SCHOOL OF ISRAEL
Mini-Study Guides, 1994-5
"More Than Conquerors"
3. DISORGANISED GRAMMAR
Scripture Meditation: Ephesians 3:1-21
"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine..." (v.20)
We have seen how the word "more" stands out in the text that forms the basis of this year's preaching themes (Rom.8:37) in a powerful and peculiar way: "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." As I said earlier, it is the "more" that counts because it is the "plus" that is characteristic of the Christian Gospel and that makes it different from every other type of religion. This "more" allows us to surpass the ordinary level in goodness, in achievement, in joy, in radiant living. In the struggle of life, it is that extra ounce of strength that counts, that extra power of endurance, that extra energy that Christians have at their disposal which keeps them from falling apart when everything is breaking up all around them.
I wonder how many of you here today have got bad habits? Perhaps I can ask the question another way: will all those who can truthfully say they have no bad habits please stand up? ...... Now let me ask you another question: How many of you have tried through sheer will-power to break a bad habit but have repeatedly failed? ...put your hands up.... I am sure, every one of us. Maybe it's smoking, laziness, carelessness in what we say to others, swearing, messiness, bad temper, or any of hundreds of other bad habits which plague mankind. It maybe something little like forgetting to make your bed after you've got up, or it may be something more serious like a compulsion to steal. And I wonder how many times you've made New Year Resolutions to quit a bad habit and then given up because you failed to overcome after a few weeks or months? Well, if you have bad habits -- and I know you have -- then I have some good news for you, for the apostle Paul testified: "I can do everything through [Christ] who gives me strength" (Phil.4:13).
There we have it again, brethren and sisters, another of those superlatives -- "everything". This is one of my favourite scriptures; and I believe it, because I know it's true. But what does it actually mean? Does it mean that if I trust in Christ I can become a millionaire? Or become the most handsome man in the world? Or that I can become an intellectual genius? Or that I can drive a car with my eyes closed? Not exactly. If God wants me to be a millionaire, then yes, even though I have very little money, it means I can be a millionaire. If God wants me to become an intellectual genius, then yes, I can be. You see, all the promises given by God are conditional upon obedience to His will.
I am going to rewrite Paul's statement in three different ways, all of which are true. The first is this: "I can do everything that is God's will through Christ who gives me strength." The second is like it: "I can do everything that I need to do through Christ, who gives me strength." The last is this: "I can do everything pleasing to God through Christ who gives me strength." The scriptures tell me that God will give me everything I need but not necessarily everything I want if I believe in His promises. I must have faith.
For myself I have tried by sheer will-power to break the bad habits in my life but most of them have beaten me every time. So often our best intentions fail because we try to overcome our weaknesses in our own strength. Since I gave my life to Jesus Christ a little under twenty years ago I have been conscious of a new found power at work within me that carries me past the temptations that I once fell prey to and problems that I could not seem to overcome. I'd like to tell you about a couple of them.
I was brought up as a single child and had relatively little contact with children of my own age, as then my family lived in the Far East. I was shy and retiring and didn't like to be around my peers. I liked adult company so long as I could sit in the sidelines and just watch. Throughout my youth I kept very much to myself -- I was afraid of people, afraid to look stupid, afraid to speak in public. Even when I was at university I had a tiny circle of friends, no more than three or four.
When I decided to commit myself to Jesus Christ in 1977 my life changed dramatically. To begin with, I actually felt a new power enter my body -- the Holy Spirit -- it was like a giant floodlight suddenly being switched on inside. My fear of people disappeared. Today, nearly 20 years on, I can stand before an audience of hundreds of people whom I've never seen before and talk or preach without any preparation at all. Now of my own power I know this is impossible; rather, I have experienced the living Christ through me. In moments when I have doubted Him, I have dried up completely and not known what to say. So I can testify that "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength".
The second area where Jesus has changed me is in the area of health. When I came to Europe from the tropics I seemed to be plagued by ill-health and sometimes spent more time in the school sanitorium than in school itself. About ten years ago I was struck by an incurable disease called calcific tendinitis which inflames the muscle-bone connections or tendons on the shoulders. I was in pain constantly, my arms and shoulders froze up, and I couldn't sleep comfortably at night. The doctors offered me surgery and chemotherapy but said that I would be permanently weakened by it and that there was no guarantee of the condition not returning. I decided I would not have the treatment but that I would trust the Lord.
