An obsession with holy living must first begin with an obsession with the Holy One. Paul's passion to become like Christ was the natural overflow of his deep, intimate walk with Christ. How do we develop a passion for holiness? It begins getting a better picture of our great and holy God.
Additional messages from this series are available here: Holy Obsession
“The Magnification of the Master”
When Chan Gailey was the head coach of Alabama’s Troy State football team, they were the unlikely team playing for a National Championship. It was the week before the big game . . . interview requests were pouring in from everywhere.
A few days before the championship, Gailey was heading to the practice field when his secretary called him and wanted to transfer a call to him. Somewhat irritated, Gailey told her to take a message because he was on his way to practice. She responded “Are you sure? It’s Sports Illustrated.”
“I’ll be right there,” he said.
As he made his way back to his office, he began to think about the article. It would be great publicity for the program at Troy State, in fact, 3 pages wouldn’t be enough to cover the great story.
Coming even closer to his office, he started thinking that he might even end up on the cover. “Wow . . . should I pose or go with some kind of action shot,” he wondered. He wrote that his head was spinning with all the possibilities.
When he picked up the phone and said hell, the person asked, “Is this Chan Gailey?”
“Yes, it is,” he replied with a measure of pride.
“This is Sports Illustrated, and we’re calling to let you know your subscription is running out . . . do you want to renew?”
Coach Gailey concluded that story by saying, “You are either humble or you will be humbled by life.”
Citation: www.preachingtoday, told by Chan Gailey in Dalton Georgia, 4/20/2004
Which is good to remember.
There isn’t anything more harmful to a believer than too much of himself. Preening in front of a rear view mirror usually causes accidents.
There isn’t anything more damaging to relationships and the work of Christ at large than the spirit of Diotrephes, John the Apostle wrote, who loves the pre-eminence – who loves to be first (3 John 1:9).
John the Baptizer, on the other hand, got it right when he said of Christ in John 3:30, “He just increase, but I must decrease.”
The antidote to the poison of self is the glory of Christ.
The tragedy of the church at large over the past 25 years is it openly and unashamedly made the human being the object of attention. We are now constantly looking into the mirror – not of the word, but of our world.
In the average church today, He is decreasing and we are increasing.
The problem is, the more we stare at ourselves, the more we twist the motive for assembling into self-help sessions; the more we turn the Bible into quick and easy principles for successful, comfortable living, the more self-centered we become. And since we can never be satisfied with ourselves, our dissatisfaction only grows greater.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the way to improve life is not a better understanding of who we are, but a better understanding of who God is.
The cure for what ails us is not necessarily thinking less about us – it is in thinking more about Him.
We do not need a better view of ourselves . . . we need a fresh vision . . . a newly kindled obsession . . . an obsession with the glory of God.
So that we like Moses would long to see the glory of the Lord. “Lord, let me see Your glory!” (Exodus 33:18)
In a little book I keep on my desk at home entitled, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper writes, “People are starving for the grandeur of God. And even those who go to church – how many of them can say when they leave, “I have looked upon You oh God in the sanctuary, beholding your . . . glory.” (Psalm 63:2)?
John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Baker Books, 1990), p. 107
What is the glory of God?
It is the sum and substance of His character.
It is the beauty of His holiness.
It is the revelation of God in Christ – for when He came to dwell among us we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Paul reminded the Corinthians that the glory of God was the main point of Apostolic preaching, “We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord.” (2 Corinthians 4:5)
Further on, Paul said that the glory of God was the subject of our ongoing study, “[God is the One] who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God . . .” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Imagine that evening when the shepherds were tending their flocks and that one angel appeared before them and the “glory of the Lord shone round about them.” (Luke 2:9)
You say, “I wish I could see what that’s like!” You will!
That element of God’s glory will one day be tangibly revealed to us all in the heavenly city; John the Apostle wrote in Revelation 21:23, “The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light.”
Even today the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1).
The honoring and exaltation of God is the objective of everything we do, for in whatever we do, we are to do all to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).
In other words, we are to do everything to the exaltation of God: the honor of God; the pleasure of God; the leading and sovereign right of God.
In a very plain sense then, living for the glory of God means that in everything we emphasize Him and de-emphasize ourselves.
Like Raymond Lull, the missionary to the Moslems many years ago who lived by this life-long refrain, “I have one passion – it is He, it is He, it is He.”
R. Kent Hughes, Romans (Crossway Books, 1991), p. 290
The glory of God is our goal, our subject, our hope, our delight, our message and our future.
This is what it means to be obsessed with the glory of God.
This is the magnification of the Master.
In his personal comments, near the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul has revealed nothing less than the same obsession.
In Romans chapter 15 we have already uncovered his obsession for godly living; then we looked closely at Paul’s obsession with the grace of God . . . and now today, we will see him revealing his devotion – his obsession – with the glory of God.
First, notice Paul’s delight in verse 17. Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.
My first point would simply be that Paul delighted in elevating the person and work of Jesus Christ.
In other words, Paul refused to be the primary topic of conversation.
The truth of the matter remains, you cannot be obsessed with God’s glory and your own glory at the same time.
They are mutually exclusive pre-occupations.
You cannot promote His reputation and your reputation at the same time.
This is Paul’s way of saying, “Allow me to brag about Jesus Christ.” Let me boast of Christ.
Which is difficult to do if you’re wanting to add to the prayer list your latest spiritual achievement.
“More often, we’re like the Little Leaguer who put all his sixty pounds into a ferocious swing and barely connected. The ball scraped by the bottom of the bat, jiggled straight back to the pitcher, who fumbled it and then threw it over the first baseman’s head. The slugger flew on toward second base. Somebody retrieved the ball but threw it over the second baseman’s head into left field. The hitter rounded third as another throw went to second base and he touched home plate as the ball sailed past the catcher. He was heard to say, “That’s the first home run I ever hit in my whole life.”
That’s so like us; we step to the plate for Jesus, barely tip the ball, He arranges everything so we make it around the bases and then we announce at the prayer meeting how we managed to pull it off!”
Adapted from Hughes, p. 289
Paul would write, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14)
This is the magnification of the Master.
It is He; it is He; it is He!
The Apostle Paul delighted in elevating the person of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, and closely associated with that thought is this: Paul declined being placed on a pedestal.
Notice verse 18. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed.
This is just like Paul . . . he refuses to accept personal credit for spiritual fruit.
Gentile masses are coming to faith in Christ and obeying the truth of the gospel and Paul is the signature spokesman.
But he writes in effect, “Don’t put me on a pedestal,” Don’t elevate me, elevate Christ working in me.” Paul writes. “I wouldn’t even presume to talk about anything I’ve done without putting it in the context of Christ working through me.”
But open the New Testament and read. Paul would have had more reason to boast than any of the other apostles, including Peter and John. He was used by God to reveal more of the New Testament than any other human writer, and the greater part of the book of Acts focuses on his ministry.
John MacArthur, Romans (Moody Press, 1994), p. 333
If anybody deserved to be on the cover of a magazine - Time Magazine’s Missionary of the Century – it would be Paul.
There isn’t any doubt among any Bible believing Christians that Paul was and still is the most influential Christian author, theologian, pastor/teacher of all time.
He impacted the world.
I found it interesting that the Christain Science Monitor reported last year that there are more than 100 books in print whose title includes the phrase “that changed the world.” Such as the book, “Gunpowder: The History of the Explosive that changed the world.”
Other titles include these:
El Nino: The Weather Phenomenon that changed the world.
The Pill: A Biography of the Drug that Changed the World
Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World
The Twist: The Song and Dance that Changed the World
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World
Model T Ford: The Car that Changed the World.
We no doubt live in the land of the overstated and easily impressed.
But that’s the way the world works . . . make any impression – create any trend . . . make any discovery . . . start any fad . . . sell a number one of anything . . . lead an organization . . . make strides in any field . . . and the pedestal awaits you . . . expect it . . . welcome it . . . make the most of it.
The more visible you are, the less real you can become.
By now it should be, Paul the celebrity. He can do anything.
If he could sing, he’d be among the final contestants, singing before the judges in the final episode of American, what? Right, American Idolatry.
The press reports from one communist country’s leader are almost laughable . . . if they weren’t so tragic. North Korea’s leader is presented as brilliant, perfect, gifted, etc. etc. MSNBC reported last year that the press in his Stalinist-state promote him as the greatest man – perfect in every way. He supposedly goes through daily intensive memory sessions and can now, he said himself, “remember all the computer codes and telephone numbers of government workers.” In spite of his busy schedule he evidently has the time to compose entire operas and produce movies. North Korean propaganda stretched too far recently however when it reported that their leader played golf for the very first time in his life and in that round of golf he shot 11 holes-in-one.
That’s the mentality of human nature . . . he is the great leader, so he must be great at everything!
Listen to the great leader of the church as he refuses that kind of press report. He demonstrates an unwillingness to step up on the pedestal that every one of us would assume he had the right to mount.
Here in this text – I will not even presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.
He writes to the Corinthian believers:
“I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10)
Follow the progression of Paul’s own growth as God became greater and greater to him over time and Paul became more and more the object of God’s grace. In
In I Corinthians 15:9 Paul referred to himself as the least of the apostles.
Later, to the Ephesians, Paul wrote that he considered himself the least of the saints. (Ephesians 3:8)
Finally, near the end of his life, he writes to Timothy, I am the chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
But Paul . . . c’mon . . . you’re the great apostle! You’re the chosen instrument to herald God’s grace to the Gentile world. What’s all this chief of sinner’s stuff . . . that doesn’t look good in the press reports . . . why not just say you have struggles every once in a while. Look at what you’ve accomplished, Paul – c’mon, take a look in the mirror.
Donald Grey Barnhouse summarized what Paul could have easily gloried in; “Paul had this ability to enter a completely pagan city which practiced devil worship and gather a group of transformed believers in the name of Christ. He then hovered over them in prayer and, by constant admonition, lifted them from the most corrupt stratum of heathenism to the highest level of Christian godliness and morality.”
Quoted by James Boice, Romans: Volume 4 (Baker Books, 1995), p. 1863
Certainly Paul does not deny what God has done with him and through him, nor does Paul belittle it either – that would be false humility.
But at the end of the day, he teaches us all that we are simply instruments in the hand of God, and no Christian should ever look for the pedestal for what God does through him – the pedestal belongs to God alone.
No paint brush can take credit for the masterpiece it was used to paint. No violin takes credit for the beautiful music the musician makes with it.”
MacArthur, p. 335
As a young man, one Christian composer and singer who was popular in England had become proud of his accomplishments and his fame. He and other singers and musicians formed a small group that led music for his home church. On one occasion their pastor confronted them with what he perceived to be pride in their musical ability and performance. He told them that they had lost the reason they were doing what they were doing and had neglected true worship. They were insulted by the charge and every one of them packed their instruments and left the church – all, that is, except this one young man. Not long afterward he wrote the song that for several years has been sung on both continents. It’s a prayer of confession and rededication to the Lord that acknowledge the Lord wants more than a song – he wants a life. Some of the lyrics in this prayer to the Lord say, “I’m coming back to the heart of worship and Lord it’s all about You”
Aired on the Moody Broadcasting Network, Midday Connection (11/28/01)
That’s Paul’s perspective here. He is intent on the magnification of the Master.
The Apostle Paul delighted in elevating Jesus Christ; second, he declined the pedestal of human praise;
Third, he directed the spotlight onto the Holy Spirit.
Notice 19. In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
Paul informs us of the truth that the apostolic community had the authenticating miracle working power to demonstrate that they were indeed servants of the living God.
A sign simply served to mark something. The shepherds were told, as a sign, they baby would be wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:12).
Wonders were simply that – they caused people to marvel.
Combining wonders with signs gave spiritual significance to the marvel of the miracle.
Signs and wonders were their badges of authenticity.
In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul clearly stated that they were for the apostles to use. He wrote, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”
In Paul’s day, the New Testament did not exist, of course. Paul never heard the Sermon on the Mount; or read John 3:16. he could never pick up a copy of I Peter or Jude or James. He’d never heard of the Book of Revelation, because it hadn’t been written yet.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: Volume 4 (Eerdmans, 1964), p. 94
The badge of authenticity was Paul’s ability to heal the sick and give sight to the blind and raise the dead.
