies God’s teachings for life. Bible class examines life’s questions under the microscope of God’s Word. An online class puts a book of the Bible into simple words and simple application. God presents teachings to guide decisions and form answers, comfort and console, and most of all, keep your heart close to him.
That is why the devil works on you. He tries to make you into a fool. He will tell you that you are too busy to read your Bible. He will tell you that you already know every Bible story, every Bible topic, every discussion any class will have. He will tell you that you have another day, another time to be in the Word. I know he does that because he tries to convince me of the same things. “You’re a Pastor. You already studied all this.” “You instruct people. You do not need instruction.” “You’re so busy today. Study tomorrow …Start again next week …next anniversary.” Do you know why Satan whispers these excuses? He knows that if he can just get you to put the Bible down, to stop using it so often, you will begin forgetting God’s promises. You will forget God’s commands. You will start creating Bible-sounding sayings. You will begin clinging to made-up statements about the Bible. You will rely on what you think you know— and you will never figure how wrong you are until God exposes how distant you stand from him!
Let’s find wisdom in verse 9. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. Did you catch that? ‘Instructing’ always leaves a positive impact! (read also Isaiah 55:10-11). You will always have room to learn more information, better identify God’s promises, and grow in applying the Word to life. After all, life changes, right? Like, a 4-year-old just wants loving care. The 14-year-old worries about acceptance by friends and classmates. The 24-year-old worries about getting a job and starting “life.” The 40-year-old worries about retirement. The 84-year-old worries about health in later years. Throughout life certain things change. What does not change is the instruction God teaches. A 4-year-old knows the Good Shepherd lovingly cares for him. The 14-year-old knows the Good Shepherd accepts him as a dear friend. The 24-year-old sees the Good Shepherd satisfy fear by providing education and job, spouse and income. The 40-year-old sees the Good Shepherd provide for both life on earth and in heaven. The 84-year-old knows the Good Shepherd will lead her through death’s dark valley and into heaven. Just this one timeless psalm provides a myriad of application for every age!
That is the reason these education opportunities exist. That is why your congregation encourages using these many Bible opportunities. That is why your Pastor prepares to ‘instruct’ you, the ‘wise man.’ So that you become wiser still.
After all, you are not a ‘know-it-all,’ are you? May God forbid it! Thinking that you already know every Bible teaching and application, warning and encouragement, promise and guarantee leads you to think that God has nothing left to teach you. That does not benefit you. Instead, a ‘know-it-all’ attitude actually stunts your life with God!
Maybe a better phrase to stick in mind is: ‘Don’t be a know-it-all; be a learn-it-all.’ (https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2017/05/dont-be-a-know-it-all-be-a-learn-it-all/). That happens when our hearts remember that real wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Cherishing the fact that only Jesus stands us right before God! That, dear friends, changes life. That dismantles excuses. What joy we have to keep pondering the wisdom we have received from God! Jesus cures us from death. That Word continues guiding life.
Every Memorial Day weekend, I drive out to Elm Creek, buy seedlings, and plant my garden. And every year the garden thrives. Vines stretch out. Plants grow thick and lush. I collect half-a-dozen cucumbers each day and pick cherry tomatoes and beans by the bucket full. This year was not like every other year.
A few days after putting the seedlings into the ground, the leaves turned yellow— like Post-It-Note yellow. But, the plants did not wilt; they did not shrivel up or die, they just stayed yellow— which was also strange. These yellow seedlings never grew; they never pushed out new branches and vines and leaves. For three weeks, I saw small rows of miniature yellow tomato, cucumber, and bean plants.
Now, usually yellow leaves signal something wrong with growing conditions. The soil could be too acidic. The plants may not be receiving enough sunlight. Overwatering and severed roots can stunt plant growth. If you boil all the symptoms down, the causes for poor growth come from poor soil. Plants need good soil to live, grow, and produce fruit.
For you to grow, thrive, and flourish in Christian living, you need good soil. You need a reliable source of comfort when feeling crushed. You need clear answers when confused. You need ever-constant strength when feeling exhausted. Where are you looking for direction?
