Sunday service – Strive for discernment

I have a challenge for this morning’s message: I would like to speak about the life of walking in the Spirit, using examples from God’s word. In addition, how challenges will come across our lives that will tempt us to stop walking in the Spirit. There is one golden rule: listen to God’s voice and preserving an open channel with God so that He can guide us in different circumstances. The recipe for living for God, overcoming in this world and entering heaven, is to hear God’s voice.

We are privileged. We have often spoken about our leader and how he has preached the truth and directed us by means of his sermons. Friends, are we not privileged to have his example to follow, which gives us clear direction for the challenges which we face.

I will begin with the Scripture that demonstrates the challenges faced in the spiritual walk.

9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9 – 10

…it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment… Friends, life will bring situations - day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute - where we must discern what is relevant for that specific situation.

There are various aspects that we must bear in mind in every situation. In every situation there will be the potential for the I, the me, the ego, and then my perspective in that situation will be influenced by what I can gain from it.

There is another aspect to each situation - the needs of the people involved. Are they spiritual or physical needs? Are they carnal needs or needs for God’s kingdom? There is a carnal aspect in every situation we face. We can act carnally or in the flesh, but this will only bring glory and satisfaction to the flesh; for example, where I lose my temper, tell a man off and give him a piece of my mind. However, there is a spiritual way to deal with the situation, so that I walk in the Spirit. Personal pride will affect situations. There is the possibility that my pride will be negatively affected. Will I allow it to happen, or will I do something to save my pride in the situation? Will I do something that is good for people, something which will make me popular, or will I do something which has God’s approval and blessing?
Other aspects to every situation are the things that I see and experience with my eyes or the spiritual aspects which cannot be seen with human eyes - the invisible world of demons and Satanic forces that are working in that situation.

Friends, may we never slacken spiritually, because we are guaranteed to make the wrong decision if we are not razor sharp. We must not fall into the danger of becoming spiritually blunt.

I would like to take examples from the lives of two men of God which demonstrate these principles. David is the first example. Slowly but surely God brought David to the point where he was less and less dependent on man, and more and more dependent on God. God tested David’s faith by making him face bears and lions. After he passed those tests, God allowed him to face Goliath. He could not have faced Goliath in the same way that he faced bears and lions. Bears and lions were not trained in warfare or in using swords. David had to keep this in mind when overcoming Goliath, and yet he had to keep his faith and his trust in God to overcome Goliath. Once again God gave him victory.

The next test: When the ark of God was brought into Jerusalem, David danced before the ark. It was a joyous occasion. When he returned home, his wife said, “Oh, how the king of Israel embarrassed himself today before the children of Israel.” You humiliated yourself today. David, you are a king – you should behave, in all circumstances, like a king. You cannot be dancing around like a clown! It is amazing how some people are victorious in great challenges where they face Goliaths and bears, but then at home they fail to stand. It is at home where many Christian testimonies are destroyed. A person is a wonderful preacher but at home he does not act spiritually but carnally. David, however, overcame once again at home with Michal, the daughter of Saul.

God was with David. God helped him conquer. God helped him destroy tens of thousands of Philistines. But then God put him into a situation where he had to flee like a coward from King Saul, day and night. He was hunted like a fox. One day he faced a crisis. As he fled from King Saul, he reached a point where he had no food to eat. He arrived at the city of Nob where there was no food to eat. He went to the priest and asked, “You have the sacred bread over here - can you give me that to eat?” Abimelech the priest had to waive the rules for David, because strictly speaking only the priests were allowed to eat that bread, it was only allowed to be eaten in the Holy Place and not just anywhere. David expected Abimelech the priest to break the law of God and Moses, to give him some food to eat. We may say, David, how could you do that? Did you not say the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want? Will the Lord not provide you with all the food you need? Did you have to go to a priest and ask him to break the law to give you bread to eat? David, you have lost your faith and obedience to God.

Allow me to say this, dear friends, this is often a weakness in the European mindset – we say, there is a logical, legalistic way and things must fall into specific rules, otherwise it is against God. I have said it before, that I thank God that we have sober-minded black brethren who serve God whole-heartedly, so that the whites do not get side-tracked and lost in their own brains and logical thinking. I thank God for a leader who, in the beginning, said how God showed him that he should shoot his mind to the moon, otherwise he would not be able to follow God.

The Lord Jesus justified David in the New Testament. When the Pharisees accused His disciples of plucking corn on the Sabbath and eating it as they walked through the fields, the Lord Jesus said to them, “Did you not hear what David did when he went to the priest and asked for the bread that was only supposed to be eaten by the priests? Man is not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath is made for man.” Friends, if we could only hear God’s voice in these subtle situations. If the Lord Jesus had not justified David’s actions, many would have maintained that David had sinned when he ate that bread from the priests of Nob.

