In the beginning of the Old Testament, we have been created to extend God’s glory to the ends of the earth. In the beginning of the New Testament, we have been called to repent and make disciples of all nations. At the beginning of this year, how will you fill your mind with truth? How will you fuel my affections for God? In this message on Genesis 1:26–31 and Matthew 4:18–22, David Platt teaches us to spread God’s glory among the nations.
- We have been created to enjoy God’s grace in a relationship with him.
- We have been called to be disciples of Jesus, turning and trusting in him.
If you have His Word and I hope you do, let me invite you to open the Bible to the very first chapter, Genesis 1. Let me invite you to pull out those notes that hopefully you received when you came in—a worship guide along with a couple of other things that say, “A Simple Guide to Personal Worship and Family Worship,” that I am going to reference later.
It is good to be back together as we start a new year in our faith family. I am freshly encouraged and challenged. I spent last week with a group of our high school seniors and some of our college students in Louisville, Kentucky, at a college student missions conference. It was just glorious to be in a room with about 3,500 different college students and high schools seniors, all different gifts, skills, and education, talking about how our lives can be spent taking the gospel to unreached peoples, to people who have never heard the gospel. And to see hundreds of them at the end of that time together stand up in response to a missionary call to cross cultures with the gospel. I just felt like as I was preaching I was dropping a rock in the middle of a pool that would shoot out in waves to the nations. I was freshly encouraged.
I was also challenged in my own life once again in a deeper way by the urgency of this mission. Over two billion people, that’s 6,000 people groups that have little to no knowledge of the gospel. To think men and women and children just like you and me who this time last year had never heard the gospel, never heard the good news of a God who loves us enough to send His Son to die for our sins, and then a year later they’ve still never heard. So it was good to see students thinking through questions like, “How are we going to spend our lives for the sake of the spread of the gospel to those people?” It was good.
I just come freshly encouraged, coming back here as we enter into a new year as a faith family. We’re thinking about how our lives are going to be spent in light of the urgency of this mission before us for the spread of the gospel here in Birmingham. People right now around us that we know, they’re on a road that leads to an eternal hell, as well as peoples around the world. We’re thinking through how we’re going to pray, how we’re going to get up, and how we’re going to go to them, both here and there.
So many different things are on my mind and my heart coming back from my time in Louisville to this time in which we have now officially begun reading through the Bible together. So if you started on January 1, then today, you will have read all the way through Genesis 5, and then through Matthew 5. Let me encourage you if you forgot that we’re going to be reading through the Bible. If you’ve missed out on these first few days, or maybe if you miss a day or two in there, don’t be that OCD person who says, “Well I missed January 3rd, so I guess I’m not going to read through the Bible this year. I’ll wait until next year and start.” Don’t be that guy! You can always go back and read Matthew 3 or Genesis 3. Or if you get to a point where you think, “I can’t even catch up,” just read the Bible that day, today, and God will be honored in this. Even if you miss a couple of days, don’t let missing a day here and there discourage you to the point where you say, “Okay I’m just going to do the resolution next year and hopefully I’ll do better.” Don’t be that guy.
So we’re starting reading through the Bible together, and what I want to do—with Genesis 1–5 and Matthew 1–5 in the background—is bring a couple of these texts, particularly Genesis 1 and Matthew 4, to bear on our lives in this room, right now, at the beginning of 2014. I want to remind us why we’re here, and why we’re on the earth—why you’re here on the earth at this place in this time—and I want challenge you in some specific ways as this new year begins.
I want us to start by reading Genesis 1:26–31. We’re going to read this passage from the very first chapter in the Bible, and I want us to pray together and then hear from God in these two key texts in particular.
Then od said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26–31
Let’s pray. Oh God, even just reading this text, when we think about what we just read, we are in fresh, renewed awe of you. You said a word, and this entire world came into being. You are great. You are glorious beyond our comprehension. You spoke, and a man was created in addition to mountains and water. Your glory is all over creation. The heavens declare your glory. The skies proclaim your handiwork. We confess, even as we’re talking all the time right now about weather—how cold it’s going to be, and if it’s going to snow—we confess: you’re the one that determines all of that. You determine the exact degree of temperature that it is now and the exact degree of temperature that it will fall to. You are sovereign, oh God, over every single flake of snow. You are our creator, our sustainer. The only way we have life right now is because of you. So when we are opening your Word right now and it is sitting in front of us, we’re in awe of the fact that when You speak, a world comes into being…and we’re asking You to speak to us now.
Oh God this fills us with great anticipation before you. We pray that you would speak to our hearts all across this room, to each individual. God, we pray that your Word would speak clearly. Help us. Help us, we pray, to understand our place in creation, the purpose of our lives where we’re sitting right now. Help us to hear from you about that. We pray that, as you speak in this room, you would transform lives—that you would change lives, some for all of eternity. We pray that, more than anything, you would be glorified in the way we hear from you and by the way—by your grace—we respond to you. So give us, even as we talk about your Word now, fresh awe of who you are. Help us not treat your Word and these things that we see casually in any way. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
In the Beginning of the Old Testament
The purpose of our lives …
In the beginning of the Old Testament, see the purpose of our lives. So we’re jumping right into your notes. Scripture, the Word of God, is clear from the start. We are not here haphazardly. We are here for a reason on the earth. So what’s the reason why we’re on the earth? Genies 1:28, I think, sums it up. “And God blessed them. And God said to them”—so blessing followed by command—“be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
So I think there’s a two-fold purpose here, which really is one purpose just split up into two. One: we’ve been created to enjoy God’s grace in relationship with Him. So feel the wonder behind being created in the image of God. There are a lot of grand things in creation: mountains, mountain ranges, lakes, oceans, birds, animals of all types. And yet one thing in all creation is made in the image of God, with the capacity to know God, to relate to God—and that’s you and me. We have the capacity—the unique capacity—to have relationship with God, and God has created us to enjoy Him in that kind of relationship with Him. It’s the first thing He does: He creates man, and He blessed them. God blessed them. Period. Then when you read Genesis 2, you see this account of creation in which man and woman enjoy God in unhindered, uninterrupted, undistracted communion with God.
