I think you can always tell a person, at least their true character, by what they seek to gain and what they really love. It really never fails as a test. In fact, you could easily evaluate your own character by approaching yourself that way.
Ask yourself this question, “What are the three things I am currently seeking most earnestly.” You don’t have to answer out loud, and you don’t have to write it down and turn it in, but think about it. What are the three things you currently are most seeking? That’s be a good monitor on whether you’re preoccupation is heavenly or earthly, Godward or selfward. If that doesn’t work, ask yourself this, “What are the three things I love the most?”
And if you can’t figure out how to answer that question, ask yourself this one, “What are the three things I think about the most?” And that’ll get to it. What’s on your mind most of all?
You see, Jesus Christ put it like this, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” You can always tell a man’s true character by his mind preoccupation. What he thinks about or what she thinks about reveals where their treasure is. Where is your heart? Where is your life? Where is your concentration? Where is your thinking most of the time? What do you think about most of the time?
Now, Paul’s purpose in Colossians 3:1 to 4 is to help us to see where our concentration ought to be, where we ought to be thinking. And the key to the little passage is in verse 2, “Set your mind” – or your thinking – on things above and not on things on the earth.”
Now, what Paul says in this passage is very simple and very clear. The believer is to be heavenly minded. It’s the same thing that Jesus said when He said, “Put your treasure in heaven, because where your treasure is is where your heart will be.” It’s the same thing that Paul said when he said, “Whatever is pure, and just, and holy, and honest” – and so forth – “think on those things.” What is your preoccupation? And Paul says, “Your preoccupation is to be on things above and not on things on the earth.”
Now let me put this in context for you here in the book of Colossians. Paul, beginning in chapter 3, comes to the practical part of his letter. He’s through with doctrine and the polemics, or the argument against the false teachers for the most part, and he now is going to deal with the practical area of your life. Having established the true doctrine about Christ, having settled the argument with the false teachers, get about living the Christian life, and get about living it like this: with your mind set on things above and not on things on the earth.
The power for living the Christian life, then, is to concentrate above. The upward look, if you will. Now, we remember from chapter 2 – in great length we’ve discussed it – that spirituality, according to the false teachers, was something you pursued through four avenues: human wisdom, and that could be as broad as the offerings of human philosophy; legalism; mysticism; or asceticism. And we use those terms and define them.
And the errorists were saying true spirituality is found in Christ plus human wisdom, Christ plus keeping certain rituals and routines and manmade laws. Christ plus certain visions and worshipping of angels, and certain strange and wonderful, marvelous, deeper or higher, or whatever experiences. Or the ascetics said true spirituality is Christ plus total self-abasement, total self-denial, total slavery of self to a poverty of life.
And Paul says at the end of chapter 2, in verse 23, all they did with all of those ideas was satisfy their own flesh. In spite of all of that, appearance of wisdom. And it sounds good to say true spirituality is Christ plus human wisdom; Christ plus keeping rules and rituals; Christ plus visions and marvelous, deeper and higher experiences; Christ plus total self-abasement and so forth. It sounds good, but all that does is pander the flesh, because true spirituality is Christ plus – what? – nothing. And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you’re going to get your eyes off man-made rules and man-made religions and get your affections up there where they belong.
The preoccupation of the believer is not to be with the rules and regulations of men, the wisdom of men, the visions and experiences of men, the self-denial of men the true occupation of a believer who wants to really know spirituality is to concentrate on the person of Christ. That’s what he’s saying. And that really is the test and condemnation of every system. When Paul says at the end of it all it does is pander or indulge the flesh.
Human philosophy, legalism, mysticism, and asceticism can’t make anybody better; it can’t make anybody spiritual; it can’t save anybody; it can’t add any dimension to spirituality. It is powerless to deal with evil desire; it is powerless to deal with lust. It gives no victory over the lower nature. It is morally impotent. And underneath human philosophy, underneath legalism, underneath mysticism, underneath asceticism flourishes all the vices. And the only way to divorce yourself from all of that is to take our mind and your heart and your thinking processes and your motives into the presence of Jesus Christ.
Now remember that the Colossian Christians were being attacked. And they were being attacked by a group of heretics – false teachers. And they were saying, “Christ is insufficient. Christ is not sufficient to save,” or, “Christ is not sufficient to bring you to full spirituality. It must be Christ plus these manmade religious rules or approaches.”
But it’s an old story that heaven-born children gain nothing from earth-born religion. Christ is all. And so, Paul’s whole point here – notice it now in chapter 3, verse 1, “If you be risen with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ sits.” If you want to experience victory over spiritual intimidation, if you want not to be threatened by all of this that’s coming at you, trying to tell you you’re not spiritual because you don’t have it, get your affections where they belong, on the presence of Jesus Christ. He is all, and in his fullness is all the power and all the love, and all the resource for Christian living.