Better yet, does your source produce good results? Drink deeply from this truth: Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. God has transplanted you into light. His Word grows knowledge. His Word produces fruitful living.
The congregation in Colossae needed this reminder. (Now, Colossae sits in the southwest corner of present-day Turkey. So, picture Phoenix lying a little bit off the southwest American border.) An evangelist named ‘Epaphras’ preached and the Holy Spirit planted faith in each listener.
Yet, this young congregation gets sick very quickly. They feed on a strange mixture of Jewish and Pagan teachings. Jewish— like: forbidding the eating of certain meats, making Old Testament religious ceremonies mandatory, and creating rules in order to win God’s favor. Then pagan— like: worshipping angels (who are God’s servants [Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 19:10]) and creating strange ideas of who God is, what he does, and how he lives. Those false beliefs poison souls. It seizes attention away from the clear answers God wrote down in the Bible and sets personal beliefs on human opinion.
Epaphras and Paul see stunted, shriveling faith, and grow terribly concerned. So, they start right at the roots. After all, when my plants turned yellow, I did not treat the leaves; I started with what caused the leaves to turn yellow. I started with the soil. In the same way, when we drink in guidance for life, we need to make sure that this guidance comes from a healthy source. We want to remain spiritually healthy. Verses 13-14 say: [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We all entered this world rooted in this stinking soil, this domain of darkness. We were not just yellowed sick, we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). That is how we started life. Enemies of God (Romans 8:7). Not going to heaven (Isaiah 53:5). Unable to do anything to change that dreadful status.
Yet, God did something: he ‘transferred us.’ With the pure life of Jesus in hand, he scooped you out of hell. He washed away the moral filth that soaks our minds. He clipped away our shameful regrets. He healed us from the disease called ‘sin’— a disease that would kill us. He transferred us into his kingdom. We have been moved from the column: ‘Enemy to be destroyed by God’ to ‘Child Loved by God.’
God’s Word, the Bible, tells you this comforting truth. That is the ‘gospel,’ the ‘good-news’ that Jesus rescued you. That ‘good news’ enters your heart individually. Because the Word of God has the power to change hearts (Romans 1:16). That Word, which was spoken at your baptism, has transplanted you into light.
Paul takes us right to the soil. He reminds you that (1) God has bought you and (2) transplanted you so that you may draw strength from God and his Word. When it comes to guidance and strength for life, look down and see where you stand planted. God has transplanted you into light. Rooted in good soil comes good growth.
My plants— well, the leaves remained yellow for several weeks. So, I treated the soil. I carefully dug up each seedling, filled the hole with black dirt, mixed in a little lime, and replanted each plant. A few days later those little plants began improving. Leaves changed from yellow to green and new growth appeared. When you have good soil, you have good growth.
You (and I), planted into faith, grow. Paul continues in verse 9: [We] ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… So, you, as a Christian, are planted in Christ, but you do not remain stagnant. You grow spiritually. You grow by learning God’s ‘will’— and that ‘will’ (God’s desires) are only found in the Bible. This is why your congregation presents and emphasizes opportunities to be in God’s Word. To be in Bible Class. To be in Sunday School. To be in Catechism class. To have personal, daily devotions. These are all opportunities to see God’s demands, hear God’s forgiveness, memorize promises of rescue, and find God-pleasing answers.
Maybe right now, your mind is already fabricating excuses as to why you just cannot possibly be in the Word like that. I mean, we still battle a sinful nature. A sinful nature that thinks it can handle every problem in life. A sinful nature that does not want to rely on the Bible verses memorized in Sunday School and in Catechism class. A sinful nature that defends its ungodly decisions. A sinful nature that only seeks its own interests. We may create every excuse as to why it’s impossible to grow in our knowledge of God, but we only hurt ourselves. The devil loves the excuses you (and I) make because they separate us God’s Word— the only weapon we have against temptation. The further we stay from the Word, the further we can drift from God!
