The Courage to be a Great Christian
The Courage to be a Great Christian
Dr. Reggie Ogea
Good morning Church! Today we consider “The Courage to be a Great Christian”. Our biblical text is Matthew 18:1-6.
Matthew 18:1) At that moment the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2) Then He called a child to Him and had him stand among them.
3) “I assure you,” He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4) Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5) And whoever welcomes one child like this in my name welcomes Me.
6) But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me – it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Do you have the courage to be a great Christian? Here’s what I believe to be THE CHURCH’S GREATEST NEED. Churches are populated with more than enough casual Christians. We need Christians to employ the courage to be great. In Matthew 18:1, the disciples engaged Jesus with a question: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” This issue they considered on more than one occasion. In Luke 9:46, they even argued among themselves about who of them was the greatest.
In 1960, at the age of 18, Cassius Marcellus Clay won an Olympic gold medal in boxing. In 1964, at the age of 22, he faced Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing championship. When interviewed before the fight, he proclaimed – “I am the greatest.” His knockout of Sonny Liston is regarded one of the greatest upsets in the history of professional boxing. Cassius Clay later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and his “I am the greatest” designation stuck for the rest of career. On one occasion, Ali boarded a plane. As the flight attendants made their rounds preparing for departure, the one in Ali’s section noticed that the boxer had not buckled his seat belt. She asked him to please buckle up, and Ali smirked, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” To which the stewardess replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane either, now buckle your belt so we can go.” First Baptist Lafayette needs great Christians. Do you want to be a great Christian? In this Matthew 18 text, Jesus affirmed the kind of person who qualifies as a great Christian.
- A Great Christian Must Be a Changed Because children in the first century
were under-appreciated, Jesus highly valued them. Perhaps as he spoke these words, he stood a child in the midst of His disciples. “I assure you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (3) Strepho – to change or to turn in a different direction. Strepho is closely related to repentance. In one of Peter’s sermons in the book of Acts, he appealed to the crowd to “repent and turn to back – strepho – be converted. An authentic salvation experience is a conversion – a turning away from a life of sin without God and trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin.
Christian conversion is a change of direction. It means to turn from the direction you
are going and began to go in God’s direction. A Christian is a changed person, a converted person. When a person experiences a genuine, authentic encounter with Jesus, a change — a conversion takes place. Let me ask you, a Sunday morning crowd in a Baptist church, can you take me to a place and tell me of a time when you had an encounter with Jesus and you placed your faith and trust in Him and Him alone as your way to eternal life? I made that choice when I was eight years old on a Sunday night at the Choupique Baptist Church in Sulphur, LA. What’s your story? Jesus said, “Unless you are converted – unless you change…you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” It’s personal. What about you? Could you stand before this gathered church this morning and share your testimony of when and how you were converted – changed.
You’ll never be a great Christian until you are a Christian. I fear that we have people in our churches today who are claiming to be Christians, attending regularly, serving on committees, involved in ministries, perhaps even holding leadership positions who have never been converted. You are living a lie and you know it. Jesus said, “Unless you change.” Rufus McDaniel testified in the hymn we know so well -- “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart. I have light in my soul for which long I have sought, since Jesus came into my heart.
- A Great Christian must be a Humble “Therefore, whoever humbles himself
like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (4) Humility – tapeínōsis means “to make low.” It is one of those words easiest to understand by lining it beside its opposite. Humility is the opposite of arrogance. An arrogant person is a haughty person, a conceited person, a person ego-driven, displaying a sense of superiority. An arrogant person struts like a peacock. An arrogant person can even strut sitting down. Humility is the exact opposite. A humble person must avoid two extremes -- thinking less of yourself than you ought to think, or thinking more of yourself than you ought to think. Romans 12:3 -- “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” As my grandfather used to say, “It’s never getting too big for your britches.”
I don’t know if Jesus had a favorite verse of Scripture, but only one did He quote on three different occasions -- “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14) Peacock today — feather duster tomorrow. We either humble ourselves, or God will humble us. What we need in our churches is a good dose of humility, brokenness, contrition. We’ve got too many church members strutting around like they’ve swallowed a curtain rod. I’m longing for a time when a spirit of humility would prevail in our churches. This morning, God’s going to call some of you to come down here and kneel in humility and brokenness, because instead of humbling yourself, you have been exalting yourself. A great Christian is a humble person.
- A Great Christian must be a Welcoming “And whoever welcomes one child
like this in My name welcomes Me.” (5) Dechomai = to receive warmly. Jesus affirmed the attitude of receiving and accepting people into the kingdom. Welcoming is compassionately receiving and accepting those whom Jesus receives and accepts. He’s certainly speaking of welcoming children, but the principle involves more than children. Anyone and everyone who receive Jesus as Lord and Christ deserve to be welcomed into God’s heaven. “Welcome one another as God has welcomed you.” (Romans 15:7) Do you know that the only people we need to receive into our church are the people God accepts? And if I read the Bible correctly, The qualifying word is whoever. “God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” I have no right as a Christian to reject people whom God accepts.