We were created to enjoy God’s grace in relationship with Him and two: we’ve been created to extend God’s glory to the ends of the earth. So God blessed them and said to them—to these image bearers—“ Be fruitful and multiply.” In other words (paraphrased), “Fill the earth with my image. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, over every living thing that moves on the earth. Multiply! Multiply everywhere! Fill the earth with my image for my glory.”
So put those two together, and this is breathtaking when you stop to think about it. God has created us to enjoy Him as we glorify Him. These go together. I was freshly reminded of this when John Piper was preaching at this conference in Louisville: that our joy and God’s glory are not at odds with one another. You don’t have to choose between your joy and God’s glory, because your greatest joy is found in God’s greatest glory. God’s greatest glory is found in your greatest joy. These go together. You want to enjoy God? Then you glorify God. You want to glorify God? You enjoy God. These go together. Do you want joy? I think you do. I know you do. Everybody in this room wants to be happy. Everybody in the world wants to be happy. The Bible is telling us from the very beginning, “Blessing—happiness—is found in enjoying God and glorify God together.” This is where they come together.
Piper used an illustration. He said, “Whenever I’ve said to my wife, ‘It makes me happy to be with you,’ she has never accused me of selfishness.” So I got back from being out of town, took my wife out on a date, and thought, “I’m going to try it.” “I love being with you more than anyone else in the world.” And she did not look back across the table at me and say, “Well, that is so selfish of you.” No, she was honored by that. When you say to someone, “I love, I’m happy, I’m satisfied, I’m peaceful, I’m full of joy when I’m near you,” you’re honoring that person, aren’t you? So how do you glorify, or honor, God? By enjoying God. By being happy in God.
This is all over Scripture. Turn with me to Psalm 16. I want to show you just a few places in Psalms. This morning, I was just freshly reminded of these texts. Matt mentioned that Psalms is a hymn book of praise that we have in our Bibles. The book of Psalms is dedicated to the praise of God on every page. Notice how this book that is dedicated to the praise of God is filled with the joy of man. They go together. In Psalm 16:11, the psalmist says to God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Does that bring honor to God? Absolutely. It brings great joy and glory to God when you say, “My fullness of joy is in you. You’re right hand has pleasures that last and just keep lasting over and over. They don’t fade away.” That brings great glory to God.
Go over to Psalm 23. Some of you may recognize Psalm 23, the shepherd’s psalm. Listen to Psalm 23:1: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”—meaning (paraphrased), “I’ve got everything I need. Everything I want. I don’t want anything else because I’ve got the Lord as my shepherd. I have no other wants. My desires are met in Him.” “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness” (verses 2–3). In all of this, he’s saying (paraphrased), “I’ve got everything I want. I’m lying down in green pastures beside still waters. My soul is restored. I’m led in paths of righteousness,” and what does the end of verse 3 say? “For his name’s sake.” God glorifies His name by providing for your deepest wants so that you say, “I don’t want anything else.” Your joy, God’s glory—colliding.
You can keep going to Psalm 37:4. I love this command in Scripture. Listen to this command in the Psalms. This is the Word of God telling us what to do, saying, “You need to do this; this is a command from God.” What does God command us to do? In verse 4, God commands us to delight ourselves in Him. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Now who’s the author of Scripture, ultimately? Anybody know? It’s God. God’s the one who is the author of Scripture. So God says to you (paraphrased), “Delight yourself in me, and I will give you the desires of your heart.” That’s a promise from God. I have a command from God to delight in Him.
If we keep going, there are even more of these promises in the Psalms. Look at Psalms 63:1. I was praying with some of our pastors this morning, and I went into that prayer time needing to cut some from my sermon because I had too much, but as we were praying these texts just started coming to mind so I started adding to the sermon. Look at Psalm 63. Listen to this psalm.
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. (Psalm 63:1–3)
Do you see this? He’s so overwhelmed by the love of God that his lips are praising God.
So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you… (Psalm 63:4–5)
…not just with tired, monotonous, mechanical lips…
My mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. (Psalm 63:5–7)
Keep going to Psalms 67, one of my favorite songs—just link them together: Enjoy God’s greatest relationship with Him; extend God’s glory to the ends of the earth. First one: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us” (verse 1). You see the picture? The face of God shining upon you. Enjoy God’s grace in relationship with Him. For what end? “That your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (verse 2). Extend God’s glory to the ends of the earth. They go together.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you! (Psalm 67:3–5)
This is a song: nations, be glad in God. And not just our joy; it’s others’ joy. Then, look at Psalm 69:30–32:
I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
Do you see the picture here? You’ll be glad in giving glory to God. They go together. One more: Psalms chapter 70. Look at verse 4. “May all who seek you [God] and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’” Get this. If you get this at the beginning of 2014, you’ll get everything. God desires your joy this year. God—the God who created the world—desires your joy right where you’re sitting this year. I’m not talking about a flippant happiness that comes and goes based on trends and waves and circumstances. I’m talking about a deep, abiding joy that supersedes circumstances and trends. I’m talking about a deep, abiding joy that death itself cannot stop—that kind of joy.
