Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? Ought you to make new year’ s resolutions? Whatever your opinions are regarding this matter, there is, I believe much merit in thinking carefully and prayerfully about the year ahead. We, at Eastside Baptist Church use most of the month of January to do this, culminating our desires and plans for the year ahead with a prayer week.
On a more personal level I also wish to recommend to you a helpful set of questions compiled by Don Whitney, which I have been using for a few years now to help me to get focused on the year ahead. Here are his first ten diagnostic questions :
1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?
These are all very good and relevant questions and I want to encourage you and I to put these diagnostic questions to good work, for we will surely benefit much on a personal and also on a church -corporate level if we seek to get these things right.
There is one problem however. We might take these questions and treat it as a “to do” list, and use it as an end in itself and become legalistic about it and in the end, loose the joy and the heart in it all, and worse still , give up good resolutions such as these. What I want to do with the help of God’s Word therefore is to provide you with the most essential and fundamental motivation to keep good going !
I will put it to you like this : We need no one less than Jesus Himself to be our Motivator .
My model for this thought is the apostle Paul who himself had expressed many desires and goals in the writing of His letters. The book of Acts reveals that not all of Paul’s plans came to fruition e.g. Acts 16:6ff, where the Holy Spirit re-directed Paul who was desiring to go to Asia to go to Macedonia instead. This re-direction by the Holy Spirit led to the conversion of Lydia and of the Philippian jailer and the establishment of the Philippian church.
What I am saying is this; Paul had goals, ambitions and desires, but these were always subject to the direction in which God the Father and the Holy Spirit and Christ would direct him. Paul was primarily a slave or servant of God. God could change his agenda at any time. He saw himself as an apostle ( messenger) of God and Christ, always led by the Holy Spirit to do the work to which Jesus had called him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).
Paul’s resolutions were motivated by his deep love for Christ. A classic expression of his love for Christ is found in 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5, and in particular in verse 2 : “ For I decided (NIV “resolved”) to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Now whilst this was not Paul’s new year’s resolution, it was nevertheless a fundamental resolution which undergirded his life and which therefore his motivated his actions. This is what I want you to see. Underlying our resolutions is a primary resolution. It may be called “our heart’s desire” , and that heart’s desire will determine how you apply your new year’s resolutions. Paul’s one desire was Christ. See this also in his letter to the Philippians:
· Phil. 2: 21 : ” For me to live is Christ…”
· Phil. 3:7-11 :
Paul’s commitment was driven by the central place that Christ occupied in His life ! That is really the secret to making Christian resolutions that will last . The rest of the information contained in our Scripture reading in 1 Corinthians 2 flows from that primary resolution ! Let us use this as an illustration to show how Paul’s love for Jesus moved his resolution to share the gospel in the Corinthian context
1 Corinthians 2:1–5
Paul reminds them from his first visit (Acts 18:1-17), when he planted this church, on what resolutions this church was founded !
First, notice what Paul did not do in establishing this church :
• V.1 “ I … did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom …”
• V.4 “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom…”. Here he basically repeats what he had already said in 1:17.
What is the point that he is trying to make? Well, the Greeks loved wisdom …persuasive oratory. They delighted in debate and in speech contests. But Paul is eager to make the point that the gospel is not primarily about human wisdom or pervasive speech. So, his goal was not to become better trained as a public speaker in order that he might get through to them and to be ‘culturally more relevant’. The gospel of God is about something far greater ! Do think that Paul did not have reasoning capacities ? Of course he did (Phil 3) , but it was not this capacity that he employed and trusted in, in order to plant or to maintain a church.
Second, notice his strategy for establishing this church!
• V.3: "I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.”
• V.4: “… my speech and my message were… in demonstration of the Spirit and of power"
What is Paul trying to prove here? From a worldly perspective this resolution seems to be a recipe for disaster . A man who is weak , uncertain and trembling must after all have low self- esteem! In 2 Cor. 10:10 his opponents were saying this of him: "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech is of no account." Evidently Paul in his person did not have a very strong, appealing appearance. In fact there may have been something physically wrong with Paul – something which made him chronically weak. We have a hint of this in Galatians 4:13–14 where he tells us : "You know it was because of a bodily ailment [ or weakness] that I preached the gospel to you at first; and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God."
Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to see that they were not born out of human strength or resolution or strategy. They were born out of human weakness, but this weakness (not only in Him, but in them also) was used by God to bring about a wonderful change in the lives of these Corinthian Christians. We can see this in in 1:26-29 :
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
The end effect of this is that we must ask “well if this is not of Paul… then what is it ? “ . The answer is, this is by the power of God! A man or woman becomes a Christian not because they are persuaded by human speech or personalities. They are not converted because they are clever enough to understand the gospel. People become Christians when God’s power, through the agency of the Holy Spirit makes them alive to see Christ for who He really is !
And it goes further. In this case Paul’s goal or resolution was to restore a church that was hopelessly divided. What must a weak preacher do to bring a divided church back to its senses? Here is Paul’s primary resolution :
V.2 “ I decided (resolved) to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
This doesn’t mean that all Paul spoke about was the Lord’s death on the cross. We know from his letters that he spoke about many and practical things pertaining to living the Christian life, even the things that I am encouraging you to think about today, but the fact remains that all this was subject to Paul’s primary desire : His love for Christ and His work on the cross !
All he ultimately did was related to bringing people to the Christ of the cross. His tent making profession by which he kept himself financially supplied was ultimately so that he could bring people to look at the Lamb of God. His teaching and preaching ultimately was aimed to bring people to the word of the cross. His relationships were conducted towards that end (1 Cor. 10 :24). Even his eating and drinking was to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)
The secret of the power of Paul’s message was not found in Paul , but in something external to Paul. The secret power of the Christian gospel lies not in the messenger , but in the Lord of the message. That is why Paul calls himself an apostle (a messenger) of Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:1). Paul’s life changing message of the cross is found in the fact that he is a messenger in the hand of the Holy Spirit, and therefore that message through him will be a powerful, inspired, God breathed authority that comes with life giving force to its hearers.
So, even though Paul was a well trained as a Pharisee, he did not allow his own wisdom or the conventional wisdom of the day to get into the way. All he did was to preach Christ crucified, and thus he became a vessel that the Holy Spirit would use so very powerfully in His day and even today. Many people today are still converted by the words of Paul.
I have shared this message with you on this first Sunday in 2016 to show you two things :
1. That it is good to make godly resolutions when new beginnings arise.
2. That we need a solid foundation for these resolutions i.e. Christ at the center and the heart of our lives and therefore of our convictions. If we merely use our human willpower, then our resolutions usually do not get very far.
Now go back to the 10 resolutions, and humbly, and with the help of God and rooted in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit ask God to bless your year as you abide in Him, seeking to glorify Him in all that you do.