Several years ago, I gave a message at The Rock from Ephesians 2. What I read there as I was studying for the message began to change my life. The impact of Paul's words hit home in a powerful new way for me as I explored the text, studying out it's meaning, seeing what other people had written about it, praying over how it should affect my life, meditating on it, and praying through what exactly the church needed to hear out of it. It is an incredibly important passage, perhaps one of the most important passages in Paul's epistles, second to the letter to the Romans. I'm not sure how fair it is to label one part of scripture as more important than another, but we're going to for today. Perhaps a better word would be foundational.
Let's take a look. Paul is just finishing five verses on how amazing and glorious and powerful and wonderful and gracious Jesus Christ is and then he says this:
2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Not quite so hot, are we? We were selfish slaves to our hormones, our warped minds, the world's system, and the devil. All of us subject to God's wrath because of it.
All of us... just like everyone else.
Then something wonderful happened.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Ask yourself for a moment: whose idea was this? Whose decision was this? Whose initiative was this? Who took action in this? Think about that for a moment.
Here is what we proclaim when we call ourselves Christian, what we affirm when we say that we have been born again, what we acknowledge when we say that we have been saved: We are saying that we were not simply helpless, but also willful sinners, enemies to God. Not that we were drowning and threw a hand out asking for rescue, but that we were dead and incapable of grabbing a rope even if one were thrown to us!
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Verse 10 is the focus of my message today, but not the most important piece. The reason I've already spent so much time on verses 1 through 9 is because without them, calling for applied obedience to verse 10 turns into a cultish legalism. Asking you to do the good work, to walk in the good works that Jesus has prepared for you to do is useless without first asking you to ponder the wonder of his saving work.
Ephesians 2:10 is also stated nicely in another popular verse: Romans 12:1-2. Ephesians 2:1-9 is a very brief thumbnail of Romans chapters 1-11. "We're all sinners, enemies to God. Jesus died and rose from the dead to save us from that punishment, and here's how we should respond."
12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Since Jesus lived and died for us, we should live and die for him, not for ourselves.
There are many possible applications of presenting your body as a living sacrifice. There are many different avenues for walking in the good works that Jesus has prepared for us. What I want to talk about is what I feel is one of the biggest things that keeps us as Americans, and especially this generation, from doing so.
William Borden: Consider the Kingdom First
William Borden was born in 1887 to one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Chicago. Tim (Borseth) spoke on him several years back and the story, though not his name, stuck with me in a large way.
From an article by Howard Culbertson [additions and editions of mine in brackets]
In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. As heir to the Borden Dairy estate, he was already a millionaire. For his high school graduation present, his parents gave 16-year-old Borden a trip around the world. As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world's hurting people. Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his desire to be a missionary.
One friend expressed surprise that he was "throwing himself away as a missionary."
In response, Bill wrote two words in the back of his Bible: "No reserves."
Even though young Borden was wealthy, he arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905 trying to look like just one more freshman. Very quickly, however, Borden's classmates noticed something unusual about him and it wasn't his money. One of them wrote: "He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ and had really done it. We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration."
During his college years, Bill Borden made one entry in his personal journal that defined what his classmates were seeing in him. That entry said simply: "Say 'no' to self and 'yes' to Jesus every time."
During his first semester at Yale, Borden started something that would transform campus life. [He met with several friends in the morning for scripture reading and prayer.] Borden's small Morning Prayer group gave birth to a movement that spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshmen were meeting for weekly Bible study and prayer. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, one thousand of Yale's 1,300 students were meeting in such groups. [They also started an outreach ministry that sought to connect with the remaining 300 students.]
Borden's outreach ministry was not confined to the Yale campus. He cared about widows and orphans and cripples. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven. To rehabilitate them, he founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of his friends wrote that he "might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ."
[He started to understand his calling was specifically to the Muslim Chinese he encountered in his travels, and began to focus on preparing for overseas missions.]
