Gospel Protocol

// April 8th, 2019 // Sermons

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series Last Days Christianity

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at these verses…  You can listen online or download it and listen later…Gospel Protocol…as part of a larger text – today we want to focus on 3 particular instructions given by the Apostle Paul.

Professor James Denney of Scotland referred to these three commands as “the standing orders of the gospel.”  They are “standing orders” because they always apply to every Christian in every situation!

The original Greek has these imperatives all in the present tense.  You would be accurate in your translating if you said, “continually rejoice, continually pray, and continually give thanks.”

The use of the word “continually” presents a bit of a challenge.  Most of us would have no problem if the text read, “Rejoice sometimes”, “Pray occasionally” and “Give thanks when you feel like it.”  But the use of “Always”, “Continually” and “In all circumstances” kind of messes with us.

What we need to get is our lives need to display the real impact of the gospel – and are positive or negative evidence when we don’t feel joyful, when we don’t want to pray, and when we can’t think of a reason to be thankful.  It is at these kinds of times that we discover if our Christianity is for real or it’s merely a spiritual counterfeit.

These simple commands reveal the true life-changing power of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus enters a life, He changes it from the inside out so that we have both the power and the desire to rejoice, the power and the will to pray, and the power and the ability to give thanks even in the worst moments of life.

Let’s look at these three “standing orders” of the gospel:

  1. Rejoice Always – v. 16 – here’s some different translations:
  • The Message – “Be cheerful no matter what”
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible – “Rejoice always!”
  • NLT – “Be full of joy all the time”
  • And, the Phillips translation – “Be happy in your faith all the time”

I learned something new this week – we have always thought that the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”  But that is only true in the English translations…in the Greek the shortest verse in the Bible is 1 Thess. 5:16 – “Rejoice always”.

The real gospel impact is seen when we don’t feel joyful, when we don’t want to pray, and when we can’t think of a reason to give thanks.

A song in our hymnbook begins with the words – “We have heard the joyful sound. Jesus saves! Jesus saves!”  When the gospel is preached, it is a “joyful sound” to those who hear it!  When Jesus enters a life it should show up on our face!

I wonder, is this a reason why many unchurched people have so little use for our Christianity?  Have we lost the sense of joy in the gospel?  Are we failing to show the Gospel impact by the way we live?  If we are living defeated, discouraged and depressed lives, why would anyone want to listen to what we have to say about Jesus?

Even as a preacher – I need to ask myself, “Where is the joy in telling about Jesus, in serving Jesus?”  If the gospel is truly good news, then we ought to rejoice and be glad!

The first proof of the gospel’s power for most people will be what they see in us.  Nothing of what we say in our churches or sing about in our worship services has any real merit unless the followers of Jesus demonstrate a life “full of joy all the time.”

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you” (John 15:11).  Because this works from the inside out, our joy should not depend on whether or not I have a job, money in the bank, or how my friends have treated me.  Our joy should not depend on our health, the state of our marriage, or how our children are doing.  Further, our joy should not depend on what is happening in Edmonton, Ottawa or anywhere else.

Consider what this means when we gather for worship.  If we come loaded down with problems then we will judge the worship service by how effective it was in lifting us out of our troubles.  But, as long as we focus on ourselves, there will be no joy in worship.

Some Christians think they have a sacred duty to be gloomy and serious.  But that is not what the Bible teaches.  Neh. 8:10 – “The joy of the Lord is your strength”; and, Prov. 17:22 – “A cheerful heart is good medicine”.  C.H. Spurgeon wrote:

“Oh, dear friends, you may rejoice. God has laid no embargo upon rejoicing; he puts no restriction upon happiness. Do believe it that you are permitted to be happy. Do believe that there is no ordinance of God commanding you to be miserable.”  Amen?

When we present our faith as dull, dry, boring and free from emotion, we give the impression that knowing Christ means becoming a boring “religious” person.  No wonder many people want nothing to do with this – they are not rejecting Christ or the Gospel, they reject a sad imitation.  In my life, I’ve seen enough joyless Christians that it doesn’t surprise me that people prefer the company of friendly unbelievers.

