If the Devil Can’t Make You Bad, He’ll Make You Busy

If the Devil Can’t Make You Bad,

He’ll Make You Busy

1 Corinthians 3:1-15

James C. Denison

On Friday, 108,000 Americans moved to a different home. The government issued 50 more pages of regulations. The Smithsonian added 2,500 things to its collection. We bought 45,000 new cars and trucks. 20,000 people wrote letters to the president. Dogs bit 11,000 people, including 20 mail carriers. We ate 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, and three million gallons of ice cream. We jogged 17 million miles and burned 1.7 billion calories. Tomorrow, we’ll do it all over again.

We are busy people. But are we busy about the right things? The things that matter? The things that give life meaning, joy, and fulfillment? If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.

We’ve learned that our church belongs to Jesus, as do our lives. We are his new creation, the temple of his Holy Spirit, the branch attached to his vine, bearing fruit for his glory. Now let’s get into details. How do we live this day in God’s will? How do we make our decisions, spend our money and time, do our work, live our lives according to God’s plan and purpose? How do we live today so that we’ll be rewarded by our Father now and forever?

Where do you need to know and do the will of God today? How can you be sure that you will? Paul gives us three questions to ask. If we answer them well, God will answer us as well.

Questions to answer

First, do you belong to Jesus?

The Corinthians were a divided, immature bunch of Christians to be sure. Some claimed to follow Paul as their leader, others Apollos. But “the man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor” (v. 8).

Why? Because “we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (v. 9). Men and women plant and water, but the field belongs to God. The harvest is his. To change the metaphor, the building is his. You may paint, I may clean, but the building belongs to God. The universe is his; your life is his; your day is his.

Do you know that? Have you asked Jesus to forgive your sin and be your Lord? If you have, do you know that you belong to him in every dimension of your life? He has a will for your dating relationships, your parents and children, every dollar you earn and spend and save, every moment you live and breathe. You have another day because God says you’re not finished with his purpose just yet. Does your entire life belong to him this morning?

Are you giving God your best?

By God’s grace, Paul has “laid a foundation as an expert builder” (v. 10). He did his work in Corinth as an “expert,” sophos architekton, a “wise and skilled master-builder.” He did the best he could do with what God’s grace had given him.

We see that fact on display in Acts 17, where Paul found himself speaking to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, the leading intellects in the world. Years earlier, as a Jew and Pharisee, he had surprisingly learned Greek philosophy. He wanted to be as fully prepared as possible. He never knew that he would one day be quoting Greek poets like Epimenides and Aratus in the service of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but he did. And he established a church which thrives in Athens to this day.

Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest inspires and challenges me very day. Its very title captures what Paul is saying here. Last Tuesday Oswald admonished me: “Never reserve anything. Pour out the best you have, and always be poor. Never be diplomatic and careful about the treasure God gives.” Give your best to God’s glory, your utmost for his highest, always.

Is Jesus first in your life, or merely the Savior of your soul? Do you want to please him above all others? Do you want to fulfill his will before you want anything else in life? Do you want every part of your life to glorify God?

The recently deceased Ruth Bell Graham once said of her husband, “I have never known anyone who wanted to do the will of God with his life as much as Billy does.” And so he has. Do you?

Are you building for eternity?

Paul likens our lives to “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw” (v. 12). The difference is not one of monetary value. Costly stones could be more valuable in the ancient world than gold. Silver had functions gold could not fulfill. Wood, hay and straw were much more practical building materials than gold, silver, and costly stones. You don’t want your car tires to be made of gold or your clothes to be made of marble.

Paul’s point relates to the enduring value of our lives and days: “his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” Gold, silver, and marble withstand fire; wood, hay, and straw do not. The question is not the monetary value of our work today, but the eternal value of our work in glory.

Are you building every day for eternity? In other words, are you more interested in what God thinks of you than how your society evaluates you? Are you more concerned about your children’s character or their popularity? Are you more interested in your client’s soul than his or her business? Are you willing to sacrifice earth for heaven, the present for the eternal? Will you go whenever he asks, wherever he leads, whatever the cost?

