December 29, 2013
A young man came to W. E. Gladstone when he was Prime Minister of England and said, “Mr. Gladstone, I would appreciate your giving me a few minutes in which I might lay before you my plans for the future. I would like to study law.” “Yes,” said the great statesman, “and what then?”
“Then, sir, I would like to gain entrance to the Bar of England.” “Yes, young man, and what then?”
“Then, sir, I hope to have a place in Parliament, in the House of Lords.” “Yes, young man, what then?” pressed Gladstone.
“Then I hope to do great things for Britain.” “Yes, young man, and what then?”
“Then, sir, I hope to retire and take life easy.” “Yes, young man, and what then?” he tenaciously asked.
“Well, then, Mr. Gladstone, I suppose I will die.” “Yes, young man, and what then?” The young man hesitated and then said, “I never thought any further than that, sir.”
Looking at the young man sternly and steadily, Gladstone said, “Young man, you are a fool. Go home and think life through!” (Told by Leonard Griffith, This is Living [Abingdon Press], pp. 48, 49.)
Since the old year is almost gone and the New Year is upon us, I thought it may be profitable to revisit the same text that we studied last time from a slightly different perspective, considering the topic of God’s time versus man’s time. In John 7:6, Jesus says to his half-brothers who advised Him to go up to the Feast of Booths and do some miracles to make Himself known, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune.” Jesus was drawing a contrast between how He lived in view of God’s time versus how His brothers lived their lives. I want to develop the thought:
Since life is short and eternity is forever, live by God’s time, not by man’s time.
The first point is obvious, and yet worth thinking about often:
Billy Graham was once asked what he was most surprised by in life. He answered, “Its brevity.” (Christianity Today, 10/06, p. 90) An older man gave this perspective on how he viewed time differently as he aged (Dewey Gill, Reader’s Digest [5/83]):
Days were plentiful and cheap when I was young. Like penny candy. I always had a pocketful—and spent them casually. Now my supply is diminished, and their value has soared. Each one becomes worth its weight in the gold of dawn. Suddenly I live in unaccustomed thrift, cherishing hours the way lovers prize moments. Even at that, when the week is ended, it seems I’ve gone through another fortune. A day doesn’t go as far as it used to.
I can relate to those thoughts! We just came from being with my Dad on his 90th birthday. It was sad to see his declining physical and mental condition. But it was also sobering to think that in just over 23 years, if I’m still alive, I will be that old! Life is short and then eternity is forever!
If Jesus had been born in our times, His parents would have recognized that He was an unusually gifted child. They would have begun His education early, put Him on the gifted child track, and had Him preaching by age 12 when He made an impression on the scholars in the temple. By the time He was 20, He would have a huge international following. With a good public relations man, He could have learned to tone down some of His more offensive comments so that the religious leaders would not have plotted to kill Him. Think how much more He could have accomplished if He had lived to 70 or 80!
But Jesus, living by God’s time, didn’t begin His ministry until He was about 30 and after three short years He could pray (John 17:4), “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given me to do.” Amazing!
If we want to think like Jesus, we need to live with the awareness of how short life is and that one day we will give an account to God for how we spent our lives. In Psalm 90, as Moses thought on these things, he concluded with the prayer (90:17), “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.” If none other than Moses had to ask God to confirm the work of his hands, how much more do we need to pray that prayer repeatedly!
Jesus told His brothers that they could go up to the feast whenever they wanted to go, because their time was “always opportune” (7:6). The implication is that they were not living under God’s time, as Jesus was. D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 308) says that Jesus meant “that what they did was utterly without significance as far as God was concerned.” We can draw three implications about what it means to live by man’s time:
As John 7:5 adds, “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.” As we saw in our last study, Jesus’ brothers had grown up with Him, so they knew Him better than most people would have. They had heard His teaching and seen some of His miracles. They were good, religious Jews, who observed the various feasts in Israel, such as this Feast of Booths. But they didn’t believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. They probably did not see their need for a Savior from sin, because they thought of themselves as good, religious Jews in comparison with the pagan Gentiles.
So if you want to live by God’s time and not waste your life living by man’s time, the first order of business is to trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. When you are born again, you repent of the sin of living for yourself and you begin to live for the glory of your wonderful Savior and Lord. You realize that if He is Lord of all, then He is Lord of your time. So you begin to seek Him earnestly to figure out how He wants you to spend your life. If you determine your goals and priorities apart from submission to God and His Word, then you’re living by man’s time, not by God’s time. Such living is ultimately futile.
Jesus draws a sharp contrast here between His brothers’ time and His time. If you’re using your time as our culture does, you aren’t living by God’s time. The brothers went up to this religious feast but they went without Jesus. They went because it was the thing that all Jewish men did at that time of the year. It was a God-ordained ritual, but they did it without reality because they did it without Jesus and without faith in Him. They were living by man’s time, not by God’s time.
