Putting The Supremacy Of God To Work

Selected Scriptures

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

Christians are quick to confess that God is supreme. Christians are equally quick to confess that God's supremacy necessitates that we be unfettered in our devotion to Him. What scarcely is preached and confessed, however, is that Christians are intended to be the beneficiaries of God's supremacy.

Our devotion to God is not for His benefit, but for our own. The apostle Paul reminds us in Acts 17:25, "God is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything ". God does not need us. He does not need our worship nor does He need our service. Nonetheless, God commands this. Christ insists that we follow Him at all cost. Paul urges us to "serve the Lord "(Rom. 12:11). Scripture everywhere exhorts us to give God first priority in our lives. The question is, Why?

If you have been here for this entire sermon series, you will likely know the answer: Putting God first is the only way to experience true joy . And enjoying God is the way we glorify Him. As John Piper has said, 'God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him'.

If the supremacy of God demands that we put Him first, and if putting God first is the source of lasting joy, then we had better understand what it means, exactly, to 'put God first'. Are you aware that there is a way to serve God that is actually dishonouring to Him? There is a way to pray, a way to do church work, a way to do ministry, that is blasphemous to God and should be avoided like the plague.

Whether we honour or dishonour God depends on the fuel we use when we serve Him. So let me ask you, what fuels your desire to worship God? What fuels your desire to serve God in this church? I suspect that most of you will say 'gratitude'. 'God has done so much for me. Christ gave His life for me'--most people sense a need to 'pay God back' for His goodness. For many people, obedience is fueled by gratitude for yesterday's grace.

Gratitude is indeed a good thing. The Bible commands us in many places to give thanks to the Lord(1Thess. 5:18). What you won't find in the Bible, however, is people obeying God out of a sense a gratitude. As John Piper has rightly pointed out, 'God meant gratitude to be a spontaneous expression of pleasure in the gift . . . He did not mean it to be an impulse to return favours'(Piper, Future Grace , 32). A look at Hebrews, chapter 11, demonstrates clearly what should motivate and fuel obedience to Christ--no less than 18 times do we read that "by faith " the people of God obeyed. Looking forward to the fulfillment of God's promises is what fueled the obedience of our Old Testament heroes.

It is entirely appropriate to feel gratitude when God blesses you. The trouble begins when you feel that you now owe God a 'gift'. We make a mockery out of grace when we try to pay God back. Have a look at Romans, chapter 4, verse 4: "Now to the one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due ". Paul is warning us here from getting into a legal transaction with God. Can any of you think of a famous verse that talks about wages? Listen to Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus ". When you compare Romans 4:4 and Romans 6:23, do you see how works nullify grace? If you attempt to 'work for God', you get wages--not the good kind--not "as a gift ", but as "something due "(Rom. 4:4).

The way to heaven, the way to eternal life, does not come from serving God. The way to eternal life comes as a "free gift "(Rom. 6:23). If serving God doesn't get us into heaven, why should we serve God? Is it because He needs our help? No! Paul is adamant that "God is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything "(Acts 17:25). We must not serve God out of sense that He needs us.

The question remains: How, then, are we to serve the Lord in a way that honours Him? Allow me to point you to some Scriptures that provide a clear answer to this question. 1Peter, chapter 4, verse 11 instructs us, "whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ ". According to Peter, God is glorified when we serve Him with the strength that He supplies . Or, as I have put it in my sermon title, God is glorified when we put His supremacy to work for us .

Another helpful text comes from 1Corinthians 15, verse 10: "by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I laboured even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me ". Paul exemplifies for us here, a very balanced approach to serving God. Many Christians err by sitting back and expecting God to do His work regardless of human activity. Yet, Paul insists that he "laboured more than all of (the other apostles) ". This leads us to the other extreme--many Christians err by labouring according to their own strength. Yet, Paul insists that in his labour, it was actually "the grace of God " which enabled him to serve the Lord.

This approach of serving Christ by your own strength is easy to detect. God's purpose for us in serving Him is to make our joy complete which, in turn, glorifies God. It logically follows then, if you are not brimming with joy when you serve Christ, you are likely operating on your own strength. My suspicion, when I hear about ministerial burn-out, is that ministers are burning out not because they are working too much, but because they are not letting God work through them.

The clear biblical truth is that God is not looking for people to work for Him, so much as He is looking for people who will let Him work for them . God gets the glory, not by being doted over--God gets the glory by showering us with grace. The one who serves gets the glory. This is why Jesus says in Mark 10:45, "the Son of Man did not come to be served , but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many ". This is why Paul says "I laboured . . . yet not I, but the grace of God "(1Cor. 15:10). Paul says, "not I ", because the one who labours, the one who serves, the one who gives, gets the glory.

Paul wants God--the true Labourer--to get the glory. This is what Peter means when he says, "whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ ". When we serve Christ, what should really be the case is that God's grace is serving us.

We must not treat God like some supernatural employer. If we do this, we are going to get wages--and not the good kind of wages(Rom. 6:23). The gospel is not a 'Help Wanted' ad, it is a 'Help Available' sign(Piper, Desiring God , 146). The Christian life is not about working for God, it is about asking Him to work in us .

The Christian life is not about repaying God a debt, it is about going deeper into debt! We are a debtor to grace and, if we are serving God appropriately, we are going deeper into debt each day. We are not only saved by grace, but Paul insists that we labour by grace(1Cor. 15:10). Paul says in 2Corinthians 9:8, "God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have abundance for every good deed ". If we are living for Christ, we are constantly tapping into His grace. We are, day by day, owing a greater debt to grace.

If you asked a Christian what the most meaningful line in 'Amazing Grace' is, most would likely say the first line, 'Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me'. That is, no doubt, a beautiful line, but it only describes half the story. The line that should encourage us the most is the line that says, 'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home'.

Grace is not simply a one event affair. Grace is what every Christian must live by . Faith in future grace should inspire us to serve Christ. Our fuel for worship, our fuel for serving Christ, should not be gratitude, but rather, forward looking grace.

Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for all that Christ has done for me in the past, but how is that backward looking gratitude going to help me today? What has enabled me to get this far in my sermon? Grace . What is my fuel for finishing this sermon? Future grace . It's not here yet! Minute by minute, I'm getting more and more grace! I find that I am constantly giving thanks for this grace--gratitude is indeed good, but it's not my fuel--grace is.

How do we get some of this? How do we tap into this endless reservoir of grace? It's simple--just ask . In Psalm 50, verse 15, God says, "call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honour Me ". Prayer is the key that unlocks Christian joy. Call upon the Lord and He will give you grace--the grace you need to glorify God.

What is fueling your Christian life these days? Is it duty? Is it backward looking gratitude? Or is it grace, and your faith in future grace?

Do you feel obligated to attend church on Sunday or is corporate worship something that brings you immense joy? Does serving Christ in this church wear you down or does it bring you joy?

If you attend church out of duty, if you serve the church out of duty, if you pray and read your Bible out of duty, you not only dishonour God, but you also rob yourself of joy.

God means for us to glorify Him. He means for us to enjoy Him . God gets the glory and we get lasting joy. This is a delightful partnership. All we must do is choose to live by His grace. Amen.