If I Had One Opportunity:Urgent Messages For Today What I Would Say To The Members of My Congregation – May 13, 2019
Before me is the task of presenting today's most urgent gospel lesson. To enhance the degree of difficulty, the lesson is to be directed to the members of my home congregation. These are the brethren with whom I live and work.
These are the ones uppermost in my concern and love. These are the ones I am close to, the ones with whom I rejoice and shed tears. These are the souls that are the most precious to me. What can be said in one urgent message
that can protect the souls of these, my closest brethren? What can be said in just one lesson to uplift the spirit of the discouraged, to encourage the weak, to strengthen the church, to unite the brethren? What is the common denominator?
It is the heart of man.
Although there are places in the scriptures referring to a man's heart as the blood-pumping organ, our study will primarily concentrate on the heart as it stands before the Lord. The majority of scriptures mentioning the heart have reference to the intellect, the inside, or the inner man. As Paul said, “I buffet my body…”...that is, I am going to exercise control of my body, “…lest when I preach to others, I myself might be a cast away.” He is talking about the inner man, where love resides, where love begins. When Peter was writing to his brethren, he not only admonished them to show love toward one another but he also described the degree to which they were to love. “Love one another from, or with, a pure heart, fervently,” he said. So, he is talking about the inner man - the inner man where love resides, the inner man where love begins. Love one another from the heart, from the inside, from that intellect or mind of man. That is the idea of biblical love.
In Proverbs 4:23 the wise man said, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." In saying, "Keep your heart," the writer is again referring to the inner part of man.
In Proverbs 19:18, the scripture says, "Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction." In this passage of scripture, the heart is referred to as having something to do with our will. We will to do things with our heart. In Hebrews 4:12, the scripture says, "The word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." This passage presents the idea of the thoughts of the heart, the will of the heart. We will, or make determination, with our heart, with the inner man, with the intellect, with the mind.
In Proverbs 19:21, the wise man is speaking and he said, "There are many plans in a man’s heart." When a plan is made, where is it made? It may be carefully drawn on a sheet of paper; it may be outlined with the use of a computer; or it may be drawn on a marking board. But always, it first originates in the heart, doesn't it? That is where all thoughts, all plans and all actions originate. They originate within the intellect of man's heart. The wise man is speaking of this intellect when he said, "There are many plans in a man’s heart".
Not only does the heart have the ability to plan and to will, but it also has the capability of showing emotions. Emotions spring forth from the heart; they leap from the inside of man.
In Proverbs 14:10, again the wise man said, "The heart knows its own bitterness and a stranger does not share its joy." This passage expresses both emotional extremes - the deep bitterness of a heart in despair and the joy of a heart in happiness. Sometimes, our heart is bitter because of the things that have transpired in our lives. Things over which we have no control sometimes happen to us in this life, causing us sorrow and despair. Sometimes, we become bitter. But in this passage of scripture, the wise man also said that the joy of the heart can be manifest. So the choice is ours - we can either be bitter in heart or we can be joyous.
In Proverbs 12:25, the writer says, "Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad." So, the heart is capable of feeling gladness. "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord," David said. David was glad. He was made to be happy by the words he had heard. His heart was glad. His state of mind was cheerful. His intellect was optimistic. His happiness originated inside him. We are happy from the inside out.
"They are smiling through their tears," is an age-old expression sometimes heard at sad occasions. It refers to those who try to smile in spite of the fact that inside they may be weeping in sorrow. Their heart is sad; their state of mind is in despair. And in spite of their efforts to remain cheerful, the real emotions of their heart are apparent.
So, generally speaking, we are what we are inside. Is that not true? It is usually the case that we smile, or express gratitude and gladness because we are happy from the inside out. "If any man is cheerful, let him sing praise," James said. He is referring to how a man thinks in his heart. If he is cheerful, if he is happy, then he wants to sing. Have you ever hummed a tune or sung a little song when you got up in the morning or as you were traveling to work or to school? Well, maybe it is expecting too much for a person to hum in gladness as he goes to school! But, we often show our cheerfulness in this way, don’t we? We do sing from time to time, do we not? We do that because we are happy, because things are good. We are glad, our heart is glad, so we sing.
