Hebrews 13:21

Sermon preached on January 1, 2006 by Laurence W. Veinott. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

Have you made any New Year's Resolutions? What do you want for 2006? There's an old saying,

"Be careful what you wish for—you may just get it."

One of the things that the Bible tells us is that we should wish for the very best things. When Paul was dealing with spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 he introduced the spiritual gift of love with these words, (verse 31)

"But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
And now I will show you the most excellent way."

We should wish for the very best things. This morning we're going to look at one of the best desires that we should have as Christians. The writer to the Hebrews is closing his letter and our text is part of his benediction. This is what the writer wanted God to do for them—this is what we should desire that God would do for us. He prayed that God would, (Hebrews 13:21)

"work in us
what is pleasing to him,
through Jesus Christ,
to whom be glory for ever and ever.

Thus the main thing we see here is that

your great desire for 2006 ought to be that God would work in you what is pleasing to Him.

You should want to be someone who is useful to Jesus Christ—someone for Jesus to use for His glory. The apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Timothy 2:20-21,

"In a large house there are articles
not only of gold and silver,
but also of wood and clay;
some are for noble purposes
and some for ignoble.
If a man cleanses himself from the latter,
he will be an instrument for noble purposes,
made holy,
useful to the Master
and prepared to do any good work."

Paul wanted Christians to be instruments of noble purposes, prepared to do the work that God had for them. May God work in you what is pleasing to Him.

But this is contrary to how your
old nature thinks. The old nature would say,

"God, work in me what is pleasing to me."

The old sinful, selfish nature tells you to desire health, wealth and prosperity. It focuses on comfort, on mere earthly things, things that are temporary and not of eternal value. The old nature would lead us to say to God,

"I want things to go well for me. I don't want any problems, difficulties or obstacles. I want life to be smooth sailing. I want my family to be well. I want my job to go well. I want blessing after blessing, I want my life to be filled with the good things of this life."

But such things are not the best desires.

Now don't misunderstand me.
There's nothing wrong with such things. Christians aren't supposed to be masochists. In the Bible good things in life are often held up to us as incentives for holy living. Psalm 128 is an example. It says,

"Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways.
You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD.
May the LORD bless you from Zion
all the days of your life;"

The good things of this earth are not to be despised. They are blessings from God. Remember what God said to David after David sinned? (2 Samuel 12:7-8)

"I anointed you king over Israel,
and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.
I gave your master's house to you,
and your master's wives into your arms.
I gave you the house of Israel and Judah.
And if all this had been too little,
I would have given you even more."

Health, riches, family, friends—these are all blessings from God that should cause us to love, obey and thank Him. They are things that should cause us to rejoice in Him.

But it is clear from the Bible that desires for riches, for mere earthly prosperity—are not the best desires to have.

We see something of this in 2 Chronicles 1. God appeared to King Solomon and said, (verse 7)

"Ask for whatever
you want me to give you."

Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge so that he would be able to govern God's people. Then God said to Solomon, (verses 11-12)

"Since this is your heart's desire
and you have not asked for wealth,
riches or honor,
nor for the death of your enemies,
and since you have not asked for a long life
but for wisdom and knowledge
to govern my people
over whom I have made you king,
therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you.
And I will also give you wealth,
riches and honor,
such as no king who was before you ever had
and none after you will have."

God was pleased that Solomon did not ask for riches or honor. Indeed, we have to be careful not to set our hearts on riches. Jesus told us not to lay up for ourselves riches on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. In Matthew 6 Jesus told His disciples not to worry about food or clothes. He said, (verse 33)

"But seek first his kingdom
and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well."

In 1 Timothy 6:9 where the Holy Spirit warns us with these words,

"People who want to get rich
fall into temptation and a trap
and into many foolish and harmful desires
that plunge men into ruin and destruction."

So riches, honor and prosperity are not the best things to desire. We should not set our hearts on them as if they were the best things.

But being pleasing to God—now that's something that is great and wonderful. How good it will be for some on the last day to hear from Jesus,

"Well done, good and faithful servant!"

To be pleasing to God. That is what we should strive for.

Before we go any further we should understand what being pleasing to God consists of.

