Lay Reader = Philippians 2:1-9
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name
This is the start of a new series looking at some of the important Bible verses that our church leadership and my online poll identified. These are the Bible verses that are worth memorizing, because they have so much meaning packed into a tight space. My hope is that everyone in the church would embed at least one extra Scripture verse on their hearts. If you can memorize an extra one, that’s great, but maybe you have another way of embedding it on your heart.
You have a handout that lists all the Bible verses for this whole series. You can put this up on your fridge or message board or bathroom mirror as a reminder of these important words from God. We’ll give these out the first two weeks of the series, then we’ll just have them around the church for you to pick up if you need another one.
Each week, we’ll be grouping these memorable verses based on a key point in our faith. So hopefully as you embed these verses on your heart, you’ll also be reinforcing your faith.
Next week as part of our cross cultural Presbyterian group, we will welcome Amy Mendez from Denver Presbytery as the preacher. I know Amy well, and I think she’ll have an engaging word from the Lord for you next week. I’ll be headed over to the Vietnamese church, but hopefully I’ll see you at the cross cultural picnic next week after church.
This week we’re looking at memorable verses that point to our savior. I’ll read three, but my main focus will be on the one verse most of you already know from John 3.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Love Is Giving
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all she had. Della had saved it penny by penny over the course of the year, and now, on Christmas Eve, it was time to find the perfect gift. Her husband, Jim, had a family heirloom watch – platinum, no less. Earlier in the day she found the watch laying on the dresser, and it gave her an idea. She took the watch, sold it at the pawn shop, and bought herself a lovely set of combs for her beautiful hair. She had purchased the perfect Christmas gift for herself.
But that evening, Jim brought out a pair of scissors, cut his wife’s hair while she was sleeping, and sold it for just enough money to buy himself a matching platinum chain for his beloved watch. It was the perfect Christmas gift for himself.
In the morning, they discovered that they both had gifts they could no longer use – Jim had a chain for a watch his wife had sold, and Della had combs for her hair which her husband had sold. So they got a divorce. So ends the story of the Theft of the Magi.
Is that what love looks like? Taking what you want from someone else? Of course not!
If you’re into literature you might have caught that I reversed the plot of O. Henry’s short story, The Gift of the Magi. In the actual story, Della cuts and sells her beloved hair to buy the watch chain for her husband’s beautiful watch. But her husband sells his beloved watch to buy combs for his wife’s beautiful hair. On Christmas morning, they both have gifts they can’t use, but they also see the extent that their spouse is willing to go out of love.
In John 3:16, it says, “For God so loved the world that he GAVE.” God didn’t demand. God didn’t condemn. God didn’t retreat. God didn’t do the bare minimum. God didn’t get us a gift card. God GAVE his only son. Dr. David Stern, who is a Messianic Jewish Rabbi, said it this way, “to love is to give, to love much is to give much, and God loves the world so much that he gave what is most precious to him.”
Love is not taking. Love is giving. Love is not giving the minimum. Love is giving the maximum. That’s our model of love here on earth, and that’s how God loves us.
Sin Causes Decay
It’s not always easy to love that way, though, is it? Anyone ever gotten annoyed by their kids? Anyone ever had a spat with their spouse? Anyone ever gotten cross-ways with their parents or sisters or brothers or cousins? I, of course, have this totally figured out. Just as long as you don’t ask my wife or children or my parents or brother.
We all struggle with loving the way God loves us!
But that’s where I am strengthened by Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is a curious phrase – “the wages of sin.” What is a wage? It’s compensation, right? It’s earned. It’s an expectation. It’s a natural outcome.
So when this text says, “the wages of sin is death,” it means two things. The first is obvious – when we separate ourselves from God, we separate ourselves from God’s offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. So there can be eternal consequences.
But it also refers to what happens right here and right now. Let me try to get at this a different way.
Imagine that you don’t like brushing your teeth. So you choose to just stop brushing your teeth for, let’s say, five years. What will the result be? What are the wages of discarding your toothbrush forever? Tooth decay! Visits to the dentist! Maybe some gum disease! Hooray! But is that the dentist’s fault? Did the dentist curse you with tooth decay to punish you for not brushing your teeth for five years? No, it was a natural consequence – it was a wage.