The path to that kind of joy in your life is found in praise to God in your life. They go together. I could switch it around and put it this way: God desires His glory in 2014. You know how He’s going to glorify Himself? He’s going to glorify Himself by satisfying His people in Him. Do you see this? We have been created…you have been created to enjoy God’s grace in a relationship with Him and to extend His glory to the ends of the earth. It’s not an “either/or”; that’s a “both/and.”
This is why we’re reading the Bible. Psalm 19 promises this Word that we’re reading through revives the soul, it enlightens the eyes, and it rejoices the heart. Why am I calling you to read the Bible through over the next two years? Because it will revive your soul, enlighten your eyes, and rejoice your heart. That’s why! Not so you can check it off, not so you can show yourself to be a good Christian. No! It’s for your joy! For your joy! Believe this. Psalm 119:4: “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.” Verse 16, “I will delight in your statutes.” Verse 24, “Your testimonies are my delight.” Verse 40, “Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.” Verse 47, “For I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.” Verse 54, “Your statutes have been my songs.” Verse 72, “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”
What would make you happier this year? A $100,000 raise at your job, or reading through the Bible over the course of the year? What would make you happier? Be honest. If we’re honest, the first thing we say in our flesh is, “$100,000. I could do so much for God’s glory with $100,000.” We’re so warped in our thinking. We’re so warped to think that’s more valuable. It’s not more valuable. It’s not. It’s not more valuable. The Word of God is more valuable than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
Verse 97, “Oh how I love your law!” Verse 111, “Your testimonies… are the joy of my heart.” Verse 162—yes the longest chapter in the Bible—“I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.” That’s my prayer for you on a daily basis this year: that we would open up the Word—every one of us—and that we’d just find great spoil every morning. That we’d be able to say, “I just came upon treasure! Treasure!” Even in the most unlikely places. There’s treasure in Leviticus. Just keep pressing through. There’s treasure there, spoil there. I want to call you to enjoy God in 2014 for the glory of God in 2014. Enjoy! Enjoy God’s grace in relationship with Him.
We’re just reading the Bible for the love of God, and that’s the name of the devotional that kind of goes along with this Bible reading plan (For the Love of God, D.A. Carson). That’s the even bigger point: that we would grow in love for God, delight in God, and joy in God, as well as knowledge of God’s delight and love for us. That’s the whole point of the journey: that we would love God more and that we would know God’s love for us more—that we would enjoy His grace in relationship with Him in a way that extends His glory to the ends of the earth. They go together. So this is how God has designed creation: to experience our deepest joy in His greatest glory.
The problem in our lives …
Now the problem is, we’ve turned from God as our source of joy (which is the purpose of our lives). But it’s the problem in our lives evident back in Genesis 3 where we see man rejecting God’s Word. So the problem in our lives is we’ve rejected God’s Word. The first question that ever appears in the Bible is Genesis 3:1: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” All of a sudden, the command of God is reduced to a question about God. One writer said, “For the first time, the most deadly spiritual force was covertly smuggled into the world: the assumption that what God has said is subject to human judgment.”
“So Eve, Let’s talk about what God has said and see how we feel about it.” Eve should have been suspicious—she should have been suspicious of a talking snake, but even deeper than that—she should have been suspicious when she heard the adversary say, “God didn’t really say that. God told you a lie. God didn’t tell you the truth. God’s not the one that determines good and evil; you’re the one who determines that. God’s not the arbiter of truth; you’re the arbiter of truth.” What we see in Genesis 3, and what we see all across our culture today: rapidly shifting moral landscape in our culture built on a relativistic idea of truth and morality. “What’s right is what I determine is right, and what’s wrong is what I say is wrong.” And it’s not just our culture, it’s our hearts—it’s every single one of us. Every time we sin, we’re saying to God, “I know what’s good for me and not good for me better than You do. I determine this. Not you, God.”
So we’ve rejected God’s Word, and in the process, we’ve rebelled against God’s authority. We’ve asserted ourselves as a greater authority than God, and in the process, distanced ourselves from dependence on God. This is my life, your life; it’s the story of all of our lives. We’re going to do what we please, whatever we want. Think about it. When you read through Genesis 1–2, you see everything in creation responding in obedience to the bidding of God. A light responds to God, and mountains do what they’re told based on the authority of God. Ocean waves stop where they do because God says, “You, stop here.” Birds, animals…they all respond in perfect obedience to the bidding of God…until you get to man in Genesis 3, and you and I have the audacity to look at Him—the creator God—in the face and say, “No! We know better than You do. We’re in charge here; not You.”
In our sin we insist that we know what’s best for our lives, and the result is a world where we run around from person to person, from possession to possession, from pleasure to pleasure, from pursuit to pursuit, thinking, “This is going to do it for me. This is going to satisfy me. This is going to make me happy.” And the tragedy is, all the while, we’re running from the one our souls long for most, separated from God in our sin against God…which is why we find ourselves in, instead of a Genesis 2-type world, a Genesis 4-type world—marked by sin, evil, suffering, pain, depression, hurt, heartache. Because every one of us and every person on the planet has turned away from God.