And that was his point in chapter 2, verse 10, and we’ve seen this again and again, you are complete in Him who is the fullness. Now, Paul has carefully shown that these false teachers who want you to think that spirituality is a matter of lofty wisdom, or ritual, or routine, or special visions, or all these other things - he has carefully shown us that this is dead wrong. You should avoid these kinds of approaches to spirituality because they’re earthbound. They don’t make it. And the positive statement on true spirituality is to simply take your heart and mind and let them ascend into the presence of Jesus Christ, who sits on the right hand of the Father and dwell on Him.
As Paul would say it in Ephesians, live in the heavenlies. Stop being earthbound. Focus your constant attention on the all-sufficient Christ. Don’t run around looking for a new rule, a new ritual, a new vision, a new deeper experience, a new higher experience, a new kind of self-denial, a new particular human philosophy. Just focus on Christ. Make your concentration and leave it there, and you’ll experience what is sufficient for spirituality.
Now remember that the Colossians were being intimidated. These errorists were saying, “You guys might think you’ve arrived spiritually, but you’re not at all where you ought to be. You’ve been deluded. You haven’t made it spiritually. You can’t make it by Christ alone. You’ve got to have these other things. You don’t have the fullness of spirituality unless you have these extra things.
And so, Paul wants the Colossian Christians to know that that isn’t true. They have everything in having Christ. And so, Paul lays down solidly the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of Christ sufficiency in chapters 1 and 2. Now watch this, having laid down solid doctrine that Christ is all, Christ is everything, Christ is sufficient, then in chapter 3 he says, “Now, on the basis of that doctrine, here’s how you’re to behave. Since Christ is everything, don’t worry about human wisdom; don’t worry about all that other stuff, just concentrate on Him. He’s all you need.
But notice something – and we’ve seen it again and again, and I’m going to take some time to elucidate it because it’ll – it’ll indirectly get at the problem of spiritual intimidation that we’ve been talking about. Paul always goes from doctrine to behavior. In all of the teaching of the Scripture, in the New Testament, in all of the epistles we find, first great statements of truth, and then a call to behave in accord with truth. Since Christ is the fullness of all that fills all in all, since Christ is the head of the body, since Christ is the one in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells, since Christ is completeness, since Christ is sufficient, since Christ is everything – chapter 3 – focus on Christ.
So, you have a practical exhortation based on a clear, doctrinal foundation. That’s always, always, always Paul’s approach. What we must do – now mark this – what we do as believers must be based on solid doctrine - now notice - not on intimidation. That’s his point. Don’t be intimidated to do something that you know is not biblical.
Paul wrote to the Galatians and said, “How in the world could you possibly get caught up in Judaism again? How could you possibly get caught up in legalism? How could you possibly buy that stuff when you know the Gospel? You have departed from what you know is true, and that is incongruous. Your spirituality is based on what you know, on solid doctrine.”
Now, the intimidators, they don’t worry about that. They just come along and say, “Well, you’re not spiritual if you don’t do this, and you don’t do this, and you don’t do this, and you don’t do this,” and make us feel guilty even though they can’t defend it biblically.
It’s a dangerous thing when any believer pursues a kind of behavior that contradicts the Scripture. When you do that, you’re really stepping into the fire. It doesn’t matter that somebody may come along and say, “Well, I’m sorry, you’re out because you haven’t experienced this,” or, “you don’t know this,” or, “you don’t have the higher knowledge, or the deeper life,” or whatever, whatever, whatever. It doesn’t matter what they say; it only matters what the Word of God says, and Paul has just said, for two chapters, “All you need is Christ plus nothing. Don’t be intimidated.”
Now, remember last Sunday night we told you that these four things are – you know, they’re visible in our society. There are people who come along and say, “You Christians are – you know, you’re just fundamentalists; you don’t know anything. You know, you’re so narrow-minded. What you really need is to expand and understand some philosophy and pull in some – some human wisdom to go along with the Word of God.”
And sometimes, you know, being a – what’s called a fundamentalist, a very straight and narrow, orthodox evangelical, you can be intimidated. I’ve been accused of that, speaking on college campuses, of being narrow-minded and pigeonholing all of my theology, and being a Biblicist, you know.
And I – you know, I remember one time I spoke somewhere, and they introduced me by saying, “We introduce to you John MacArthur, whose hope is built on nothing less than Scofield’s Notes and Scripture Press.” And – you know? So, I’ve been through that, too, that kind of intimidation that makes you feel like a mental midget because you believe the Bible. You know? And you don’t everything about philosophy. And that’s intimidating.
And then there are people in our society who would intimidate us along the line of legalism. There are many Christians who would say, “Well, I don’t care what you teach, and I don’t care that you believe the Gospel. You don’t preach against this,” or, “You don’t say that people have to do this.” And they get into all these little nitpicking, legalistic things that they’ve developed as a systems for spirituality. And they make you feel intimidated, like you’re not really spiritual because you don’t follow the little list. And there are, then, of course – and we talked about this – the charismatic people, who want you to be intimidated because you haven’t had a vision, or you haven’t had an ecstatic experience, or you haven’t met an angel, or you haven’t gone to heaven and come back, or you haven’t had some very far out kind of thing, and you’re just an average, run-of-the-mill, everyday, normal Christian. You haven’t really gotten to the super saint level.
