Well this morning I am concluding a series called ‘Inspired – How God Speaks through Scripture’
And the idea was the both inspire you and equip you to study and benefit from scripture yourself.
Sermons and Podcasts It’s great to listen to pastors and sermons and podcasts and read Christian books, but as you advance in the Christian life, it’s also crucial that you be able to study and benefit from scripture yourself. Not always needing a paid pastor guy to spoon feed you, but for you to be able to ‘feed yourself’ by digging into scripture yourself.
Last 3 Weeks And we covered a huge amount of ground over the last 3 weeks, we talked about what the Bible is, why we consider the Bible trustworthy, some simple bible study methods, and also studied the bibles structure and story as a whole.
If you missed any of the weeks, I highly encourage you to go back and watch the sermons and even rewatch them if I went too fast which I have the tendency to do.
So as we close out our series on bible study, I actually want to do something a little different and look at something Paul says to the Corinthian church.
Story “Donkeys Smell Each Other”
Story – When I was in bible college Waiting tables at Joes Crab Shack. A guy was seated in my section, and I went over and greeted him, and I could tell he was in the mood to chat. So we were talking and he asked me if I was from Colorado and I said ‘No, I’m here for school’ and he said ‘What are you studying?’ And I said “I’m actually in bible college getting my degree in biblical studies.” And he looked surprised and said “oh is that right? Well, Donkey’s smell each other”. And I said “Totally” _and I walked away and had no idea what he was talking about. “Is that guy calling me an idiot?!?!”_ So I went to my friend who was working too and I said “That guy over there just told me ‘Donkey’s smell each other’. What does that mean?” My friend said “I don’t think that means anything. That guy looks crazy.” – Well I brought the guy his food, and then asked if he wanted any dessert, etc. And then I brought him his check, and he put his credit card in it, I grabbed it and processed the card and brought it back to him and I said “I’m sorry, I have got to ask. But you were asking me about school and I told you I was in bible college and you said Donkeys smell each other. What on Gods green earth does that mean?” And he said “Oh. It’s like ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ I went to bible college too.” And I said “OOOOHHHHHHHH gotcha!!! Alright, see ya.”
But sometimes people say things that just stick with you. For whatever reason.
And this past month, I’ve obviously been spending a lot of time reading scripture, and thinking about teaching you how to read scripture, and there’s something that Paul says in the book of Corinthians that I couldn’t stop thinking about, and you see it on the top of your handout and it’s this phrase: “Living Letters”
2 Corinthians 3
This is Paul addressing the church in Corinth, and he says something amazing, let’s look:
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. (2 Corinthians 3:2)
You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:3)
So I’ve been thinking about the “letters” that were written that form the majority of the New Testament, written by Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Timothy, all of them “Letters”
And Paul here is talking a group of Christians and he tells them “You are a letter from Christ”
And that’s an amazing thing to say. He’s saying “In the same way that Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, are letters, YOU, Christian, are a letter from Christ. But not written on a tablet of stone, but written on the tablet of a human heart.”
What might he mean when he says that?
Well think about it like this: A letter only fulfills it’s purpose when it’s read.
A letter is different than a journal. You see what I mean? A journal can be just for you. A letter is for someone else to read.
And so Paul saying that we’re living letters is not just saying that we’re good Christians, that we’re faithfully following Jesus, but he’s saying that our lives have an impact on the people who read us.
And in the same way that the “epistles” which is to say the biblical letters point people to Jesus, so our lives are to point people to Jesus too.
That the Christian is a vessel through which the world learns about Jesus. That we actually “embody” the gospel.
And so when we consider the gospel message, we understand that it’s both a blessing and a responsibility.
It’s a great blessing that we have inspired scripture to read and learn from. And it’s a great responsibility because our job doesn’t end with reading, but continues on with us being read by others.
Our lives either add to or subtract from God’s credibility in the eyes of others.
For example: If you to go downtown, sit with someone, try to talk to them about Jesus or church, before any of the good stuff, you have to spend 30 minutes defending the behavior of some knucklehead Christian they’ve come into contact with.