It got a little better but when I came here to Norway it suddenly got worse again. I was desperate. After a while of bitterly complaining to the Lord I decided to accept my condition and leave it in God's hands, and stopped taking the medication which had rather unpleasant side-effects. I decided that I would take the promise of the Lord which says: "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength". So I stopped thinking and complaining about the pain and got on with life, trusting the Lord to give me the strength to perform my duties as a wage-earner, father, husband and minister. One morning I woke up and the pain was gone. Just like that! Instant release! My shoulders are weak, though they have got stronger, and I can still only sleep in certain positions, but the pain is now gone.
So what does he mean when he says that we should be more than conquerors? The experiences I have had in life -- and I have only cited two of many -- tell me the following. Firstly, to be a conqueror means to win by fighting. The Christian Gospel is not a passive Gospel -- it is an active one. To be a Christian you must be doing things. All of us were born into this life to face certain problems and conquer them. Some we can conquer by our own efforts but a great many of them we cannot. So, if being a conqueror means fighting, what does being "more than a conqueror" mean? It means, quite simply, winning without fighting!
You see, when I realised that medicine couldn't help my illness and that I couldn't do anything about it, I stopped fighting. I simply accepted my situation and put it in God's hands. In my case it was evidently His will that I be healed, because I was. Some of our weaknesses He leaves with us -- not because He is nasty, but because some weaknesses are necessary to keep us humble. And humility is one of the most important graces of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I, like most people, have had troubles and problems in my life, and I fully anticipate more in the years to come. Many of them have not been solved. And the apostle Paul gives us the reason why. He, as you know, was a great prophet and revelator -- much of the New Testament was written by him. He says: "To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me" (2 Cor.12:7). He doesn't say what this thorn was, and we don't know. It may have been a disease, a spiritual weakness, a bad memory, opposition or persecution, or whatever. But we are given to understand that without it Paul, the great apostle, would have been puffed up in his pride. He was probably the greatest theologian of his day. He had done more to advance the Kingdom of God than any other disciple, and success, as well know, has a tendency to go to our heads, yes, even the servants of God. Myself, I suspect Paul's problem was something to do with the perennial problem of human nature, for in his letter to the Romans, seventh chapter, he complains that sometimes he finds himself doing things he doesn't want to do. "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (Rom.7:15, NIV). And don't we all do that? Aren't we often disgusted by the things we sometimes think, do or say? And that is because we have two natures -- a spiritual nature, and a fallen, weak, selfish, rebellious carnal nature. The latter is the source of all the world's woes. It is the human dilemma. And it was because of our carnal nature that Jesus Christ came into the world to help us overcome it.
"I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." Everything. Everything that will make me a whole, happy, decent and loving human being can be achieved through Christ, and through Christ alone. Yes, you can overcome some of your problems through psychotherapy, through religion, through mental exercises, through sheer will power -- you can conquer some things. You can quit smoking through will-power, you can quit alcoholism through will-power. Diseases can be spectacularly healed through faith in ourselves and our own natural resources. People can be made more loving, kind and considerate through living with, or being around, people who are loving, kind and considerate -- we all rub off on each other to some extent, but we can never be wholly delivered from our fallen natures and we cannot live forever through our own efforts. There is no philosopher's stone, no magical drug that will make us immortal, no secret religious doctrine that will keep us alive for ever.
Now, brethren and sisters, for a dose of reality. You are going to die. It's the only thing you can actually be sure of. You don't know when you're going to die. You may be a child and die in a road accident, or you may live to a ripe old age. You could die tomorrow. Is it possible that I can live forever "through Christ who gives me strength"? This is the first and most important message of Christianity. Yes you can! And not just as an immaterial spirit which is the only promise other religions can give (some don't even promise that), but a physical resurrection. By that is meant that you will, after you have died, be given a new physical body which will be immortal, enabling you to enjoy all the physical senses which you enjoy now which a spirit cannot. But there is more than that. Paul said: "I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the RIGHTEOUS and the WICKED" (Acts 24:15, NIV). "For since death came through a man [Adam], the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man [Christ]" (1 Cor.15:21, NIV). "The body that is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable" (1 Cor.14:42, NIV).
