August 18, 2019 Sermon
It’s for Everybody
First Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:125
125 I am your servant; give me understanding,
so that I may know your decrees.
Second Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-8
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Message – “Discernment: It’s for Everybody”
How do you make decisions in your life? There are a number of different decision-making criteria you could utilize, right?
- Some people make decisions based on what will bring them the most happiness in the moment.
- Some people make decisions based on what will bring them the most happiness in the long term.
- Some people make decisions based on family…or tribe…or nationality…or ethnicity…or race.
- Some people make decisions based on politics and political ideology.
- Some people make decisions based on what feels right.
- Some people make decisions based on what will do the greatest good…for as many people as possible…or based on what will do the least harm to the fewest number of people.
- Some people make decisions based on revenge…or hate…or anger…or rage.
- Some people even make decisions out of a chemically induced fog of some kind, as the result of drugs or alcohol.
- And, yes, some people make their decisions based on faith, on what God might want them to do.
Most people, I would imagine, make their decisions based on some combination of multiple of these or other criteria. Consciously or not, we shift in and out of different decision-making criteria, rather than intentionally using one to make all the decisions of our lives.
But…how SHOULD we make decisions…as Christians? Shouldn’t we be making our decisions based on God’s will, particularly God’s will as made known in Christ Jesus?
Y’all, even if we could reach unanimous assent on this most basic proposition of our faith – that we should be making our decisions individually and collectively on the basis of God’s will and desires – even if we could reach assent on this with MORE than our lip service but with the whole of our individual and corporate lives…we’re STILL left with two big questions or issues.
Question 1: Do we have to make ALL of our decisions – every single one – on the basis of God’s will? I mean, can’t I decide which toothpaste to purchase or which car to drive or what time to eat dinner or whether or not I should wait another week for a haircut without consulting God…or at least without wondering what God would want me to do?
For me, this is a fascinating question. It’s one I can’t answer for you. I can tell you what I think based on scripture…but each of you is going to have to figure it out for yourself. And since this sermon is about a different question, I’ll handle this one briefly. I’ll handle this question briefly first by telling you that this God-focused decision-making thing, it’s not necessarily an all or nothing thing. I would guess for every person here, your answer can be found somewhere on a continuum that has at one end “consulting God about every single decision in life” and has at the other end “consulting God about absolutely no decisions in life.” As a Christian, I’d guess you’re somewhere near the center of the continuum, consulting God about seemingly major decisions but not so much for seemingly minor ones. (PAUSE) And I’ll handle this question by ALSO directing your attention to the 613 commandments of the Old Testament. I’ve mentioned this number before: 613. It seems a large number for commandments. It might even make you wonder why there are so many. Remember, God gave God’s people these commandments back when the number of decisions to make in life and the number of possible choices available for each decision were SIGNIFICANTLY smaller than they are today:
- If you wanted to decide what to eat, you could choose between quail and manna. In good times, maybe there were a few more options…but not that many.
- If you wanted to decide whether to break camp in the morning, you could follow the pillar of cloud that was God or you could choose to NOT follow that pillar.
- If you wanted to decide which article of clothing to wear, you likely had but one primary outfit with MAYBE the opportunity to choose from among a few accessories.
- If you wanted to search the Internet or choose a brand of toothpaste or decide what show to watch on TV or which movie to see at the theater or whether you should play cards or dominoes this week…well, you didn’t even know those were decisions any person anywhere would ever have to make.
And yet, God gave 613 commandments that covered a WIDE range of – to us – seemingly insignificant topics:
- What to eat and when to eat and not eat certain things;
- What to wear…including when to wear and not wear certain things;
- How to treat strangers and foreigners, even specific instructions for how to show them hospitality;
- How to have sex – seriously, the commandments were very concerned with this;
- What to touch and what not to touch – there were MANY of these rules;
- How to buy and sell things properly;
- Whether or not to make loans…and to whom you could and could not make loans;
- How to treat employees;
- Instructions about art;
My point in sharing with you just SOME of the many decisions dictated by God’s commandments to God’s ancient people, Israel, is this: God very clearly WAS concerned, and I would suggest is STILL concerned, in the minutiae of people’s lives, even to the point of desiring deeply that we consult or at least consider God before making even the tiniest of decisions.
Question 2 (about this decision-making thing): Even if we WANT to do what God wants us to do, with every decision or with whatever decisions we want, HOW do we figure out what God wants us to do? This is the question about decision-making that will be the topic of a three-part sermon series that begins today; it is the question of knowing God’s will, the question of something called discernment.
You might be tempted to say that the answer to this question is very simple: just look in the Bible to see what God says through scripture. But…you know it’s not that easy, right? I mean, sure, we can consult the Bible for some things, but the Bible is not-so-surprisingly silent about computers, the Internet, television shows, automobiles, airplanes, electricity, photography, marijuana, toothpaste, stuffed animals, or any number of things about which we must make decisions on a daily basis in the modern world.
Y’all, somehow, in some way, as a follower of Christ, as a person of God, you’ve got to decide HOW to know God’s will whenever it is that you decide to consult God’s will. Like the psalmist in Psalm 199, you’ve got to seek God’s understanding, know God’s will, God’s decrees. That’s discernment.