And then there are the ascetics, who would come along and say, “Well, you can’t own that car, and live in that house, and wear that coat, and be a Christian. Poverty is Christianity. Self-denial, self-abasement. There aren’t any stripes on your back.”
And so, we can be intimidated by the same thing the Colossians were being intimidated by. But mark it; don’t ever be intimidated unless there is a reason for it. And the only reason for it is that they are bringing up something that is biblical. If it isn’t in the Word, you just keep on doing what you’re doing and don’t listen to them.
And so, the apostle Paul says, “Don’t let them intimidate you. Christ is all you need. That’s the Word of God. He is all He is sufficient.”
Now, whenever you violate this principle, you get yourself in a lot of trouble. I want to give you some illustrations of that. Turn your Bible to 2 Samuel chapter 6. Now, this is a story you may remember. It was refreshed in my mind, as I was listening to a tape this week. And the gentlemen who was teaching went over some of these things and really refreshed my mind on the impact of some of these stories. And I thought, “Well, these will fit in well, and I’ll share them with you.”
You remember the story, and I do as well, David the king desired – just making a long story short – desired to move the ark. He desired to move the Ark of the Covenant. Now, if you were to go back in the Bible to the fourth chapter of Numbers and the first 15 verses, you would find there a very clear word about how the ark was to be moved. The ark was the representation of the presence of God. Remember the Ark of the Covenant? It had some rings on the side. There were to be poles put through the rings. The ark was never touched. The poles were run through the rings, and they were to be carried on the shoulders of Levites. And nobody else, and no other way was that thing to ever be transported. There wasn’t any doubt about that; that is as clear as daylight.
And so, we begin in verse 3, David is moving the ark. “And they set the ark of God on a new cart.” Now, what in the world are they doing, putting the ark on a cart? The Bible said they are to put the ark on the shoulders of the Levites, carrying it with poles so that they never touch it. It is not to be on a cart. I think David thought, “Boy, I’m really doing God a big favor. Not just a cart, but a new one. Putting it on a new cart.”
“And brought it out of the house of Abinadab” – and actually, he got his cue from the Philistines. You remember back in the sixth chapter of 1 Samuel, the Philistines had had the ark, and when they brought the – they didn’t like having the ark because they got tumors and plagues and all kinds of things. But they brought it back on a cart. So, David took the lead of the Philistines and put it on a cart.
“And they brought it” – verse 4 – “out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah” - accompanying the ark of God - “and Ahio went before the ark.”
Now watch. Oh, they thought it was a great day, “We’re bringing the ark back. The ark is going to go back to the place where it belongs. Marvelous.”
And so, “David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, and harps, and psalteries, and timbrels, and coronets, and cymbals.” They were having a tremendous time worshipping and praising God. It was just great.
You say, “Isn’t God, pleased with their worship? Isn’t God thrilled with their praise? This is wonderful.”
“And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.”
It’s going along, and they come to this – Nachon’s threshing floor, and it bumps, and it looks like it’s going to fall. And old Uzzah, boy, he’s caught up in the worship of God, and he reaches out. Boy, he doesn’t want that ark to touch the ground. I mean that was an act of worship. That was an act of honor to that ark. He was doing what his heart told him to do, “Don’t let that ark touch the ground, that sacred thing.”
And verse 7 says, “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and he died by the ark of God.”
You say, “What is the deal here?”
I’ll tell you what the deal is. God doesn’t want your worship unless it goes along with His Word. And His Word is, “Don’t touch the ark.” Do you see the point? God didn’t accept it.
There are people who say, “Well, how can you – how can you criticize the Pentecostals or the charismatics or – they’re worshipping God. They’re trying to love God, and they’re trying to worship God, and they’re trying to praise God. Surely God wouldn’t let them get into error in that area.”
Well, you can ask yourself the same question, “Why did God let that ark bump on Nachon’s threshing floor?” You tell me. God could have stopped that. He could have flattened out the road. But it was a lesson for all time, that God is worshipped only when His Word is obeyed. And when Uzzah touched the ark, he disobeyed because no man, no time, under no circumstance was to touch the ark. You understand? You do not adlib your worship. You do not decide that, “Well, I’m just going to worship God in a whole new way that I’ve just experienced.” God isn’t interested in that. And God’s anger was kindled, and Uzzah dropped dead. Poor fellow, dear guy. Just doing his thing, going along, having a great time singing and celebrating. And hits a bump and – oh, his heart just – he reached out. He did what his emotions told him. Listen, if his mind had been ruled by the Word of God, he would have kept his hand back, and he would have been alive. But he was ruled by his feelings. That’s very dangerous. Don’t worship God with your feelings, independent of His Word. You see?
Maybe God wanted the thing off the cart so that the Levites could pick it up and carry it the right way. Who knows?
But so often, these people who would intimidate us will come along, “Well, we’re worshipping God. We’re just praising God. This is our way of doing it.”
God isn’t interested in your way; He’s interested in His own way. And David, he felt bad, verse 8, “And David was displeased, because the Lord had broken forth in anger against Uzzah, and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day” – in memory of him. “And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, ‘How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?” Now I’m stuck. How am I going to get this thing where it’s supposed to be?