We read it this week. One chapter after Genesis 3, we’ve got murder in Genesis 4. We’ll read tomorrow about a massive flood coming upon the earth. What a change from Genesis 2 to Genesis 6, in four short chapters! And don’t miss the portrait of God that we have in these first six chapters. Right here, we have the divine attributes that set up the divine dilemma for the rest of Scripture and the rest of history. On one hand, we see a creator God with holy love for His people. At the same time, we see a judge with holy wrath due His people. So the question is set up from the start: how can God show holy love toward sinners who are due His holy wrath?
The promise for our lives …
Thankfully, in the middle of this dilemma, from the very beginning, we have a promise for our lives. Here’s what God says to the adversary in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:15 is a verse that Christians throughout history have called the protoevangelium—“the first gospel.” Martin Luther said that verse 15, “…embraces and comprehends within itself everything noble and glorious that is to be found anywhere in the Scriptures.” Here we have a promise: God will send a Redeemer to us. He points to a time when a son will come, a man born of Eve, from the line of Eve, who will be bruised by the evil one but, in the end, who will crush the evil one. What Isaiah later said will come true: this son will be pierced for our transgression and bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). And what Paul later said will come true: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). In the midst of the darkest scene in all the Bible, we have a glimmer of grace and the promise of Christ. God will send a Redeemer to us—a Redeemer to pay the price for us. He will send His Son to pay the redemption price, the price to bring you back to Him, to redeem you—to pay the price for your sins so that you can be reconciled to Him.
So you and me, we can be reconciled to Him. Hear the good news of the Bible! Christian and non-Christian friends here today, when we read Genesis 3, we don’t need to think this story is just about Adam and Eve. It’s about us. Ladies and gentleman, we are Adam. We are Eve. We have rejected God’s Word. We have rebelled against God’s authority. We—you and I—we need a redeemer, and God has provided one for us to be reconciled to Him. He has been true to His promise in Genesis 3:15. He has sent His Son to us. He has died on a cross for us. He’s risen from the grave in victory over Satan, sin, and death, so that all who trust in Jesus as redeemer will be reconciled to God forever. Be reconciled to God, at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore. It’s only possible through this Redeemer.
So then, reading the first few chapters of Genesis immediately points us to the first few chapters of Matthew. So turn over there with me to Matthew 4, where we read the story about how the Redeemer comes. This is one of the things I love most about reading different parts of Scripture on the same day—you see how it all connects together. God promises a Redeemer in Genesis 3, and in Matthew 3 that Redeemer comes on the scene saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v. 17). The King is here. Matthew 1: He’s born. Mathew 2: He’s worshipped by wise men from the nations. Matthew 3: He’s baptized. Matthew 4: He’s tempted and begins proclaiming the gospel. When we get to verse 18, listen to what is says:
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18–22)
In the Beginning of the New Testament …
Matthew 4 18–22 Says that We have been called to be disciples of Jesus.
So see it: Beginning in the Old Testament, we’re created to enjoy God’s grace in relationship with Him and extend God’s glory to the ends of the earth. If that’s really the purpose of our lives from the very beginning, you’d think it would still be the purpose of our lives when we get to Matthew 4. So we come to the beginning of the New Testament, and we see the exact same thing. Matthew 4:19: “Follow me.” We have been called to be disciples of Jesus. We have been invited into a relationship with God through Jesus. By His grace, Jesus comes up to these four fishermen by the sea and initiates a relationship with them. He doesn’t say, “Follow this path. Follow these rules. Follow these regulations.” He says, “Follow me…enter into relationship with me.”
What does that mean? What does it mean to enter into relationship with Jesus? To follow Him? Well, fundamentally, it means to turn from our sin and ourselves. Matthew 4:17—right before what we just read—says to repent, to turn away from our sin and ourselves. Obviously, we are to turn from rejecting God’s Word and rebelling against God’s authority—to turn from our sin—and part of that, fundamentally, involves turning from our selves. Think about these men and what they were leaving behind at this point: comfort, careers for a time, possession, positions, family, father, their future. They’re leaving behind themselves, and it makes sense. If the essence of sin is turning from God to ourselves, then the essence of salvation is turning from ourselves to God.
So to follow Jesus is to turn from your sin and yourself and to trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord—to trust in Jesus as the only one who can reconcile us to God, and to trust in Jesus as the only one who has the rightful reign over our lives. Again, sin is rebellion against God’s authority; so what does salvation involve? Salvation involves submission to God’s authority. That’s not a necessarily a popular word—submission. But connect the dots here. Connect this with joy. How are you in your life going to be most satisfied? The answer is in submission to the one who created you, to the one who designed you—the One who knows you better than you know yourself and knows what you need better than you know what you need. So this is not just salvation through submission; this is satisfaction through submission to Christ. It’s saying, “It’s not this person, or that possession, or this pursuit, or that pleasure that’s going to bring me satisfaction. It’s You that is going to satisfy my soul. So I’m trusting You as Savior—as the One who can reconcile me to God—and as Lord—as the One who has rightful reign over me—for my salvation and for my satisfaction.” It almost sounds selfish, doesn’t it? Come to Christ for your own sake and for God’s sake together. Your joy, His glory.
We have been commissioned to make disciples of Jesus.
It’s not just satisfaction for our sake; it’s satisfaction for other’s sake. We’ve been called to be disciples of Jesus, and we’ve been commissioned to make disciples of Jesus. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Just like what we saw in the Old Testament (paraphrase): “Go, be fruitful, multiply. Fill the earth with my glory” (Genesis 1:28). Jesus, from the very beginning, made clear—this is what He’s commissioning His disciples to do: to go and to proclaim God’s grace for other’s salvation in Christ. That’s why He says “fishers of men.” This is the picture He’s giving us. He’s not saying they’re going to fish for men all over the lake; He was telling them from the start that they’d be spreading the gospel all over the world. It’s what He was commissioning them to do from the very beginning, and not just a few of them. This is what was fundamentally involved in following Christ: fishing for men—proclaiming the grace of God for other’s salvation in Christ.