Satan was also there. Saul came to the town shortly thereafter and found out what the priest had done. He put all the priests in that town to death. David could have felt responsible for the deaths of these innocent priests. Satan is clever. He would say to David, “You asked the priests to break the law. Look at how God is punishing you. You are responsible for the deaths of the priests by forcing them to give you bread.” (Friends, how many people through the years have accused the man of God who has led this work of being responsible for evil for which he was never responsible.) The priests were not heroes like David was. They were not used to the tests that David had become accustomed to. They were not such prominent people that one would expect the devil to attack. They were just ordinary priests. Suddenly they were placed in the same fiery furnace that Daniel’s friends were thrown into. They were tested - just as intensely as David was tested.

If you associate with the Lord Jesus, expect any attack from the devil. Do not think you are low profile, and that the devil will not really pay any attention to you. Once you decide to follow Christ, give your life and everything to Him, then you become an enemy of the devil. He will do everything in his power to make you desert and deny the Lord. He will bring temptations across your way that will astound you. He will threaten you like a lion that roars to devour you. Be faithful to God. Do not give in.

This is what happened when the leader of this work was attacked (which is understandable because the tallest trees get the most wind). But ordinary people on the mission were also attacked, just as intensely, just as severely. Have you been able to overcome this attack, together with the temptation to get confused (because many get so confused by the logic that is being used, that they do not know whether they are coming or going)? Children turned against their parents; their biggest friends became their biggest enemies. It all seemed so logical. It made so much sense - there was wrong, David did do wrong. The question is not what man says, but what God says about what you have done.

Things got even tougher for David. He reached a point where he had to flee to the Philistines in order not to sin against God and kill the Lord’s anointed, Saul, the king of Israel. All the difficulties he got into were because of not wanting to sin against God. He did not want to kill the Lord’s anointed, Saul - even though he was a half-crazy man. In his desperation, he fled to the Philistines to be safe from Saul hunting him. Many Bible commentators say that David sinned by fleeing to the Philistines to hide there. But I do not see that God was disappointed or that He expressed his disappointment with David.

One day there was a war between the Philistines and Israelites. David would have had to fight against his own people because he was living with the Philistines, but God made a way out for him. The leaders of the army went and told their king that he could not allow David to fight with them, because he would turn against them during the battle, therefore, he should stay. God answered David’s prayer. I believe God gave David a way out so that he would not have to fight against his own people. Even if David would have fought with his people against the Philistines, Saul would have killed him.

Then came the loneliest time in David’s life. Do not be surprised if God brings you to a point of loneliness. David and his men returned to Ziklag where they were staying, and what did they find? While they were away the Amalekites had raided the camp, taken all their possessions and their wives and children captive. All this time David moved around with a group of men who supported him while fleeing Saul. But on that day his loyal group turned against him. They did not only accuse David, but they wanted to stone. I am sure that the devil tempted David to become angry. “What do you think of me? My wife and children have also been taken! How can you accuse me? What right do you have – what have I done? I didn’t want this!” David could have lost his temper but then he would have lost that sweet communion with God and grieved the Holy Spirit.

How often do we lose our tempers? When we are helpless, and there is no man to go to anymore. My closest friends have turned against me. I am falsely accused. I am not guilty. How many times have our leaders not experienced this? Not once, not twice, not ten times, I do not know how many times. Shame on us if we did not stand with our leader during those times. It is a disgrace if we did not.

What saved David? He was falsely accused. He lost everything he had. He lost his wife and children. He lost his loyal soldiers and support. Did he abandon his faith in the Lord? Did he say, “Lord, sorry, it is impossible to follow you. No man can follow you. You are a hard God whom no man can follow. You tell us in Your word You are such a merciful God, but You are a hard, merciless God who beats and beats and there is no mercy from You. Do you see how I have tried to serve you Lord, but You do not say thank you? All you do is beat me repeatedly!” David did not do that. The Bible says that he strengthened himself. In whom? In this very God who was so ‘cruel and hard’. Yes, he ran to that very God who allowed this and spent time with Him. He strengthened and encouraged himself. What did he do after that? Did he say, “You know what, I am going to get my wife and children back, but I cannot go with this group of men because they betrayed me?” He did not hate them in return, take his bags and say, “Okay, good-bye, see how you get on without me!” No, he returned, strengthened the men, encouraged them and they all went after the Amalekites to fetch back their wives and children. What an example!

Paul says that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment… To discern: what is the important thing at this moment? What is the right way to act? How should I deal with this situation?

…so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ… Another translation reads: So that you may, after putting them to the test, recognise the true value of the finer distinctions involved in Christian conduct. The true value of discerning the right things in Christian behaviour. In order that you may be undefiled and thus pure and not a stumbling block to anybody. The New Testament: An Expanded Translation Kenneth S. Wuest

Friends, through everything, David remained undefiled and pure. He was not a stumbling block to anybody. Can you say that? As you consider your life, have there been instances where you have been a stumbling block? Where have you allowed the actions of people to defile you, and in so doing, have lost your purity? If there are, friends, make them right. It is still a time of grace.