So David wouldn’t remove it, and he left it in the house of Obededom for three months. And the whole time it was there, the Lord blessed – verse 11, “The Lord blessed Obededom” – and he had a tremendous time. He kept his hands off the thing. They just had a great time. And David said, “This is ridiculous. Why should I leave that deal up there in Obededom’s house? He’s getting all the blessing; I’m getting it down here.”
“So, David went and brought the ark from the house of Obededom into the city of David with gladness.” And apparently, they brought it the right way. “And it was that when they bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces” – and there’s the idea – “they who bore the ark” – they did it right – “they sacrificed oxen and fatlings. And David then danced before the Lord with all his might” – and he was out there – in fact, he had his linen ephod. He took off all his kingly stuff, and he’s just out there hoofing it like one of the normal guys, just one of the gang, hoofing it up and having a great old time.
“And they brought the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of trumpet.” Now you have the same thing in verse 15 that you have in verse 5. One is acceptable, and one is not, because one is in accord with God’s revealed truth, and one is not. You see? God does not want people who adlib their worship to Him in their own prescribed methods. He wants worship that is consistent with his revelation.
And so, just because somebody comes along and says, “Well, we’re worshipping God that way. Well, our hearts are right; our motives are right.” So were Uzzah’s, but he just didn’t have enough knowledge of the Word of God to protect himself from God’s chastening.
Let me show you another illustration, 1 Samuel 15. Now, basically it gives you the same thought. 1 Samuel 15, this is the story of Saul, and he had a similar situation. “Samuel said to Saul” - 15:1 of 1 Samuel – 1 Samuel 15:1, “Samuel said t Saul, ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel. Now listen to the voice of the words of the Lord.”
Now, that’s the basic thing in the life of anybody. “Listen to the words of the Lord.” Listen, because that is the criteria of blessing. Listen. “And so, the Lord said, ‘I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. And now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, and camel and ass.’” God says, “You go and you kill every Amalekite, father, mother, children, babies, ox, goats, sheep, cattle, everything. Kill it.”
And God was removing a cancer from the world. “And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, ten thousand men of Judah. Saul came to the city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.
“And Saul said unto the Kenites, ‘Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, or you’re going to get it, too.’” Might as well get out while the getting’s good. “‘For you showed kindness to the children of Israel, when you came up out of Egypt.’ So, the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.
“And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah to Shur” – in other words, from border to border. “And he took Agag, the king of the Amalekites, alive” – now, that’s a terrible mistake that he just made, isn’t it? God said wipe out everybody. He took Agag. Why? Because it was an act of pride. He wanted to drag the vanquished king into town and show off his victory.
The Bible says, “He took Agag, the king of the Amalekites, alive, and utterly destroyed the people with the edge of the sword. But” – that’s bad, that word – “Saul and the people spared Agag.” Why? Because it was nice to have the guy around so you could gloat over him. “And they spared the best of the sheep, the ox, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. But everything that was vile and refuse, they utterly destroyed.”
Now, God gold them what to do. He said, “Wipe it all out.” What did Saul do? He kept some back. “Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel” – in verse 10 – “‘It repents me’” – and incidentally, the Hebrew word here has not so much to do with the change of mind but grief – “It grieves me that I have set up Saul to be king, for he is turned back from following Me, and has not performed my commandments.’ And it grieved Samuel; and he cried to the Lord all night.” Now, there’s a sensitive man.
You know what made Samuel cry? A man who didn’t obey God’s Word. “And when Samuel got up early to meet Saul in the morning, Saul came to Carmel. Behold, he set him in a place and has gone about and passed on down to Gilgal.”
Verse 13, “And Samuel came to Saul, and he said, ‘Blessed be thou of the Lord’” – Saul said to Samuel – “‘I have performed the commandment of the Lord.’” Oh, Samuel, it’s so good to see you; I’ve done what God said.
“Samuel said, ‘Oh, yeah? How come I hear the bleating of the sheep, and the lowing of the oxen?” What’s going on?
“And Saul said, ‘Hey, they have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord thy God’” Oh, terrific. How can you knock that kind of motive? He’s going to worship God. Oh, that’s wonderful, Saul. What an idea. Saul has a better idea. Better than God’s. God had a good idea, but Saul came up with a wrinkle even God hadn’t thought of. How wonderful. Why just slaughter them all? We can sacrifice them to God. We’ll have a worship service. Fabulous.
“Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stay, and I’ll tell you what the Lord said to me this night.’
“And he said, ‘Say on.’
“And Samuel said, ‘When you were little in your own sight,” – when you were a nobody - “‘were you not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed you king over Israel?’” - didn’t the Lord make you what you are when you were a nobody? And the implication is, “Who gave you the right to usurp the authority over the God who made you what you are?”
“‘And the Lord sent you on a journey and said, ‘God an utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed. Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord, but didst fly on the spoil and did evil in the sight of the Lord?’