If we only had eyes to see, we would find reasons to rejoice everywhere.  And, I wonder – if the proof of the Gospel is in producing joy in our lives, what are we telling a watching world if our joy is sadly lacking.  Is our lack of joy evidence that I have not yet surrendered my life to Him – to His control?  Let’s move on to the 2nd command…

  1. Pray Without Ceasing – v. 17
  • The Phillips Translation reads – “Never stop praying”
  • And, the Message reads, “Pray all the time”

This “standing order” troubles us the most.  What does it mean to pray “without ceasing”?  Should every thought and every spoken word be a prayer directed to the Lord?

Our life ought to be a prayer offered to the Lord.  One commentary compared “praying without ceasing” to a net used to catch fish.  When a net functions properly, it lets the water flow through while catching the fish, but if there is a hole in the net, the fish go free.

There should be no “holes” in our “prayer net.”  This means praying often and deliberately.  It also means staying in communion with the Lord so that we don’t have to suddenly change in order to begin praying.  Our default spiritual condition should be like having a phone connection open 24 hours a day so you don’t have to re-type the number.  Because you are still connected to the Lord, you just start talking.  We remain in a state of ongoing prayer – praying all the time, everywhere, about everything.  There is nothing we face, no task too small that it would not be helped by our praying.

Our lives, as followers of Jesus ought to be a prayer offered to the Lord -Consciously, Deliberately, Repeatedly and Persistently, as we face each new challenge of the day.

If this seems too much to ask, then I want you to think of what happens when you ignore God and leave him out of the things of your daily life.  We all have tried this – it results in frustration, irritation, a lack of peace, confusion, a short temper, weariness and discouragement.  But when we invite God into our daily routine, then there is peace and a sense of knowing that our sovereign Lord is guiding/helping us along the way.

We shouldn’t take our blessings for granted or think that we somehow deserve them.

Some 29 years ago, we had a man by the name Gerhard DuToit come to speak at the Sunshine Coast Gospel Church.  Now Gerhard was a powerful expositor of the Word – he preached with power and authority, but that was not what sticks out the strongest in my mind.

We had asked him to do a week of Deeper Life preaching, starting on a Monday night and ending on Sunday morning.  We had rented a suite for him to stay at so that he could have quiet preparation time.  He invited myself and some of the other leaders to join him for prayer every morning at 10:00 a.m.  I was struck by his praying.

He would begin by kneeling on the floor, but at some point, he would become so aware of God’s holiness that he would end up lying flat on the floor – face down – crying out to God for specific needs.

After the first Morning Prayer together, nothing could have kept me from going every morning he was in our community – to join him in the prayer time.  It wasn’t about his ability, but it was about his intense focus on the Lord.  Nothing else in the room mattered to him…it was like he was not even aware that anyone else was present.  He was talking to God…   “Lord, help me to be the kind of man who refuses to miss an opportunity to pray.  Lord, teach me to pray and give me a heart for prayer so that when I am gone, people will remember that I prayed for them.  Amen.”    Command #3…

III. Give Thanks in all Circumstances – v. 18

  • Phillips – “Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be”
  • NLT – “Be thankful in all circumstances”
  • Contemporary English Version – CEV – “Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ”

The question revolves around the expression “in every circumstance.”  We know that it is right and appropriate to give God thanks when things are going well.  It is right and good to “praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  Never, should we take our blessings for granted or think that we somehow deserve them.

But if we only give thanks when we have money in the bank, our marriage is good, the doctor says, “You don’t have cancer”, your kids are doing well, your church is growing and your friends are glad to see you – if that’s the only time you give thanks, what happens when trouble comes?

What will you do if suddenly you are out of a job, your marriage collapses, your daughter gets pregnant out of wedlock, the cancer returns, or the wrong party wins the election?

In those hard moments we must return to God whose love for us does not change!  

Some years ago I was in a plane, flying at 30,000 feet.  On the ground it was cloudy, but the plane broke through those clouds into bright sunshine.  Sometimes the clouds of life seem to obscure the face of our God, and we think he has abandoned us.  But above the clouds of our harsh reality of life, the sun of God’s love shines continually.

