If you have come to this web page one thing is certain, you have a desire to know God better. There is at least some fascination with the things of God or you wouldn’t be here.
Several years ago I attended a Conference sponsored by Ligionier Ministries. The speakers for the conference were Chuck Swindoll, Steve Brown, J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul. These are some of the most well known and believed men in the evangelical world. The highlight of the week however was not anything these men said. It took lace following a talk by Steve Brown. He talked about grace. It wasn’t an emotion packed message . . . he just sat there and read to us. But God was at work.
When he finished reading the audience stood to their feet in strong applause. The music leader, Howie Stevenson, immediately stood and quieted the crowd. He said, “No, let’s sing.” He led us to singing “Amazing Grace”. And as I and those around me sang, God’s power and grace became more real that I had ever realized. Tears were streaming down my cheeks and down the cheeks of those around me.
This was no orchestrated response that comes from whipping a crowd to a frenzy with chorus after chorus and an animated message. This was a real encounter with the living God.
After the conference I wrote Mr. Stevenson. I asked him why he stopped the applause and invited us to sing. I will never forget his response, “I have found that applause often is a way of avoiding the intensity of God’s Spirit. When we applaud we feel things are over. By singing we were able to allow God’s Spirit to continue His work in us.”
That’s what I want in my life. I want God to have freedom to work in me. I want to eliminate the barriers that hinder His work. In our text today we are given a start on how to do just that.
First, we must Examine Ourselves
We read, “The Jews were amazed (at his teaching) and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having studied.”
These people were not admiring Jesus- they were finding ways to avoid the impact of His message. They were doing what many of us do today – they were hiding behind foolish stereotypes.
It is sad but true that when we come up against someone who sees things differently than us we often laugh and conclude that the other person is ignorant. That way we don’t have to deal with what they are saying. We can pass off uncomfortable teaching because the teacher is either: not very educated (and so couldn’t possibly have anything to teach me) or, they are too educated (and surely parroting what they have been taught rather than making an informed decision based on the scriptures).
Have you ever done that? I bet you have. I know I have. We stop listening to people because of their denominational affiliation, their theological background, their past failures, their skin color and a host of other reasons.
Jesus tells the people, “my teaching is not my own. It comes from Him who sent me.” In other words, the issue is not the person who is speaking, but the message that is spoken. God can and does speak to us in a number of different ways. He can speak to us through the words of a child, a grandparent, a new believer. . . He can ever teach us through a non-Christian! However, we must be open to instruction. We must stop restricting God’s Spirit by refusing to listen to some because of our foolish stereotypes.
We must also examine ourselves as to the sincerity of our pursuit. Jesus tells the people, “If any one chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”
We will know God’s truth if we are willing to hear it and obey it. Lot’s of people talk about wanting to know God. Only those who are willing to apply what they learn grow in their faith.
If you were in a math class, would you be promoted because you were in class every day? Would you be promoted if you know math terms? No, you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be promoted until you could do what was being taught in class. The same is true in the spiritual realm. We do not move forward until we have applied the lesson of the present.
We can know twelve steps to forgiveness but will not grow until we start working at actually forgiving the people who have hurt us. You can know how important Bible Study is, but until you begin carving time out of your schedule to read, you will not grow further. You can rail against the evils of gossip but until you begin eliminating gossip from your own life, you will be limiting your growth. You may be able to quote 1 Corinthians 13 but until you begin to work at loving your enemy and those who are difficult to love, we inhibit our ability to grow.
If we really want to grow we must remove the barriers that we have erected: arrogance, prejudice and superficiality in our faith.
We also have to be attentive to those whom we choose to follow
We all have teachers. We should have those who disciple us. However we must be careful of who we entrust ourselves to. Jesus warns us to watch for false teachers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Jesus gives us clear warning, He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.
Jesus us gives us several things to look for:
- Who is the teacher representing: Himself or the Father? We run into this question every time we answer the phone and someone say, “I have great news . . . you’re our grand prize winner.” Before long it is apparent that the person on the other end of the phone is not concerned about our prize . . . they want to sell their product. They are not representing our interests but theirs. Some teachers do the same. The most prominent name in their work is theirs.
- Are they telling the truth? We are told that “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth to turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3). Are these teachers telling us the truth, (which is sometimes painful) or are they telling us what they think we want to hear?
- Are they living by a double standard? In the text, Jesus was accused of violating the Sabbath by healing a man (see John 5). However, these same people did not feel it was a violation of the Sabbath to circumcise a child on the Sabbath. They cold see that their act was consistent with what God desired but they couldn’t see it with Jesus. That’s a double standard.
Just this last week there was a person in Vacation Bible School who complained bitterly about how narrow minded “some people are to different viewpoints.” This same person was completely intolerant of a particular teaching style and had been very close-minded to other theological opinions (like mine). This kind of double standard inhibits growth.
So how do we guard against false teachers?
- check out the scriptural “proofs” they propose.
- Be alert to who’s values are being advocated (the world’s: ease, comfort, financial gain; or God’s: service, endurance, contentment.)
- Beware of “new” teachings. There is a good chance that a new teaching is a wrong teaching.
- Beware of those who spend all their time tearing others down.
Why is it so complicated? Because so much is at stake. The Devil delights to keep us from growing. It is essential that we avoid the obstacles and push on.
So, are you learning your lessons well?
- are you taking aim to remove foolish stereotypes from your dealings with others?
- are you applying the things that God is teaching you?
- are you choosing your teachers carefully?
If so, then the experiences of God’s presence will not be a surprise to you . . .they will be an ever present delight.