Summary: While we benefit from the gospel, it is primarily about God's glory and not my good.
Many of you may have seen a recent video clip of a prominent pastor speaking these words:
I just want to encourage every one of us to realize that when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God — I mean, that’s one way to look at it — we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?
After receiving a great deal of criticism for those remarks, this pastor released the following statement in an attempt to defend and explain those remarks [name of the church is omitted intentionally]:
While I admit that I could have been more articulate in my remarks, I stand by my point that when we worship God and are obedient to Him we will be better for it. I did not mean to imply that we don’t worship God; that’s ridiculous, and only the critics and cynics are interpreting my remarks that way. Every ________________ Church member knows what I was talking about because they have experienced first hand the joy and victory of a ________________ Church worship service, and the honor, reverence and gratitude we show God.
While that’s a bit better than the first comments that were made in the midst of a worship service, you’ll notice that the focus is still on what the people of that church get out of their worship.
Before we’re too quick to join those who have rightly, in my opinion, condemned these remarks, we need to recognize that most of us, though probably in much more subtle ways, have probably from time to time bought into the same lie that worship, and even the gospel itself, is primarily about me – my happiness, my joy, my victory – and only secondarily about God. I’m pretty sure that I can demonstrate that by asking you to honestly answer a few questions:
• Have you ever left a worship service thinking something like this? Unfortunately, I know I have.
o I didn’t really like the music today because it just didn’t speak to me or it’s not the style of music I really like or it was too loud.
o The sermon today really wasn’t relevant to me.
o I just didn’t feel God’s presence today.
o I didn’t feel like I got fed today.
Notice all the focus on “I” and “me” in those statements and a lack of focus on God.
• Have you ever switched churches because you felt like the church you were attending just wasn’t meeting your spiritual needs? In my experience most people don’t leave one church and go to another because of doctrinal issues or because they genuinely sense God is calling them to go serve Him somewhere else, but rather because they don’t feel like the church is meeting their personal needs or satisfying their personal preferences.
• Have you ever failed to do what God wants you to do – read the Bible, pray, invest in the lives of others – because you’re just too busy doing the things you want to do?
As Paul begins his letter to the churches in Rome, he makes it clear from the start that the gospel which is the subject of this letter is primarily about God and not about him or his audience. Without a doubt, he and his readers are the beneficiaries of the operation of that gospel, but that is not where they are to place their focus.
Turn in your Bibles to Romans 1 and follow along as I read the first seen verses:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 1:1-7 ESV)
In the original Greek, verses 1-7 comprise one long sentence. And in that one sentence, Paul summarizes the teaching that he will go into in much more detail in the remainder of that letter. Last week, we used verse 1 to show that God’s purpose for us in our study of Romans is for us to be like Paul and become sent, separated servants who are totally devoted to Jesus and His purposes, plans and ways. And that kind of life is centered in “the gospel of God”.