But there are times when great anxiety, even depression, invades the heart of man. We are deeply worried and concerned and things in our daily lives are not going well. Our brow becomes furrowed, a frown is upon our face, our countenance reflects the anxiety in our heart; a heart that is not happy; a heart that has no joy. Our emotions are seen in our outward manifestations. In Proverbs 13:12, the wise man says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is the tree of life."
Paul said, "I live in hope, forgetting the things behind...". If there is real hope, it is the tree of life. If we have hope in our heart, it shows in our actions. Some people are sick of heart because they have no hope and they show in the way they act. The Bible says we need to have a pure heart. How do we do that? How is that we can have a pure heart? Consider these things that will produce in us a pure or a clean heart. On one occasion, David said to his Father, "Create in me a clean heart." If we read that particular Psalm and some of the other Psalms that David wrote, we understand that he is expressing a desire for his heart to be returned to the way it had formerly been - pure, and full of joy. He wants to go back to the time before he committed the great sin that has caused so much grief in his life. He wants a clean heart; he wants to start afresh. Did you ever have a burning desire to start anew? Did you ever move from one place to another and say, "I am going to start all over." What you were saying is that you were going to start afresh. Perhaps you move from a terrible situation to new environment where you have the opportunity to start all over. You forget the things that are in the past and you stretch forward to the things that are before you. Basically, that is what the apostle Paul did. He said, "I forget the things that are behind and I stretch forward to the things that are before and I press on to the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." He forgot about all the things that had happened in the past because he stretched forward to the future. That is one meaning of keeping a pure heart. But, how does that happen for me? How can I have a pure heart?
TRUST THE LORD
In Proverbs 3:5, the wise man said, "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart.... In order to keep one's heart pure one must not "lean upon your own understanding." "In all of your ways acknowledge Him." How is it that we trust and acknowledge the Lord? He is Lord of Lords and He is King of Kings. He is our Savior. He is the blessed and only potentate. He is the same yesterday, today, yea, and forever. We can acknowledge Him. We can bow down to Him. We can give oblation to Him. We can love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, because He is our Lord. We can trust in the Lord.
If we want to have a good heart, a heart that smiles, a heart that is full of joy, then we must first have a trusting heart. We MUST trust in the Lord.
FEAR THE LORD
Solomon said, "If you will acknowledge Him, He will direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord and depart from evil." (Proverbs 3:6-7)
If we fear the Lord, we will depart from evil. The question is asked, “How can I get out of this trouble?" or "How can I keep from being depressed by all of the negative things happenings in the Lord's church?" The answer is to fear the Lord. In that beautiful and familiar twenty-third Psalm of David, he wrote, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. …He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me... Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
By personification, goodness is on one side and mercy on the other. And they shall follow me, and they shall protect me, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because goodness and mercy are with me, I will not fear! With God's help, we will make it; we will prevail. We will be able to do our tasks because we have faith in God. We believe what God says and we believe His promises; therefore, we acknowledge Him as the one true and only God. That is biblical trust in the Lord.
SEEK THE WISDOM OF THE LORD
Because we want to keep our heart pure, we are going to seek the wisdom of God. In Proverbs 2:2, the scripture says, "So, you incline your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding." This passage teaches that we should incline our ear to wisdom. What does that mean - to incline? It means that we turn our ear toward wisdom. The entire book of Proverbs is personified as if wisdom is a person. As Wisdom speaks to us, it is actually God who is speaking to us. God is the all-wise voice of wisdom. Will we listen to the voice of wisdom? Will we incline our ear?
Sometimes occasions arise when someone is speaking to us but it is difficult to hear his words, so we move closer or perhaps lean our head toward him, cupping our hand over our ear to better hear his words. That is inclining one's ear to what is being said.
We need to incline our ear to the Lord and do whatever is necessary to get close enough to hear Him. We need to desire to hear what He has to say. (John 7:17). We must dig into His word. We have to put our minds, so to speak, into the word of God, so that we can hear what He has to say. (Psalm 119:112). Thus, if we want to have a pure heart, we must incline our ear to the Lord, as He says in this verse.