“And Saul said to Samuel, ‘Wait a minute. I have obeyed the voice of the Lord’” – he’s very persistent – “‘I went the way which the Lord sent me, and I brought Agag the king of Amalek, and utterly destroyed the Amalekites. And the people took the spoil, the sheep and the oxen, the chief of the things’” – and you notice now that it isn’t such a good idea. He’s left himself out and he’s blaming the people. “‘I mean it’s an act of worship.’”
And, you know, somebody would come along and say, “Oh, I know it isn’t – I know, but this – it may not be in the Script – oh, but it’s – I’m worshipping God in my own way. And if you don’t do it, if you don’t experience this, oh, you’re missing the greater blessing.” See?
So, what is the response? Verse 22, “And Samuel said this, ‘Has the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifice as much as in’” – what? - “‘obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to hearken than the fat of rams.’”
You’re a lot better off to obey the Word of God than come up with your own independent, self-styled system of experiential worship. I don’t want you to be intimidated by people who come along and say, “Well, oh, we have an experience of worship; it’s not yours. Marvelous things happen. We reach out and the Lord appears to us, and all kinds of mystical things are going on.”
And you’re sitting there saying, “Well, I can’t find them in the Bible.” Well, the Bible says God doesn’t want your self-styled, self-invented worship; he simply wants your obedience.
“‘And to rebel against that’” – verse 23 - “‘is as the sin of witchcraft.’” If you’re going to disobey the Word of God, you might as well go see a medium and play around with the occult. And the reason I say this is simply this: these people today who are claiming to have all these worship experiences that cannot be defended biblically, they may be sincere, and they may have the right motive like Uzzah and Saul did, but they’re wrong. And the response was Samuel said to Saul, “You will no longer be king. It’s over for you.”
You say, “That’s serious.”
Yeah, that is serious.
Let me take you to another illustration, 1 Kings 13. This is a most fascinating story. You remember that after the reign of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split into two parts: the northern kingdom with ten tribes, and the southern. The northern kingdom was ruled by Jeroboam the First, and the southern kingdom by Rehoboam. And there was the splitting of the kingdom because of the sin of Solomon. And when Jeroboam took the ten tribes and established the kingdom in the north, he was afraid that the northern people would not maintain an allegiance to him. If they were always going to the south, to the temple to worship, they would keep their roots in the south. So, he decided that he’d have to build a couple of worship places up in the north.
So, he – verse 29 of chapter 12 says he set the one in Bethel and the other in Dan. Now, the problem with that is, God didn’t want His worship going on in Bethel and Dan, did he? Where did He want it? In Jerusalem, in the temple.
And verse 30 says, of chapter 12, “It became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one, even in Dan. And he made a house of high places” – he built a temple – “he made priests of the lowest of the people, who were not of the sons of Levi.” He just picked out a few poor folks and made them priests. You can’t do that. Priests are out of the tribe of Levi, worship goes on in Jerusalem. You don’t adlib it. You don’t just say, “We got a great idea; we’ll do our own thing up here.” If it isn’t scriptural, you don’t do it.
And verse 32, in the middle there, says that he did the same thing in Bethel. And he was sacrificing the calves, and he went through the whole route, through the whole Jewish deal: sacrifices, priests, the altars, the whole shot, only going on in Bethel and Dan. It had no business going on there.
So, God says, “I got to send somebody up there to straighten it all out.”
Chapter 13, “Behold, there came a man of God” – now, this is a man of God as a prophet; he’s a preacher, and he goes all the way out of Judah, to go to the north, because apparently there wasn’t a prophet in the north who would do this; so, he goes - “out of Judah by the word of the Lord, comes to Bethel.” And he happens to arrive when Jeroboam is in there doing his thing with the altar. He’s in there worshipping God and burning his sacrifice. And this is a bold young man.
He walks up, it says in verse 2, “He cries against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, ‘O altar, altar’” – now, this is going to get Jeroboam’s attention, because he’s there worshipping. This guy busts in and shouts out, “‘O altar, altar says the Lord, “behold a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places who burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burned on thee.”‘”
Altar, you’ve had it. There’s coming a man, Josiah, and he’s going to burn bones on you. And the ultimate desecration for a Jew was to touch a dead body. Right? And to burn the bones of a dead person on an altar was to desecrate it and pollute for good. And this man of God says, “Your altars, Jeroboam, have had it, because 300 years from now, a man is coming by the name of Josiah, who’s going to dig up dead bones and burn them all over your altar.”
You want to read 2 Kings 23, you can read the story. And just to make sure Jeroboam didn’t say, “Hah, funny joke, who is this guy? Get him out,” verse 3 says, “And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which the Lord has spoken” – to prove it’s going to happen - “‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it poured out.’” The altar’s going to fall down, and the ashes, too.
“And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, who had cried against the altar in Bethel, he put forth his hand from the altar, and said, ‘Lay hold on him.’ And his hand, which he put forth, dried up so that he couldn’t put it in again.” Paralyzed. “And immediately the altar was torn down, and the ashes poured out, exactly according to the sign which the man of God had given to the word of the Lord.”
