This sermon was delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., on Feb. 14, 2010.
Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26
What does it mean to live for God? Religious people, especially in Christian circles, often speak and sing about living for God, but what does that truly mean? How does living for God work? Can people live for God and live for themselves at the same time? If we cannot live for God as ourselves, then who besides us does the living for God? What does resurrection have to do with living for God? How does this business about blessings and woes, prosperity and suffering, joys and sorrows factor in what it means to live for God?
The passages we read today from Jeremiah, Psalm, 1 Corinthians, and Luke come to us from a time when there was no instant coffee, instant messaging, or instant news. They come to us from people and places that were different from who we consider ourselves to be and the places we live. Yet, they meet us, each of us, head on and heart deep, as if to say, “You say you want to live for God. This is what living for God means. This is what living for God demands. This is what living for God offers. And this is what living for God looks like and costs.”
These passages challenge us to answer some fundamental questions that lie at the heart of life.
Are we living for God or not? God would have you and I know that whether we are “blessed”—meaning morally, physically, socially, and otherwise alive, happy, and whole—or “cursed”—meaning morally, physically, socially, and otherwise dead, miserable, and unstable really turns on whether we are living for God or not. Living for God does not mean we will be rich, socially important, free of sickness, or care free. However, it does mean that we will be whole. We will be stable. We will be reverent. We will be mindful of God’s will, God’s ways, and God’s purposes.
And if we are not mindful of God’s will, ways, and purposes, we are wicked, not righteous. If we are not living to fulfill God’s will, according to God’s ways, and to accomplish God’s purposes, we will associate with people who also are not living to fulfill God’s will, who are not living according to God’s purposes, and who are living without regard for God’s ways. If you don’t like the words “wicked” and “ungodly”, what other words do you think are better? If living as if God’s will is not worth doing, God’s ways are not worth following, and God’s purposes are not worth fulfilling does not describe ungodliness and wickedness, what do they describe?
It is interesting that the entire work of Psalms begins with this fundamental message of wisdom. This suggests that if we do not get the God relationship right, we will not walk right. We will not have righteous relationships and associations. We will not be stable. We may have wealth, but we will not live well with it or with others. We may be physically strong, but our strength will not work for right purposes. We may be talented, but our gifts will be squandered.
This fundamental difference between righteous and wicked, godliness and ungodliness is the heart of living. The issue is not what kind of job we have, but what kind of living are we doing? The issue is not who we are impressing, but who are we living to impress most. The issue is not what kind of investments we own, but what have we invested in that will make life more pleasing to God.
So an entire book of hymns is introduced with a stirring choice. We can choose the happiness that comes from trusting God, living for God, following the ways of God, and living to fulfill the purposes of God. Or we can choose the futility, instability, and cursed outcomes that result from trusting something else. Whatever else we trust and build our lives around will not match God’s purposes, ways, and will for our living.
The happiness that comes in living for God is not measured by prosperity, popularity, or by worldly power. Unfortunately, many people make those things the measure of their happiness. Rather than accepting the happiness that comes from living for God, they seek happiness through living for themselves. Rather than seeking the happiness that comes from following God’s ways, they define happiness by doing things their way. And rather than seeking happiness by living according to God’s purposes, many people prefer purposes that have little to do with the love of God, goodness of God, peace of God, justice of God, joy of God, and righteousness of God.
Notice that people can be religious and still not trust God. In fact, the passage from Jeremiah warns us that we can deceive ourselves and others through our religious activities, but not truly trust God. God alone is able to pierce through the fog of our self-righteousness. God can cut through the fluff of our pride. God can see us as we really are, and can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, confront us with the fact that we are off base. And God alone, by the grace that we know through faith in Jesus Christ, can forgive us, redeem us, restore us, and re-direct us.
However, God does this only for people who will trust Him. If we will not trust God for living in the first instance, God invites us to trust His grace in forgiveness, salvation, and regeneration as new people. Then God calls us to trust the power of resurrection that we know through the life of Jesus for the power to live according to His will, follow His ways, and to fulfill His purposes.
No one lives this way by accident. No person lives this way by doing his or her own thing. No one, and no religion, works this way by focusing on self, but by meditating, contemplating, and trusting in the will of God, ways of God, and purposes of God. Whenever anything or anyone else operates to direct how we live, the ways we live, and the purposes for which we are living, we are living like the wicked, the ungodly, the scornful, and the chaff.
But what kind of impact does living for God, according to God’s ways, and for God’ purposes have on others, in the world, and beyond our mortality? In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes that if we are only trusting in God’s grace—Jesus Christ is the grace of God incarnate—in this life, we have it wrong. God’s ways, God’s purposes, and God’s will have eternal value. They impact how we live here. They impact how others are affected by our living—here and now. They impact our present and our eternal relationships because God’s will, ways, and purposes have present and eternal meaning.
How we treat the poor has present and eternal meaning. How we treat people who cannot protect themselves has present and eternal meaning. How we treat those who mistreat us has present and eternal meaning. How we face trouble, sickness, discouragement, success, failure, triumphs and tragedies has present and eternal meaning because they demonstrate whether we are trusting God or not. They demonstrate whether we are following God’s ways or not. They demonstrate whether we believe in God’s purposes or prefer to trust other purposes.
Living for God means to trust God. No matter who we are, sooner or later we decide whether to live to live on God’s terms, trust God’s ways, and dedicate ourselves to fulfilling God’s purposes or not. The Christian faith is both that simple and that complicated. Living on God’s terms, trusting God’s ways, and dedicating ourselves to fulfilling God’s purposes in the world is the why we are here. But it is also what so many people find hard to accept. We are tempted, constantly and in various ways, to live on our own terms, define our own ways, and dedicate ourselves to purposes that are self-serving and self-righteous.
Am I devoted to God? The question is not whether I am devoted to my religion, or to my Bible-study, or to my congregation, but whether I am devoted to God. God is the Person, the Relationship, and the Reality you and I must ultimately encounter. You and I will either devote ourselves to God, or devote ourselves to someone or something else in place of God.
Do you recall ever deciding to devote yourself to live on God’s terms, trust God’s ways, and dedicate yourself to fulfill God’s purposes in the world? If not, can you truly say that you are devoted to God? How can we be devoted to God if we are unwilling to live on God’s terms? How can we be devoted to God if we are unwilling to trust God’s ways? How can we be devoted to God if we are unwilling to dedicate ourselves to fulfill God’s purposes in the world?
The heart of living turns on whether you and I trust God. That issue will define the nature of our associations, how we carry on our relationships, and the character of our conduct. People who do not trust God will “trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength” (Jeremiah 17:5). They will “follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1). Trusting God determines how we live, with whom we associate, the causes we embrace, and the way we treat those who are most vulnerable. It determines who we truly are now, and how we stand with God always.
How are you dealing with the heart of things?
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.