Today selected reading continues in the second New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul which was written and sent unto the church at Thessalonica. More specifically, today’s passage begins with the thirteenth verse of the second chapter and continues through to the fifth verse of the third chapter. When the apostle Paul begins this particular portion of the epistle he does so in a manner that is customary and very much similar to what he has done in previous epistles. If you turn and direct your attention to epistles such as the epistle to the Ephesians, as well as the epistle to the Philippians you will find within these epistles something very specific to the epistles and writings of the apostle Paul—namely, a word of prayer and even thankfulness for the churches. Within these epistles—as well as even the epistle unto the Colossians, and the first epistle to the Thessalonians—you will find the apostle Paul expressing a tremendous amount of thanks and gratitude for the churches he helped to establish within the earth. What’s more, is that not only did the apostle express thanks and gratitude for the churches themselves, but also for the testimony those churches had. The apostle Paul was grateful for the testimony the churches had—not only among the various other churches, but also the testimony the churches had within the earth. Perhaps one of the most powerful realities concerning the churches to which epistles were written is the powerful testimony these churches had within the earth. I have to admit that I absolutely love reading the epistles and writings of the apostle Paul unto the churches, for with his gratitude for their testimony also comes a gratitude for the continued work of God within their hearts and lives. If there is one thing we must recognize and acknowledge concerning testimony is that it has never and is never really about us at all. Sure the testimony might be present within our lives, and sure the reality of the testimony might be manifested within and throughout our lives, however, the testimony is never and has never been because of anything we have done in and of ourselves.
I fully recognize and understand that those words might seem shocking and a bit surprising to you, however, I am utterly and completely convinced that more often than not we have a false and misleading concept concerning our testimony. What I mean by this is that we think the testimony is all about ya and is somehow even puts to do with what we desire. I am convinced that nothing could be further from the truth and more often than not we are misguided in our belief concerning testimony and the power that is contained therein. The more I read the writings of the Scripture, and the more I read the writings of the apostle Paul, the more I come face to face with the reality that the underlying and all encompassing power that exists within and surrounds testimony is not anything we can brag or boast of, but rather that which the Lord our God has done. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize that at the very core and at the very foundation of our testimony is a work which the Lord our God has done and performed within our lives. Any true testimony will never have self at the center of it as if we have anything in and of ourselves we need to boast of. All true testimony must have at the very core and foundation a deep appreciation for that which the Lord has done within our lives. Tell me—when was the last time you truly took a look at and examined your life and gained a powerful appreciation for that which the Lord has done in you, through you and for you? I am utterly and completely convinced that when we speak of testimony, and when we speak of the tremendous power of testimony, we must understand it in terms of three different realms and spheres. If we are to truly understand the power of testimony within our lives we must understand it in terms of that which the Lord has done in us—that which the Lord has done in every area of our beings, which touches heart, mind, body, soul and spirit. If we are to understand the power of testimony we must understand it in terms of a second realm, which is that which the Lord has done through us—that work which the Lord has allowed to flow through us as we are a conduit and vessel. To understand the power of testimony in the third realm and sphere is to understand it in terms of that which the Lord has done for us—that which the Lord has performed for us among men within the earth.
I am absolutely and utterly convinced that if we are truly going to understand the power of testimony, and if we are truly going to have a deep appreciation for testimony, we must understand it in these three realms and spheres, for each of these three realms powerfully proves and demonstrates that testimony has absolutely nothing to do with us or what we have done for ourselves. Heaven help us when we turn and transform testimony into that which we have somehow done for ourselves as if we are to be praised and honored for any ability we think we have. I must emphatically proclaim and declare that we must never, we should never, and we can never turn testimony into anything we think we have accomplished in and of our own strength. Consider how when speaking unto Zerubbabel the Lord spoke through the prophet Zechariah and proclaimed that it was not by might, not was it by power, but it was by His Spirit, and His Spirit alone. In order to truly emphasize this particular reality I can’t help but be reminded of a certain parable which Jesus told—a parable which is recorded for us in the beloved gospel of Luke the physician. If you begin reading with and from the ninth verse of the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Luke you will find a certain parable which Jesus told concerning two particular individuals who came into the Temple to pray. On the one hand was a Pharisee who perhaps regularly and routinely made frequent trips and visits to the Temple. On the other hand was a lowly publican who might not have frequented the Temple as often as the Pharisee, and perhaps this particular time was his first time attempting to come to the Temple to pray before and unto the living God. Consider if you will the words and language that is found and recorded in this particular passage of Scripture: “And He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not life up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God me merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