And then, after inclining our ear, we have to apply our heart to understand what He says. Often times, is it not true, that we hear what someone says but we do not apply it at all? There must be application. Do you remember when you were in school? Do you recall the many times your teachers worked diligently, with dedication, to their subjects, in an effort to impart knowledge to us, the students? Every available means of teaching was employed by the teachers. With tireless effort, they put information on the blackboard, or on the overhead projector, or in PowerPoint so that their subject could be learned. All of the information was put forth so that we could copy it down, study it and absorb it into our minds. And yet, our minds were somewhere else. We were thinking about other things. Maybe it was spring and we could hardly wait to get out and do something fun. It was a beautiful day and we did not want to be in a classroom. On occasion, have we all not said to ourselves, "I’ll be glad when this class is over"? Have we not also, on occasion, done the same thing while listening to gospel preaching? "When in the world is this preacher going to get through, so we can do something else?" Then, when he gets through, and we go away and think about it, we only remember, perhaps, a phrase or a word that was said and we think, “I wish I had listened to the whole thought.” There comes a time when we need to use the teaching. There we were, having it all presented to us, and we were not listening. It was right there on the screen, or it was on the board, but we were not listening. The preacher or the teacher spent all that time preparing and presenting and we chose not to listen. Now we must dig into the books and research on our own in an effort to find the answers. But the answers were available to us, had we only inclined our ear to hear.
Thus, to have a pure heart, one must incline his ear to wisdom. Wisdom is the principle thing, the writer said. Therefore get wisdom. Wisdom is very important; it is principal. To listen to God is immanently important; it is the most important thing we do. But with all the getting, we must get understanding so that we will be able to use the wisdom. It is easy to read much, but do we understand it?
A number of years ago, when I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we had a preacher who came to hold a gospel meeting. He was highly educated by this world's standards. He had many scholastic accomplishments, including doctorate degrees in several subjects. One of his degrees was in the English language. He had studied the language, extensively, and had a masterful grasp of vocabulary. When he stood in the pulpit to preach, he used words that we call $50 adjectives, even $100 adjectives. He could string together all those beautiful words and phrases like no one I had ever heard before. One evening, when he finished preaching, a good brother came up to me and said, "He has got to be one of the greatest preachers I’ve ever heard in my life. I didn’t understand a word he said but he’s got to be great."
Actually, for that man, the sermon did no good at all, did it? No teaching was accomplished because there was no understanding on the part of the hearer. Oh yes, the preacher was magnificent in his presentation and he exercised a marvelous command of the English language. But, without the use of a dictionary, most of the audience gained little, if any, knowledge. "Understand the word of God,"... Solomon said. Without a doubt, wisdom was expounded by the preacher, but there was no understanding among those who were listening. And without understanding, there can be no application of wisdom.
If we are going to have a pure heart, we must also resist pride. Pride is the single most prevalent thing mentioned in the scriptures that kept people from doing what God would have them to do. That still holds true today. Pride is what keeps a father from admitting to his children that he has done something wrong against them. How many parents are unable to say to their children, "I am wrong; I am human and I made a mistake. With God's help, I will do better."
Pride is the thing that keeps one person from admitting to another that he has wronged him. Pride hinders us from telling our brother that we have sinned against him by the spread of malicious gossip or by acting against him in a manner unbecoming a Christian.
But worse, pride keeps us from admitting that we are human beings who make mistakes; that we are not self-sufficient, but are dependent upon God. As humans, we sin; but pride refuses to allow us to recognize our sins and prevents us from falling on our knees and praying unto God, “God be merciful to me, a sinner."
Pride prevents our obedience to the Gospel. We think we are good people. We have lived good lives. We are good citizens and good neighbors. We provide for our families. Surely, as good as I am, God would not require me to obey the Gospel. I really do not see a need to do that. Pride! The pride of life is one of the most heinous sins of our day, and always will be.
In Proverbs 21:4, the scripture says, "A haughty look, a proud heart and the plowing of the wicked, are sin." All of these things, Solomon said, are sin. Here is a person who has a haughty look, a proud heart, who refuses to acknowledge that he needs God or anyone else. He refuses to acknowledge his own deficiency; he refuses to acknowledge sin in his life. He is one who will not repent; he will not confess his sins.
Some years back, a man made the statement that after he obeyed the gospel, he no longer sinned. "I don’t sin!" he said. It is hard to imagine someone with a pure heart saying something like that. If one does not sin, one certainly does not need to confess anything. But John said that we all sin. He said, "If we say we have no sin, we are liars and we make God, Himself, a liar and His word does not dwell in us." (1John 1:8-10).