That’s why at the end of this book we see this commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus told these same disciples (Matthew 28:19). “Go and proclaim God’s grace for other’s salvation in Christ” (paraphrased). And it makes sense. When you’re glad in God, you tell others how they can be glad in God. That’s why Psalms 67 says, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (verse 4). A people who are satisfied in God will proclaim God for other’s satisfaction. When we think about our neighbors, when we think about our co-workers who don’t know Christ, we have the best news in all the world to tell them. The message we proclaim is, “You can be glad in God through Christ.” There’s no better news in the world. That news is worth laying down your life to proclaim—worth losing your life to proclaim.
To your neighbors and to the nations: proclaim God’s grace for other’s salvation in Christ. And then as we do, we will spread God’s glory through the multiplication of the church. We’ll multiply the church; this picture of the body of Christ in the world will multiply the beauty of Christ all over the world. When we are making disciples, inevitably, we will multiply churches. We’re talking about that all the time. The inevitable result of making disciples is multiplying churches. Think about our brothers and sisters in Cuba. One church plants 60 other churches. If you go to one of these other churches, that church has planted 25 other churches. They’re just spreading…multiplying like wildfire.
In December, we reminded ourselves about our brothers and sister that we partner together with in India. One church in one village a few years ago; a few years later…350 churches in 350 different villages. They are multiplying; making disciples, multiplying the church. So this is the question in particular that I’ve been wrestling with ever since I got back from Asia in October. What does this look like here? I don’t want to just see this over there, and read about it over there, and tell you about it over there. I want to experience this here. The multiplication of the church.
It’s simple when you think about it. Think about if we all in this room today, over the next year, obeyed Jesus and made disciples, which is the will of God for our lives in 2014. (You don’t have to wait for a vision or a tingly feeling to go down your spine or anything like that; it’s the will of God for you to make disciples in the next year—to lead someone else to go follow Christ. That’s the will of God.) What if we all did that? A year from now, we’d have twice as many people. We’d have problems. Where would we put them all? If we’re actually making disciples, then we’re going to have to multiply churches, which means that many of us—many of us if we’re obeying Christ—are going to have to leave here and multiply into places all around Birmingham as we’re making disciples.
This begs the question: do we want to make disciples? Are we willing to risk that? And I hope we are. It changes everything when we realize Jesus has not commissioned us to come, be baptized, and sit in one location for the rests of our Christian lives; He has commanded us to go and make disciples of the nations. This means we need to fundamentally think about—rethink in some practical ways—the way we understand and perceive the church. What does this look like? The elders and I are fasting and praying asking, “What does multiplication look like for The Church of Brook Hills?” This is what I want to invite all of us think and pray through in the coming days. God, we want to be a part of multiplication of the gospel and the church here. There’s so much to pray about there.
But it all comes back to each one of our lives. So it’s not just a big picture thing. It’s you, right there in your seat; it’s every member of this church. You have been created, right where you’re sitting, to enjoy God’s grace in a relationship with Him and to extend God’s glory to the ends of the earth. You have been called to be a disciple of Jesus and to make disciples of Jesus. You’ve been commissioned by Jesus Himself to make disciples. So how are you going to do that in your life in 2014? That’s what I want to ask every member of this church. How are you going to do that in 2014? Nobody on the sidelines; everybody involved. There are no spectators in the kingdom of God.
In the Beginning of 2014 …
So what you’ve got in the beginning of 2014—in your notes here—are the questions that I’ve put before you previously that form what we call a personal disciple-making plan. It’s basically a challenge for every member of this church here at the beginning of this year. Sometime in the next week or two, write out how, by God’s grace, you plan to grow as a disciple of Jesus and give your life to make disciples of Jesus this year. I want to challenge you to take the questions that I’m about to run through and, sometime over the next week or two, spend time praying through and answering them. I’m talking about writing out answers to these questions. We’ve put these on the church website in a downloadable form, so you can actually fill it in electronically if you want to do that and it’d be helpful. There’s a guide there that kind of helps you think through each question. I’m going to hit the different questions now, but it kind of fills in some of the blanks there.
I want to challenge every member of this church write down how are you going to, by God’s grace, be intentional about growing disciples of Jesus and giving your life to making disciples of Jesus this next year. This is what we’re created, called, and commissioned to do. I want to encourage you to do this with others. So either after you’ve written this, or maybe even in the process of writing it, share it with other people around you—maybe family, spouse, children, small group, other people in this faith family—who will pray for you and walk alongside you during this year. Nobody needs to do this alone. This is something we do together as a church. This is something our elders do every year, something all of our new members do, and something I want to challenge—beginning this yea—every single member to do. Just think, “What if we all did this?” I’m talking about if we all write it out and do this. Imagine the potential for the gospel to spread in and through us by the power of God’s Spirit.
How will I fill my mind with truth?
These are the questions I want to encourage you to ask. One: how will I fill my mind with truth? The life of a disciple is the life of a learner. We want to learn from Christ what it means to be a disciple of Christ. So we ask questions like, how will I read God’s Word? And how will I memorize God’s Word?