The resurrection of the dead, for both the good and the bad, is a free gift of Christ. He assured an unconditional resurrection by conquering death Himself on the Cross. This is one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith (Heb.6:2). Before Christ's personal death and resurrection, there was no resurrection for humanity. Since then, resurrections have taken place. Indeed, we find recorded in Matthew's Gospel: "The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into [Jerusalem] and appeared to many people" (Matt.27:52-53, NIV). From that day onwards, selective resurrections have been taking place, and this process will accelerate during the Millennium that is to come. We can do no more than thank God for this free gift.
The second gift that Christ offers is a conditional one. It's not free in the sense that the resurrection is free. This is the gift of what the scriptures call "eternal life". This does mean that a person will live forever -- that is already unconditional. What eternal life is, is a special quality of life.
There are many people who are alive today who would describe themselves as unhappy and miserable. Robert Redford, the American actor, once said: "All my life I've been dogged by guilt, because I feel that there is a difference between the way I look, which I suppose is good, and how I feel inside." Shortly before his death, Elvis Presley was interviewed by a reporter who asked him: "Elvis, when you started in music you said you wanted three things: to be rich, to be famous, and to be happy. You sure are rich and famous. Are you happy, Elvis?" To which Elvis replied: "No. I am miserable, and lonely as hell." Raquel Welch, the American actress and sex queen, said: "I had acquired everything I wanted as a child -- wealth, fame, accomplishment in my career, I had beautiful children, and a lifestyle that seemed terrific. Yet I was totally and miserably unhappy."
Friends, I don't know what all of you are looking for in life, but one thing I do know: there is no true, everlasting, happiness without Christ. You can get rich, famous, find fantastic husbands or wives, have beautiful children, have successful careers, but all of these are utterly meaningless without a real INNER LIFE OF QUALITY.
A very religious man asked Jesus once what he had to do to inherit eternal life -- this inner quality of happiness, peace and self-satisfaction. He told him to obey the Ten Commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother" (Mark 10:19). The young man replied that he did all these things, because he was religiously inclined. And then Jesus identified his weakness, his idol, his god -- namely, his love of money -- and told him to give it all to the poor and follow Him. He refused and went his way sorrowful.
Money had a grip on his life. It controlled him. It was what he lived for. But Jesus said: NO! Live for Me! Because THAT is the only way to eternal life. And He said it many times to many people. And those of us who have put Him to the test and trusted Him in all things -- not just those areas of the Gospel we like -- but in all areas -- have discovered that what He said was true, and that those who receive Him as their Saviour are empowered to live in a condition of eternal life.
Jesus said: "I tell you the truth...no one who [has sacrificed]....for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life" (Luke 18:29-30).
Eternal life is available now, to anyone who is willing to follow Jesus Christ, and it will be available in abundance as an inheritance in the next life for our righteousness here. You see, our earth life is only one small part of our existence -- a small, yet tremendously important part. It is a testing ground, a time for spiritual growth and development, for our continuing life. What we get here we cannot get anywhere else. It is a once-only offer.
Irrespective of how old you are, or how many mistakes you have made in your life, or no matter what terrible things you have done, Jesus Christ promises you eternal life now, if you will but change direction and receive His free gift. He promises to change you -- in some things quickly, and in others gradually. In the Christian life, there is no such thing as "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" or "it's too late" for we have the promise that "I can do EVERYTHING through [Christ] who gives me strength".
I am here as a representative of the New Covenant Church of God which, as an apostolic and prophetic Church, presents the Gospel of Jesus Christ in perhaps its most potent form. Through the grace of Christ He has established amongst this fallible people a treasure house of wisdom, revelation, and prophecy to help sincere and well-intentioned seekers-after-truth to get to know the Saviour of Mankind and to live the abundant life -- a life of quality and meaning.
If anyone has been pricked in their hearts by the Holy Spirit and desires to change their lives by following Christ, then I invite you to come and stand up in the front of the hall and make your request known. We will then invite you to follow the pattern given in the New Testament which reads:
May the Lord bless you and lead you to an abundant life, through faith in His Name, is my prayer, in Jesus' Name. Amen"
"And when they had heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:27-29, AV).
This page was created on 15 May 1998
Updated on 15 May 1998
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