February 09, 2015

Love God with All Your Strength

Sermon # in the series: | Speaker: Pastor Fred Provencher | Scripture:
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Love God with All Your Strength, Mark 12, Matthew 25

Subject: What does it mean to love God with your strength?
Complement: We love God with our strength when we give the gifts and resources God has given to us back to Him to help build His kingdom.

Introduction: What does it mean to love God with your strength?
What does it mean to love God? How does that work itself out in our lives? In Mark 12 Jesus responds to the oft asked rabbinic query, “what is the greatest commandment?” He says:
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.”

If this is what walking with God looks like, then it is worth our time to consider more carefully what it means. To that end we have been pulling apart this passage and asking what it mean to love God. Two weeks ago was said that loving God with your heart means worshipping him in such a way that it touches your emotions and obeying him as an act of your will. Last week Pastor Jon taught us that we love God with all our mind when we make a decision to follow Jesus, discipline our delight in God and destroy sinful thoughts. We love God with our mind when we dwell on the character of God and all things good, and dismiss sinful thoughts before they have time to take root.
But what does it mean to love God with your strength?
First we must consider what Jesus might mean by “strength.” If you were meeting with a life coach and he asked you to list your strengths, you would know how to do that. You might say:
“I have the ability to lead a team of people in a given task.”
Or
“I have the ability to know what people are feeling and to say what will give them relief.”
Or
“I have the ability to see what is happening with global markets and to know what that means for companies.”
But you would also have to list assets of time and finance. For instance:
“At this point in my life, most of my weekends are free.”
So our abilities, our time and our finances qualify as our “strength.” But we ask again: what does it mean to love God with our strength?

Transition: Jesus told a parable about that.
At the end of his earthly life, maybe even the day before the last supper – the second to last supper – Jesus taught his disciples about faithfulness in his absence. He knew he would be going to the cross but he also understood that he would ascend and leave the church to grow under the power of the Holy Spirit. He was trying to tell them how they were to live between his two comings. He had just said that the Kingdom of God is like ten bridesmaids waiting for the groom to arrive. Then he teaches them the “Parable of the Bags of Gold,” or the “Parable of the Talents.”

Looking at Mat 25:12-23

God gives each of his servants treasure to invest on in his Kingdom according to his will
In the parable the master gives his servants a large sums of money to invest and grow while he is away on a journey. He gives the first servant five talents. It is notoriously hard to figure the value of ancient money in today’s terms. But a good estimate is that a talent was worth about 20 years of a day laborer’s wage. So to give someone five talents would be equivalent to five million dollars . The second servant got two million and the third one million. From this first part of the parable we can grasp several truths.
The treasure is his. We all have strengths, abilities, time and money. And we are dependent upon God for all of them. He is the giver of the gifts. And as you can see from the parable…
The treasure is not given evenly. It all flows from God’s abundance, but it is not distributed evenly, at least as far as we can tell. Jesus makes it clear that he has entrusted some people with more than others. And this reality fits our experience. But we all have some amount of these basic resources – time, money, and ability. And …
It is to be invested for his good, as a trust.

In the parable God has entrusted all of his children with treasure. If you are a follower of Christ, God has given you gifts. You have talents, time and a certain amount of finances. You are responsible to use those for the Kingdom of God. But you also have a Spiritual Gift given by God to be used to bless the church. We know from scripture that when we receive Christ several things happen. We are forgiven of all sin, we are adopted by God as one of his children and we are given a “charisma” a spiritual gift along with the indwelling of the Spirit. A spiritual gift is an endowment by God, an ability that allows him to work through you for the good of the church. It can be many different things such as leadership or compassion or evangelism or administration. But you know they are spiritual gifts because, unlike a natural ability, it was not there before you became a Christian, and God works when you use it.
For instance, imagine that someone is in the hospital and you visit. Later, when the person recovers he come to you and says “I want you to know that a lot of people visited me in the hospital, but when you visited I really felt the presence of God. It really affected me.” That kind of testimony shows you that this is not just faithfulness, and it is not just ability. It is a spiritual gift. You are responsible for how you use that gift. It is part of your “bag of gold.” Every believer has a bag of gold to be used for the good of the Kingdom.

Transition: We are responsible for how we invest our talents. We see this as the parable continues and the master comes back to settle accounts with his servants.