That is why Paul prays: [We] ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… The more you read your Bible, the more you learn— and not just that, but the more you remember about who God is and what God does. The information gained from the Bible allows you to apply it to the many different situations of life.
This is where you find guidance. You know: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16). Apply that truth when frightened about death. Can you really know that you will be in heaven? Yes. Because God used baptism to save you (1 Peter 3:21). You know that God is with you to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Apply that truth when at a loss for answers. You do not know the future. You might worry the future will be bad, not pleasant. Yet, God has heaven in store for you. God uses even unpleasant things to increase your reliance on him.
You also use your knowledge to determine what is false and what is true. Someone might tell you: God will not give you more than you can bear. You would know that this is not entirely accurate. The Bible says: God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear and that when pressed down, his Word gives you strength not to fall into sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). A friend might say: I don’t need to be in a church to be a Christian. While that sounds a little true, you also know the Bible says: Let us not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). The more you spend in your Bible, the more you know. The more you know, the more you apply. That is how you grow.
A Gospel-Fed Heart Grows. God has transplanted you into light; he provides good soil. As a follower of Christ, you will grow in Christian living; His Word grows knowledge.
Right now my garden is growing. The soil is balanced. Plants draw nutrients from that soil. Yet, something else happens: those plants produce fruit— good, beneficial, pleasing fruit.
Paul points to the fruits that come from putting God’s Word into practice. Verses 3-5 say: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. God loves the Colossians. He loves them so much that he still keeps the Word in their life. He uses the Word to correct their false beliefs. He does not hold their wrongs against them, but he cleanses them. He keeps them planted in this soil of faith. He keeps feeding them with his Word. That love has an effect: loved much, they love much.
Paul notes that in verses 5-6: Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing— as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth… The Word produces ‘fruits of faith.’ ‘Fruits of faith’ are the results that come from putting God’s Word into practice.
See what fruits it produces in you. God encourages us: 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’ (Hebrews 13:5). We see that God has given house and home, possessions and vehicles, money saved and money spent— and does this all without our constant asking. The Word sinks in; the fruit of contentment grows.
God teaches: If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8). If we come through surgery, we thank God for another day. If we do not make it through surgery, we thank God for heaven. We will not leave this life a day sooner or a day later than God already knows. So, the Word sinks in; the fruit of trust grows.
God instructs: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:22, 25). Husbands put the needs of your wife ahead of your own, just like Christ put your life ahead of his and died for you. Wives, listen to your husbands, just like you know God loves you and wants only the best. The Word sinks in; the fruit of stronger relationships grow.
Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. God’s Word does something; God’s Word produces fruitful living.
For you to grow, thrive, and flourish in Christian living, you need good soil. You need a reliable source of comfort when feeling crushed. You need clear answers when confused. You need ever-constant strength when feeling exhausted. Where are you looking for direction? Drink deeply from this truth: Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. Turn here. God has transplanted you into light. His Word grows knowledge. His Word produces fruitful living.
Let’s start with some questions this morning. Keep the answers in your head and keep score on your fingers. Okay? Alright, here we go:
How did you do? Get them all right? You should have. Those are questions for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. I mean, 10-year-olds can answer those questions. You already learned those answers in fifth grade! Aren’t you smarter than a fifth grader?
That exercise proves that what was once learned can be forgotten over time. You may give wrong answers instead of the right answers. You can create some very incorrect answers. You forget what was learned. Knowledge must be renewed and reinforced.
During this past education year, you have had many opportunities to increase your knowledge, understanding, and application of God’s Word. Now, Retain What You Have Gained! Sell the excuses. Buy the truth.
