Each sermon is published in large print for use in preaching, and for easy reading by several people gathered around the computer monitor.
HOW STRONG IS MY COMMITMENT TO GOD?
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
29 MAY 1988
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Preparation Verse: (Galatians 2:20)
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”
As the title of today's sermon, I have presented the soul-searching question: HOW STRONG IS MY COMMITMENT TO GOD?
This is one of those questions that we usually hope that we will never be called upon to answer, and much less have to demonstrate.
Well, time has run out. Today we are being called upon to answer this question, first to ourselves and then to God. Be honest in asking and answering yourself: How strong is my commitment to God?
In Deuteronomy 6:5, God tells us about this commitment:
5. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
If we are fulfilling this commandment of God, then the answer to our question will be total commitment.
But if we know that it is not total commitment, then we should also question if we are truly fulfilling this, the greatest of all commandments.
For this morning, both our Old Testament lesson and our New Testament lesson are about men who committed themselves totally to God.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three Hebrew youths who were taken captive into Babylon because of the sins of Israel against God.
These men, along with Daniel, would not defile themselves, but held firmly to the Law and worshipped only God.
Then came the day when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were called upon to answer the question: How strong is my commitment to God?
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had made and set up a huge golden idol, and he required everyone to bow down and worship it. And if they did not worship it, they would be put to death.
Nevertheless, these three young men continued to worship God and refused to bow down to the idol. Thus, as we picked up the story this morning, some of the jealous leaders of the land reported this to the king in order to destroy Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
They were brought before Nebuchadnezzar who gave then another chance to obey his command; but if they refused, they would be cast into a furnace of blazing fire.
Well, here you are, standing before the king; a blazing furnace on one side and a golden idol on the other. Every eye is upon you and every ear is listening to see and hear what you are going to do.
What are you going to do?
You're intelligent; you know that there really is no such thing as another God, and an idol is only a piece of metal that is unable to do anything.
Why give up your life in such a horrible way?
What harm could it do?
It could do a great deal of harm; and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew that, for they were God's witnesses in a godless land.
Note their reply in Daniel 3:16-18.
16. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this.
17. "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.
18. "But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
Then in a rage, Nebuchadnezzar had the three young men bound, the furnace super-heated, and had them cast into it.
And do you know what happened?
Nothing. They weren't hurt. Not even a little. They didn't even smell like the fire, and the ropes had been burned off.
As a result of their witness and testimony, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the Most High God and issued a decree throughout the land declaring this fact.
In our New Testament lesson, we are taking a look at Stephen's commitment to God.
Stephen was a disciple of Jesus Christ and a deacon in the church. He had been serving and performing great wonders and signs among the people. The Bible says that he was full of grace and power.
His life and his words were a testimony of Jesus Christ; and as a result, one day some leaders of the synagogue conspired against him, and they induced worthless men to falsely accuse him before the high priest.
Instead of defending himself, he delivered a sermon about Israel's history and God's grace.
We picked up his words in our reading this morning, where he ended with an accusation of those who were trying him; for because of the hardness of their hearts, they had done exactly opposite of what God desired them to do.
Let's take another look at what he said, as recorded in Acts 7:51-53.
51. "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.
52. "Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;
53. you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."
They were already seeking to put him to death. He didn't have to tell them the truth. He could have made some excuse. But he didn't. And what happened? Note verse 54:
54. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.
To be cut to the quick by these words indicates that inside they knew the truth but refused to acknowledge it because of their pride.
Thus they resorted to anger in an attempt to cover up the truth.
They knew this. Stephen knew this. And most importantly, God knew this.
Let's take a second look at these final verses:
55. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;
The vision that Stephen saw was one to comfort him. The fact that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God indicated that He was ministering on behalf of Stephen – not seated, but standing, because of the importance of the circumstances.
Thus Stephen had the added confidence to tell of this vision and of his faith. Note his words:
56. and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
57. But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse.
58. And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59. And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"
60. And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice,
"Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" And having said this, he fell asleep.
Yes, God let Stephen die. But the witness of his life and death still live on today.
And much of what we know about the early church and the way Christ wanted us to live and walk with Him, we have learned from that young man Saul who watched the robes of those who were stoning Stephen to death and who became known as the apostle Paul.
Does God really want each of us to commit ourselves as these men did, even to the point of death?
Yes, He does; but He usually doesn't call upon everyone to die for the cause of Christ. But somewhere in the world, right now, someone is being called upon in just that way.
We have it easy in this country, perhaps too easy. That's why our Church is so weak.
There is rarely a day in our lives that God doesn't call upon us to stand for Him.
Just think; is there anything that we do in public outside of the church that we would not do in the church?
If the answer is “yes,” then there is something in our lives that is not totally committed to the Lord.
To say “no” to participating in these things is far less of a commitment to God than the life and death commitment that the young men we have been talking about had to make.
Can we see through the anger of someone in our own families, so that we will not get involved in the anger and ensuing argument ourselves?
Can we quiet their anger by remaining calm?
If we are at fault, can we admit it and tell them we are sorry?
Can we commit ourselves to God to the extent that our lives will so reflect Jesus Christ that our marriages will stay together, in love, because our husband or wife will see that we really care for them unconditionally, as Christ cares for us?
And by living our lives this way, will we not also inspire in our children the desire to seek the Lord?
What if this situation involved someone outside of our homes; could we do the same and continue to love as God taught us?
All of these things are tests to see if we are able to stand firm for God. And all of them are much easier to do, than to say “no” to a Nebuchadnezzar.
Do we love the Lord enough to read His Word, the Bible, every day?
Within the pages of the Bible are all the gems of knowledge to help us through the difficult times in our lives and to help us walk with God.
If we don't read our Bibles, we will not really understand all that God desires us to know and, in fact, may learn to do things against God's will.
When we do these things as God desires us to do them, we will truly understand the type of commitment God wants from us, and what God is telling and asking us in Micah 6:8.
8. He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Think about the ways that the vast majority of the people fail to live by these standards:
We cannot do justice and knowingly contribute to the destruction of our environment, which God lovingly made for us to live in.
We cannot do justice or love kindness, and contribute to the unbelievable cruelty inflicted upon nearly all farmed animals.
And there are many more examples that are against the will of God.
Yes, what Micah wrote is exactly what God desires of us. It really isn't hard to do; that is, if we die to ourselves.
Dying to ourselves is to surrender our pride to God. And, most importantly, this is the basic requirement of our born again relationship with Him.
But sometimes our pride gets in the way of our walk with God, and we find ourselves walking around it and off the Lord's pathway.
If we truly believe God, then we should have no fear of death.
And if we do not fear death, we should not be afraid to humble ourselves to the point of living like Jesus Christ.
Ponder this over in your minds and pray about it. More than likely you will not have to give up your life, but we all must constantly surrender our pride unto death.
If each of us starts doing this, we will improve our relationships with our neighbors.
More importantly, we will strengthen our family relationships and fill our homes with love.
And most importantly, we will truly know what it means to walk with God; and instead of feeling the sting of death, we will know the joy of everlasting life.