In Proverbs 16:5, the wise man said, "Everyone that is proud in his heart is an abomination to the Lord, though they join forces, none will go unpunished." Listen carefully my brethren, for the proud person, be it a preacher, elder, deacon, member, husband, wife or child, who refuses to admit that he sins, is an abomination to the Lord. When a person disobeys God but, in defiance, will not confess his sins and beg forgiveness, he stands before the Lord as an abomination. The person who will talk about his brother, realizing that his statements are assassinating the character of that brother, yet he is unwilling to acknowledge the sin because of pride, that man is an abomination to the Lord. That means the Lord hates him; He literally detests him. (Proverbs 16:19). There can be no more grievous or heinous a sin than that of pride. One cannot have a pure heart unless he acknowledges his sins. Unless he comes before the Lord saying, "Lord be merciful to me a sinner," he cannot have a pure heart.
Jesus Christ taught that only when a man acknowledges his sin can he go down to his house justified. The one who is justified before the Lord is not the one who is so full of pride that he says, "Look at me Lord. I’ve done this and this and this good thing, and I’m not nearly as bad as that fellow over there." The one who can go down to his house justified is the one who, with a penitent heart, pours forth an expression of humility and sorrow. "Lord, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner. I am on my knees, recognizing that I need Thy help, Oh Father. I am aware of my many deficiencies, my inadequacies, and that I sometimes say or do things that ought not to be said or done. For these words and these actions, I ask Thee for forgiveness."
A pure heart is a tender heart. It is one that houses a tender conscience. "Happy is the man who is always reverent; but he who hardens his heart will fall into a calamity." (Proverbs 28:14).
Happy is the man who is always reverent. Content is the individual who keeps his heart pure. One translation uses the word conscience. Happy is the man who has a tender conscience. This man, whose conscience is tender, is the individual who will not fall into calamity. But the heart, which hardens itself, will fall.
In Matthew 13:13-15, Jesus spoke of the Jews saying their heart had waxed gross! They had become so hardened to the truth, that when they heard, they did not hear, and when they saw, they willed not to see. Therefore, we learn that it is very possible for a person to become so hardened to the truth that he will not accept it. It is possible for a person to become so hardened to the Gospel that he will not obey it. It is possible to become so hardened to the one's own inequities that he will not admit them.
We need to have a tender heart. We MUST have a tender heart. To the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul said, "Be tender hearted, forgiving each other even as God also in Christ forgave you". Without a tender heart, a tender conscience and a forgiving spirit, how can we expect the Lord to be forgiving toward us?
We must resist temptation. This is one of our most difficult tasks and we are faced with it every day of our lives. How? How can I possibly resist all the worldly temptations that are ever before me? We resist temptation through pray and faith in Jesus Christ. "Resist temptation," James said, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."
"Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways..." (Proverbs 7:25). In this passage, the writer is speaking about an adulterous woman, a woman of the night. "Do not turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths."
Have you ever wondered why there are so many statements written in the epistles concerning watchfulness? (I Corinthians 16:13). Have you ever wondered why the apostles John and Paul and Peter sent so many letters to the churches, cautioning them of possible pitfalls? Their letters contain so many warnings and pleadings followed by instructions and council so that the churches might follow the right path. Have you ever wondered why such letters were written? They were written, among other reasons, so that people then, as well as now, can resist temptation, so that they can resist the Devil. (I Corinthians 10:13).
The apostles' writings are not just love letters to be read and then put into drawers somewhere and forgotten. I remember after my grandmother passed away, as we were going through some of her drawers, we found a large stack of letters, neatly tied and tucked away. Women have a tendency to do that sort of thing, don’t they? We men get them, read them and generally, throw them into the trash. But oftentimes, women save cards and letters. They put them in boxes and store them in the attic or in drawers, like my grandmother. As we went through her things, we found drawers and drawers of letters she had received and it was obvious the some of them had only been read once.