If the answer to these questions is “yes,” you will know God’s will and purpose for your life as each day and step comes. He will guide you through circumstance, Scripture, and his inner voice. As you are faithful to the last word you heard from God while open to the next, you will receive “reward.” Your life will matter now and be rewarded forever. You will hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).


Married to God

Married to God

Revelation 21:1-5

James C. Denison

This is the season for weddings. I’ve performed three in the last three weeks, with more to come. Fortunately, each of the grooms I’ve married knew that he was marrying over his head, as I did. Not all husbands are this wise.

For instance, a friend sent me this unfortunate story: “When our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife kept hinting to me that I should get it fixed. But somehow I always had something else to take care of first–the truck, the car, fishing, always something more important to me.

“Finally she thought of a clever way to make her point. When I arrived home one day, I found her seated in the tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny pair of sewing scissors. I watched silently for a short time and then went into the house.

“I was gone only a few minutes. When I came out again I handed her a toothbrush. ‘When you finish cutting the grass,’ I said, ‘you might as well sweep the sidewalk.’

“The doctors say I will walk again, but I will always have a limp.” As he should.

This summer we’ve surveyed a number of images and metaphors for the church. We’ve learned that we are his “saints,” called out to belong to him. We are his new creation, the temple of his Holy Spirit, branches on his vine, his “building.” Today we learn that we are his bride and he is our Groom. We learn that being ready for our wedding in eternity is the best way to live today. And we learn why.

For those days when you wonder if your life matters much, whether anyone really knows or cares about you, whether you’re going anywhere significant or your days are worthwhile, remember this fact: you are the Bride of Christ. Today it is my privilege to show you why that fact is our hope.

Know that you belong to Christ

Have you ever wondered why Catholic nuns do not marry? According to official Church teaching, they are married–to Christ. We Baptists may not have known that about nuns. And we may not know that we have joined them–we are married to Jesus as well. We are already the bride of Christ. Our marriage has already been arranged.

In first-century Judaism, marriages were always arranged. Sometimes between a man and his prospective wife’s family, sometimes between parents of children. Then the time would come when the couple would enter into a formal engagement. This would last for a year. They were considered to be married in every way except physically. She still lived with her family, and he still lived in his home. If he were to die during that year, she would be considered a widow, and would in fact be called “the virgin who is a widow.”

Then would come the day of their wedding, when they would consummate their marriage and live together for the rest of their lives.

You and I are in the formal engagement period with Jesus. The moment you asked him to become your Lord and Savior, you became his “bride.” The New Testament consistently refers to Jesus as the “Bridegroom” (John 3:29; Matthew 9:15). Paul told the Corinthians, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2). You and I are engaged to be married to Jesus. We can belong to no one else. We are completely his. And soon our wedding day will come.

Rejoice that he is preparing your eternal mansion

When it does, everything we have done to be ready will be worth its cost and more. We will move into a new home with our Bridegroom: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (v. 1).

No more of this fallen, decayed, corrupted planet. No hurricanes or earthquakes or cancer or AIDS. No more disease or disaster. Not even any “sea,” that which had separated John on Patmos from his beloved church in Ephesus. We move out of the rundown old shack where we live today into a mansion with streets of gold and gates of pearl.

Our Groom has a “mansion” he has been building for us in glory. He is a master carpenter. We cannot begin to imagine what our home will be like, for “no eye as seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

When this happens, we will be united with our Groom for all time: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (v. 3). When we are with him, we will have all that our hearts yearn for today: “In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11, KJV).

We will receive “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

We will “eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).

We’ll have perfect understanding there: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

We will be in “paradise” (Luke 23:43), the walled garden of the king. The good comes, the bad is gone: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (v. 4).

Not a single evidence of our fallen world will be left. Not a single day spent in pain or grief, guilt or loss. All of that is gone. The life we had before is no more. We are now married to God, and will live with him in his mansion for all time.