Sunday School, you gained new knowledge and added to ‘old’ knowledge. Remember Adam and Eve? The first two people in the world. They play all the time, never fall down and scrape a knee, never get into trouble. Then, they ate fruit God told them not to eat. You might go in timeout when you do something wrong. God did not put Adam and Eve in timeout, but said they could no longer live in the Garden of Eden. From there, people do not get nicer, they get meaner. It hurts God. So, he covers earth with a flood. Noah builds an ark, brings two of every kind of animal inside, and floats safe. After the flood goes away, Noah had a big family. Some people in his family are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham (for example) was Jesus’ [52-times ‘great-] grandpa (Matthew 1:17). Remember what things Jesus did? He heals sick people. He stops a bad thunderstorm. He dies on the cross for our sins. God wants Pastors like [missionary] Paul (or myself) to tell you this good news. In Sunday School, you learned ‘new’ things about God; you remembered stories learned last year.
Adults, you may remember these Bible lessons from your Sunday School days. Each year you added ‘new’ knowledge. Sometimes you added ‘new’ information to existing knowledge. You gained knowledge.
You gained even more knowledge in catechism class. As a teenager, young adult, or a little older, you opened your Bibles and learned God’s teachings. You explored three ways God the Father cares for you. You pondered why Jesus had to be both true man and true God at the same time. You learned what the ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ keys are, when they are used, and who uses them. Catechism class has a purpose. You explore God’s great love for you and how he keeps you in faith. You can explain what you believe. You can defend your faith. You gained knowledge.
Now what? Well, standing at the end of another year of Bible classes, Retain What You Have Gained! That’s what our Proverb says: Buy the truth and do not sell it… Continue adding new Bible accounts to life; continue connecting Bible teachings to life’s many situations. Because if you do not gain truth, you will sell it. Sell— like ‘reducing inventory,’ ‘subtracting possessions.’ You can sell what you have learned; you can let Bible stories fade or minds subtract from Scripture’s true teachings.
Maybe you sit here, arms folded, chest puffed, scoffing: “Ah! That will never happen to me! I know so much about the Bible! I can never possibly lose my great knowledge!” If so, then congratulations! You are a stronger Christian than Peter, who denied Jesus (Luke 22:54-62). You are a more faithful disciple than the Twelve, who abandoned Jesus in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:56). You are better than Jesus Christ— because we know that even Jesus worshipped each week (Luke 4:16). You are so advanced in your Christian life that you do not even need this proverb: ‘Buy the truth and do not sell it’! (That is sarcasm.)
That sarcasm is meant for some honest reflection. In my short ministry, I have encountered two types of students: (1) those who listen and (2) those who talk. (1) Listeners realize they still have much to learn. They might be lifelong Christians, but they still pay attention in worship and see how Christ intersects in life. They desire to drink in more knowledge and find even more answers to life’s questions. They may have read the Bible several times through, but still pay attention in Bible Class, cling to every word, and take it to heart. (2) Yet, talkers think they know everything about Christianity! Catechism students brag that they can recite all the books of the Bible, as if this is really what Jesus came to teach us. Some are more interested in telling me what they think Baptism and the Lord’s Suppers means, instead of letting God, in his Word, teach them. Even fellow believers refuse to read devotions, read a Bible chapter, attend Bible Class simply because they think they know every point of Scripture. Talkers sell the truth; they create a myriad of excuses to keep the Bible shut.
I have also learned that the use of God’s Word reveals its priority in our hearts. If we love God with all our heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37), then nothing would keep us out of worship, out of a devotion-life, or away from studying the Bible in Class, Catechism, or Sunday School. Yet, excuses abound:“I have fair season, I have ballgames, I have reunions, I have vacation. I am too busy… too tired… too focused on the kids. I have no time.” That is another way of selling the truth; excuses literally reduce your time with God’s Word.
Satan stokes pride and misplaced priorities in order to reduce our time with the Word. The less we use the Bible, the less we strengthen faith. The less we strengthen faith, the less Bible teachings we get right. The less Bible teachings we get right, the less we see a need for Jesus. Eventually faith shrivels up, Jesus is reduced to a good person, and my confidence for heaven is set in my moral behavior. If I sell the truth, I will sell my Jesus.
Dear friends, there are sections of Scripture where one simple sentence leaves an eternally profound impact. This is one of those places. Retain What You Have Gained! Sell the excuses. Buy the truth.