The second example is Abraham. God had promised Abraham and Sarah a son. As they aged, Sarah did not have a son, so they began making their own plans. Sarah suggested to Abraham to take another wife and have a son from her. Abraham took Hagar as his second wife and Ishmael was born.

One day when Ishmael was more than 13 years old, Sarah saw something, and she asked Abraham to send Hagar away - with her son, into the desert. The Bible says that it was a grievous thing for Abraham because he also loved his son, Ishmael. But God told Abraham to send them away as Sarah had suggested and He said, “I will make many nations from Ishmael as well.” Consider this: chasing a woman and her son away, not into a city where other people could help her, but into a desert where there was no water and nobody around. This is what Abraham did. The Lord saved their lives because He created a fountain next to them where Hagar could get water when Ishmael was on the point of death. Thank God, the Lord was faithful. It would have been terrible if Hagar had died in the desert.

Hagar returned to her people, the Egyptians and got a wife for Ishmael there. Imagine how she could have told everyone in Egypt what a terrible, crazy man Abraham was. She could have united them against Abraham, saying that he was evil and crazy and that he did not have the right to live anymore. Remember that Abraham travelled to different kingdoms. He needed the mercy of kings wherever he travelled with his tents. Hagar could have painted his name so black that the kings would not have allowed him to stay in certain areas and nobody would have wanted him. She could have spoken so badly that people would think, “Lord, maybe she should have died in the desert to save her from what she is doing. Lord, you should not have saved their lives.”

Where did this all begin? When Sarah saw Ishmael taunting Isaac. The Hebrew word used for this taunting means to laugh outright, either in happiness or in scorn. It can also mean playing in a sexual way. (The Bible says that one of the kings saw Abraham playing with Sarah which made him realise that Sarah was his wife.) We do not know whether Ishmael was playing with Isaac in a sexual way, or whether he was taunting and mocking him - pulling his hair and running away. Perhaps, when Isaac turned around and slapped him, he would run to his mother and say, “Mummy, he slapped me, he slapped me!” God takes it very seriously when you play – what you say and do. Do not think we are just playing; we are just children. God took Ishmael’s actions so seriously that he ended up being chased away. He lost his father. For the rest of his life, he lived without a father. What do you children play? What do you talk about? What do you say when you are playing? What do you do? Do you lose your temper? Do you do filthy things? Have you brought that to the light? Have you asked God for forgiveness?

What should Ishmael have done? (This has become the core of how God has worked in this revival.) If God had truly spoken and Ishmael had heard the voice of God and was convicted of his sins, Ishmael would have said, “Mum, I need to go back to my father and Aunty Sarah and Isaac and I must apologise to them, because God has robbed me of my peace. Even though I am in another country, and I have a wife, God has not given my conscience peace. There is this evil that I did at that time, and I have not made it right.” It would have been humiliating. It would have taken a long time. It would have been shameful. But it would have made the forgiveness of God precious.

What do we do? We do not bother about the sin of the past. We ignore the voice of the Holy Spirit. I refuse to go and apologise. It is too difficult, but I continue to claim that I am a Christian. And what do you do as a result of this? You make the Gospel cheap. Yes, you continue going to church and claiming to be a Christian, who has forgiven you of your sins, but it is a cheap grace you are promoting.

Allow me to read a text many of you might know from Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was finally executed by Hitler. He was a German preacher who wrote a passage about cheap grace.

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?...

Because the essence of grace, we say, is that the account has been paid by the Lord Jesus long ago, and because Jesus has paid for it, everyone can have it cheaply, for nothing, it does not cost anything. The price that Jesus paid has no limits, that is why the grace is without limits, you can do as you like and experience the grace.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, (The matter of church discipline is a terrible thing for many - “You are not God. I live before God. The church cannot discipline me. Who do they think they are?” Cheap grace is to be part of a church with no discipline.) Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. (Forgiveness without personal confession of your personal sin) Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. (You just have His grace to belong to a church.)

What is precious grace? Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Are you so serious about following Christ that you are willing to pluck out your eye if it makes you stumble? How often have I not seen people following Christ, but when they get a profession or a qualification, they leave Christ. They do not leave their boats; they leave Christ for their boats.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. (It is grace to be able to follow Jesus)

It is costly because it costs a man his life, (Really, Ishmael – was it too expensive to go back and apologise to Abraham for what you did? Was it too expensive for you to make peace with God? We live before God, not people. In people’s eyes Ishmael was poor and he suffered, but in God’s eyes it was a different story) and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Have you forgotten that? Have you forgotten the price God had to pay for you and me to receive forgiveness of our sins? Friend, please do not cheapen the grace of God by the life you live.