Everywhere you go, unless you’re an underground Christian, people are reading you, and your reputation is either helping or hurting the cause of Christ.
There are five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian— but most people never read the first four. (Rodney (Gipsy) Smith (19th-century British evangelist))
So I want to talk about HOW to be a living letter. If you want your life to point people to Jesus, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that.
Jesus was on a journey. – Things were getting a little heated between him and the pharisees.
So he leaves Jerusalem (the big city) to return to Galilee (a small fishing town).
And if you know anything about biblical geography, you know that in order to do that, he has to pass through Samaria.
And he meets this woman. Changes her whole life with one conversation.
Now he had to go through Samaria. (John 4:4)
So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar (Si-kar), near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. (John 4:5)
Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. (John 4:6)
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7)
Ok, so Jesus is traveling, it’s noon, so it’s hot. He’s tired.
Disciples go into the town, he stays on the outside.
Sits down next to the well. – Noonday sun, it’s hot. He’s thirsty.
There comes a woman who has come to get water.
Running water. What a miracle. – Pipes right into your house. Back in the day, had to go to the well to get water to: drink, cook, bathe.
Here’s a woman with her water pot.
Jesus: “Hey, give me a drink.”
He reminds me of my daughter. It’s like “Ummm… I think you forgot a word Jesus. Have you ever heard of please?”
And what follows is a conversation between Jesus and this woman that I don’t have time to get in to, where Jesus reveals himself to be the messiah. This brings about a huge life change for this woman.
And they finish their conversation.
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” (John 4:27)
I don’t want you to miss the controversy that’s happening here.
1. Woman (This woman was a woman!!)
It’s hard to convey just how invisible women were in these ancient jewish cultures.
It’s amazing: In John chapter 4 we read the longest recorded conversation that Jesus has with anybody in the entire bible.
- Not with other men
- Not with the disciples.
- With this simple lady, overlooked by culture.
2. Samaritan (This samaritan was a samaritan!!)
The samaritans were a people who were related to the jews but with a different ethnicity. Their faith had come out of the jewish faith, but then in morphed and kinda changed into something else. They had their own Torah and their own Temple.
These were people who had a different ethnicity and a different religion.
LOTS of hostility – Jews & Samaritans. Hated each other to be frank. Deep hostility. Israelis & Palestinians is not the worst comparison.
So Jesus has this conversation with her and look at what she does:
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, (John 4:28)
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29)
They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (John 4:30)
Now jump to vs 39
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:39)
So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. (John 4:40)
And because of his words many more became believers. (John 4:41)
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42)
It’s all summed up in one word that we read in v 39 – ‘Testimony’
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, (John 4:39a)
The word testimony means to give a first-hand account. So if you think of someone in a courtroom giving a testimony, what they’re giving is a first hand account.
So this women was a living letter to these people. They weren’t reading scripture, they were reading her.
Now the assumption is that after they read her, they would go on to read scripture, but it started with them reading her.
One Most Successful Ministries And what’s really incredible is that after this quick conversation, this woman has one of the most successful ministries in all the gospels.
Jesus would send out his disciples to some city, and they would come back and they’d have moderate success to really put a positive spin on it. The faith of this woman turned a whole city upside down.
Don’t Know Her Name The Bible doesn’t even record the woman’s name. She’s just called ‘The Woman’. But we know what she did.
So how did she accomplish this?
1. She was Honest
Notice how she does it. She doesn’t preach a sermon, she doesn’t have a powerpoint presentation. She went to people and said ‘Here’s what happened to me.’ That’s what a testimony is.
This woman didn’t have all the answers, she was just honest and transparent in what had happened to her.
2. She kept it Simple
One reason sharing our faith is hard for lots of people is that we know too much. This woman knew hardly anything, and because she knew hardly anything, she got it right.
“Just come see a man.” – That’s the gospel. The gospel in 1 word: Jesus. “Let’s go read about Jesus. Let’s talk about Jesus.”