God says, “You don’t invent your own worship; you obey My prescription.”
“And the king answered and said unto the man of God, ‘Entreat now the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored.’ And the man of God besought the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him and became as it was before.” But I’ll tell you one thing, he never forgot it.
“And the king said to the man of God, ‘Come home with me’” – verse 7 - “‘and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.’” I want to be on your team.
“And the man of God said to the king, ‘If you will give me half your house, I’m not going to go home with you. I wouldn’t eat your bread, and I wouldn’t drink water in this place, because it was told me by the word of the Lord, saying, “Eat no bread, drink no water, and don’t come again by the same way that you went.”‘” I have one commitment in my life: obey the Word of God.
“So he went another way and returned not by the way that he came.” This guy is right on. Now, you know, it would have been an honor to be invited to eat with the king. He could have been a hero. And he could have figured, “Well, you know, the king has heard, and he seems to be repentant. I think if I go in there, and I’ll compromise a little on God’s Word, and I’ll witness to the king.” No. He says, “I’m not interested in witnessing to you; I’m not interested in doing anything with you. God told me not to mess around with you, just to get out of here, and to get out of here a different way than I got here. Goodbye.”
Now, on the way, verse 11, he ran into another preacher. Now, for a lot of people, this is a problem. For a lot of preachers, they run into other preachers, and that’s very intimidating. You know? We who are preachers get intimidated by other preachers. Now, watch what happens.
“There was an old prophet” – there’s an old preacher and a young preacher now – “and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel.” Well, this old prophet, boy, you know, he had – he was a true prophet. Both of them were. He was a true prophet. He must have thought, “Oh, isn’t that wonderful? What a bold young man. Oh, how marvelous that he would do that. Why didn’t I have the courage to do that? Why didn’t God call me to – oh, that young man, would I ever like to meet that guy. Boy, would I like to have some fellowship with that young man of God.” And so he sent for him.
And he sent his sons, “Go get him. Saddle the ass.” And they saddled the ass. And he rose out, and he” – verse 14 – “and he went after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak.” He’s just resting on his way back to Judah.
“‘Are you the man of God who came from Judah?’
“And he said, ‘I am.’
“He said to him, ‘Come home with me, and eat bread.’”
Boy, he’s been walking awhile, hungry, thirsty, a place to rest. “He said, ‘I may not return with you, nor go in with you. Neither will I eat bread or drink water with you in this place.’” He sounds like a record. That’s the same line he gave before. God told him. “‘God told me what to do; I’m doing what God told me to do. I’m not going to discuss it any longer.’”
You might say, “Well, oh, we’ve got to fellowship with everybody.”
No, God drew some lines for it.
“But what could it hurt?”
God doesn’t want him to create his own ministry; He wants him to obey the one God gave him. But watch how he’s intimidated.
“‘It was said to me’” – verse 17 - “‘by the Word of the Lord’” – that settles it.
“And he said to him” – the old man – “‘I am a prophet also like you” – I’m a true prophet; I’m a preacher - now, watch this intimidation – “‘and an angel spoke to me by the Word of the Lord, saying,’ “Bring him back with you into your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.”‘” Is that ever intimidating.
“Come to my house.”
“I can’t, God said not to.”
“But an angel came to me and told me that you’re supposed to.” That’s very intimidating.
Somebody’ll say to you, “Oh, I know the Bible doesn’t talk about that, but I had a vision. I had a direct word from the Lord. And angel came to me.”
And just remind yourself of Galatians 1, “If an angel comes and preaches anything other than what you know to be the Word of God, let him be accursed.” That is a devil dressed up as an angel of light.
What happens is this young prophet is now in the dilemma of accepting the known Word of God revealed, or believing that God is speaking through somebody else’s experience. You see? What did he do?
Verse 19, “He went with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water.” He acted in direct violation of God’s Word, because he was intimidated by and older prophet who was also a preacher, a true prophet, who probably had a wonderful ministry, who said an angel told him this, and he forsook what he knew was the truth of God, and opted out for experience.
Beloved, that’s exactly what’s going on today. People are turning away from the Word of God that is clear, and they are buying everybody’s vision and everybody’s experience as a criteria. Want to know what happened?
Verse 23 – skipping some thoughts, but verse 23 – “It came to pass, after he had eaten bread, after he had drunk, he saddled for him the ass, that is for the prophet whom he had brought back. And when he was gone, a lion met him in the way and slew him.” You know what happened to the young man? God sent a lion, and the lion killed him.
You say, “Why did God do that?”
“His carcass was thrown in the way” – and I want you to see something interesting – “and the ass stood by it, and the lion stood by it.” You want to know something? The lion didn’t eat the body, and the lion didn’t attack the ass. You know why? God wanted you to know that, because that was not a hungry lion; that was a divine agent of judgment. God took the life of that prophet that fast. Why? Because he set somebody else’s experience over what he knew was the Word of God. That’s a dangerous thing to do. You see? That’s not the criteria.
