The Return of The King – Ryan’s Sermon Blog (Part Four)

11 Oct

This is the fourth and final installment of the ‘Return of the King’ Sermon series blog posts. 

Q:  [From Matthew 25:31-46] As Christians, and with realities that people don’t know Christ and are ultimately going to hell, how can we rationalise having time to ourselves, just relaxing having fun?

 

I struggle with this one and I don’t think I’ve thought it through enough. However here are some initial thoughts. We live in a society that is basically hedonistic (a hedonist strives to maximize pleasure) in form i.e. life is all about ‘me’ time and having fun. We worship through relaxing and enjoyment and making sure that the ‘I’ is entertained. Some people simply work during the week so that they can do this on weekends. Whole industries have sprung up to help us in this worship; economies have come to be shaped by it. The world of the eternal weekend – can there be anything better?

In contrast is something called asceticism (abstinence from worldly pleasures). Think a bunch of monks from the 15th century in a monastery, simple robes and a sign at the gates: ‘Simply no fun allowed. Ever.’ Certainly no tennis games or DVD evenings. In relation to the question, asceticism for that might look like a zealous 24 hour/7 day a week (for the rest of your life) crusade telling people about Jesus where you spurn anything remotely regarded as fun in your quest to stay ‘on mission’.

Hedonism you might outright reject. Good. A zealous asceticism you might not be so quick to reject. The zeal stuff, the casting off of this ‘world’ seems good.

I think the Bible encourages a seriousness to Christian living. A ‘thoughtfulness’ might be a better description. It is a thinking that ponders and meditates on the gospel: on God and his good actions towards us in Christ Jesus and what this means for the kind of lives that we live flowing from what he has done. It is a thinking that takes to heart the plight of our unsaved friends and family around us. So there is a thoughtfulness to Christian living as we live as God’s loved people in this world and as we relate to those around us.

At the same time to this thoughtfulness, the gospel encourages a joyful living that enjoys and basks in the goodness of God. We are a joyful people (‘joy’ being deeper than ‘happiness’), because despite whatever our current circumstances might be, God has opened our eyes to reality. We know that life is found in knowing the only true God and the One who he sent, Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Our eyes are opened and we see God’s goodness in a bunch of whole new ways. This is in part why God’s people are characterized by thankfulness and gratefulness (cf. Rom 1:21). Actually we see it in our ‘compulsion’ to sing when we get together. Celebrating people sing, they can’t help it. We know God is the source of all good things – we’ve seen in primarily in Him saving us, but now we also see it in so many of the little things of life. Contrary to asceticism we look at things like enjoying the sunshine, to reading a good book, to admiring the cut of some dress (that one was for the ladies), to playing a game of something – we look at those things and we go ‘Thanks Father for these moments of pleasure – these good things.’ Eyes opened, we’re a grateful, thankful people – it spills out of us as we see God’s goodness to us in so many ways.

 Now as for the question.

I want to say:

Be thoughtful. Let the truth of the eternal destiny of your friends and family be something that you really consider. If it doesn’t then you’re ignoring the gospel reality. Let it sit in your heart. Let it fuel you to actions, primarily in prayer: for God to work and for him to give you opportunities. Pray that you’d take/make opportunities, being bold and that God would use your words (and your life) about Jesus to help these people come to trust in the Son.                                                                                                                 

However in your zeal don’t play God. In other words don’t forget that salvation is God’s work. It rests on his shoulders – not on yours or mine. Ours aren’t big or strong enough. That’s why prayer is so key – prayer shows a dependence on God, for His Spirit to work salvation. If you take the eternal salvation of your friends and family too much onto yourself – on to what you can do – then it will weigh you down to a pit of despair – it will crush you. You are not God. God might use you. But it is he who must work for salvation to happen. Don’t be so serious to the stage that you forget that. I speak as much to myself in this.                                                                                                                                                                                         

Lastly, relax and enjoy. See God’s goodness to us in his good gifts. Our God has given us many things to enjoy in this world. We don’t want to be like the world who worships these things (Rom 1:25) – the hedonism that I spoke of earlier. We also don’t want to claim that as people whose eyes are now opened, we hate the good things we see that God has given us. Enjoy these things. Have fun. Relax. Laugh. You’re certainly not being more spiritual when you like a little kid throw a good gift that your Father has given you onto the ground and stomp on it. Sit in the sun (with sunscreen on of course) and enjoy it. Go for a run. Cuddle up on the couch and watch a DVD (one that won’t encourage sin). Savour the delightful sweetness of some chocolate. And in all these things, realising the goodness of your Father who gives good things, be thankful, knowing that He is your true delight.

Wisdom will also tell you of the need to recharge and to stop. Part of this will surely be to have a bit of time to ourselves and having a bit of fun. I don’t think that’s sinful or wrong. Stop and smell the roses. Paradoxically, stopping and enjoying things will actually keep you better on track for being a participant in God’s mission. This is because stopping for a bit will, God willing, remind you of God’s goodness. I think this is part of ‘Sabbath rest’. Good rest will involve a bit of stopping (we’re always on the go aren’t we?) and surely enjoying God’s good gifts, delighting in this good God who is so kind to us.

And on that, it’s worth being clear that a key aspect to real rest will be being renewed and refreshed in the gospel – meeting with God’s people, reading his word etc. But now, I’m going off topic a bit… A hedonistic lifestyle forgets God’s inestimable worth – that he is the ultimate pleasure and delight. If we’re honest we’re probably more prone to hedonism. That’s not ok – it’s wicked! However, an ascetic lifestyle can forget God’s simple goodness and in relation to the question it might also be borderline in forgetting God’s sovereignty in salvation. Be thoughtful, don’t play God, do relax and enjoy. In all of this, keep checking your heart. Above all, by God’s grace, keep returning to God’s gospel – this will focus you for right living – keeping you serious and focused on the things that count while still being able to enjoy the good things that God has given to you. Yeah it’s hard, I know, it can be one of those fine lines that we keep crossing back and forth. Pray for God’s grace to us in this, that we might live the lives he has prepared for us to live now that we are in Christ.

Ryan van der Avoort

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