Christianity is the only religion that is all about their founder.
Christianity is all about Jesus. And Christianity by the way is the only religion that can talk like that about their founder.
- Buddhism can’t say ‘Buddhism is all about Buddha’.
- Islam can’t say ‘Islam is all about Muhammed’.
No, the other religions are about ‘the way’. But Jesus in John 14 says ‘I AM the way’.
3. She was Brave
Remember something: Jesus met this woman drawing water, she’s alone and it’s noon. Normally the women all went together in the morning to get water. Because they needed water for day. Cleaning, cooking, washing clothes. So you’d go in the morning b/c you needed water all day.
Outcast Bible scholars will all tell us that the reason this woman comes to get water at noon, when it’s incredibly hot, is b/c she’s an outcast. She was at the bottom of the social ladder.
So when she runs back into town and starts telling people “Come see a man!!” – She knows that odds are that they won’t listen. Why would they listen to her? “Talk to US about spiritual stuff?” But she went anyway. Even knowing it might make her social standing worse.
Professional context A lot of people, especially in the professional context, if your colleagues knew what you believed in and followed Jesus, they would be surprised and maybe even disappointed in you. They would say “I didn’t know anyone with more than a 5th grade education believed that stuff.” And in some cases, it could hurt your social standing. But this woman did it. And we’re called to do it too.
“Testimony” in greek, “Marturia” = Martyr The word testimony is this greek word “Marturia” which is where we get our word “Martyr”. How did a word that originally meant to share your story come to mean someone who got killed? Think it through.
Living Letter Baby Steps
Pastor – built in.
One thing that’s interesting about being a pastor is we kinda have these steps built in for us. Someone will come up and say “What do you do?” And I say “I’m a pastor.” And they say ‘OH!!!” (Crying voice) “Yeah man, my life has been really tough lately… etc”
And so there’s a certain amount of spiritual talk that’s built into occupational ministry.
So it’s important for people like me to remember that that’s not the way it is for most of you. Like let’s say you work at Best Buy and you’re supposed to somehow be a living letter that points people to Jesus to your friend at work? How the heck.
Well I think you can actually mimic the built in opportunities that pastors have pretty easily. By doing something like what we’re about to go over.
1. Pray for Opportunities.
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (Colossians 4:3)
We need to believe that God is already working in people’s hearts and so we need him to lead us to those people.
Sometimes people will come up to me after a message and say ‘How did you know? What you were talking about is exactly what I’m going through. How did you know?” – The answer of course is, I didn’t and still don’t know. That’s just how God works.
2. Embody the Desired Destination of Others.
Now what in the world do I mean by that? I mean being the person that other people want to be, and living the life that other people want to live.
Now you might be saying “No no, it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus”. Well, yeah no kidding! But you’re his letter to them and because of that you have a responsibility to be a good letter.
Being “unbothered” So for example, say you and your coworkers get called in to mandatory overtime this weekend. And everyone is like “Oh I can’t believe this. This is so horrible. Boo-hoo boo-hoo boo-hoo” And then let’s say you say “Oh stop it. We’ll have a good time.”
What are you doing there? You’re being unbothered by petty things that bother other people. They all lose their joy, and you don’t. And everybody knows that being joyful is more fun than being miserable.
And already, they’re thinking “Hmmm… there’s something about Carl that I like. I want to be more like Carl in this area.”
So just that quick, you’re embodying something that other people want. You have peace, and they don’t.
Now you might be thinking: “My friends want a Ferrari, so should I get one?” No, your friends don’t want a Ferrari. Can I let you in on a secret? People don’t want things, they want what they think things will give them. People don’t want a Ferrari, they want to look successful and have fun. REALLY what they’re after is peace and joy. Spoiler: You don’t need to be rich and famous to have peace and joy. Plenty of famous millionaires killed themselves last year.
So it’s not about stuff. It’s about displaying the interior qualities that other people want.