Buy—like ‘hold to what you have,’ ‘acquire new knowledge,’ ‘add new insights to what already exists.’ Buy the truth.
Here’s the truth: God is not content with our excuses. God does not ignore a proud know-it-all attitude. God will not tolerate our critiques of his teaching. God does not buy our excuses of busy-ness. God demands a heart that holds him always as the foremost priority— and he finds that heart in Jesus.
Here’s the truth: God loads our proud, detestable excuses on Jesus and hangs his Son on the cross. There, God rips off each excuse one-by-one. He throws away the know-it-all attitude. He destroys the critiquing of his teaching. He rejects excuses. God sells Jesus to death— yes, death, punishment, suffering for our proud excuses. Jesus’ pure life is more than enough to buy this splendid truth: ‘Forgiven. Restored. Redeemed.’
That, dear friends, is a truth that never grows old. In fact, that is truth you can keep buying forever and you will never reach a point where it becomes ‘old’ or ‘unneeded.’ You have gained: you have gained faith— a trust in Jesus as Savior. You have gained eternal life. You have gained peace and comfort and happiness. You already hold this. So, Retain What You Have Gained! Keep holding to your gift. Keep it in your heart, in your mind, in your life. How?
Buy the truth… get wisdom. True wisdom acknowledges the poisonous devastation sin wreaks on the world and sees Christ as the antidote. Yes, you already believe this. So, build on it. (1) Hold to what you have, (2) acquire new knowledge, (3) add new insights to what already exists. You will see forgiveness continually drown high school regrets. You will see the Jesus who calms wind and waves still control Oklahoma tornadoes. In a constantly-changing world, you find a never-changing Jesus. Yes, sin saturates this world, but faith sees Christ as the antidote. Keep the Word central in life and gain wisdom.
Buy the truth… get discipline. Remain in God’s Word and you will grow. Discipline corrects bad behavior and strengthens good behavior. The purpose behind discipline is to save life. So, someone might ‘discipline’ you. A parent tells a still-maturing child, ‘I know you want to stay home Sunday, but that will not help you. For your eternal good, we will worship today.’ A child might ask her mother, ‘Why are we not at worship?’ or ‘Why do we not attend Bible class?’ Those words steers the heart to Godly behavior.
Sometimes you may ‘discipline’ you. You may force your hand to turn off the television for just a few minutes so that you can concentrate on a devotion. You may shake off a nap so that you make it to Bible class. You may find new ways to remember one key point from the sermon each day during the week. You may tell the coach: “We’ll be a few minutes late. We have church.” You may tell mom: “We’ll be at dinner after worship.” On vacation, you might be far from a Wisconsin Synod congregation, but you can still pack Meditations [Devotions]. Discipline corrects bad behavior and strengthens good behavior.
That discipline does something for you: You add to what is already there. As God’s Word remains central in life, excuses to push it aside decrease. More than that, your heart and mind will delight in hearing God’s great love for you.
Buy the truth… get understanding. To ‘understand’ is to apply knowledge to life’s situations. As you remember the three things God the Father still does for you, you will take that knowledge and live confident that he has created all things, still provides for you bodily, and will send his angels to keep you safe. You will see how Jesus is true man to obey for you—every single temptation you faced too—but he is without sin—and as true God, his life covers yours! You know the ‘binding key’ refuses forgiveness and the ‘loosing key’ grant forgiveness. What a delight to know heaven remains open to those who confess wrongs!
Yes, we stand at the end of another Christian Education year. You have explored the Amish way of life. You have studied the parables of Jesus. You have learned about Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Jesus. You learned the terms ‘Verbal Inspiration’ and ‘Real Presence.’ You have gained much. Do not stop there.
Retain What You Have Gained! You (and I) will constantly encounter the slippery temptation to think there remains nothing left to learn. You (and I) will be tempted to believe things that are not true. You (and I) will be pulled to put our Bibles down. What is the purpose for those temptations? Never, never for your good. Sell the excuses, for excuses have no value. Buy the truth-- a truth that saves. Retain What You Have Gained!