Summary: What could be so tragic as to be set aside and declared, “No longer useful to the Lord”? How much better to go through the fires of testing and proving, if in the end you come out refined and purified and able to be used once again by God
TEXT: Luke 13:49-52
TITLE: THE FIRE, LORD, NOT THE JUNK HEAP!
The television personality, Arthur Godfrey, likes to tell the story of his acquaintance with an old blacksmith. He used to watch this man at his work, as he took each piece of metal in his experienced hand to examine it. Some he would throw onto one pile, to be worked on later. But others he would glance at and throw onto the junk heap.
Godfrey asked, “Why is it that you throw some onto the junk heap and some over here?"
The blacksmith said, “I can see that some of that metal will be useful when it is put through the fire. There is something in it that will let it go through the fire and come out refined and perfected. But the other metal is useless – it cannot take the fire, so I have to toss it over onto the junk heap.”
That experience made a lasting impression on Godfrey. It became symbolic of some of the experiences he had later in life. He recognized that many of the difficult experiences he had to go through were the very things that tested and proved him, and made him a better man. It became something of a motto in his life. When he faced one of these difficult situations, he would say, “Lord, the fire, not the junk heap!”
What could be so tragic as to be set aside and declared, “No longer useful to the Lord”? How much better to go through the fires of testing and proving, if in the end you come out refined and purified and able to be used once again by God - and used in a more expansive way than you had been used before. The law of the fire equips us for the Lord’s service.
A brickmaker knows that before he can build a house of brick, the bricks have to go through fire. And the Lord knows that before He can build a spiritual house, His building stones, which are human lives, have to go through the fire.
In Luke 12:49-52, Jesus speaks about this refining process under three figures: fire, baptism and division.
Fire in the Bible does 3 things. First of all, it judges. Jeremiah 4:4 says that the word of the Lord will come out & judge the people and cause them to repent, “lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your doings.”
Fire symbolizes God’s holy wrath coming down upon the affairs of men and judging them. This kind of preaching has fallen on unpopular days. We don’t like to hear about the stern judge, and yet that’’ the God we read about in the Bible. The God of love is also a God of judgment. He hates sin with a holy passion, so He comes with fires of judgment.
Secondly, fire refines. Zechariah 13 9 says, “And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested." And Malachi 3:2,3 – “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver.” We know what a fire does when it purifies a metal. It takes away all foreign substances. Only the pure metal comes out. That’s what God’s judgment does – it removes our impurities, it reduces us to just that person whom God can use.
Then, finally, fire transforms. This is the symbol which we get in Leviticus where the offering is laid upon the altar and is burned up. And what happens? It becomes smoke which rises amid becomes a pleasing odor to the Lord. It is transformed from flesh into smoke. This is a symbol of a transformed life. Fire does all these things.
Looking at His life ahead, as He headed toward the Cross, Jesus said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” He longed for this process to get under way because this was necessary in order for His work to be fully accomplished.
Jesus still looks forward to the fulfillment of this. Where will it begin? Not ‘out there’ in the world. The work of cleansing and transformation must begin in the household of God. The impurities in the world grieve God. But the impurities in the Church grieve God even more.
The Church is supposed to be that wellspring of purity which will help purify the world. If that well is polluted, then God’s plan and God’s kingdom are in low estate. So He says, “Judgment must begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17).