Stuff happens in life that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  No matter how hard we try, there are times when we cannot see how God’s hand is in every circumstance because God is painting a picture that is way beyond our ability to see!

So, how does one give thanks when your heart is broken?  How do you give thanks when life is so confusing?  How does one give thanks when you feel angry because of what sin has done to the world?

And here is the interesting part – When we give thanks even when we don’t feel like it, we are proclaiming that God’s wisdom is greater than our wisdom!

It’s Biblical to give thanks even in the worst moments.  We give thanks…

  • That God is sovereign.
  • That nothing happens by chance or fate.
  • That God causes all things to work together for good for His children.
  • That hard times reveal our weaknesses, break our pride, and show us our absolute need for God.
  • That God has triumphed over sin and death through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • That God uses the worst things that happens to cause us to grow spiritually.
  • That God is faithful even when our faith waivers.
  • That God’s Word will ultimately be vindicated.
  • That God’s promises are always true.
  • That evil will not reign forever.
  • That heaven is a real place.
  • That this world is not our final home.
  • That when we are weak, He is strong.
  • That His grace is sufficient for every situation.
  • That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
  • That our salvation rests on God and not on us.
  • That there is no place where God’s love cannot reach us.
  • That the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from every sin.
  • That God delights to save sinners.
  • That the Lord can soften the hardest heart.
  • That nothing is impossible with God.
  • That even when we feel alone, we are not alone.
  • That the Holy Spirit abides with us always.
  • That the Lord Jesus feels our pain.
  • That the Holy Spirit prays for us when we are too weak to pray for ourselves.
  • That the Lord Jesus intercedes for us.
  • That God uses everything and wastes nothing.
  • That our doubts cannot restrict God’s work in us.
  • That someday we will be conformed to the image of Christ.
  • That God is faithful to finish His work in us.
  • That our hardships equip us to minister to others.
  • That we are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace.
  • That God’s plan far exceeds our small imagination.
  • That weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
  • That we are still God’s children even when our faith falters.
  • That while we suffer outwardly, we are being renewed on the inside.
  • That our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory.

Eugene Peterson’s Message Bible captures the meaning of v. 18:

“Thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live”.  I like that phrase “no matter what happens” because it perfectly describes life in a fallen world.

Stuff happens.  Bad stuff happens.  Really bad stuff sometimes happens to some very good people. We all experience our share of sorrow.  And some people seem to receive far more than their share of pain.

There is no way to escape all pain and sorrow while we live on a sin-cursed planet.  No one gets a free ride through life; behind every smiling face is a story.

Truly giving God thanks in all things is impossible without the Holy Spirit’s help.  Left to ourselves, the pain of life will drive us to bitterness and ultimately to despair.  But when we factor God into the equation we can rest in the sure knowledge of His Sovereignty…then, we are standing in a position of saying “Thank you, Lord,” no matter what happens around us.

This is not easy, but absolutely necessary.  But think of the options – it may be hard to rejoice in all things, but the alternative is to give in to despair and anger.

It may be difficult to give thanks in every situation, but if you don’t you are telling God that you think you could do a better job of running the universe than He can.  By giving thanks when we don’t feel like it, we are proclaiming that God’s wisdom is greater than ours.

This final phrase of our text answers a big question – what is God’s will for your life?  Paul tells us…it is God’s will that we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give Him thanks in everything.

We need to remember that these three things will be more clearly seen in the darkness than the light.  Here’s the bottom line:  When times are tough, if you can still rejoice in God, if you can still pray, if you still give thanks, then you’ve got the real thing and even those who don’t know Jesus will know that you know Him.

One of the things that helps us to live in obedience to these 3 commands is to remind ourselves what we have received through the death of Christ for us.  God has given us an activity that I find tremendously helpful – the celebration of Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

Thanksgiving comes so much easier when I remember that Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners, just so that He could remove my sins from me.  Praying without ceasing can be a natural part of our lives when we continually are reminded that the way has been cleared for us by the completed work of Jesus on the cross.  And, rejoicing – well, I can’t help but rejoice when I remember that Jesus’ sacrifice gives me forgiveness of my sin, a clean conscience, an eternal hope, and the assurance that I belong to God.


Let’s pray…

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