Living Epistles

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Living Epistles

Sermon Notes – Ps. Jim White

Sunday 1st November, 2020

Last Sunday I know that many of us sensed that something new and fresh was happening.  It’s like there is now a new sense of expectancy and fresh hope for the future….  

It really was like the dawning of a new day.

That’s what I actually saw.  The sunrise lighting up the morning sky on a new day and the reflection shining on our faces.

And it meant different things for different people.  We talked about doors closing and doors opening.  Some of you are transitioning from one season to the next.  Part of it is painful.  Part of it is uncertain.  And yet there’s this calling upwards to trust God for where we are headed.  Afterall, His faithfulness is unfailing.

The thing is, with Jesus, we are being held…. We are being carried.  

I believe we are being given a fresh glimpse and experience of what God’s glory really is.  

We’ve never lost it…. Even throughout the pandemic and all its restrictions, the church – you and I – we have held our position of faith – or probably a better way to put it is – we’ve been held in that place of personal and intimate relationship with Jesus.  

Wherever you are at – and whatever you are going through – it’s the same message for all of us.  God is with us.

When I think about the glory – I think about the time Jesus shared His heart with the disciples as He prayed – and He let them and us into a very personal and special part of His own relationship with the Father.

John 17:5

New King James Version

Jesus prays…. “And now, O Father, glorify Me together [a]with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

This is one of my favourite passages and chapters in the bible.  Jesus goes on to reveal how that glory is all about Him being in the Father and the Father being in Him.  But amazingly Jesus then includes us in that same relationship.

He says we are the Fathers, and we are also His.  And that’s the place of glory that we have been brought into.  And He asks the Father to keep us….  And to sanctify us…. That we would be made perfect as one with them… and that the love that the Father has for Jesus would be in us also.

That really touches my heart.    Imagine being there and listening to Jesus pray these words.    And yet here they are – written as a love letter to us even in 2020.

Everything around us this year has changed.  We didn’t know what was going to happen.  We still don’t really know how this is all going to play out – especially on a world wide scale.

I read in the news this morning that the UK is facing even much morse than its  scientists predicted worse case scenario.

But even with all this going on, on the inside, we have remained steadfast.  We have held our vision above the circumstances.  

But really – we have been kept by the Father in the same place of glory that the Father and the Son share.  

Your mind will never work that out – but your spirit will get it.  Your heart will get it.  

Let’s not down play what God Himself has been doing in us during this time.  

I really feel as though now is a launching moment into a new place of being.  

But more than that, it’s a fresh place of worship – a fresh place of beholding Jesus – a fresh place of knowing who we are…. And a fresh place of revelation of what it means to be in the same place of glory that the Father and the Son share.  

I’m not saying anything about us getting the glory for anything.  That’s not what this scripture is saying.  It’s saying there’s a place of being with our Heavenly Father that is glorious.  And it’s our place of belonging because we are sons and daughters of God.

Just to remind you, one of the scriptures from last week came from:

Romans 8:19

New King James Version

“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”

And as I said last week, in the Passion Translation it says that the entire universe is standing on tip toe.  

You see, we might be getting a renewed vision and excitement about the glory of God – but I think heaven is getting excited about the Bride of Christ – the church – becoming who she is destined to be.

Because all the church will be doing is reflecting the glory of the One she worships and belongs to.  And isn’t that what this world needs?  It’s not religion that this world needs – it’s Jesus – it’s the manifest presence of God – it’s the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – and it’s the witness of His glory.  

And one of the main ways that is going to happen, is through the revealing of the sons of God.  That’s what the Word says.

Anyway, in the light of all of that, I was drawn to a moment in the Apostle Paul’s journey with the new church of the day – a time when Paul connected again with the church in Corinth.

The back drop to this moment is that the Christians in Corinth had been influenced by false teachers – men who said they represented Christ – but who actually carried a different gospel – a legalistic one.

Their teaching was drawing the people back to the religious requirements of the Jewish religion and teachings – demanding legalistic adherence to Old Testament regulations and traditions. 

And the people were beginning to question the grace and freedom they had found in the gospel.

They must have been questioning Paul’s credibility, and he says to them:

2 Corinthians 3:1

New King James Version

“Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?”

For Paul it’s like – he’s taken aback by it – after all we’ve been through – after all we have shared in the journey together – all of a sudden you want me to prove my credentials?  Do you want some kind of letter of commendation?  From the apostle who started your church in the first place?

I can see him shaking his head in disbelief…

But then his heart turns toward them and he says:

2Corinthians 3:2-3. NKJV

“You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”

Wow!  That must have really hit them hard.  Paul was speaking as a true apostle – a father in the faith – a father to this church that had faltered.

He says, we haven’t got letters of commendation, but you yourselves – the witness of your lives – you are our letter of commendation.

I think we would all be aware that an epistle is simply a letter.

But I was reading somewhere about a survey that was asking people what they thought an epistle was.  And a number of people said that an epistle is the wife of an apostle.

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Paul was saying to the Corinthians, if you want to see the credibility and authenticity of the gospel, just look at how your own lives have changed and been transformed.  And it has happened not because of something written with ink on a tablet – but because the Holy Spirit has transformed your heart.  Look at what the gospel has done in you.  

I want to say to you this morning – actually I really believe the Holy Spirit is asking this of us all…. Do you recognise and understand that you are a living epistle of Christ?

Do you see that your life is a letter – a love letter from God – that is being read by men, women and children everywhere you go?  

What actually are they reading?  

Are the things that God has written on your heart being revealed to the world?  

The Holy Spirit has established the gospel within you through all kinds of ways throughout your life – through other people, through teachers, pastors, prophets, friends… He has transformed your life through the things you have experienced – the challenges you have faced – the blessings you have received…

Can you identify those people who have ministered and imparted truth and life and salvation – the power of the gospel – to you through your journey.  

Can you identify the letters God has written to you through their lives?

I can recall two men in particular that have been fathers in the faith – apostolic fathers who have written upon my life – and hopefully have caused me to become an epistle read by others.

Way back in our early days as Christians, Rev. Roy Cowin, who is no longer with us – he sowed his time and wisdom and spiritual revelation into our lives.  

Venese and I were part of a group of young people that Roy Cowin put together and called “The Carpenters Apprentices.”  He discipled us as we began to grow in Christ.  

Through Roy, we experienced spiritual renewal with the Emmaus Walk – a weekend experience walking with Jesus, and an encounter with a whole community of people who love Him.  It changed our lives.

I’ll always be incredibly grateful for Roy’s profound influence on Venese and I as a couple. 

And then there was Ps. David McDonald, our Senior Pastor in Brisbane – also the Chairman for what was then COC – now INC.  It was amazing just being around that man.  He carried an anointing and authority in the spirit that influenced a nation.  And yet we had the privilege of working with him.

We would sit around the boardroom table with him and other ministry leaders, and we’d both be secretly thinking – God, how on earth did we end up here?  

I remember one day in a staff meeting – and he randomly and spontaneously got a few of the staff members to get up and preach on faith to the rest of the staff.  When he called my name I just about died a thousand deaths.

I spluttered and coughed my way through a pitiful mini sermon for a couple of minutes…. You know me – I have to be totally prepared!  I’ve found the Holy Spirit works just as well through good preparation as He does with winging it.

Anyway this day was definitely winging it – and I did it badly.  But there was no judgment or condemnation from David.  

Instead he came and stood on a step behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders and began to speak faith and encouragement to every person in the room.

He knew what he was doing.  He was imparting something of the anointing that he carried into my life.  He was laying hands on me. I could feel it.  I had trouble just staying upright.  

His words were speaking to everyone, but the spiritual impartation that came from his hands was all mine.  I’ll never forget that moment.

He was being a father in the faith – but also an apostle in ministry.

I pray and give thanks that any letter worth reading from my life is only there because others have written it.

The Holy Spirit has written it.

The Word of God has written it as it has ministered to me over the years.

So what about you?  Who have those people been – and what have been those circumstances that you have experienced – that have helped to write the epistle that is written on your heart?

And jut as importantly – who is reading it?

Are you allowing others to read it?

Are there things in your life that are an obstacle to people reading the epistle that you and others have written?

Are you honouring the God ordained people – and incredible God moments in your life, where others have imparted amazing aspects of the gospel to you?

Paul wrote some sobering words to the Philippian Church in this respect:

Philippians 2:14-16

New King James Version

Do all things without [a]complaining and disputing,[b] 15 that you may become blameless and [c]harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.”

This is another way of saying a similar thing.  How brightly are you shining with the gospel amongst this generation – in this culture that you are living in?

Are you walking worthy of the calling that God has placed upon your life?

Would those who have sown their own lives into you throughout your life – would they feel as though all they did was not in vain?

And another little line I want to highlight in that verse…. It says – “holding fast the word of life.”

As the days we live in get darker – and our culture becomes increasingly accepting of anything and everything – what will cause us to stand out will be the word of life.  This Word we call the bible.  

It will be the salvation of many – and the stumbling block and downfall of many others.  Just as Jesus Himself was.

But without this solid foundation, we as living epistles will become powerless.

We believe that the Bible is the infallible and inspired Word of God.

We need it to come alive and to be outworking in our lives – that sharp and powerful two edged sword that it is…. 

The Holy Spirit is the One who lifts the words off the page and brings it to life within us…. But we have to make room for Him to do it.

I hope John and Maureen don’t mind me sharing this – but John is very unwell at the moment, and has spent the last few days in hospital.

Maureen was sharing with me how many of their friends, Christian and non-Christian, have been deeply moved by their steadfast faith and total trust in God’s plan for their lives.

It seems that the ones who don’t yet know Christ for themselves have been especially touched by the way John and Maureen have responded to the health challenges they are facing.

When Maureen shared that with me, not boasting about herself in any way whatsoever, I said to her – this is exactly what I’m trying to say in my message for Sunday.

That’s what it means to be a living epistle.

It’s not necessarily about preaching from the rooftops.  Sometimes the most powerful influence you have is when you simply live out of the faith and love that Jesus has placed within your heart.  People notice.

The Word of God is meant to be stored up in our hearts for those moments where we can reveal the ministry of Christ – the ministry of the Holy Spirit – the ministry of those who have sown themselves into our lives in various seasons…

We reveal it simply by genuinely and lovingly being our true to ourselves!

And here’s the thing – you may never know this side of heaven, who has been touched by your life – by your faith.  You might wonder what kind of impact you’ve had for the kingdom of God and for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Most of us have heard of Oswald Chambers.  There is a devotional that contains many of his writings, called – “My Utmost For His Highest.”  It’s a classic in Christian literature.

Actually, it’s interesting that Chambers didn’t write that book.  He died at 43 years of age, and it was his wife who transcribed and put together many different messages and devotionals he had brought in his years as a military chaplain, and as a teacher in bible college.

So it was after Chamber’s death that the blessing of his life and ministry began to go around the world.  That in itself is a great testimony and a different slant on what It means to be a living epistle.  The epistle of your life can continue to be read by others even after you are gone.

But that’s not my main point here.

Chambers himself compared the spiritual impact of a life, with that of a flowing river.  He said: “A river touches places of which its source knows nothing.”

The source is always the place of our personal and intimate spiritual life with Christ.  That needs to be our focus.  But the river of life that flows from that source will touch places and lives that we may never become aware of.

Chambers said that: “God rarely allows a soul to see how great a blessing he is.”

And so the point here is that our focus should always be on abiding in Christ, conforming to His will, and becoming a living sacrament of His grace.  Out of that place, the epistle of our lives will touch and be read by who knows how many lives.

And just one last thought…. The Holy Spirit is always writing something new and fresh upon your life – your heart.  The writing never ends.

We might be at all different places with that.  Some of you have a few chapters written.  Others have volumes of words that have been written over many decades.  Regardless of age, we are all on the journey of being transformed.

As it says in:

2 Corinthians 3:18

New King James Version

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as [a]by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Whether we are revealed as an epistle, or a shining light, or one who is being transformed by the Holy Spirit from one level of glory to another…. The reality is, your life speaks…. People are listening.  They are watching.  Christians – and yet to be Christians.  Family and friends.

I ask again – what are they reading?  What message of the gospel are they witnessing?  What aspect of the nature and character of Jesus Christ is being revealed through you?

And if we feel as though we’ve fallen short – by God’s grace we can always run back to the cross…. The place where the gospel was birthed.

Well it was birthed in the heart of God long before then…. But the cross is our anchor to our salvation – all that Jesus did for us through His death and resurrection.

We are going to celebrate communion together right now.  The wafer and juice are already on your table if you’d like to get them ready.

Let me tie all our scriptures together in one summary.

Through the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us, we have been brought into a relationship of glory that we share with the Father and the Son.

It’s a place of relationship that means we are sons and daughters of God.   And the time has come for the sons of God to be revealed.

We will be revealed as epistles written by Christ on our hearts – carrying a gospel message of grace, love and salvation.

The Holy Spirit has used many people to influence and impart to our lives in many different seasons.  And we need to ask ourselves – has my life shone in the world in a way that what they have imparted has not been in vain.

With an unveiled face – no masks, no barriers, no agendas – we behold the Lord in a mirror – and we continue always to be transformed from glory to glory.

That’s not a bad summary of my message this morning – but it’s also a pretty good reason to remember Jesus and to celebrate Him as we receive this bread and juice together.

His blood was shed for us – He took our sin upon Himself – in one moment of time He exchanged our death for eternal life, our shame for glory, our rejection for acceptance, our sorrow for joy…. And the list is in reality, endless.

That’s the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Let’s eat and drink together and be thankful for His amazing grace upon our lives.


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