Now obviously, this is where this Bible reading plan comes in. So I want to encourage you to join in; be a part of that. In fact, pull out the two sheets included in your worship guide. One says “Personal Worship” on the top, and the other says “Family Worship” on the top. So pull out “Simple Guide to Personal Worship.” We’re going to unpack this some more next week and the coming weeks, but I want to go ahead and get this to you as soon as possible. You can download this from the church website as well. Pass it on to others. It’s just a simple guide.
So here’s the encouragement, just to hit some of the high points here. Find a quiet place to be alone with God. All you need is a Bible and way to record your thoughts. If you’re expecting God to speak, I think it’d be good to write down what God says. So as you’re learning from the Word, you want to write that down. As you begin, pause to praise God, express your desire to know Him more, then open your Bible and ask Him to teach, correct, and train you in righteousness—what 2 Timothy 3:16 says the purpose of God’s Word is. Make sure that this time does not become mechanical or monotonous. Focus on being with God, engaging in His Word, and responding to His Spirit—what we read about in Psalms 63. So start by reading; typically, you’ll read two chapters of Scripture each day (according to the plan Brook Hills used). You may walk through the steps below after reading one of the chapters or both of them. But either way, read each chapter slowly, carefully, prayerfully, thoughtfully, humbly, and joyfully. As you read look up verses you may want to memorize and begin memorizing. Also, periodically review verses you may already have memorized. So as you’re reading through, maybe make it a goal to memorize one verse a week or one verse every couple of weeks. Start on the verses that make you think, “Oh I want to memorize that verse.” Or maybe longer sections as you work towards memorization…but just start simple and commit to memorize one of the verses you read each week.
Then, examine. So what do you do… just read the Bible and say, “Okay, I read. I guess that was it”? How can you understand what God’s Word is saying? Examine. After you read the Bible, spend time reflecting on what it says and means. Ask the following questions, and write down some of your thoughts in response. You don’t necessarily answer every question. This is not a checklist that you’ve got to turn in because you’ve got to get all the answers right. This is just a guide to help you examine what you’ve read. Write down what’s happening in this passage. What words, phrases, and/or ideas seem particularly important. What does this text teach about the gospel? So think about gospel threads. The character of God…what does this text teach you about God? What does this text teach you about man? What does this text teach you about who Christ is and why we need Him? What does this text teach you about trusting and following Christ? What does this text teach you about the hope of heaven or the horror of hell? What does this text teach us about the gospel?
So ask those kind of questions, then apply. After examining the Word, apply it to your life. Ask the following questions based upon the text and write down your thoughts in response. Again you don’t have to answer every question, but when you read through a text just ask: “Is there sin this text is exposing that I need to repent of and to avoid? What truths do I need to believe here? Maybe there are some that I’ve already believed, maybe there are some that I haven’t. What commands do I need to obey? What do I need to give up? What do I need to stop doing? Start doing? What do I need to continue doing? What principles need to change the way I think, speak, and act? How am I going to implement that change? What relationships do I need to establish, strengthen, or change as a result of this Word? By the power of God’s Spirit, what can I do today to apply God’s Word for my life?
So don’t just hear the Word. The most foolish thing we can do is to hear the Word (James 1). Don’t just hear the Word and deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
We want to think through intentionally, “How can I take what I’ve read and put it into practice in my life?” Pray according to your examination and application of the text. This is how my Bible study, all throughout, just turns into prayer. I’m just writing out prayers to God, asking God to change my heart, my mind, my attitudes, actions, relationships…based on what I’ve seen in the Word. Let that specific praying lead you more generally to Praise: worship God for who He is. Repent: confess your sin, acknowledge your need for Jesus. Ask: intercede for the particular needs in your life and others’ lives. Yield: surrender your life to following Jesus wherever and however He leads you. That acronym—PRAY—will help you think through how to pray.
And then conclude your time alone with God by committing to share what He’s taught you at least with one other person. This is not just for you, it’s for others. Specifically pray through your schedule for the day. In the morning—or the following day if you’re spending that time at night—ask the Lord to direct you by His Spirit in everything you think, say, and do. Finally, ask the Lord for opportunities to share the gospel with others. Ask Him for courage to obey, and be ready to take advantage of the opportunities that He provides.
So this is something, hopefully, that will serve you when you sit down with the Bible and something to write with and think, “What do I do?” I hope this will help. On the back is basically a sample journal entry. So when you get to February 9th, you’ll be in Genesis 42 and Mark 12, so that might be what your journal would look like. That may be more or less than what you do. The whole point is, “Okay, time alone with God. I want to make the most of it.” So this is a guide that is intended to help you toward that end. Again, we’re going to dive in and even walk through how to think through some of these things in the weeks to come, but I wanted to go ahead and get this to you today as we’re starting this Bible reading plan.
So how will I read God’s word? How will I memorize God’s Word? Back to your notes—then, how will I learn God’s Word from others? Now again you don’t have to come up with earthshaking, revolutionary things here. This could involve—I would say for every member of this church, would necessarily involve—being active in learning God’s Word in gatherings of the church for worship like this. It could also be more than that. Small group: learning God’s Word from others in small group and in other avenues. In my personal disciple making plan, I want to be intentional about reading books, listening to podcasts, doing this or that that I know is going to help me learn God’s Word from others. I need that, you need that, we all need that. So how will I learn God’s Word from others? How will I fill my mind with truth?
How will I fuel my affections for God?
Now we don’t want to keep it just in mind like we’re just supposed to be smarter people as a result of this. No. Second: How will I fuel my affections for God? That’s the heart, the seat of our emotions. Even as I’m asking these questions (and I put it there on the personal worship guide), any of these things- Bible reading, praying, worshipping, sharing the gospel—they can all become mechanical and monotonous if we’re not careful…which is not the point. “For the love of God”…we’re wanting to grow in affection for God. So how are you going to stoke the fire and fuel your affection for God in the next year?