A while back I was doing premarital counseling with a couple. And I always talk to couples about conflict. And the groom said that, in his mind, conflict was about determining who was most correct in their approach or interpretation to this particular issue. And I told him, “That will help you sometimes. But other times you’ll have to decide if you want to be right this time, or if you want to stay married.” If you try to “win” every fight, it will undermine your relationship long-term. I see spouses nodding their heads. This isn’t easy to do in the moment – trust me, I know – but trying to “win” every fight actually makes us lose in the long-run. It causes relationship decay.
Or do you remember your first credit card? Do you remember seeing the “minimum payment” box? That’s an exciting box, isn’t it? You’re telling me, I can spend hundreds of dollars to get things I like right now, and only pay $25 for a minimum payment this month? Bring on the new video games! Bring on the new computer! Bring on the new clothes! Bring on the new camping and skiing gear! Oh, the minimum payment went up to $50? No biggie! I got cool stuff! And that’s how people get $9,000 in credit card debt. It was fun in the moment, but it caused financial decay.
That’s the second meaning of “the wages of sin.” The wages, the compensation, the natural expectation and outcome of doing the things God says are wrong – you can expect decay in your life. Doing the things God says are right brings joy and life and vitality. Doing the things that God says are wrong may feel good for a moment, but they cause death and decay. It’s a natural consequence. Just like the dentist isn’t cursing you with cavities when you stop brushing your teeth and chew on gummy bears all day, God isn’t usually cursing you when you do things that separate you from God. It’s a wage – it’s a natural consequence. You can expect those decisions to decay your life over time.
But let’s take a little timeout at this point. Let’s step back and imagine we have God’s perspective. Imagine looking at human history – and we’ve got God’s perspective here, so we can see individual people, too. Let’s narrow our focus down to just the last 5000 years. Using God’s perspective into individual people’s lives, how many times do you think God sees humans making decisions that cause decay in their lives? How many times do you think God sees humans making decisions that separate them from God’s presence? What do you think? Small number or big number or really big number?
So how surprised do you think God is when you happen to make a decision that causes decay in your life? What do you think? Really surprised? Somewhat surprised? Not surprised at all?
So God has seen humans make bad decisions time and time again for thousands of years. God isn’t surprised when you personally make bad decisions time and time again. So maybe humans aren’t capable of perfection. Maybe humans aren’t capable of dragging themselves into the presence of God. Maybe we can’t save ourselves. Maybe there needs to be a different plan, right?
When I was in middle school or high school, I was with a group doing an adventure course. One of the challenges was to get our entire group up and over a tall wall. So we started lifting people on our shoulders so they could climb up the wall. It worked great until there was only one person left. Me. I tried to jump, but I couldn’t reach the top. I ran toward the wall and kicked off to get higher, but I couldn’t reach the top. One of the other guys in the group put his hand down, but I couldn’t even get high enough to reach him. Without anyone to lift me up, I was stuck. I couldn’t save myself. Eventually someone dangled their legs over the edge, I grabbed on, and they hauled both of us up the wall. And while that was happening, the only thing I could do was be still. I couldn’t add anything to the effort. I was a dead weight. I couldn’t save myself, and in fact I was weighing myself down.
But that’s where Ephesians 2 reminds us, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” We can’t save ourselves. We weigh ourselves down. We make decisions that cause decay in our lives and separate us from the presence of the Living God. But that’s why Jesus saves. That’s why God, in love, GAVE his only begotten Son. That’s why eternal life is offered as a free gift through Christ Jesus our Lord. Because we can’t do it on our own.
Most religions are ultimately a set of recipes for behaving your way into divine favor. But the shocking news of Jesus is that God chose to grant us favor even though we didn’t and DON’T and WON’T deserve it.
I was at our cross cultural leadership gathering last week, and one of the other leaders remarked that people rarely experience grace these days – especially youth. If you miss a practice, you’re off the team. If you’re late for work or make a mistake, you might have your pay docked. So the church is one of the few places in our society that offers grace. You can mess up here and still be welcomed back. Now that makes the church one of the easiest places to skip – they won’t judge me! But it also means that skipping the community of the faith will cause decay in your life because you NEED the grace Jesus has to offer.
Sisters and brothers, we’re starting this series with God’s love and grace. Love so immense that God GAVE his only Son. Grace so wide that Jesus saves you even though you don’t and won’t deserve it. As we accept this grace and love, we find life abundant. Life with vitality. Life worth living. That’s something embedding in your heart. Amen.