One of the gurus on biblical leadership, Bobby Clinton, reckons we have enough information to interpret the start to finish ministry of about 50 people. Roughly 1/3rd finish well, 1/3rd finish “so-so”, 1/3rd finish poorly.
None of those who failed to finish well lacked the call and gifting of God.
Solomon’s example always distresses and confounds me. Once the wisest man on earth (1 Ki 10:23 ESV), in old age he sponsored idol worship in Israel (1 Ki 11:4 ESV).
We can all probably think of people who started zealously for Christ but ended disastrously.
Clinton categorises failure in the areas of money, sex, power, pride, burn out, family issues and plateauing.
His counsel that leaders should remain learners, have consistent devotional lives, manifest the fruit of the Spirit, live out the truth of God’s promises and grow in a sense of godly destiny applies to all Christians.
I suspect we already know these things.
An alternative approach to “finishing well” start with recognising that this is the subject of the whole of the book of Revelation.
And perhaps the most confronting challenge in the book for people like us is Christ’s rebuke to the Ephesian church. “ vs.2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not and found them to be false. vs.3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. vs.4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. vs.5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first.” (Rev 2:2-5 ESV).
The teaching the Ephesian Christians received from Paul (Acts 19:1-10; ESV), Timothy (1 Tim 1:3 ESV) and John (ancient tradition) must have been incredible. So, the only way they could have lost their first love was through finding another love. Perhaps they had become task focussed in guarding the deposit of faith and lost intimacy in their relationship with Christ (cf. Rom 12:11 ESV)? The battle to finish well is a battle for love in the Christian life. In the end everything comes down to love.
In Love with the World
Whilst the Greek word agape does have a focus on the unconditional love of God, ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV), it can just as readily be used of loving the wrong things.
Just three verses after John 3:16 we read, “people loved the darkness rather than the light” and later in the Gospel, “they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God”1)See Biblical References John 3:19 ESV; John 12:43 ESV.
And when John writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15-17 ESV), he is warning us not to agape the world. “World” in John’s writings often means something other than the “earth”.
The “world” is a sphere ruled by Satan2)See Biblical References John 12:31 ESV; John 14:30 ESV, an abode of darkness3)See Biblical References John 1:5, 9 ESV; John 3:19 ESV; John 8:12 ESV; John 9:5 ESV; John 12:46 ESV opposed to Christ and his mission4)See Biblical References John 8:23 ESV; John 15:18-19 ESV; John 16:20, 33 ESV; John 17:14 ESV where Jesus’ identity as Son cannot recognised5)See Biblical References John 1:10 ESV; John 14:17 ESV; John 17:25 ESV.
The destiny of the “world” is to be judged6)See Biblical References John 9:39 ESV; John 12:31 ESV; John 16:8, 11 ESV. James is characteristically blunt when he says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (John 4:4 ESV).
This is one reason why I have always found our second reading for tonight so tragic and shocking.
Near the end of his life Paul appeals to Timothy, vs.9 “Do your best to come to me soon. vs.10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. vs.11 Luke alone is with me.” (2 Tim 4:9-11 ESV).
Demas appears in Paul’s earlier writings to the Christians in Colossae as one of his “fellow workers”7)See Biblical References Col 4:14 ESV; Philemon 1:24 ESV.
He was so Demas a missionary who shared Paul’s vision to bring the gospel to the nations and since at the time of these writings Paul was imprisoned for the gospel (Col 4:18 ESV) Demas knew the cost of following Christ.
How could such a leader in the Lord fall so far?
Whatever Demas’ love affair with the world was, it fell into at least one of the areas of sin described in 1 John 2:16 ESV.
“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16 ESV)
The word translated “desire” is a neutral word, it just means to want something.
But the “desires of the flesh” are always rendered negatively in the New Testament, often having to do with inappropriate sexual longing8)See Biblical References Gal 5:16 ESV; Eph 2:3 ESV; 1 Pet 2:11 ESV; 2 Pet 2:10, 18 ESV but things like substance abuse and gluttony come to mind.
The lust of the flesh is about sensual gratification.
Once upon a time you used to see on cars a sticker which read, “If it feels good, do it.”.
