I was honored to preach at a few church gatherings while visiting India. The Mathews have planted several churches and mentored leaders to shepherd them.
We visited one church which was planted in a village on the outskirts of Calcutta. Every week a group of 30 – 40 people packs out a small room and overflows onto the walkway outside. Before we arrived I was told the believers were full of fervent faith and this is exactly what I witnessed from these passionate disciples when I arrived.
We sang some worshipful songs together and then the floor was turned over to me. I didn’t know I’d be preaching until the cab ride over. I had prayed the Spirit would bring to mind what He wanted to share and decided to teach on a few messages that have been in my heart lately.
I helped exegete a difficult part of the sermon on the mount and show how Jesus promised an incredible freedom to those who are generous.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
I helped them understand that Jesus wasn’t being random when he talked about the “lamp of the body” in between two passages about our relationship to money. “The eye is the lamp of the body,” was a jewish proverb and Jesus, being the brilliant teacher that he was, poetically played off of a common saying of the day referring to “good eyes,” and “bad eyes.” If someone was said to have a “bad eye,” they were stingy people and if they had a “good eye,” they were generous. Jesus was saying, “If you are generous, you are open, free, ‘your whole body will be full of light.'” And a stingy person isn’t merely holding onto their money, but becoming closed, fearful, and withering their freedom away.
I then tied that thought into John 8’s “If you Abide in my commands, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” I dared the listeners to step out in faith in the difficult teachings of Jesus. To forgive their worst offenders, to live with an open hand of generosity, to choose to be set apart in conduct. I challenged them to dare to get to know their savior with more intimacy by walking in his commands and choosing his wisdom when temptation comes. I explained that when a difficult situation arises, like choosing to forgive someone or stay bitter, they should see it as an opportunity to get to know the way Jesus thinks more and therefore to get to know Jesus, himself more. By choosing to walk in his ways we are choosing the way of the first disciples, who, when presented with something challenging Jesus did, had the choice to follow him through it or turn back, but not both.
Essentially, as you abide in his commands (remain obedient to them over time), you get to know the truth in the Hebrew sense (relationally, experientially) and not merely in the Greek sense (mentally, abstractly). It’s through that knowing that you are set free. You become friends with the Truth and know it with depth, insight, and experience to draw from. Furthermore, since Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, you’re actually getting to know Jesus with more intimacy.
I wrapped it up with an admonishment from Romans 7 to see their new identity as a “slave to righteousness” rather than a slave to sin. As we trust God that our new identities in Christ are truly who we are, intentional sin becomes much less natural for us. It becomes more natural to love our neighbors and obey God.
The believers seemed encouraged. ‘Amens’ and ‘Hallelujahs’ would randomly erupt as my friend Rebekah translated my sermon into Bengali. I felt led to end it with a ministry time. The congregation began to pray with passion as John Mathew and I prayed over them. Many were touched deeply. Some were overcome by the Spirit and fell to the ground, while others wept as the Spirit revealed God’s truth and love to them.
Finally, I got the opportunity to pray for the village pastor and his family in their home across the path. I was blessed to meet them and hear their hearts. They asked me to please come back again and I hope I can!
After, I wondered how my sermon came across through the translation. You never know in a situation like that. John and Rebekah thankfully brought it up on the way home and told me that it was very encouraging. Actually, John said some humbling and encouraging words that I don’t want to repeat here for the sake of my humility. God was very good to us that evening.
The one thing that I will share is, from this moment on, John and the team referred to me as “pastor.” Biblically I’m not shepherding anyone officially back home, but for them is was a title of respect given to those who lead God’s people. And it honored me greatly.