One of the things about sin is that it deceives. Many people think that they are pleasing to God when in fact they are not. Jesus tells us that on the last day, many will say to him,

"Lord, Lord,
did we not prophesy in your name,
and in your name drive out demons
and perform many miracles?"

Jesus continued,

"Then I will tell them plainly,
'I never knew you.
Away from me,
you evildoers!'"

So we can't go by how we feel, we have to go by what the Bible says. In the Bible being pleasing, or 'acceptable' to God basically means to be in conformity with His commands.

This is important to grasp, not only because sin can deceive us, but because even Christians can go wrong here. Some Christians look down on God's law, on His commandments, and treat it as if it only belonged to the Old Testament, and that it is something that we not longer have to worry about, because we walk in the Spirit. But there is no division between God's law and His Spirit. God's law reflects His character. The Spirit leads us to obey God's commands, to delight in them become more like Him.

We see this in the use of the Greek word that the author to Hebrews uses here. It's also used in
Romans 14 the apostle Paul deals with the problem of the weaker brother. He writes, (verses 15f)

"If your brother is distressed
because of what you eat,
you are no longer acting in love.
Do not by your eating destroy your brother
for whom Christ died.
Do not allow what you consider good
to be spoken of as evil.
For the kingdom of God
is not a matter of eating and drinking,
but of righteousness,
peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
because anyone who serves Christ in this way
is pleasing to God and approved by men."

Living with love for other Christians, especially those who are different from you—is pleasing to God. In Romans 12:1 the apostle Paul said,

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers,
in view of God's mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices,
holy and pleasing to God
—this is your spiritual act of worship."

When we offer our bodies as instruments for God to use—that is pleasing to Him. When we practice holiness with our bodies, that is pleasing to God.

Colossians 3:20 we see something else that is pleasing to God. Paul wrote,

obey your parents in everything,
for this pleases the Lord."

When children are obedient to their parents, this is pleasing to God.

Philippians 4:14f Paul commends the Philippian Christians for sharing in his troubles, how they helped him when he was in need. He mentions the recent gifts he received from Epaphroditus, and says,

"They are a fragrant offering,
an acceptable sacrifice,
pleasing to God."

When you help God's workers in need, such help is pleasing to God.

So being pleasing to God occurs when we live in conformity to His commandments, when we are holy, when we show love to others. It occurs when we become like Him.

The third thing we should understand about us being pleasing in God's sight is that

this is God's work.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote,

"may he work in us
what is pleasing to him,
through Jesus Christ,"

Certainly we have a part to play. I've ready quoted from 2 Timothy where Paul urged Timothy to cleanse himself of the things that were ignoble. But essentially us becoming pleasing to God is a work of grace that is performed by God. This is a prayer for God to do it.

This means two things for us.

First, you ought to be praying that God would do this.

It's His work. It's of grace. So you need to be petitioning God to effect it in your life. It won't happen unless God does it.

Secondly, this means that you ought to be embracing what God sends your way.

How does God work in us what is pleasing in His sight?

God is so powerful that He can even work in His enemies and change them.
We see an example of this in 1 Samuel 19 where King Saul was trying to kill David. David went to Ramah to tell Samuel about it. Saul found out where he was and sent men to capture him. But do you remember what happened to Saul's men? We read that when they went and,

"saw a group of prophets prophesying,
with Samuel standing there as their leader,
the Spirit of God came upon Saul's men
and they also prophesied."

When Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, but they prophesied too. So Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. Finally, Saul himself left for Ramah. But we read that the Spirit of God came even upon him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel's presence. He lay that way all that day and night. And the people said,

"Is Saul also
among the prophets?"

But God doesn't normally just zap someone so that they are pleasing to Him. He could do that. But God's process is usually much different than that. He usually works in us through our experiences.

I remember
Carrie B. once telling me that she realized that she wasn't as patient as she should have been so she started praying to God to give her more patience. She said she was surprised when right after that all sorts of trying circumstances started to come her way. At first she was disappointed and thought that God wasn't answering her prayer. But then she realized that what God was doing was presenting her with circumstances in which she could grow in patience. And that's usually that way that God works in us.

This process is often
painful. Jesus hinted at this in John 15:1-2. He said,

"I am the true vine,
and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
so that it will be even more fruitful."