You don’t invent your own worship activities. You don’t invent your own self-styled religion, and you don’t take somebody else’s experience as authoritative if it violates what you know to be the revelation of God. And people may come along and say, “I’ve had this experience, and I’ve had this experience, and I’ve had this, experience,” and all you have to say is, “Yes, but I have this Word from God, and that satisfies.” You do not need to be intimidated by the people who want to tell you you’re missing some experiences, or you’ve got to step out and believe God for these things.
A man came to me after last Sunday night – several people came to me after last Sunday night, but one man in particular, and he said, “The reason you don’t experience these things is because you don’t believe.”
And I said, “I don’t believe what? I don’t believe that I’ll experience something other than the Word of God says is for me to experience. And my Bible tells me clearly that these things that people are claiming are not for today. And I’m not going to let their experience intimidate me, because I’m not about to walk out of here and get eaten by a lion. I’ve got to take care of my wife and kids and all you people.”
And how did it happen? Verse 26, “And the prophet who brought him back from the way heard it. He said, ‘It is the man of God, who was disobedient to the Word of the Lord. Therefore, the Lord has delivered him to the lion, which has torn him and slain him’” – you want to hear something interesting? – God seemingly did not hold the old prophet’s ignorance nearly as accountable as the young prophet’s knowledge. For somebody who’s reared in that, and they don’t know anything about it, there’s less of a chastening from God, perhaps, than for somebody who knows better and opts out, turning his back on God’s truth for somebody’s experience. Very serious truth.
See, Christian, you don’t need to be intimidated by human religion. You just bank on the Word of God. To obey it is better than your own self-styled kind of sacrifice or self-made religion. We’re not looking for spectaculars; we’re looking for obedience. We’ve already experienced a radical change in our lives. So radical that I can’t imagine any anything more radical. We’ve entered a new life, and everything we need is already ours.
And what is Paul saying? And I’ll tie this in with Colossians. You won’t believe it, but I will. What is Paul saying? He’s saying, “Look, you don’t need to be intimidated. You accept what the Word tells you you have. And what does the Word tell you you have? In Christ you have” – what? – “everything. But my God,” said Paul in Philippians, “shall supply” – what? – “all your needs according to His riches by Christ Jesus.” By Christ Jesus, all His riches are yours. You’re complete in Him. Such a powerful truth.
What is true spirituality? Look at is in Colossians 3 True spirituality is just to concentrate on Christ. Christ consciousness. I used to tell the story of the old Indian who came to church and sat on the front row week after week. And somebody went up to him one week and said, “Tonto” – or whatever his name was – “why do you come early and then sit there?”
He says, “Me come early. Me sit down. Me think Jesus.”
I like that. Preoccupation of the Christian is Christ. If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your thoughts on things above and not on things on the earth. For you’re dead, and your life is hidden in Christ with God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then you shall appear with him in glory.”
Listen, what he’s saying in all of that is Christ is everything. Your whole life is wrapped up with Christ. Focus on Him; it’s all there; it’s all yours. And don’t let anybody intimidate you with any manmade experiences or manmade rules or self-styled religion. This is a call to true spirituality. And true spirituality means you look up and you see Christ.
Second Corinthians 3:18, I would just draw to your attention. Second Corinthians 3:18 says this, “But we all – we all, with unveiled face”- the veil is removed in Christ – “beholding as in a glass” – or a mirror – “the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Now, that verse might tangle you a little bit; let me tell you what it means. As a believer, you have one preoccupation. You just focus on Christ. And as you focus on Christ and are lost in His glory, imperceptibly the Spirit of God begins to transform you into His image, from one level of glory, to the next level of glory, to the next level of glory, to the next level of glory. That’s true growth, true maturity, true spirituality. That’s the only contemplation a Christian needs.
A Christian doesn’t need to contemplate human philosophy. A Christian doesn’t need to become a legalist and sit around, looking at all kinds of lists of rules. A Christian doesn’t have to be a mystic and sit in a corner and contemplate his naval till something ecstatic happens. A Christian doesn’t need to be an ascetic. A Christian needs to concentrate on Jesus Christ.
And as we concentrate on Christ, imperceptibly the Spirit of God does His work. And that’s what the verse is saying. We are changed into the same image by the Holy Spirit.
You say, “But, John, how do you concentrate on Christ?”
You have to lift your mind out of the world and set it on the things above. I told you last week that Marvin Ford said he went to heaven and came back. You know what the Christian has to do? Go to heaven and stay there. Get our mind up there and leave it. Get your mind on Jesus Christ and keep it.
You say, “But how do you do that?”
Look at Colossians 3. We’re going to finish this sermon next week, don’t worry about it. Colossians chapter 3, verse 16. How do you do it?
You say, “How do I concentrate on Christ?”
Here’s how. “Let the Word of Christ” – do what? – “dwell in you richly.” You want to contemplate Christ? Get in the book. And the more you study the Word, and the more you’re saturated by the Word, and the more the Word controls your thinking, and the more the Word dominates your thoughts, the more Christ is in the front of your mind.