Jesus says in Matthew 5 that if we don’t do this, people won’t listen to us. He uses the phrase “The Salt of the Earth” when describing the Christian. But he warns that it Christians lose their saltines, their distinctness, you’re not good for anything and people will throw us away.
So part of ‘Sharing Your Faith’ is just putting the fruits of the spirit on display.
3. Let Other People Know You Go to Church.
That’s it. If you can’t do that, you’re not gonna be able to do anything else, so start here. This is the baby-est step I can imagine. It’s important, and sometimes it enough to get a conversation going.
Maybe you mention the fact that you go to church to 4 people, and then a little time passes and one of them comes back and asks you about it.
If the people around you don’t know that you go to church, you’re missing the easiest opportunity in the world to be a living letter.
4. Let People Know Your Christian Faith Has Helped You.
Maybe you’re a married woman and you’re talking to another women who’s angry at her husband. ‘My faith has really helped me here.’ If she says ’Oh really, how?’ – Then you’re in. If she doesn’t no big deal.
5. Ask a Thought-Provoking Question.
About their area of interest. Questions that get to fundamental issues of purpose.
Let’s say you’re talking to a doctor. Well you could say “What do love about being a doctor?” And let them respond. And then say “How do you give hope to someone who knows they’re going to die?” – And you might be amazed how that opens up a meaningful conversation about Jesus.
Concern: I don’t know what people will say.
Response: Of course you don’t!
Some people will say “You know, I think that’s true.” Other people will say “That’s one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard and I hate you.” You need to be prepared for both answers.
Concern: People might ask me a question I don’t know.
Response: Of course they will!
They asked Jesus a question he didn’t know the answer to. “When are you coming back?” – “I don’t know. Only my father knows that.”
Concern: People might disagree with my point of view.
Response: Of course they will!!!
Parable of the sower – Where the sower sows the seed on different grounds, and only a small percentage actually grows into something. There will be disappointments. – John the Baptist – Trying to run the evangelism program in King Herod’s palace and got his head chopped off, which is disappointing.
And there’s this synergy – where:
- Scripture Points to Jesus
- The Church Points to Jesus
- We Point to Jesus
Scripture Points to Jesus
Ok so first, Scripture points to Jesus. And I hope if you’ve listened to this entire series, you’re completely convinced of this. All scripture is ultimately about Jesus
Jesus says the whole bible is about him.
Jesus says whole Bible is about him.
In Luke 24, we find my favorite post-resurrection appearance by Jesus.
Easter Sunday : 2 disciples leaving town.
It’s Easter Sunday and there’s these 2 disciples and they’re leaving town. They’re not waiting around for any resurrection. They’re sad and morose.
And Jesus has risen from the dead but they don’t know that.
And he shows up and begins to walk with them, but they don’t recognize him. It’s hilarious.
So he sits them down and talks to them:
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
… “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44)
Whole Hebrew bible, whole Old Testament.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, (John 5:39)
yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:40)
The Church Points to Jesus
Next we have ‘The Church Points to Jesus’. So if you were to ask “What is the Church?”
Well, the word that is translated ‘Church’ most often in the New Testament is the word:
It comes from the word ‘Ecclesia’ which is pronounced one of two ways, both are correct. It means this: “The gathering of a people with a purpose.” So you could have an ecclesia around a faith, around a political ideal, you could have an Ecclesia around tele tubby collectables.
When I say the word church some of you think of an institution or maybe even a building. You don’t want to get caught up in debates that really just come down to language, I will say that technically the church is not an institution, or a building, or a business, it’s a gathering of people.
So the Christian Church is “A Gathering of People who are Following Jesus.”
And so we all have lots of different opinions about lots of different things, but we’re not gathered around an ideology, or a political agenda, or a social movement, we’re gathered around a PERSON, the person of Jesus Christ.
We Point to Jesus
No one will do this perfectly.
And that’s where grace comes in.
So you might be feeling “Oh man, I’m such a bad witness for Jesus”. Now listen I’m not gonna lie to you and tell you you’re doing good when you not. You might be doing horrible. But with the grace of God, today is a brand new opportunity.