We, of course, live in a godless, corrupt culture that exalts selfish pleasure and materialism as the ultimate aims in life. To go along with our culture and live for those fleeting pleasures is obviously to waste your life. But it’s possible to be a part of the Christian wing of our culture, to go to church and go through Christian rituals (such as communion) and yet leave Jesus out. You’re just doing it because it’s the thing that other Christians do. But that is to live by man’s time, not by God’s time.
As we saw last time, Jesus’ brothers offered some worldly-wise advice on how He could advance His “career.” They may have meant well, but as I pointed out, their advice was in line with Satan’s temptation for Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, have the angels float Him gently to the ground, and impress everyone with His miraculous powers. The brothers’ advice was, “For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” (7:4).
As Carson points out (ibid., pp. 306-307), by the world, Jesus’ brothers meant, “to everyone,” but John no doubt saw irony in their comment. We already know that such a display of Jesus’ miraculous powers would have the multitude clamoring to make Him a political Messiah (6:14-15), but it would not have resulted in genuine faith (2:23-25). In one sense Jesus had no intention of showing Himself to the world (14:22). And yet in another sense (Carson, p. 307), “it is in Jerusalem where Jesus reveals himself most dramatically—not in the spectacular miracles the brothers want but in the ignominy of the cross, the very cross by which Jesus draws all men to Himself (12:32) and becomes the Savior of the world (4:42).” The cross is foolishness to the wise of this world, but to us who are called, it is God’s power and wisdom (1 Cor. 1:23-24).
One of the books that has most impacted my life is Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan], by Elisabeth Elliot. It’s the story of her first husband, Jim Elliot, who was martyred at age 28 in Ecuador (along with four other young men) by the fierce Auca tribe that they were seeking to reach with the gospel. When he was a college student, Jim had written (p. 15), “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Recently the news featured the story of chemistry teacher Ronnie Smith, a young husband and father who was shot to death by Muslim radicals while he jogged in Benghazi, Libya. He was there to show Christ’s love to those lost and hopeless people. I saw an interview with his wife, who said that she loves and forgives those who murdered her husband. The world would say that to go to a fierce, primitive tribe or to a dangerous place like Benghazi to share the gospel, is not wise. But God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. In the epilogue to Shadow of the Almighty (p. 246), Elisabeth Elliot wrote,
W. Somerset Maugham, in Of Human Bondage, wrote, “These old folk had done nothing, and when they died it would be just as if they had never been.” Jim’s comment on this was, “God deliver me!”
May He deliver us all from living by man’s time, in worldly wisdom, rather than by God’s time, in His wisdom. To understand how to live by God’s time, we must look at how Jesus lived:
Throughout John’s Gospel, there is the repeated theme of Jesus’ “hour,” which refers to the cross (2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1; see Luke 22:53). But here (7:6, 8) John uses the Greek word that refers to an opportune time. Jesus means that the God-appointed time for Him to go up to Jerusalem and reveal Himself was not yet at hand. In other words, in contrast to His brothers, who lived by the world’s agenda, Jesus lived by God’s agenda. This meant five things:
Jesus always had a sense of obeying the Father with regard to His use of time. He did not allow His own mother to determine when He should turn the water into wine, but He did it as the Father directed Him (2:4). Here, He does not allow His brothers’ advice to govern when He went up to the feast, but went in response to the Father’s timetable. He was accountable to the Father to do everything in His life and ministry as the Father directed.
I’ll grant that it’s not easy to determine God’s will for the specifics of our schedules, whether it concerns the major decisions in life or the daily and weekly schedules that we all must make. But we can determine our overall priorities and goals from the wisdom of God’s Word and prayerfully seek to use our time with the awareness that we will give an account to God for how we spent the time that He gave us. If I may be gently blunt, to spend countless hours watching TV or playing computer games is not a godly way to spend your life.
One New Year’s Day when I was in college, I spent the entire day watching all the college bowl games. By the end of the day, I felt rotten, as if I had stuffed myself on junk food all day. I realized that I had just wasted a precious day of my life. I swore off my TV addiction and have never gone back.
Jesus came to do the Father’s will and to accomplish the Father’s work (4:34). He finished it in three years, as we have seen (17:4). Jesus’ purpose should be our purpose, namely, to glorify God on this earth and to accomplish whatever it is that He has given each of us to do.
