WORDS TO LIVE BY
THREE OF THE GREATEST VERSES OF THE BIBLE
“WHEN GOD STEPPED DOWN – JOHN 3:16”
PASTOR ED YOUNG
APRIL 4, 1993
(Theme music to the movie “Rocky” plays)
What’s the guy doing? Is he gone nuts? I’ll tell you what I’m doing…I am training for a fight. That’s right. I’m in a fight right now and the fight’s been going on for a long, long time. Sometimes I’m winning the fight. I can feel the jabs coming. Other times I’m getting my face kicked in. My opponent? It’s you. I’m fighting you—the people I love, the people I’m called to shepherd. I’m also fighting my wife, my children, my neighbors, the person next to me on the freeway who is trying to merge. I’m in a fight, and this fight stems from a principle found throughout God’s Word.
Philippians 2:3 really puts it in a succinct fashion. The last eight words in Philippians 2:3 start this fight in my life. “Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” Eight words: regard one another as more important than himself. When I obey those words, put the gloves on and we are in the ring fighting. The question for you, the people of The Fellowship of Las Colinas: Do you have a difficult time treating VIPs or bona fide celebrities as more important than you? Do you? I don’t have trouble or a big problem with that.
Six years ago, some friends of mine and I went to Belize, Central America, on a fishing expedition. We stayed on a tiny island, a remote fishing camp, off the coast of Belize. This place had about twelve rooms, cement floors. You ate in a little, thatched-type hut area. We thought, “Peace, quiet, serenity for a couple of days.” We walk up to this structure—if you could call it that—and it was packed. Jammed! Grand Central Station is what it looked like.
We discovered that Harrison Ford was staying there. That’s right, “The” Harrison Ford. And we’re thinking, “What in the world is Harrison Ford doing here in Belize out in the jungle?” He was filming a movie. And we sat back and watched people fall all over themselves trying to take care of Harrison Ford. “Yes, Mr. Ford.” There were five or six boats waiting for him, helicopters flying in giving him packages and things of that nature. Everyone was catering to Harrison Ford. We kind of sat back, the cool Texas tourists, and thought, “This is ridiculous. People going that crazy for Harrison Ford.”
However, one night Harrison walked over to our table and began to talk and we were all smiles. Those million dollar smiles, you know. When he said something to us that bordered on being funny, we would give every joke a “10” laugh. “Could I have my picture made with you, Mr. Ford?” and sure enough, we got our pictures made. Now, we weren’t treating him any differently than a normal person. I thought, “Ed, you treated him maybe a little different than you would the ‘common’ man or ‘common’ woman.”
The fight doesn’t start when you tell me to treat Harrison Ford more important than myself or President Bill Clinton. The fight starts when I am asked to treat you as more important than me; and I run head-on with this principle throughout Scripture. Treat the gas station attendant, the minorities, Democrats, Republicans, even Buffalo Bills fans, as more important than yourself; that’s a tough one to follow. That’s a tall order for a self-centered man like me. My instincts are for self. I want to take care of Number 1. I want to do what makes me look good, what makes me feel good, what gives me pleasure. That’s the name of the game.
Look at Verse 4 in Philippians 2. It says, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” The Bible never commands us—I think it’s very interesting—to look out for ourselves. It doesn’t. “Thou shalt take care of number one.” It doesn’t say that because it’s a natural thing. It’s a supernatural thing to really put other people’s concerns above our own, to treat other people like bona fide VIPs, bona fide celebrities. That is when the action starts. What am I talking about? Do you realize Philippians 2:3 is one of the best definitions of love that you could find anywhere? Regard one another as more important than yourself. This definition of love is crystallized in today’s section of Scripture, John 3:16.
Take your Bibles and turn there. John 3:16, a popular verse, a verse that most all of us recite. In fact, you watch NFL football games, after the extra point, there is a banner “John 3:16.” You usually see that rainbow head guy waving. He’s the one that makes all the banners. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Think about that. God, I’m talking about the sovereign God of the universe, loved you, loved me, self-centered me, self-centered you, so much that He put our needs above His needs and He stepped down the staircase of heaven with a baby in His arms; and His Son, the second person in the Trinity, died on the cross for all of our iniquities, for all of our transgressions, for all of our failures, and rose again.
God’s motive is love and He wants us to spend eternal life with Him. If you want to know about eternal life, buy the tape from last week. We talked all about it. Remember this though, we matter so much to God that He could not stand the thought of people that matter to Him living separate from Him in eternity. God provided a way and the way is a person. God loves us. He didn’t just say, “I love you,” He demonstrated it. He demonstrated it. He went on record. Then He said, “I’m going to do something about it,” and He gave His best.