God holds us accountable for how we invest our strengths
As the parable continues we see the master return. This is, after all, a parable about how to live until Jesus returns. The master calls his servants before him to report on what they have done with the treasure he gave them.
The first servant reports that he has invested the five million and gained five million in return. The master is overjoyed. He responds with words of encouragement and with a promise that he will have even more responsibility. More than that he says that by serving so faithfully the servant actually participates in the joy of the master:
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

We would expect the master to be excited. This servant just made him five million dollars. But notice what happens when he talks to the second servant. The second servant was only given two talents but returned two more. The master has gained 2 million but the servant receives the same commendation as the servant who earned much more. The words are exactly the same and this is probably meant to convey something important. God rejoices when we are faithful. He is a God of abundance and he gives us treasure out of his abundance. He rejoices when we are faithful and the yield is not as important as the faithfulness.
The servants gain several things through their faithfulness. They gain the commendation of the Master as well as more opportunity to serve. But they also participate in the joy of the master. This is how it is with us when we serve. Whenever we love God with our strength we participate in what God is doing, and when he does something great we rejoice that we are part of it.
Example: We all rejoice when God answers prayer, but you rejoice in a particularly powerful way when you yourself have prayed. Then it is not just an answer to prayer that you celebrate but an answer to your prayers. You asked on behalf of someone else. God answered and now you can enter into the joy of the master.

The Third Servant shows that when you don’t invest in God’s kingdom it is because we don’t care about God’s kingdom.
The master confronts the third servant who give him back his money unchanged: He has neither lost nor gained anything because he chose to hide the money rather that invest it. The master does not commend the third servant. In fact he chastises him for his lack of risk. Then the master takes away what he had and gives it to another. He was not supposed to protect the money in the masters absence, he was supposed to invest it. But why was the servant so hesitant?
The servant claims that he was afraid. He saw the master as a harsh man who feeds off the labor of others and exploits them. But underneath that you cannot help but think that the third servant saw that if he lost the money he would be chastised, and if he gained money he would not profit personally. The master disputes this, saying that if the servant was afraid of losing money he could give it to bankers and gain interest. The overall yield would not be much but it would be safe. The truth is that the third servant was not so much scared as he was calloused. The third servant reveals that he really didn’t care about the master money or the master’s kingdom because he really didn’t care about the master.
So we are back to where we opened the message: how do we love God with our strength? If we don’t invest our lives in God’s kingdom we do not love him.
When Jesus taught us to pray he told us to say “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Each time we pray we ask Jesus to bring his kingdom. If we are faithful to that prayer we will begin to grasp that the Kingdom is important to the Father and we will want to know what we can do to further it. So if we do not invest our strength in the Father’s kingdom we probably have a spiritual problem not a logistical or scheduling problem. It may be that we do not love the Father or care about his kingdom.

Transition: but let’s assume that you do care about the Lord and about his kingdom. How do you invest? How do you know what to invest?

Conclusion and Application
We each need to assess what treasure the Lord has entrusted to us and consider how we can invest our strengths in his Kingdom.
Each of us has some amount of time, ability and finances. These things change over time so we are constantly assessing what is in our “bag of gold.” When you have small children you usually don’t have much time. On the other hand if you are newly retired and still healthy, chances are you have a lot of time. In both cases you are responsible for how you invest that part of your treasure. The same could be said for finances. What is God doing in you now, what situation has he put you in? You are responsible to love God in that situation.

Here are a few other questions you can ask yourself:
“What can I do that no one else can do?” You can answer this in two different ways. First you can ask yourself about your own unique journey, your training, your background, your struggles and that may reveal that there are some things that you can do that others cannot do. There are some experiences that you have had that few others have had.
On the other hand you can look at your life and realize that there are certain things you must do that no one else will do. If you are a father or a mother, you realize that you are the only one who can be a parent to your children. No one else can do that job, so that is one of the calls on your life. If you are married, there are certain ways you can bless your spouse that no one else can. This is part of your service to God.
You can ask yourself “What am I passionate about?” God often works through our passions, and sometimes we forget that. We are surprised when God uses us to do something that we love. We figure service must be sacrificial and thus hard, boring, or uninspired. But God made you and gave you certain gifts, abilities and interests. He wants to redeem those abilities for himself. An oft quoted statement, originally made by Frederick Buechner that says “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
And finally it is worth asking “What might I be afraid of?” We are often crippled by fear. But in this situation we want to pay attention to the fear that grows from not trusting the character of God. Will he trick us into misery? Will he drop us and let us fail? Is failing the worst thing that can happen and if so why? Where is God in all of that fear. Scripture tells us that these fears are not coming from God because “perfect love casts out fear.”
Love God with all your strength. Love him with the best of who you are because that is his gift to you and your gift back to him.

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