All around us are people who need the Lord, and many of them are people who don’t feel welcome. Some of them are left-outs -- those who have become invisible to the average church, the unattractive, the neglected, the overlooked, the unsought. (Delos Miles and Robert Dale, Evangelizing the Hard to Reach) The Left-outs are victims of an emotional barrier, excluded by neglect, perception, invisibility. Because they are perceived as unattractive and worthless, they possess low esteem and value. The Left-outs rarely approach the church and we, the people of God, are reluctant to approach them. All around us are the left-outs. They need friendship. They feel that no one cares. All human beings are created in the image of God, and no one deserves to be a Left-out. Others who don’t feel welcome involve the Opt-outs -- those who have taken an active position against faith, the church, or religious standards. Opt-outs have decided by personal choice that they can live without the church, without faith, and without religious standards. Opt-outs exist in every family, in most workplaces, in all forms of government, in every neighborhood and community. Not even the hardest Opt-outs are beyond the reach of God’s hand. A third category of people who don’t feel welcome are the locked-outs – the excluded, persons whose life-styles are different from the church’s values or traditions. They are different and daring. To reach them will require us to change our attitudes, our ministries, and our programs. But these are the people that Jesus most often welcomed, and we must reach out to them as well.
Harold lived a homosexual lifestyle. Every night, he would take out the phone book and randomly call numbers. If a person answered the phone, Harold would immediately began to talk in vulgar, obscene conversation, which usually ended quickly in a hang up. One night Harold dialed the number of John, a deacon in our church. As Harold began his vulgar, obscene routine, John did not hang up. Instead he spoke back to Harold – Sir, could I ask you a question. If you died tonight, and God asked you as you stood before Him, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say to Him?” This time, Harold hung up. Several weeks went by and late one night, as John was closing up his studio after a photography session, the phone rang, and in a quiet, quivering voice, Harold said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but several weeks ago, I called you on a night like this, and began to speak to you in my routine, vulgar, obscene way. Everyone else I ever called hung up on me, but that night, you didn’t hang up. You asked me a question: If you died tonight, and God asked you as you stood before Him, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say to Him? John said, “I remember.” Harold continued, “I don’t remember anyone else’s phone number I’ve ever called in this way, but I circled your phone number, because that question has haunted me. Some nights I cannot sleep because that question keeps running through my mind. I’m in a dark place, living as a homosexual. Sir, would you help me answer that question? John got Harold’s address. The next day he called me, and asked me if I would go with him to share Jesus with a man he’d just met. He didn’t tell me in advance what I just told you – I’m ashamed to say that I might not have gone with him. On the way to that appointment, John told me the story and then he said, “I knew that I couldn’t go visit Harold by myself, and I knew you were the one person who would not be afraid to go with me. As we drove up to Harold’s dark, dingy apartment, I said to John, “Ok, you’re doing all the talking. Don’t tell Harold that I’m your pastor. You just share Jesus with him.” That night, John shared Jesus with Harold the homosexual, he confessed and repented of his sins, and invited Jesus into His life as Lord and Savior. Then John said to Harold, “This is my pastor and now he will tell you what to do next.” In a flash, the Holy Spirit got all over me – “Ok, Mr. Baptist pastor, I’ve now welcomed Harold into my heaven – will you be willing to welcome Harold into your church?” “Whoever welcomes one child like this in my name, welcomes me.” Are you a welcoming Christian? Is First Lafayette a welcoming church?
- A Great Christian is a Consistent Oh, so you want to know what happened
with Harold? The next Sunday, John brought Harold to church and with John walking beside him, Harold came forward and publicly professed Jesus as Lord. “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” (6) Skandalizo = to cause to stumble or to sin. Her is a stern warning against inconsistency. Anyone whose life is fake, phony, or inconsistent, can cause the downfall, the stumbling that can lead to sin of a young Christian. Jesus said that if we are inconsistent in our lifestyle and it causes another to sin, we would be better off to have a millstone tied to us and drowned at the bottom of the sea. A millstone defined a huge, heavy stone wheel attached to a horizontal bar connected to a donkey or oxen’s harness. As the animal walked around in circles, the wheel rolled on aa raised stone slab, grinding the grain, pulverizing it into flour for bread making. Here’s the warning for all of us -- Inconsistency can contribute to another person’s sin. This is not the only place in the Bible where we are warned about causing others to stumble. Perhaps the greatest challenge we have as Christians is that our walk match our talk. Every one of us is somebody’s example. And the frightening thing is that we may never know who is watching us.
So, the question before us this morning is a question that only you can answer: Are you a GREAT Christian or a CASUAL Christian or NOT a Christian at all?