See the gloves right here? Everlast. The number one name in boxing. A jump rope. Most fighters use these. If you’re serious about obeying Philippians 2:3 and that command being crystallized in John 3:16, if you’re really committed to stepping into the ring, I’m going to tell you something, you are going to be involved in a fight too. You are. If you don’t want to step into the ring, if you don’t want to know what life is all about, if you don’t want to have joy and love, don’t pick up the gloves nor jump the rope. But if you do, hey, it’s going to be the greatest thing of all time, as Mohammed Ali would say…of all time.
Once you step into the ring, suddenly you will be aware of all these opportunities that you have to put other people’s needs before your own. They come up all the time, and if we didn’t have God helping and assisting us, we would go through life on auto-pilot, being self-centered and being concerned about self and me and my and mine.
I had this occur in my life a couple of nights ago. I was thinking about this principle, “Ed, you really need to put into practice this command. Treat others as more important than yourself. Lisa and I go to bed. We have one of those Fisher Price intercom things. At 2 AM, EJ, our 16-month-old son must have been having a nightmare or something. He starts crying, echoing throughout the house. He was so loud, even Dominic, the dog, was barking in the yard. I heard it. Lisa was still asleep.
I did something, guys, really cool. I acted like I was asleep. Didn’t move and thought, “I hope she wakes up.” She didn’t. She was still fast asleep. So I did the old elbow trick. I acted like I was sleeping and I nudged her like that, hoping it would startle her, she would hear EJ, her motherly instincts would take over, and then she would sprint to his room. It worked like a charm. I did it. Boom! She was up. I acted like I was asleep. Then I was trying to go back to sleep and I couldn’t. I felt the Lord speaking to me, not audibly, but saying, “Ed, you missed it again, did you? Here you are lying in your bed of self-centeredness. You missed another golden opportunity to put someone else’s needs above your own.”
God wants us to believe in Jesus Christ, John 3:16 tells us. The word “believe” does not mean, “I believe in you. Hey, I believe. Okay, I believe.” The word “believe” means to put your trust, faith, confidence in the fact that only Christ can save you; and the moment in time that you make that commitment, right at that point, you are adopted into the family of God and someone becomes your owner and His name is Jesus. Jesus Christ owns you from that day forward. I know some of you are thinking, “I see what you are saying, Ed. Regard people as more important than myself. I understand John 3:16 and that’s beautiful and everything, but that’s not me. I’ve tried to do this and I have a tough time treating my wife, my children, the guy at work who is kind of a jerk, as more important than me. That’s just not me. I cannot do that.”
I have some great news for you today. I’m talking about some wonderful news. Our God is committed. He is committed. He is determined to take raw material like you and me, natural man, natural woman, and put inside of our lives supernatural characteristics. In other words, what we admire in the character of God, is what God can give us the power to reflect in other people as we put their interests above our own. When we do that, God smiles. When we do that, people respond to God’s love. When we do that, it opens up many circumstances, many opportunities to share what Jesus has done for you. It really does.
How does God do that? Okay, I’ve committed my life to Christ, I’ve received Jesus. Jesus owns me. What happens? How does this deal work? Philippians 1:6 tells us. Take your Bible and turn to Philippians 1:6. If you’re serious about stepping into the ring, if you’re serious about your relationship with Christ. You’ve received Him. He owns you, and you want to step into the ring. Let me tell you what Jesus does. Jesus doesn’t just say, “Well, I have some raw material here. The person is saved, the person is a Christian, I’ll see you later.” He doesn’t say that. Look what He says in Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He—that’s Christ—who began a good work in you—that’s your salvation experience, the moment you’re adopted into the family of God—He will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
God doesn’t start something and say, “Oh, well. I’ll leave it.” He always finishes things. You’ve been watching the Final Four? Yesterday I heard Billy Packer say, “Well, the Michigan team, they are full of great finishers on the break,” meaning when they had a fast break, they finished it. They put the ball in the hole. The Ultimate Finisher is our Lord Jesus Christ and here’s how He finishes you and me. We’re owned by Jesus and here’s what Jesus says, “Okay, I can tell this person wants to step into the ring and right now I will commission the Ultimate Trainer, the Holy Spirit of God, to train Joe Christian, to train Jill Christian, to be other-centered instead of self-centered. We couldn’t do it by ourselves.
The Holy Spirit of God does it and the first thing that Jesus does when He comes into our lives is He places the Ultimate Trainer, the Holy Spirit, right there. The Holy Spirit is there and He’s going to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to change us, to transform us. He will if you let Him. In fact, the Holy Spirit uses a training procedure thousands and thousands of years old. It’s called the “3M” approach. He uses motion, He uses motivation, and He uses meditation. Motion, motivation, and meditation.