Obviously, God does not call everyone to be a foreign missionary or to serve full time in ministry here at home. But He does call us all to live in such a way that we glorify Him in everything we do (1 Cor. 10:31). All behavior begins in our hearts or thoughts (Mark 7:21), so begin there, by ordering your thoughts in line with God’s Word (Phil. 4:8). All our behavior is to be governed by God’s love, which seeks the highest good for others (Rom. 12:9-10; 1 Cor. 13; 16:14). Also, God has uniquely gifted each one for service so that we might glorify Him (1 Cor. 12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). So figure out what He has gifted you to do and structure your schedule so that you can do it.
As we saw in the story of Jesus with the woman at the well, the disciples had a temporal mindset. They were focused on getting Jesus to eat His lunch so that they could get on with their journey. But Jesus had a harvest mindset. He turned their focus toward what God was doing with His encounter with the woman and the Samaritans in that village (4:31-38). Jesus was aware of God’s perspective in every situation. He never acted out of selfish motives, but only for the purpose of furthering God’s kingdom. He told us that in contrast to seeking all the things that the world so eagerly seeks, (Matt. 6:33), “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
You’ve got to figure out how that verse applies to your sphere of influence. It may apply to rearing your children to know and follow Christ. It may apply to helping a family member, friend, co-worker, or stranger whom you meet come to know the Savior or to grow in Him. Ask the Lord to give you a harvest mindset.
Jesus stayed in Galilee because the Jews were trying to kill Him (7:1), but when it was God’s will for Him to go to the feast, He went. We see the same thing in John 10:39-11:15: Jesus was ministering out of the reach of the Pharisees who were seeking to kill Him, but when it was God’s time, He went to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, to raise Lazarus from the dead.
Jeremy Lundgren, our former youth pastor, is writing his master’s thesis on the theology of risk and safety: when is it right to protect yourself from possible harm versus expend yourself for the sake of the gospel? On some occasions, the apostle Paul escaped impending threats to his life (2 Cor. 11:32-33; Acts 17:10, 14; 22:18), but at other times, he was willing to walk into what almost certainly would result in either persecution or death (Acts 19:30-31; 21:11-13). I can’t give you a hard and fast rule for determining when to risk your life for the sake of the gospel and when to use caution and escape. But we all should have the mindset that our highest aim is to glorify God through the gospel. Sometimes that may entail exposing ourselves to substantial risks.
Here, Jesus confronted His brothers’ worldly perspective. He never backed away from confronting the worldly or godless views of those He came into contact with, even though it inevitably led to His death. When He went to have lunch with a Pharisee, Jesus deliberately did not follow their custom for ceremonial washing before the meal and then He laid into the Pharisee for his hypocrisy in cleaning the outside of the cup, while inside he was full of wickedness. When one of the lawyers present heard Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees, he said (Luke 11:45), “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” Did Jesus reply, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any offense”? No, rather He said (11:46), “Woe to you lawyers as well!” And He proceeded to expose their many sins. Jesus always confronted the godlessness around Him.
This doesn’t mean that we should be rude or insensitive. Paul tells us that our speech should be both gracious and seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6). He tells us not to be quarrelsome, but to be kind to all and to correct with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25). But probably most of us need to be a bit bolder than we are to speak out against godlessness when we encounter it. I appreciated reading that Rick Warren recently told Piers Morgan on CNN with regard to Warren’s opposition to homosexual marriage, “I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval or the disapproval of society.” (http://piersmorgan.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/06)
To review and offer some specific action points, here are some steps to help you live by God’s time so that your life counts for eternity and isn’t wasted because you lived for man’s time:
(1) Make sure that you have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and that you are fully submitted to His lordship. Apart from that, anything that you do will be empty and vain at the judgment.
(2) Write out a one-sentence purpose statement for your life and two or three short-term goals that will help move you in that direction in the coming year. Granted, Jesus probably didn’t write out His life purpose in a single sentence, but He was clear enough about it that He knew when He had accomplished the Father’s work (John 17:4). The same could be said of the apostle Paul. He said (1 Cor. 9:23), “I do all things for the sake of the gospel.” He said that his aim was (Phil. 3:10), “That I may know Him.” He told Timothy (1 Tim. 4:7), “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” Those aims are all in line and show that Paul lived with God’s purpose in mind.
(3) Clear your life of clutter and busyness that do not relate to your overall purpose. Kevin DeYoung’s recent short book, Crazy Busy [Crossway] is helpful in this regard.
(4) Figure out what God has gifted you to do and begin serving Him now. Don’t wait until some “better time” in the future. You may never get to such a time. Start now. What is your “mission field”? Who are the 8-15 people with whom you have regular contact that you can influence for Christ? God wants all disciples of Jesus to help make disciples who make disciples.
(5) Don’t despise the mundane as the place where God wants you to serve. You don’t have to go to the mission field or go into full time ministry to serve the Lord. You can serve and glorify God daily in your present circumstances. As Peter puts it (1 Pet. 4:11), “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation