IF YOU WALK IN MY WAYS...
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT THE
HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
21 APRIL 1991
By: Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
1 Kings 3:6-14
Preparation Verse (Proverbs 3:1-2):
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life, and peace they will add to you.”
We have talked about the most important of all commandments: that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and might, (Deuteronomy 6:5) and that we love our neighbors as ourselves. (Leviticus 19:18)
According to Jesus, if we do this we have fulfilled all of the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)
In other words, we have obeyed everything written in the Bible.
Now, someone might ask, "How can this be?"
The answer is simple:
If we wholly and truly love, we will do nothing to violate any of God's commandments; for our love will prevent us from hurting God or any part of His creation, which includes our neighbors, the animals, and the world in which we all live.
This is a state of being that has its basis only with the individual. This is not a group act, but it can and should be a collective act including every individual. Thus, it should be the attitude of the church.
“If you walk in My ways...” – God challenges us – “then I will fulfill My part of our covenant relationship.”
Only with our obedience can the blessings come.
Shortly after Solomon became king, at a time in his life when basically he was obeying God, God told him this very thing.
Let's turn to 1 Kings 3:6-14 and listen in on Solomon’s prayer and God's answer.
6. Then Solomon said, "Thou hast shown great lovingkindness to Thy servant David my father, according as he walked before Thee in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward Thee; and Thou hast reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that Thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.
7. "And now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.
8. "And Thy servant is in the midst of Thy people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.
9. "So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Thine?"
All that Solomon said was praying in the will of God.
As mentioned before, this was a time in Solomon's life when he was obeying
God, and he probably truly sought to please Him.
10. And it was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing.
Will God grant all that Solomon asks for, or will He put some limitations upon it? For God sees more of the intent of Solomon's heart than He hears in his words.
11. And God said to him, "Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice,
12. behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you.
13. "And I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days.
14. "And if you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days."
Why would God say, "if you walk in My ways," if He had given Solomon a wise and discerning heart?
Having a wise and discerning heart does not eliminate our free will.
We still have the ability to choose between good and evil.
And most likely, that is why Solomon was also tested with riches, for he still had a covetous nature.
Solomon’s prayer was the kind that walks a person in God's way, but talk is still cheaper than action.
So God locks His blessing behind the word if.
If you walk in My ways...
Then you will receive the lasting blessings I have reserved for you.
In the meantime God gives us a taste of the lasting blessings, as He is doing here with Solomon.
Solomon's blessings were not lasting, because he and his sons were not walking in the ways of God.
But Solomon had more than this personal warning from God; he had the book of the Law, and specifically Deuteronomy 4:25-31. Let’s turn there and hear what the Lord told Moses.
25. "When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger,
26. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you shall surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but shall be utterly destroyed.
27. "And the Lord will scatter you among peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the Lord shall drive you.
28. "And there you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell."
The Israelites were still in the wilderness, and they had not yet entered the promised land that God had given to them; yet He is already warning them.
If you walk in My ways...you will have the promise.
But when you cease to walk in My ways...it will be taken away.
Will everything then be lost forever?
Note what the Lord tells us in the next three verses:
29. "But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.
30. "When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice.
31. "For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them."
Most people in the world make the fatal mistake of thinking that God is so loving that everyone gets into heaven; that is just not so.
God’s promise of heaven and everlasting life is coupled with our fulfilling our part of the "bargain".
If you walk in My ways...
If we have turned away, we must turn back.
Listen to the exasperation of the Lord over our ways in Deuteronomy 5:29.
29. 'Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!'
The people of this world never seem to learn, and even the people who say they are followers of the Lord don't always walk in His ways.
But we who are gathered here have heard, and we can continually seek to walk in God's ways.
But we also have a free will, and can choose to turn the other way and walk away from heaven and the Lord.
If you walk in My ways...
It is just as we are also told in Deuteronomy 6:24-25.
24. "So the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.
25. "And it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us."
If you walk in My ways...it will be for your good always.
If you walk in My ways…you will survive.
If you walk in My ways…I will consider it as righteousness for you.
The apostle Paul expressed this in a slightly different way in a letter he wrote to Philemon, concerning his runaway slave, Onesimus.
Let's turn and look at that letter beginning at verse 8.
8. Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do that which is proper,
9. yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you – since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus –
What Paul is saying is important for all of us to consider in our interpersonal relationships.
We each have a free will, and we can choose to do as we wish.
We also can be ordered by someone in authority over us to do something against our will.
Our society is built on the principle that no one is going to do right unless we have laws to direct us.
What Paul is saying is that since love fulfills all of the law, and since Philemon is a true believer, he is sure that Philemon will do the right thing by his own free will – provided he is reminded.
Paul is trying to remind Philemon to hear the words of the Lord: If you walk in My ways...you will do what is right in My sight.
10. I appeal to you for my child, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, Onesimus,
11. who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.
Onesimus, by his former attitude and by his running away, was of little use to Philemon.
But with his rebirth, he became very valuable to Paul; and because of the
change in Onesimus' character, he will also be an asset to Philemon.
So what is Paul doing about this?
How is Paul walking in the ways of the Lord concerning this matter?
Let's see, as we continue at verse 12:
12. And I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart,
13. whom I wished to keep with me, that in your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel;
14. but without your consent I did not want to do anything, that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion, but of your own free will.
Here we have this free will attitude expressed again.
God's desire is for us to walk in His ways, but He doesn't force us to do so.
Thus, He presents His blessings with “If you walk in My ways...”
It is our free will choice.
And Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, in the hope of Philemon making the right decision, even if Paul feels that he requires a little prompting in the right direction.
15. For perhaps he was for this reason parted from you for a while, that you should have him back forever,
16. no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17. If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.
Considering the ways of the times, and that slavery was a part of the lifestyle, even among believers, though most likely weak ones, what Paul is suggesting is intended to shake Philemon to his spiritual roots.
Paul wants Philemon to realize that slavery is wrong.
Paul wants Philemon to realize that Onesimus is really equal to him in the sight of God.
Paul wants Philemon to realize that the holding of slaves, especially for a Christian, is wrong.
He wants Philemon to make this decision of his own free will, but Paul still
feels that it is necessary to add a little more prompting. Listen!
18. But if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account;
19. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (lest I should mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well).
20. Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
21. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say.
Paul asks him for the Lord, "Will you walk in My way, Philemon?
And today, humans may not enslave millions of other humans, but they do enslave billions of animals, and treat them in the most horrible ways, which is not walking in the ways of God.
And like Onesimus, they also want to love and be loved, and be free of pain and suffering.
How are we going to treat these slaves?
Sometimes I struggle with these passages, for I'm not really sure how far
"arm-twisting" can go before it eliminates free will.
I don't seem to be able to go as far as Paul.
All I can do is encourage you to hear the word of God, and hear it deep down in the depths of your heart.
And to have enough fear of hell, and hope of heaven, to respond to the Lord, when He says,
"If you walk in My ways..."
"If you walk in My ways..."
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