How often would Satan not have come to Ishmael and said, “Hate your father Abraham, for what he has done to you.” Paul says you must discern what is the right thing to do in each situation.

When Abraham and his nephew, Lot, reached the outskirts of Sodom and Gomorrah, their servants began arguing because of water for the cattle. One could say, “That’s ridiculous, who cares? Let these guys fight if they want to, it does not involve me.” But this quarrelling grieved Abraham. Friends, do not let quarrelling ever become a light thing. Abraham took this issue so seriously that he said to Lot, “Let us rather part. We cannot allow this quarrelling to continue.” Abraham was the spiritual father of Lot. Abraham could have said, “Lot, sorry my boy, you must go somewhere with your people…” But Abraham was willing to be plunged into an uncomfortable life because he allowed Lot to choose where he wanted to go.

This reminds me of a moment many years ago when Rev Stegen took a Sunday service in the dining room. The hall was full, so I sat on the brick wall outside the dining hall. Rev Stegen spoke on this very topic and said, “If Lot wanted to do the right thing, he would have said to Abraham, ‘I would rather lose my workers but stay with you, because God’s anointing is on you.’ If Lot was serious about making the Gospel precious and not cheap, he would not have gone to Sodom and Gomorrah. He would have said, ‘Father Abraham, I will stay with you and stick it out.’ But he allowed the quarrelling to drive them apart.

Friends, do we know the harm we do to God’s Kingdom when we quarrel amongst ourselves? Have you apologised where you have quarrelled or are there still unsettled arguments where you have said things you should not have, and have they been sorted out?

David finally reached a point where everyone deserted him and he trusted in God only. If God seems to prune your life and cut off branches, it hurts - to the point where you think you are useless, do not allow the devil to convince you that you are useless and that you mean nothing to anybody. No, say Lord, even if you have pruned me and cut off my branches so that I bleed, even if it feels as if I am left with nothing with which to serve You, I will serve You. I will be faithful to You and serve you with the little bit that is left.

There was a time when God did this in my life. The first time when God did that to me, I was a young student. I was alone and with my Bible. I said, “Lord, please encourage me, life is hard. You have made life difficult for me.” I thought the Lord might give me a word from Psalms, Isaiah or Jeremiah about how precious I was to Him. I prayed and opened the Bible. What did I read? A verse that said that it is good for a man to carry the yoke in his youth. I said, “Lord, if you beat me, even if you beat me to the ground, I will hold on to You, even to Your ankles, while I lie on the ground.”

We have a precious Gospel and may God give each of us the grace to discern God’s will in different situations.

9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9 – 10

Conclusion Michael Ngubane
We thank the Lord for the word He has given to us today. I believe that we were taught the crux of what faith is. Faith is not just something anyone receives. It is obtained at a cost. It is something personal where everyone knows that he/she has received the faith. Paul says that we should not remain at a place where we are told what to believe but reach the point where we hear for ourselves what we should do. Walking by the Spirit is different to walking in the flesh.

1 Corinthians 13 speaks of love. It is clear what love should be like. It does not think of itself but about its neighbour. When David had the opportunity to cut off a piece of Saul’s garment, he was convicted. “How can I do it to this man?” Just look at how people treat the faith nowadays. You can think and speak as you want. You can curse if you feel like it. You can do what you want. Nothing instructs or guides you.

If you truly fear the Lord, you will know what to do when you have to make a decision, because of the fear you have for the Lord.

We have heard how cheap grace has become. These days everyone claims to be a follower of God. How can you be a follower of God if you are like this? If we truly follow God, why are things in the degenerated state they are? If we are true followers of Christ, why do we hide away when things go wrong and we lack the boldness to stand up? If it is true that we have met with God and are walking by faith, will things continue to go wrong in our country?

God says that above all things strive for the gift of discernment. If I am a Christian and do not have discernment I am in great trouble. You will end up like Sarah who met with a situation that could not be explained and your solution to the problem results in more problems. We are ageing and the promise is not being fulfilled, take another wife, Abraham, have a son. The son comes and there is more trouble. This is walking in the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, we will not do the things that cause more confusion than before. May God grant us the discernment to recognise God’s will.

We thank God for Golgotha, for His sacrifice, for the forgiveness of sins and that we have experienced cleansing from sin. Without that I would be unsure about the forgiveness of my sin. Dear brother, sister, have your hearts been cleansed? Have you been forgiven of all your sins? If not, it is not surprising that you mix things up, you are confused, you cause quarrels and disagreements wherever you go, you speak glibly and do not even realise that you are hurting someone - you only hear afterwards. You are walking in the flesh, not the Spirit.

The grace of God is a free gift, but once we have accepted it, it changes the way we live and behave. If you have received forgiveness, break with sin, harbouring grudges and living carnally.