It turns out that some people do their best to remove this burden from their lives. They refer back to a quotation from one of the founders of the movement that became several Christian groups and denominations, including ours. It has become one of our mottos. In 1808, Thomas Campbell closed a speech he delivered with the words, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”
Great words, for sure. Also misunderstood words. I’m not 100% certain who misunderstood them, but I can tell you the disagreements about what these words mean were great enough to yield several splits among the inheritors of the Restoration Movement…so SOMEONE misunderstood.
With regard to discernment, you can take these words to mean that the Bible is the end of God’s revelation to us with regard to decision making. If the Bible doesn’t speak to it, we don’t have to worry about it; we can either do whatever we like as people of God with regard to any and all modern things not addressed in the scriptures or – some would say – we can’t do anything the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us we can do. That’s one way to look at it, but, to me, that’s a discernment cop-out because it suggests we don’t have to consult with God at all for issues not directly mentioned in the Bible. When Jesus told His followers that the Holy Spirit would be sent to “guide us into all truth”, I believe Jesus was telling us God would offer a NEW way to discern God’s will beyond what is covered in the pages of the Bible.
So there must be another way to think of these words. And, of course, there is. This other way is to think of this statement, this motto, meaning that we find our MANDATES from the Bible – not just direct quotes but from principles given by God through the Bible. As a community, as Church, we don’t mandate things that aren’t based on biblical principles. From this viewpoint, the motto directs us to Biblical principles for discernment without preventing us from also seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit for things not mandated in scripture.
So…let’s assume that you’ve decided to NOT remove the burden of discernment from your life. Somehow, as an individual Christian, you GET that it’s your responsibility to seek God’s will in making at least SOME of the individual decisions of your life and, hopefully, ALL of the decisions of our corporate life as congregation. We’re still left with the question: HOW?
For the next two weeks, I’ll be diving deep into this question of how…so please, plan to hear those messages.
For the rest of our time today, I’m going to address an issue closely associated with “how?”, and the question is “who?”
Is it something in which everyone can participate, or is it something to be left up to the experts, experts being people who have received from God’s Holy Spirit a special gift known as discernment?
A while ago, I suggested that as a person of God you’ve got to decide how to know God’s will whenever it is that you decide to consult God’s will. But, maybe you’re not sure it’s even possible for everyone to know God’s will.
Let’s see what God has to say through the scriptures about this.
We can begin with Psalm 119:125, but it’s not all that helpful. Sure, the psalmist was seeking God’s understanding, but, maybe the psalmist was one of the special people.
So let’s turn to an our second scripture reading from Romans 12. Actually, let’s consider an interesting distinction between 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. It is in these two chapters that Paul provides lists of Spiritual gifts. And I find it interesting that in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul includes on his list the gift of “discernment”, whereas in Romans 12 Paul does NOT include the gift of discernment. Why might that be?
I can’t say for certain, but I can guess. And my guess has to do with Romans 12:2. For some reason, with this congregation, Paul emphasizes that ALL of them can participate in this discernment thing. Having just told the whole congregation to “discern what is the will of God”, Paul appears to back off from talking about discernment as a Spiritual gift…so that EVERYONE in the congregation would know they were required and equipped to do some basic work of discernment.
Does this mean that discernment is NOT a spiritual gift? Does this mean that some people do NOT have a Spirit-given ability to discern God’s will more easily and more deeply than others? No, not at all. What it DOES mean is that no one’s off the hook when it comes from trying to discern God’s will, no one’s off the hook from asking God what to do before making a decision and then both listening for God’s response and acting on God’s response. What it DOES mean is that YOU, as a follower of Jesus, as a person of God, cannot shirk your responsibility to do what you can to discern God’s will.
Sometime later today, you’re going to have to make a decision: get up from your chair and go to Coffee mingle or do something else – maybe stay in your chair for a while longer or maybe get up and dash out the door rather than go to Coffee Mingle. That might be the first of MANY decisions you’ve got to make for the rest of the day. You might think that taking such a decision to God is silly, that seeking God’s will for such a decision is silly…but I disagree.
Some of the most amazing moments in my life have resulted from giving what would typically be a routine decision and giving it to God. I remember a time when I was leaving work and could have taken any of three or four of my “typical” routes home. For some reason, that day, rather than simply making the decision, I prayed…and I listened. And by the route I took, God placed me right where I needed to be to help a person in need.
I can remember another time when I placed my decision of when to depart for a road trip in God’s hands. The time I would have chosen would have placed me in the path of a terrible and deadly pile-up on the interstate. The time God urged me to take got me to my destination without incident.
I can remember yet another time when I had been trying to decide whether or not to try to worship at a new congregation close to my home. I almost put it off for a couple more weeks, but I gave the decision to God and followed the urge to go on a particular day…the day I met my wife, Susan, who left town to go back to college the following week.
Y’all, this discernment thing is real. Seeking God’s input for EVERY decision in life WILL make life go better for you…because God knows what’s best a lot more than you know what’s best.
And while some people have a special gift for discernment…just like some people have a special gift for prayer…EVERY person can in some way discern the will of God. YOU can in some way discern the will of God…for ANYthing…as long as you take the time to ask and listen. If you want some specific tools for how to do this, come back next Sunday. Amen.