17th July 2005
My message today is not ``profound'' in the sense of being complicated. It's just about the simplest thing anyone can preach. But at the same time is is very profound: it's just about the deepest and most important truth there is. My subject is: the centrality of God in everything.
I want to look at five different ways that God is — or should be — central; and I want to consider what our response should be.
In the beginning, God [...]— Genesis 1:1
At the very beginning of the Bible, at the very outset of time, we find that God is central. I am not bothered theologically whether the creation of the universe took six 24-hour days or fifteen billion years; the point here is God's authorship. Without him, there would be nothing; because of him, there is something. He is the centre of creation. He always has been, and still is:
[Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.— Colossians 1:17
Notice the present continuous tense here: in him all things ``hold together'': God's authorship of creation was not just in a single act at the beginning of time, but he continues to hold the universe together.
What is a human being? What is the fundamental difference between a human and an animal? The Bible tells us:
God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.— Genesis 1:27
You can read a lot of different ideas about exactly what it means that we were created ``in God's image''; but what is clear is that it puts God right at the centre of our identity.
I understand this to mean that everything that sets us apart from the animals is of God. Everything that makes up ``the human condition'' — compassion, insight, inventiveness, abstract thought, the capacity for emotional pain — is a pale but real reflection of those qualities in God. In other words, it is the centrality of God in our existence that makes us human.
Terry Virgo, the founder of the New Frontiers movement, was once invited to preach on the subject ``Why I am a Christian'', but struggled to prepare this message. He couldn't say he'd cried out to God because his life was so terrible; he couldn't say he'd investigated all the other faiths and found Christianity most compelling; he didn't feel he had a story to tell at all. Then he realised that he was approaching the subject from entirely the wrong direction: the reason he's a Christian is the same as the reason that I am, and that you are: it's because God chose us! He is central in our salvation and we are peripheral. C. J. Mahaney says, ``The only contribution we made to our salvation was our sin.'' All the rest is the work of God in us.
Read the words of Jesus about how our salvation came about:
``The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.''— Luke 19:10, my emphasis
``You did not choose me, but I chose you.''— John 15:16
All of the initiative for our salvation comes from God. We don't make the first move; sometimes we don't even make the second move, and refuse even to respond to him! But Jesus was not content just to make himself available to save those who came to find him; no, he set out to seek the lost, and to save even those who were not looking for him.
And then, what do we become when God has saved us?
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!— 2 Corinthians 5:17
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.— Galatians 2:20
Again, we see that God is central in our new identity: we who are his are described as ``in Christ'' (in this and many other passages of the New Testament), and we are also told that Christ lives in us. If we are in him and he is in us, then our lives are thoroughly mixed in with his. In fact, Paul's words are even stronger than that: in the Greek, they say something like ``...and I live, no longer I but Christ''. He is central.
Just as God is central in our individual salvation, so he is central in the community of the saved:
And he is the head of the body, the church.— Colossians 1:18
A church is not defined by the building it meets in, by its style of worship, by its leaders or by its membership, as important as these things are. It is defined by its head, and that is Jesus. As soon as anything else becomes more important in the church than him, we are in big trouble. Look at the terrible rebuke from Jesus to the church at Ephesus:
``I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. [...] You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.''— Revelation 2:2-5
In threatening to ``remove your lampstand from its place'', Jesus is figuratively threatening to close down the church — even though it is working hard, persevering and enduring hardships for him. Why? Because none of this is important compared with the ``first love'', the love of God himself that is, or should be, at the very centre of our church. This should give us pause for thought: God cares more about our love for him than he does about our hard work, perseverance and endurance.
Finally, look at how the universe ends:
``Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.''— Revelation 22:12-13
God began the universe; he will end it. He will wrap it up when he has completed his plans. In the end, we will see that the whole universe that we perceive today — suns, planets, galaxies and all — is just one of God's projects; just one tiny, feeble reflection of all that he is. ``Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face'' (1 Corinthians 13:12).
The response to this is simple: as we recognise that God is central in creation, in humanity, in our salvation, in the church and at the end of the universe, so we must make sure that he is central in our lives.
We know that God wants to be central in our lives from the story of Mary and Martha:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ``Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!''
``Martha, Martha'', the Lord answered, ``you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.''— Luke 10:38-42
This is a hard story for us to identify with, because we all immediately see that someone has to do the cooking. In this church, someone has to teach Kids' Church. All true: and no doubt Mary did her share of the heavy lifting at the appropriate time. But the question Jesus wanted Martha to ask herself was: where is your heart? What do you really care about? Getting things done? Or me? And that is also the question he asks us today.
The point is that nothing is more important than God himself. Other things may well be more urgent (especially for people with young children), but nothing is more important. So we must not allow anything else to become more important to us.
In closing, let's look at this well-known passage from the letter to the Hebrews:
Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.— Hebrews 12:1, my emphasis
The important point here is that we're warned against two things: one is sin, and the other is ``everything that hinders''. But the ``things that hinder'' in this verse can't be sins, otherwise they'd be covered by ``the sin that so easily entangles'' clause. So what are the things that hinder? The answer is: everything. Anything can become a snare to us when we allow it to become more important that God himself. That applies to morally neutral things like football and music, but also even to good things: political causes, evangelism, even family relationships. Whatever is placed ahead of God will trip us up.
Jesus's words to the church at Ephesus, quoted above, finish with this simple, clear call:
Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.— Revelation 2:5
That same call is there for us today. The call is absolutely not to abandon our families, hobbies and jobs. But it is to give them their proper importance; and to give God his.
What God wants from us most of all is not our hard work or our perseverance, but our love, devotion and worship.
If you're reading a paper copy of this document, the soft-copy can be found at www.miketaylor.org.uk/xian/godcentral3.html