You no longer see this sticker around because our society has wholly capitulated to it.
In John’s writings the ultimate origin of worldly lusts is the devil.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” (John 8:44 ESV).
That the power of worldly desires is driven by Satan is confirmed by John’s next expression, “the desires of the eyes”.
The desire of the eyes often involves coveting something we should never have.
It was when the serpent talked up the power of the prohibited tree to impart the knowledge of good and evil that Eve “saw that the tree was a delight to the eyes” and was moved to eat of it (Gen 3:6 ESV).
In the Old Testament longing looks are associated with sex9)See Biblical References Gen 39:7 ESV; Job 31:1 ESV, pride(Isa 5:15 ESV) and greed (Jer 22:17 ESV).
Pornography is obviously a lust of the eyes. “Eye candy” as a friend of mine might say.
I recall a young man saying how could he be in the image of God and lust so much after the cream cakes in the shop window!
Jesus said bluntly, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matt 5:29 ESV)10)See Biblical References cf. Matt 18:9 ESV.
Does Jesus ever exaggerate?
Finally, we have “the pride of life”.
In James 4:16 ESV this word for “pride” is translated as “arrogant boasting” about worldly possessions which he calls “evil”.
And John uses a word for “life”, bios, a little later in (1 John 3:17 ESV) like this, “But if anyone has the world’s goods (bios) and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”.
Holding on to possessions expels God’s love from our hearts.
If the desires of the flesh and of the eyes relate to hedonism and consumerism the “pride of life” is materialism.
Jesus warning needs to be heard in our church’s day, ““Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”” (Luke 12:15 NLT).
John is not a moralist nor a legalist.
He is not merely listing worldly categories of evil to make his readers feel bad about their sins.
Much more deeply, he is laying bare the structure of the world as an essentially self-centred, grasping construction that can only be overcome by love. By “the love of the Father”
The Love of the Father
“If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15 ESV).
The expression, “the love of the Father”, appears only here in the Bible.
It could mean our loving the Father, or the Father’s love for us. It probably it means both; after all, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 ESV).
When we think of the love of the Father we shouldn’t think so much of his warm feelings towards the world, but of his actions for us in Jesus.
God so loved the world that he “gave his only Son” and “sent his Son into the world”11)See Biblical References John 3:16,17 ESV; John 5:38 ESV; John 10:36 ESV etc..
Love for the world and the love of the Father cannot cohabit the same heart because they are in exact opposition.
This is a little difficult to explain.
But as evil is parasitic for its reality on good so the world only exists in its opposition to the kingdom of God. this means that the essential nature of the world is not revealed in the activities of bars, brothels, banks or injecting rooms, but in its rejection of the love of God revealed in Christ.
Love for the world and the love of the Father have nothing in common, one is all about getting precious things for oneself, the other is all about giving the highest of gifts to others.
The love of the world draws into itself selfishly, the love of the Father gives from himself selflessly.
When “the world” is understood this way it’s easy to see why religious institutions concentrations of worldliness can be.
The love of power has often dominated Christianity, I could tell you a few stories about archbishops and various other denominational heads and their lust for power, but the power of the Father’s love casts out all worldliness.
Or to put the same thing the other way.
If the power of God’s love (Rom 1:16 ESV) is not moving through the Church it’s because our congregations are like vs.18 “those who hear the word, vs.19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19 ESV).
Whilst “the world” only exists in its opposition to the love of God we shouldn’t imagine that “love for the world” and the “love of the Father” exist on the same scale.
God’s true love is infinitely greater than all false loves.
This is why “the world” has no future and in seeing this why we are exhorted by the Word of the Lord to have an end-time lifestyle; vs.29 “the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, vs.30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, vs.31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:29-31 ESV)12)See Biblical References cf. 1 Tim 6:17-19 ESV; Tit 2:11-14 ESV.
When Paul says Demas was “in love with this present world”, we would better translate it, “this present age (aiona)” (2 Tim 4:10 ESV). Here was a man who’d incredibly foolishly become attached to something which cannot stand because Christ stands against it.
Since “the Lord Jesus Christ…. gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:4 ESV) the world as we know it has no proper destiny.
This perishing world cannot inherit the imperishable new world coming (1 Cor 15:50 ESV).