Dear old Uzzah, if he’d a been pouring over the Word, and he knew the Word, and the Word governed His life, when the emotion started to react toward that thing, he would have stopped. And there are Christians today, who if they were really saturated by the Word of God and really knew God’s Word, when their emotions tend to reach out for something, it’ll stop, and they’ll do what they know the Bible teaches to do, not what their emotions would charge them to do, even though their motives might seem, at the time, so good.
So, you let the Word of Christ dwell in you. And as you study the Bible, and as you work through the Word of God, and as you read it, and as it saturates your own life, then Christ moves up into the conscious mind, and you begin to get your head into the heavenlies. And you’re just – you’re sort of suspended. That’s what Paul meant when he said in the Ephesians, “We are blessed with all spiritual blessings” – where? – “in the heavenlies.”
And some Christians are going around saying, “Uh, I don’t know where all the blessings are.”
You know why? You’re mulling around in the muck. You need to get yourself in heaven and stay there. Get up there. And I’ll tell you something. Once you’ve taken that step, and once you’ve really made that commitment to think Christ, and to concentrate on Jesus Christ, and to pour your thoughts into Christ and allow Christ to be the center of your life, then you’re going to see some things in your life that you never saw before.
You hear Christians say, “Well, you know, I accepted the Lord a long time ago, but it never really did any – and then, boy, I heard this guy, or I made this commitment, and boy, the – since then...”
What happened? Well, they got up in the heavenlies. They entered the throne room, and they started palling around with Jesus. They got out of the gutter. They got their mind of material things, and they put their thoughts in heaven. Ptolemy used to teach that the center of the solar system was the earth, and everything revolved around it. Remember? The Ptolemaic theory. The earth is the center of the universe and everything else revolves around the earth. Thirteen hundred years that lasted. Can you believe that? Thirteen hundred year the world believed that.
Finally, Copernicus came along and said, “No, the sun is the center of our solar system, and everything goes around that.” What’s the center of your solar system? The earth or the sun? The earth or the Sun of Righteousness? Where’s your focus? What are the three things you love the most and think about the most and want the most?
You know what the one thing you need is? Christ, and to focus on Him, and to concentrate on Him. That’s all; He’s sufficient. Don’t be intimidated by anybody else’s self-made religion. Christ is all you need, and you have all of Him there is. And I really believe. I know in my own life, it isn’t just that you – you know, it’s not like we’re saying there’s a second great work, and all of a sudden you get zapped, and you have this. But there is a time in your life, when you come to the point, I think, where you say, “I’m ready to live in the heavenlies. I’m tired of fiddling around in the mud; I want to get up there where I belong and enjoy some of the blessings that are up there for me.”
And once you get a taste of it, from there on the life begins to mean something. It’s – Dr. Barnhouse used to tell the story – h e was on the mission filed, visiting some – a young couple, and they were sitting around, having tea. And they were – they were just newlyweds, and they went right to the mission field, and they were discussing what their engagement was like, and the courtship, and all of that stuff, you know? And the young man said, “Well, you know, she would never let me kiss her until we were married.” And they kind of chuckled about that. Well, that’s wonderful. But he said, “After we got married, and I got the first kiss, the rest came easy.”
I really think that in a sense, if a Christian ever really begins to experience what God has for him by living in the heavenlies and getting his mind off the world and his mind on the Son, that the rest comes easy, because you begin to see what’s there.
And it’s tragic to see so many Christians piddling around in the world and trying to reach out for the world’s definition of a religious experience to make them happy, when all they needed to do is drop all of that stuff, concentrate on Jesus Christ, and as they’re lost in Him, and as they gaze on Him and are transformed into His image from one level of glory to the next, they begin to experience what God intended when He said, “You’ll be blessed with all the blessings in the heavenlies.”
Now, we’re going to see how that all works out when we get back to this third chapter and go verse by verse through these four verses. That was just the introduction. Let’s pray.
Thank You, Father, for our fellowship tonight, for just the opportunity to begin to think about some great things. I’m thankful to You that we don’t need to be intimidated. I’m thankful to you that we don’t have to wander around, trying to figure out whose experience is valid and what we can do that’s legitimate, and who’s right, and who’s wrong, but that we can just hold to the Word of God, that we can just hang on and know it’s true.
Help us to be like that young man of God and say, “No, God’s Word said to do it, and I’m going to do it,” and help us never to come to the place where we let anybody intimidate us with a vision or with anything else. Help us to realize that we cling to the book, and if it isn’t allowed for in the Word of God, if the Word of God is clear, then we’re going to obey.
We thank You, Father, that you’ve told us to be obedient to Your Word and not to follow our own fancy, our own experience, our own self-designed worship. Make us biblical. May we, as Spurgeon said, have Bibline blood. May the Word pulse right through us. And we know that as we study the Word, Christ becomes real. As Christ becomes real, we begin to know what His fellowship means and to partake of His riches. And we come to be in His image.
Work Your work in us by the Spirit. Help us to be satisfied that Christ is all, Christ is all in all, the Word is enough to reveal all that He is and be satisfied with that, to rejoice in it, to grow in it, to revel in it, and to share it with others. We pray in Christ’s name, amen.
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