This Sunday we conclude our series in the book of Proverbs. The goal of the book is to instruct us in how to live wisely, skillfully in a broken world. And one of the ways it has done that is by setting before us the contrast of the life, character and behavior of the wise man and foolish man. As Christians, we seek to live wisely according to the Word of the Lord through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The grace of God has appeared in Christ Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit trains us to renounce ungodliness and the flesh and walk by the Spirit. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way we exercise self-control.
We gather this morning on the dawn of a new year. No doubt all of us possess goals, desires, aspirations for the new year. And how shall they be achieved? How will our desires for 2018, our goals be accomplished? Certainly not through laziness. Nothing we desire, nothing great we want, will be achieved or accomplished through idleness, through laziness and do nothingness. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished by remaining idle. No, we must work. If we would have a fruitful, indeed, joyful 2018, we must work diligently. One of the themes of the book of Proverbs is hard work, hard work contrasted with laziness and slothfulness. Work is a glorious thing. If you are starting to grow lazy, let Proverbs call you back to the joy of productivity. Laziness, idleness does not offer us greater joy. God made us to work. He formed our minds to think and our hands to make that we might change the present and alter the future.
The Christmas season is distinguished by the joy it brings. Christmas is about good news of great joy coming to unworthy people. It is about joy, happiness and satisfaction brought to us, won for us in and through the person of Jesus Christ. Christmas is cause for rejoicing!
For the third week of Advent, we focus our attention on the love of God as revealed to us in John 3:16. If there is a verse that summarizes the New Testament, it is John 3:16. For it is here that we learn that the love of God is limitless and active, embracing all mankind. In love, God gave the best, his Son. His Son was not given for one group of people or one nation, He was given so that all, without distinction, without exception, who believe in him might be rescued from destruction and have eternal life.
We all yearn for peace and yet peace often eludes us. Peace eludes us because we turn to the wrong things to find peace. We misunderstand what peace is. Peace isn't the absence of conflict or noise; peace isn’t found in individual stillness. Rather, true peace is found in the wholeness of relationship with the God who made us. True peace is being reconciled unto God and dwelling in his presence under His reign forever. And that is what the incarnation of God in Christ is about: establishing true peace in us as we are reconciled to God through Christ.
We all need hope. Without hope we despair. So we will instinctively seek out people or things to hope in, a relationship, our health, job security, but eventually, all of these things will fail us. None of them can stand up under the crushing weight of our hope. Our God is a God of hope. A God who keeps his Word, a God who is trustworthy and powerful, fully capable to accomplish all He has said He will do. And the incarnation of Jesus is proof of this. Through Jesus, the promises of God come to fruition. And it is by believing in Jesus and his resurrection that we can have hope, hope that can withstand any earthly trial or affliction.
Thinking highly of oneself is one of the highest values in our society. Our society is filled with programs and techniques to help you look and feel better than the next guy. But the Bible treats thinking highly of ourselves as a problem. In Proverbs, God reveals his hatred of our pride. God hates pride, therefore, our pride shall not go unpunished. Prideful men shall receive the righteous judgment of God. But God has made a way for prideful men to be saved from destruction through Christ. Through a humble Savior, we can be rescued from pride's destruction.
While mankind was created to be in communion with God and others, it is our interactions with friends we find to be the most gratifying of relationships. Often, it is our friends who really know us, who we share the most intimate of details with, and who know our greatest successes and flaws. True friendship goes beyond sharing a common history and common interest. We see through these verses in Proverbs the importance of the company we keep and of their ability to influence us. We see descriptions of who a true friend is, and how we can be a true friend to others. True friends run to help in times of distress. They are present through the joyous times and the lonely times. They share one another's burdens. They spur each other on in righteousness. They edify through encouragement and are not afraid to rebuke one another when needed. A true friend is involved in the life of another such that their presence and speech are a source of healing.
The Apostle James teaches us that genuine faith in Christ leads to personal transformation and action. After we come to faith in Christ, we grow in our love and concern for others, particularly, those who are weak, vulnerable and oppressed. Of specific concern to God is the well being and care of orphans and widows. Hence, the Lord calls the church, his people, to rise up and care for them.
This morning is our annual Missions Sunday. It is a time in which we focus our attention on the mission of the church, to glorify God through making disciples of all nations. This mission comes directly from Jesus. In his earthly ministry, Jesus performed many miracles, healing every disease and illness. Gracious and merciful as that was, that was not his primary ministry. His primary ministry was the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom of God and urging sinners to repent and turn to him in faith. Likewise, his disciples are commissioned with the same mission, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and needy world. And to do that, we must be filled with a sincere Christ-like compassion for the lost. Then we must pray; pray for God to do what only He can do in sending laborers into his harvest to proclaim the gospel and draw sinners to himself by the power of the Holy Spirit.