Is it not so that sometimes we do the same with the Bible? Maybe, perhaps, we looked at it briefly, following our obedience to the Gospel, and then we put it in a drawer, fully intending to read it later. Letters in a drawer, Folks, will not help us. Words have to be read and assimilated in order for them to do us any good. If we are going to prepare ourselves to resist temptation, we have to know how to do it. "We know the ways of the Devil," Paul said, "We know his snares." To resist temptation, we have to be aware of the Devil's ways of snaring us. The scriptures teach us what we need to know to resist evil; but we cannot be helped if the answers are neatly tucked away in a drawer.
Temptations come in many forms. What is tempting to me may not be a temptation to you at all. Sometimes we cannot understand how a brother can commit a particular sin because it poses no temptation to us at all. Satan knows every man's weaknesses and will attack at his most vulnerable point. Just because yours and mine are different does not make it any less difficult for you to resist yours, or me to resist mine. So, we must continue to build our own resistance against our weaknesses.
Resisting temptation requires that we not present ourselves in the midst of that which is tempting to us. We cannot dabble in sin, even a little bit, and expect to remain resistant.
A story is told of a father whose two daughters were begging his permission to go see an "R" rated movie. When he denied their request, their pleadings intensified. "It's only rated "R" because of just a little bad language and a few bad scenes," they reasoned. The father refused.
Later that night, he baked some brownies for his daughters. As they were enthusiastically eating the brownies and commenting on how good they tasted, their father remarked that he had used a new recipe. "Oh yeah? What's different?" the girls asked.
"Well," he answered straight-faced, "I've always heard that if you add a little dash of dog droppings to the brownies, it gives them a distinct taste that people love."
"You're kidding!" cried the girls as they spat the brownies out. With panicked looks of confusion they cried, "What were you thinking?"
The father smiled and assured his daughters that he would never serve such a dish because even a small amount of some things is completely unacceptable. "Now," he said, "Do you see that God views sin in the same way? It doesn't matter how little it is, it is so distasteful that God cannot look upon it."
The daughters understood the lesson and agreed that "R" rated movies were not for them.
Do we get the message of what just a little bit of sin can do? (Romans 6:23). If we are going to have a pure heart, we must resist sin in all its forms. We cannot take a little dash here and a little dab there, mix it with righteousness, and expect to be accepted of God. There is no compatibility between Christ and Satan as stated by the Corinthian writer in 2Corinthians 6:14 - 7:1.
Thus, we learn to resist sin as we imbibe in the word of God. That is the only way we develop a resistance to sinning. We pray to God that He might not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Believing in the power of prayer, we will, as promised, be able to find the way of escape.
HOPE IN THE LORD
A pure heart requires that we have hope in Jesus Christ. "But recall the former days in which after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with suffering." (Hebrews 10:32-39).
The writer is asking the Hebrews to recall the time when they endured a great struggle with suffering. He is reminding them that even though it was difficult, they endured it then and they can endure it now. They were able; they could get through this.
Have you ever reached the point where you think, "I just can’t take it anymore. This is absolutely it! This is my limit." Perhaps you just wanted to lie down and die; or as David said, "I want to be like a dove and fly away." There are times when we all want to escape from everything. It is at these times that we need to remember that we have endured these difficulties in the past and we were able to get through them. We draw our strength from the fact that we were able to previously prevail and, therefore, can prevail today. That is what the Hebrew writer is telling these Hebrews. You do not have to give into it. You can prevail.
To have a pure heart, we must endure hardships, and there most assuredly will be hardships that befall us. Yours may not be the same as mine but their impact on your life and the lives of those you love will be equal. How do we withstand? How do we endure? Our strength comes through prayer and hope and through the word of God. And it comes through remembering. We remember those things that sustained us during earlier hardships. We remember who we are, what we said and what we did. We remember the commitment that we made to Christ when we obeyed the Gospel. Do you remember the day you were baptized? Do you remember the desire and determination you had to serve the Lord? Rekindle that desire. Awaken that determination. "Do the first works," Jesus said to one of the seven churches of Asia. Focus your heart on the work before you; overcome the hardships; fight the good fight; and, above all, serve the Lord. Realize that Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. We must keep our eyes fixed on Him. When we depart the company of God, we exit our element; and that is when we sin.
A pure heart? Yes, my most beloved brethren, I implore you to bear, to nurture, to cultivate a pure heart before God. Trust the Lord, fear Him, seek His wisdom, resist pride, be tenderhearted, fight temptation, and have hope in the Lord. Only then can you say, with the apostle Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith, and henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness...."