Without signs and wonders, before the scriptures were completed, the apostles would have lacked any verifying evidence that they were truly of God as they laid the foundation of the church in this dispensation of grace.
So God in His providence, gave to His apostles the same ability Christ had demonstrated – they did the same things He did – they gave sight to the blind, raised the crippled to walk again and raised the dead.
It was an undeniable sign of God’s favor and seal.
Today, we’re not laying the foundation of the apostles – we’re building on their foundation.
And the verifying seal and sign of God’s approval on any preacher or teacher is their association with the word of God. The litmus test is now true doctrine.
The test of whether or not a man is a herald for God depends upon his connection to and explanation of the scriptures.
Why? Because the word of God is now sufficient to prepare every Christian for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Somebody once said to Barnhouse that it wasn’t fair that we couldn’t turn water into wine anymore or other miracles of that nature. Barnhouse said, “I’ve seen an even greater miracle than that – I’ve seen an alcoholic father of a newborn little girl give his heart to Jesus Christ and by the power of the gospel we saw whiskey turned into milk.”
Adapted from Barnhouse, p. 96
But go back in time to when the Apostle Paul lived and served. Imagine being at a testimony meeting with the assembly when Paul is in the audience.
“Anybody have a testimony of something God has done for you or through you? Yes, Paul?”
“It was so amazing in Lystra where that man who had been crippled from birth was listening to me preach. I looked at him and then with all the courage I could muster said to him – right out there where everyone could hear and know whether or not I had the power of God or not, “Stand up and walk.” And he leapt to his feet and the people began calling me Jupiter – one of their gods . . . man that was so exciting.”
“Anybody else have a testimony?”
Yes, Paul – another?
“Oh, let me tell you about that demon possessed girl in Philippe. She kept following me around and it was so annoying – (Acts 16 tells us that Paul was greatly annoyed). And finally I turned to her and simply commanded the demon, “In the name of Jesus Christ come out and the demon came out . . . wow, what power.”
“Hey, do you want to hear the one about the guy I raised from the dead?”
Who could follow that?
But, in case you missed it, Paul inserted the phrase there tucked inside verse 19, “in the power of the Spirit” . . . you could read it this way, “in connection with the Holy Spirit’s power.”
In other words, Paul is saying, “It wasn’t me . . . it was the Spirit of God at work in me and through me.”
Paul was obsessed with the glory of God and did not want in any way to rob God of praise or glory.
He delighted to elevate the person of Christ; he declined being placed on a pedestal of human praise and he directed the spotlight of attention on the person of the Holy Spirit.
More than anything, Paul wanted the magnification of His Master to be obvious to everyone.
I was reminded of the story I read some time ago, about a well known Christian leader who was picked up by a seminary student at the airport. The student was awed to be in the car with this man and he offered compliments and then plied him with questions. This leader refused to accept any accolade . . . almost distancing himself from his successful ministry. Finally the young man said, “Surely you see yourself, your gifts as the primary factors in your ministries success.”
The older gentleman paused then said, “Young man, when I was growing up on the farm, I had to walk to school and back every weekday. I’d walk along a pasture where there was a wooden fence with long wooden rails attached to fence posts every 10 feet or so. One day I remember coming across a turtle perched up on top of one of those fence posts. I knew someone put him there; a turtle can’t climb a fence and get there by himself, you know. Son, this man went on to say, “I am nothing more than a turtle on a fencepost.”
That’s what you call refusing the pedestal of praise . . . redirecting the spotlight . . . magnifying the Master because you are captivated by and dedicated to the glory of God.
This is good news for every ordinary Christian – and the truth is, we are all very ordinary. Whether you are well known or unknown:
God’s truth is displayed through the simple;
God’s strength is revealed to the weak;
God’s grace is distributed to the needy.
God’s glory is magnified when weak, simple, needy, ordinary Christians praise Him and refuse the pedestal; love Him and redirect the praise to Him; who worship Him and elevate His name above any other name.
Ordinary Christians who are nothing more than turtles placed on fence posts . . . and when we are asked we will magnify our Master . . . for we are obsessed with the glory of God.