Last week we talked about how being a "Christian" does not mean being a person who followed a specific set of rules but rather someone who was devoted to becoming a certain kind of person...a person who is like Christ. Christian faith is not about rules so much as it is about character. The commandments and laws are important, it's just that our best hope for keeping them is to focus on molding our character to be more like Christ so that living according to the laws of God becomes a natural part of who we are rather than forced from the outside.
Now all of that may be true, but it's not much help to hear unless we're going to also talk about how we go about becoming more like Christ. The passage in Philippians about having the "mind of Christ" which many scholars think represents one of the earliest hymns of the Christian church, I think gives us some clues. But it is the passage from Zechariah that I want to look at first, because I think it is the most important.
The setting for this little passage
is in the time when
It was like when a church or a business or some other organization goes through a really golden period but then declines to the brink of disaster. Then they hire you...your job is to pull it back from the edge, and you know that the expectation is that you will restore the former glory. Never mind that the former glory had as much to do with the state of the culture, economics, and politics of the time as it did with the management...the only thing on people's minds is that you will bring it all back. The pressure is tremendous. That's where King Z is, and it's no wonder he needs God's agent there to help him deal with it. And what is the message that Zechariah brings? "Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord."
This is critical. All the work that
is about to be accomplished...the new city, the new Temple...is not going to
come about because of the might of King Z's army or by the power of the royal
Which, as it turns out, is exactly what King Solomon had forgotten. King Solomon, son of King David, began so well. As a child his only request of God was for wisdom and God gave him that and more. But as Solomon grew to become a legend in his own time....the wisest King, the richest King, the greatest King...he began to forget where it all came from and who had done it all. He began to think it was his own might and his own power that had done it all, and he fell into idolatry. God took the Kingdom from his sons and split it in two.
Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord. Whatever task we face as Christians, if we are being obedient to God's will for our lives, the results are not ours to worry about. How can I possible raise this baby? You can't. Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord. How can I manage this company? How can I face this illness? How can I go on without my husband? How can I pastor this church? The answer is all the same...you can't...I can't...Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.. And so it is as we face the massive task of developing our Christian character. It can seem overwhelming. Others have done it so much better. We stumble and fail so often. How can we possibly do it? Answer? We can't. Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.
That message is our hope as we approach the beginning of the task...as it was Zechariah's word of hope to King Z. It is also our warning as we move along and begin to succeed, as we remember King Solomon. It is God's task, beginning to end. With relief we can give God responsibility for the results at the beginning, and then in humility we give God the credit for the outcome at the end.
That said, it is important to remember that we do have a role in all of this. God might be the Queen Bee, but we drones still have work to do or the hive will falter and be lost. It is the other passage that gives us the clues about how we are to participate in the work of developing our own character.
Notice as we start out in the
Philippians passage that this all springs from being united with Christ. Just
minimal exposure to day to day life shows us that we become like the people
we hang out with. Last year I took a trip up to
Well, I haven't really explored what she meant by that or why she thought that was such a dreadful thing, but her point is well taken. When we associate closely with people, over time we each take on the attributes of the other. We pick up mannerisms and expressions first, and then come behaviors and expectations and modes of thought. Children model their parents, friends model their friends. That is why, teenagers, your parents are concerned about who you go out with.
It is the same principle with God. If we want to become more God-like, we have to spend more time with God. A large part of Christian character development is the natural process of becoming like our friends over time. As we spend more time with the Great Friend, we go through changes that we often don't even realize until one of our children notes that we are coming home sounding like God again.
Which means that developing
Christian character takes time. Even though your heart may change overnight
from heading away from God to a new desire to head toward God, it is going to
take the rest of you awhile to catch up. I have a dear friend in
As we become aware of things that need changing in our lives, that's an easy mistake to make. And it's even easier for those around us who have long been aware of the changes we need to make and have been hanging all of their hopes for change on some sort of conversion experience. Do not expect of yourselves, and do not expect of others, that change is going to occur overnight. Character development is a life-long process, and we need to take it one step at a time.
Again, none of this is done apart from God. We need the work of God's Spirit rather than our own might and power to accomplish the task, and we won't have the help of God's Spirit if we don't stay connected. I'm going to begin sounding like a broken record, since you've heard this in a number of different sermons, but the way we stay connected is through the good, old Christian basics of prayer, worship, and Bible reading. Whether you are asking how to know God's will for your life, how to find the joy and peace you seem to be missing, or how to become more patient, compassionate, brave, loyal, humble or loving...the answer is all the same. You have to put in the time and effort to get to know God.
The news of growth in the Christian faith is the same as the news for losing weight...there is no quick fix. To become like Jesus takes a life of intentional effort to keep up the friendship. It needs to be a priority. Once we have begun to grow in that way...which is often more evident to others than it is to us...then we are ready to move on to verse 2 of the Philippians passage. Once we are that far, says Paul, we complete the task of becoming like Christ by adopting the attitude of Jesus in our day to day lives. That attitude, it turns out, is one of obedience to God and service to others.
That is how we participate in God's work of transformation in us. We have to first get to know God well enough to understand when God is asking us to do something. The relationship has to come first, and then we are to be obedient and live life in service to others. Now there's a whole sermon in that alone, since that is easy to get mixed up. Service to others needs to be tied to obedience to God for our own protection. Without the obedience piece, dedicating ourselves to serve others can merely foster the development of tyrants.
My call to serve is not the cry of someone for help. My call to serve comes from God when someone calls to GOD for help and God decides that I am the best one for the job. I spent a lot of my life without that critical understanding and I both burned myself out and went deeply into debt giving what I did not have and could not provide just because people came to me for help. God is the intermediary...the Holy Spirit interprets between us...we address our calls for help to God and God is the one to figure out how to provide what is needed. Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.
This is a big topic and we're not done, but for this morning I want you to realize that attaining the character which will produce the fruit of God in our lives has its origin in our relationship with God. We work on that first and when that begins to flow more naturally, then we have the guidance we need to work out the kinks in our relationships with others. Seek ye FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. THEN all these things will be added unto you. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Jesus puts that first and then comes naturally love your neighbor as yourself. It starts with relationship with God and then God is in a position to instruct you how to proceed from there.
It's a huge job, but we don't have to do it by ourselves...in fact we can't do it by ourselves. It is not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord..
(c) 2001, Anne RobertsonReturn to AnneRobertson.com