We have that very teaching in another passage that talks about how God molds us so that we are pleasing to Him. He disciples us so that we will share in His holiness. In Hebrews 12:7f, the writer wrote,

"Endure hardship as discipline;
God is treating you as sons.
For what son is not disciplined by his father?
If you are not disciplined
(and everyone undergoes discipline),
then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
Moreover, we have all had human fathers
who disciplined us and we respected them for it.
How much more should we submit
to the Father of our spirits and live!
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while
as they thought best;
but God disciplines us for our good,
that we may share in his holiness.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time,
but painful.
Later on, however,
it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it."

The way we grow in grace is often painful. God's discipline is painful. In the movie Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis says,

"we're like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt so much, are what makes us perfect."

What this means for you is that if you're seeking God to work what is pleasing in you,

you will accept what He sends your way.

Your attitude ought to be the same as what we see in Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. When they came to arrest Him, rather than shrinking from it, He embraced it. In Matthew's gospel we read that before Judas and the soldiers arrived, Jesus came back to His disciples and said to them, (Matthew 26:45-46)

"Are you still sleeping and resting?
Look, the hour is near,
and the Son of Man is betrayed
into the hands of sinners.
Rise, let us go!
Here comes my betrayer!"

When He said, 'let us go' he was not talking about trying to get away from those who were coming, but to go and meet them. This is clear from John's gospel where we read, (John 18:4)

"Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him,
went out and asked them,
'Who is it you want?'"

Then John tells us that when they told Him they were looking for Jesus, He told them that He was Him. At that they all drew back and fell to the ground. But, rather than attempted to escape, Jesus stood there and asked them again who they wanted. When Peter took out his sword and struck the high priest's servant, Jesus said to him, (18:11)

"Put your sword away!
Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

He did not hesitate to embrace the Father's will.

In the same way, we are to accept what God sends our way. Our lives are about God seeking to work in us what is pleasing to Him. So embrace the difficult. Hebrews 12:7,

"Endure hardship as discipline;
God is treating you as sons."

We should have the attitude that Jesus expressed in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Luke 22:42)

"not my will,
but yours be done."

We should have the attitude of Jesus that is expressed in Hebrews 10:7. Jesus said,

"Here I am
—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God."

Here I am. I have come to do your will, O God. What words! In Jesus we see a merging of His will with the will of the Father.

That's the way it is to be with us.

Your will is to be merged with God's.

"may he work in us
what is pleasing to him,
through Jesus Christ,"

Thomas Aquinas, (Quoted from Hughes, Hebrews)

"This is the will of God, that we should will what God wills; for otherwise we have no good will. But God's will is our good."

God's will is perfect. In Romans 12, after telling the Roman Christians to give their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, Paul wrote,

"Then you will be able to test and approve
what God's will is—his good,
pleasing and perfect will."

Trust God to work in you what is pleasing to Him. Grab life by the horns and delight in pleasing Him.

The film Chariots of Fire tells the story of
Eric Liddell, a gold medalist at the 1924 Olympics and later a missionary to China. At one point in the film is the Eric has a conversation with his sister Jennie. She is concerned that his running will take him away from God and his calling to be a missionary. There's a scene where Eric is telling Jennie that he's been accepted by the mission society to go to China as a missionary. He says,

"But I've got a lot of running to do first. Jennie... Jennie... you've got to understand. I believe that God made me for a purpose... for China. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.... To win is to honor Him."

Later we see Eric in the final moments of his race, with head thrown back, legs pumping and arms flailing—he is clearly exhilarated and you get a sense that he is enjoying God's pleasure. He has obeyed God's commandments and he knew that he was pleasing to God.

To be pleasing to God. There's nothing greater than that. To be pleasing to Him so that He will use you for His purposes, to bring glory to His name—there's nothing like it.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians. Your life is the exact opposite of what it should be. You are not pleasing to God. By nature you invoke His wrath. You are in the worst possible situation.

There's only one thing for you to do—go to Jesus. Ask Him to forgive your sins. Ask Him to give you His Spirit. Ask Him to work in you what is pleasing to Him. If you do that you'll go from being the exact opposite of what you should be—to being perfectly in the will of God, pleasing to Him, and being able to bring glory to His name. Go to Jesus now.