Only sharing in the death-and-resurrection of Jesus ushers us into the new creation.
In Christ God has irrevocably declared the end of the age/world as we know it (cf. Acts 17:31 ESV). Only those who obey the gospel13)See Biblical References 2 Thess 1:7-8 ESV; 1 Pet 1:24-25 ESV; 1 Pet 4:17 ESV will inherit eternal life.
It is impossible to live for the present and for eternity.
Just as John says, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17 ESV).
The world is “passing away”, because it “has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18 ESV).
Which is to say, it has not believed in the love of God the Father.
God’s love in Christ has condemned the world and all its evils to extinction, vs.31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. vs.32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” vs.33 Jesus said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:31-33 ESV).
Human beings have an amazing capacity to neglect, ignore or corrupt the truth of God in Christ.
Demas was with Paul when he wrote in Colossians, vs.1 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. vs.2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. vs.3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. vs.4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. vs.5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. vs.6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” (Col 3:1-6 ESV).
With a mind set on Christ above, there is no room for the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”.
We live in a day of many Demas’s, a time of an increase of lawlessness when the love of many has grown cold and when Christ’s warning words, “ “vs.13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” ” (Matt 24:12-13 ESV), are commonly ignored.
On present trajectories, fewer and fewer Australian Christians, and churches, will not finish well.
And tragically, because of the “seeker-friendly” character of many teachings today many don’t have a mental framework to understand what this even means.
Praise the Lord he has a plan to deal with such dreadful confusion.
The key to our finishing well must be found in Christ’s finishing well.
He said, “vs.32 ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. vs.33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13:32-33 ESV). Jesus will finish well because he will remain faithful to the Father’s giving and sending love through suffering (Heb 12:2-3 ESV).
Only real opposition to the love of God the Father can give to Jesus’ words the authority of revelation in our hearing. “vs.13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. vs.14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt 7:13-14 ESV)
Demas chose the wide path but it was said of the early martyrs that they had not “run in vain” because they did not “love this present world”14)See Biblical References Polycarp, Philippians 9:1, 2 ESV.
In what part of our lives are we running in vain, lacking the presence and power of the love of the Father because we are in love with the world?
If Jesus is as dissatisfied with us as he was with the Ephesian church, we must allow his Spirit to do a detailed audit of our lives exposing for the sake of confession, repentance and cleansing those places which are not inhabited by “the love of the Father”. Then we will all finish well, to the glory of God.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 3rd. Feb, 2019 Location: Alive@5
Author: Dr. John Yates
YouTube or PODCAST:
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||See Biblical References John 3:19 ESV; John 12:43 ESV|
|2.||↑||See Biblical References John 12:31 ESV; John 14:30 ESV|
|3.||↑||See Biblical References John 1:5, 9 ESV; John 3:19 ESV; John 8:12 ESV; John 9:5 ESV; John 12:46 ESV|
|4.||↑||See Biblical References John 8:23 ESV; John 15:18-19 ESV; John 16:20, 33 ESV; John 17:14 ESV|
|5.||↑||See Biblical References John 1:10 ESV; John 14:17 ESV; John 17:25 ESV|
|6.||↑||See Biblical References John 9:39 ESV; John 12:31 ESV; John 16:8, 11 ESV|
|7.||↑||See Biblical References Col 4:14 ESV; Philemon 1:24 ESV|
|8.||↑||See Biblical References Gal 5:16 ESV; Eph 2:3 ESV; 1 Pet 2:11 ESV; 2 Pet 2:10, 18 ESV|
|9.||↑||See Biblical References Gen 39:7 ESV; Job 31:1 ESV|
|10.||↑||See Biblical References cf. Matt 18:9 ESV|
|11.||↑||See Biblical References John 3:16,17 ESV; John 5:38 ESV; John 10:36 ESV etc.|
|12.||↑||See Biblical References cf. 1 Tim 6:17-19 ESV; Tit 2:11-14 ESV|
|13.||↑||See Biblical References 2 Thess 1:7-8 ESV; 1 Pet 1:24-25 ESV; 1 Pet 4:17 ESV|
|14.||↑||See Biblical References Polycarp, Philippians 9:1, 2 ESV|