Although he was a millionaire, Bill seemed to "realize always that he must be about his Father's business, and not wasting time in the pursuit of amusement." Although Borden refused to join a fraternity, "he did more with his classmates in his senior year than ever before." He presided over the huge student missionary conference held at Yale and served as president of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa.
Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high paying job offers, as well as offers to pastor churches. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: "No retreats."
He went on to graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead. [While on his deathbed, he wrote two final words in his Bible: "No regrets."]
When news William Whiting Borden's death was cabled back to the U.S., nearly every American newspaper carried the story. "A wave of sorrow went round the world . . . Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice" wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography.
Borden's life typified Romans 12:1. Most of us in this room need to pay attention to his example.
The biggest thing standing in our way of offering our lives as "living sacrifices" is that we're distracted by our selves: our stuff, our careers, our degrees, our entertainment, our security, our comfort, and our reputation. We're thinking about ourselves, and that keeps us from thinking about the things of God.
Jesus taught this concept to his disciples this way. Something I am certain William Borden read and mediated and based his life on.
24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
An interesting point here is that the word "money" is the word "mammon". It can mean money, riches, possessions, or anything else we put our trust in besides GOD.
You can't focus on making money and still serve God. You can't focus on anything else and still serve God. You can't pursue a comfortable, secure life and pursue God. You can't base your life on your entertainment or your career advancement and still base it on what Jesus has planned for you.
Here's how Jesus says to order our priorities.
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds (keeps feeding) them. Are you not of more value than they?
27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?' or ‘What shall we drink?' or ‘What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Concern yourself with the Kingdom. Don't concern yourself with anything else. Don't waste your time fretting over the details of your daily life.
Christ is asking us to trust him... to really trust him.
I fear that most of us make most of our life decisions through the lens of our careers or personal comfort and happiness, rather than through the lens of what God is asking us to do for The Kingdom.
Let me put it this way: how many of us would leave a job because of a potential missionary or ministry opportunity? We tend not to hesitate to jump in and out of churches, communities, and homes because of our careers...
I bring up William Borden not so that I can ask you to imitate his example and thereby be a better person, better Christian, than those other guys... those less committed people... those pew sitters... Rather, I bring up his example to show you what a life affected by Jesus looks like. I'm not lifting him up as a hero to be admired (though he is), instead I'm saying that if your heart is not similar to his, I fear for your soul. I wonder if maybe you know Jesus at all. If that's you, I suggest you take some time to read, think, and pray about Ephesians 2:1-10.
William Borden provides an excellent example of what it means to consider the kingdom before everything else.
- Not distracted by money, but occupied with people
- Used his money to meet people's needs
- Held nothing back for himself in this work, gave everything he had toward it (no reserves)
- While in school (on the job) was about the business of introducing people to Christ, and in the process sought out and discovered God's direction for his life.
- Turned down "sensible, logical" career choices, as well as "spiritual" career choices, did not worry about cultural and social expectations on him, and instead followed God's call to mission (no retreats)
- Did not factor in his own personal safety or comfort and instead trusted God to take care of exactly what he needed, and had no regrets, even though he died.
This is what it looks like to "seek first the kingdom".
- You still need to figure out how to pay for food and rent (some of you are having trouble doing that right now, you need to figure that out. Not paying is not an option)
- If God has you in school right now do your homework and study hard. That's what you are supposed to be doing.
- Husbands and fathers: we are also under biblical mandate to provide for our families. Wives and mothers, you are under biblical mandate to take care of the household.
- But when thinking about turns into obsessing over, or comes at the cost of first considering what God has for us, then we have these problems.
Since Jesus lived and died for us, we should live and die for him, not for ourselves.
I would ask that you take some time and reflect on these things and ask God to show you how to respond.
- Ask him if there are areas of life that you are holding back in reserve for yourself.
- Ask him if there are decisions you are making or not making because you are retreating from what he has asked you to do.
- Ask for faith to believe the truth that you will have no regrets in the end if you follow his plan for your life.