Ask these questions: how will I worship? So obviously gathering together with the church on Sunday would be a priority there. So will you commit to prioritize weekly worship more than weekend sports or other weekend activities that keep you from worship? Then—now take it down a level—even as a family—fathers, heads of households, families, and even singles with friends—would you commit to gather together for family worship, or daily midweek worship, with your family and friends in some way? Pull out that “Simple Guide to Family Worship.” Again, we’re going to dive into this even more in the weeks to come, but I want to go ahead and put this before you, and I want to challenge every head of household—so that may be a father, that may be a husband, that may be a single mom—I want to challenge you, if you’re a head of household, to consider: how are you this year going to lead your family in worship?
The idea of family worship is both attractive and intimidating. For those just beginning a new pattern of worship in the home, this guide includes answer to basic questions that we hope will help equip you to lead your family in worship. Realize that, from the very beginning, the importance of the family in discipleship is prominent throughout Scriptures. Husbands are primarily responsible for the spiritual leadership of their wives. Parents, especially fathers, are primarily responsible for the spiritual growth of their children. We don’t farm this out to programs in the church to do. This is something we do in our homes.
Then we come together as the church, and we help serve each other. These are huge responsibilities, but God has promised to provide everything we need to lead our families well according to His design. So as leaders in our home, the critical thing we need to remember is that God’s Word must be written upon our hearts—our faith in Christ. Reliance upon His Word should be authentic, tangible, transparent. So we want to take the initiative for leading in our homes.
See some of the benefits of family worship. “What should we do during family worship?” Keep it simple. This is not, “Okay we’ve got to put together a band with our kids. Alright, four-year-old, you’re singing lead even though you only have a little bit of words.” No. “And, who’s going to prepare the outline and preach the sermon?” No…think simple. Read a portion of the Bible together. You may read one or both of the chapters that are in the daily Bible reading plan. You say, “Well I already read that.” It will be good to read it a second time. It will be good to read it together, too, and to help each other. Ask one another, “What did you learn from this? What did you learn from that?” That’s what I would encourage you to do. At the end of the guide, it says, “read.”
Of course, you’ll want to explain difficult words and concepts to children if they are present, but don’t’ worry too much if you can’t explain everything. Don’t let your four-year-old’s question that you can’t answer stump you and make you say, “I’m not doing family worship again because I don’t have any clue.” I get stumped all the time. I respond, “Son, there are so many things we’re going to know in heaven, and that would be one of them. So let’s move on.”
After reading the Bible together, discuss it. So you think about “examine” and “apply” on the other sheet. Work through a similar process, examining what you’ve read, give everybody a chance to discuss the passage and consider how it applies to everyday life. Ideally, you’ll lead by example and share with your family what you learned in your time alone with God and the difference it’s made. Walk through that kind of process with your family. Again, it doesn’t have to be this exhaustive time. Keep it simple.
Pray. Consider praying through the key points of the Bible passage you just read. Ask God to change your hearts, minds, lives, and family accordingly. That specific prayer can lead to a more general time of prayer that uses those letters—P.R.A.Y—as a guide. Try to include everyone as you pray, even if that’s on a rotating basis. You may want to keep a journal that enables you to keep track of prayer requests and God’s answers to those requests.
When it comes to singing: sing and/or listen to music together as a family. If someone in the family has musical gifts, they may lead some simple songs. If no one in your family is musical, you can sing along with music from worship gatherings or listen to praise songs and discuss what they mean. There’s moments in our family worship where I’ll start leading a song, and Heather will say, “Ah that key!” And I say, “I don’t know what key means…I’m just trying to sing.” It sounds bad sometimes, but in our family worship, it usually ends up with us wrestling on the floor in the end.
Memorize: choose key verses or passages to memorize together.
I really want to help equip you to do this, heads of household. But the best way to learn to do this is to start doing this. And don’t put too much pressure on yourself, thinking that it’s got to be this well-crafted worship gathering in your living room. Just open the Bible, read, pray, sing. You don’t have to sing yet…you can wait on the singing if that makes you nervous. Just keep it simple.
So how are you going to do that? Particularly heads of household: how are you going to lead family worship? If it’s just you and your wife, then how are you going to lead family worship? If it’s you and your kids, how are you going to do that? How are you going to worship?
Next, how are you going to pray? What’s going to be your time and what’s going to be your place…to go in your room, close the door, and you pray to your Father who is unseen (language from Matthew 6)? I exhort you set aside a time and a place. That one practice will utterly revolutionize your life—if you set aside a time and place to just be with God.
How do I pray and how do I fast? So we’re going to fast together again, once a quarter as a church. Then over and above that, maybe you’re going to commit to fast from a meal every week or two weeks, or for this time frame or that time frame to say, “More than I need food, I need God. More than I want food, I want God.” How will I fast?
How will I give? Some of you might think, “Well how do you sneak giving into this disciple making plan? Is this just a pastor trick? No. What does giving have to do with affection for God? According to Jesus, it has everything to do with affection for God. Where your treasure is, there your (what?) will be also…there your heart will be also. Your heart follows your money, your heart follows your money. So how are you going to intentionally put your money where God is saying your hearts need to be? We talked about this at the end of last year—conviction about a lack of obedience in our faith family when it comes to this. So how are you going to obey God when it comes to giving? How are you going to even look at the tithe, not as a ceiling of giving, but as the floor of giving? What changes are you going to make in your lifestyle to make that possible? Be intentional. How am I going to give? All these things fuel affection for God.