Let me briefly show you how He does this. I want to show you how He’s taking a self-centered man like me and transforming me into an other-centered person because again, naturally, it’s not me, naturally, it’s not you. Supernaturally though, if you allow the Holy Spirit to train you, it is you.
A while back I received some basketball tickets to an NBA game. It was packed out. Four seats. Two were on the front row. Two were in the nosebleed section, the upper deck, and a friend of mine said, “Where would you like to sit? I know you like basketball.” Being the spiritual giant that I am, and being this other-centered person that I am, I said, “I’ll take the front row seats.” He had told me, “Hey, these other two people, they don’t know anything about basketball. They could stay in the upper deck and talk about the weather and we could really get into the game. That sounds great to me.”
I’m thinking to myself, “What an opportunity! Here we are, front row, the best seats in the house, watching this game.” First quarter, I’m sitting there, eating popcorn, drinking the Coke, and you could hear every grunt, every ball coming off the rim. You could see the dunks. You could hear the coach barking out signals and I was really caught up in the game. Out of nowhere, I’m talking about out of left field—because I’ve committed my life to Christ, because I’ve stepped into the ring, because I’m in a fight—my trainer, this Holy Spirit guy, between rounds of breaking the action, He begins to kind of motion me, “Hey, Ed. Here is a golden opportunity.”
He’s telling me this—not audibly again, but through my spirit—“Ed, here’s a golden opportunity for you to put someone else’s interest above your own. See those two people in the nosebleed section, Ed, they’ve never been down on the front row.” Well, I thought, “That’s true. But they don’t like basketball like me so I enjoy the seat.” He continues to motion me, “Ed, here’s an opportunity now. Remember when you blew it the other night with Lisa? Now…come on!”
“Holy Spirit, thank you so much. I serve you. I’ve committed my life to you. I pastor a church. I speak and tell people about Christ at weddings and funerals. I want to sit here in my seat of self-centeredness on the front row.” Then He tries the second end. He doesn’t stop. This trainer is phenomenal. The second end: He begins to motivate me. Motivate me. “Ed, get up! Get up, Ed. Get up. Unclench your fist from around the chair. Get up! It’s time to move. Get up! Walk all the way up and give your seat to the person.” I said, “Thank you for the motivation, but no, I’m not going to do it because again, I don’t get a chance very often to see a game like this. I’m on the front row.”
I’m beginning to go back and forth and I’m telling you, the gloves are on now. It was a fight between this guy right here, Mr. Self-Centered Person and the call to be other-centered. So I had the gloves on and I was fighting. I was sitting there in the game with popcorn and drink, and the Holy Spirit would come by and go, “Okay, Pow! Pow! Go get him!” And he would come back for the motivation, “Pow! Pow!”
Then this Trainer, He pulls out the heavy artillery. He walks up to me and He asks me to meditate and He begins to go, “Ed, I really didn’t want to do this, but Philippians 2:3 says to treat other people as more important than yourself. John 3:16, a verse you know very well, a verse you speak on often says, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son.’ What if God had the attitude that you are having right now? You’d still be out in the parking lot or you might be way up there in the nosebleed section in the cheap seats. God would say, ‘Hey, well, I could put Ed’s interests above my own, but I won’t.’ But God didn’t say that. He did do it. He put the world’s interests above His own, Ed. Look at the cross, Ed. Look at the cross. Meditate on that for a second.”
And folks, as I turned (and all of this dialogue happened in about a minute) and started looking at the cross, I thought, “You’re right. You’re right.” So I get up and I walk all the way up to the upper deck, hand my stub to this individual, and this individual said, “Oh, don’t do that. You go ahead and sit down on the front row,” and I thought, “All that for nothing!” Then I did give the ticket up. The person sits on the front row and I felt great. I felt God smile on me. I knew I was doing what He said and I felt God saying to me, “That is the way I want my man to act!”
When we act that way, we reflect His characteristic, He’s going to say, “That’s the way I want my woman to act, my child to act, my teenager to act, or my single to act.” Are you having those brief moments of reward in your marriage, in relationships, on the freeway, with people you wouldn’t necessarily like? Are you treating people like a celebrity, like a VIP? God treated me that way. He treated you that way. “For God so loved the world….” In other words, He treated the world like VIPs. He put our interests above His interests and sent Jesus.
Here is what’s going to happen, though. If you walk out of this Arts Center and you say, “I’m going to commit my life to Christ. I’m going to step into the ring,” the fight will start. I’m just here to tell you. You’ll lose some, but you’ll win some; and suddenly, you’ll see that you’re winning more than you’re losing because His Holy Spirit is with you. He’ll keep doing the three M’s. He’ll keep motioning you. He’ll keep motivating you. He’ll keep you meditating on the Scripture.
I pray in my life and in your life that we reflect this attitude that was in our Lord, treating others as more important than ourselves.