How will I share God’s love as a witness in the world?
Then how will I share God’s love as a witness in the world? We’ve been commissioned to make disciples, to lead other people to Christ. This year, we want to do what we’re here to do…what we’re on the earth to do. So I challenge you to ask these questions.
One: who? Who has God put in your life? Who has God put in your sphere of influence who doesn’t know Christ? I want to encourage you to write down the names of people—three, five, ten people—who you know who don’t know Christ that you’re going to pray for, and you’re going to work to see come to Christ this year. To be intentional, then ask, how? How am I going to be intentional about sharing the gospel with these people? What’s my plan for intentionally sharing Christ with them? Even to the point of asking this next question: when? When can you specifically, even deliberately, create opportunities to share the gospel with them? Invitations to breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner, whatever. Is there some activity? A weekend you can set aside? A day you can set aside? Or maybe something as simple as sending a letter? Whatever it might be…
When I was going through—and this is just the pure grace of God—working on my personal disciple making plan for 2014 and looking back at 2013, and I came to this point in my 2013 plan, I saw names on there that I’ve been able to cross out because this time last year they didn’t know Christ and this time this year they know Christ. Don’t you want to see that with people God has put in your life? This is worth being intentional about, praying, and working.
How will I show God’s love as a member of the church?
Then, how will I show God’s love as a member of the church? I want to encourage you to ask two specific questions here. First: where? Meaning if you’re not already a member of a church to become a member of a church, whether that’s here or somewhere else. The Bible knows nothing of lone ranger Christians disconnected from a local body of believers—membership in a local body of believers. So where? Are you going to be a member of the church here? Somewhere? Wherever you can most effectively make disciples of all nations in a local church. Then, even within that church, we all know this isn’t easy. You can become a member of the church, come here and worship, and go out, and not know anybody, not be encouraging others, building other people up in their relationship with Christ…not being accountable to other people in their relationship with Christ. So get plugged in, if you’re a member here, to a small group where you’re sharing life and making disciples with other men and women. If you’re not a part of a small group let me encourage you, immediately at the beginning of this year, get connected to a small group.
So where, and then what? What are the specific ways you’re going to serve the brothers and sisters around you? It is for your good and for others’ good that you’re committed as a member of a church. So what’s church membership going to look like in action for the sake of other brothers and sisters around you?
How will I spread God’s glory among all peoples?
Then two more questions. One: how will I spread God’s glory among all peoples? All of us have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations. Not just the extraordinary missionaries, but everyday disciples. We are making disciples of all nations. So what does that mean we do? It means we pray for the nations. How am I going to pray for the nations? We have the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing around the world from our knees, on a daily basis. So whether you use something like Operation World or other guides, when you open up this worship guide, on the left panel right next to where you’re taking notes, you have this section that says “Pray for our lives, pray for you city, and pray for our world.” So this is intentionally there as a guide very week to help you think through, “How can I be intentional in prayer for needs beyond me and my family to the city and the nations?”
How am I going to pray for the nations, and how am I going to give to the nations? Again there might be overlap in some of these questions, but intentionally think this through. If you’re giving to the church, then obviously that’s a part of giving to the nations because we as a church are giving to the nations. Is there anything God is calling you to do over and above that to give to the glory of Christ—the spread of the gospel—among the nations?
Then how will I go to the nations? Ask the question, is God leading you to go on a short term trip—to spend a week or two of your life this year—to another context for the spread of the gospel there. Ask and seek out possibilities to discern whether or not He’s leading you to do that. How will I go to the nations?
How will I make disciple-makers among a few people?
Then finally, a much simpler question, how will I make disciple makers among a few people? Think about it…Jesus, more than anybody else who ever lived on the earth, was the most passionate about His Father’s glory extending to the ends of the earth…so what did He do? He poured Himself into a few people. So how can you do that this year? Think through the following questions. How will I bring them in? Who—are there one, two, three, four people—has God put into your life, in your sphere of influence, that you can lead to make disciples this year? These are people you can invite to spend intentional time with you during this year for the express purpose of growing in Christ together. And then ask, “How am I going to teach them to obey?” That’s what’s involved in disciple-making—we say it every week: “teaching them to observe all that [Jesus has] has commanded” (Matthew 28:20). How am I going to help them learn God’s Word and learn to obey God’s Word? Along the way, how am I going to model obedience for them? I put this here just to remind you that this is not just, “Who are you going to have a Bible study with?” Who are you going to share life with and show what it means to follow Christ? When it comes to this point in my personal disciple making plan, I’ve got different things that I want to do in my own life, even commitments to purity in this or that area. Because, yes, I want to be pure, but I also want to show others what it looks like to follow Christ. I know other people are looking to me to see what it looks like to follow Christ. And that’s not just because I’m a pastor; that’s true of every follower of Christ in this room. That’s why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Philippians 4:9, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” So we have a responsibility of showing other people how to follow Christ, modeling obedience.
Then, how will I send them out? The goal is to make disciple-makers, to spend our lives multiplying the gospel by equipping, empowering, and mobilizing people around us to make disciples.
So those are six overall questions. I don’t think they’re necessarily exhaustive, but I do think they’re pretty essential. So I want to challenge every member of the church to ask and answer them together. No spectators…nobody on the sidelines. Let’s not just hear the Word; let’s do it. Let’s experience the purpose for which God has created us, and give ourselves to the mission to which He’s commissioned us.