I find this particular parable to be one of the more sobering and somber parables which Jesus declared unto those who would gather themselves unto Him to listen to Him teach, preach and speak. Within this parable Jesus sets forth two different men—each with two different responses when they entered into the Temple to pray unto the Lord God of heaven and earth. This is actually a common occurrence within the gospels, for there is often a contrast that exists between two parties—the ten foolish virgins, the sheep and the goats, the Pharisee and the publican, the two criminals on the cross crucified next to Jesus, etc. Within the gospels there is a strong and powerful contrast that exists between different types of individuals—those who like the five virgins were wise, and those who like the sheep did unto the least of these, and as a result, ministered unto the Lord Jesus Himself. Within this parable we find Jesus again setting forth a powerful comparison and contrast between the publican and the Pharisee, and that centered upon the reality of prayer within their hearts before and unto the living God. If you read the words contained within this parable you will find Jesus describing the Pharisee as one who prayed with himself, and thanked God that he was not like other men were. The Pharisee would even go on to list various other individuals which were present in the earth at that particular time—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, and even the publican who stood within the Temple. The Pharisee would then go on to declare unto the living God his “righteous” deeds, as he proclaimed concerning his fasting twice a week, and of his giving tithes of all which he possessed. In other words, the Pharisee saw his worth and saw his value in what he himself had performed within and upon the earth. The Pharisee examined himself and could only see himself in light of who and what others around him were instead of in light of how God saw Him, and that which the Lord had done within and for him. The Pharisee saw himself in light of his own righteousness and his own righteous and good deeds, and how he was not like other men around him. Oh, heaven help us if the basis of our testimony is based on our comparison to those around us. Heaven help us if we need to compare ourselves to others in order to somehow find value and worth in and of ourselves in the earth. Heaven help us if we can somehow find worth and value in and of ourselves without and apart from the true and living God.
When you read this particular parable you will notice the stark and strong contrast between the Pharisee and the publican, for whereas the Pharisee stood and prayed with himself—perhaps out loud and even in the hearing of this publican—the publican would not so much as lift his eyes toward heaven, and instead beat his breast, and simply asked God to be merciful unto him, a sinner. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus spoke in His famous Sermon on the Mount—not only concerning prayer, but also concerning giving, and concerning fasting. Consider if you will the words which Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount beginning with the first verse of the sixth chapter of the gospel of Matthew:
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou does alms, let not they left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. And when thou prayest, thou s halt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men., Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking> Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:1-23).
Within this particular section found in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus not only speaks to and addresses giving, but He also goes on to address and speak of prayer and fasting. The three realities which were present and manifested within the parable of the Pharisee and the publican are seen being taught here in this particular portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. With this parable Jesus clearly set forth a powerful contrast between those who give and desire to be seen, and noticed, and even recognized and applauded for their giving within the earth, and those who gave in secret without desiring to be seen, heard, or even recognized and acknowledged by those around them. With this parable Jesus clearly set forth a powerful contrast between those who pray in order to be seen and heard by those around them—not only in the streets, but also in the synagogues as well. One thing that is so incredibly telling and revealing when reading the words of Jesus in this particular portion of the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus not only speaks of being seen and heard in the streets, but also in the synagogues as well. Thus within this particular portion of the Sermon Jesus spoke concerning those who sought to be seen and heard outside the house of the Lord (the streets) and those who desire to be seen and heard in the house of the Lord itself (the synagogues). Those whom Jesus references in this particular portion of the Sermon were rightly labeled hypocrites, for they sought to receive their reward here on the earth by being seen, heard, recognized and acknowledged by those in the streets and those in the house of God. Within this particular portion of Scripture Jesus spoke of those who sought to be seen and recognized—not only for their prayer, not only for their giving, but also for their fasting, thus indicating their desire to boast in and of themselves. These particular individuals saw themselves in light of that which they were able to do in and of themselves, and sought not to be seen and heard of their Father which is in secret. Oh heaven help us if we would rather be seen in the streets and in the synagogues by man and could care absolutely nothing about being seen of our Father who is in secret. There is a tremendous and inherent danger when we desire to be seen and heard by men in matters of giving, prayer and fasting rather than being seen by our Father who is in heaven, and our Father who is in the secret place.
There is a particular passage that is found toward the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which is and has long been a passage which strikes fear within the depths of my heart and soul. If you begin reading with and from the fifteenth verse of the seventh chapter, and continue reading through to the twenty-third verse of the chapter, you will not only find Jesus warning of false prophets and speaking concerning the need to bear fruit, but you will also find Jesus making a powerful declaration concerning those who would speak unto Him in that last hour concerning their own works and good deeds. Consider if you will the words and language that is found in this particular chapter within the gospel of Matthew: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:15-23). What I find to be absolutely terrifying and sobering concerning this particular declaration made by Jesus is that there would be those who would dare come into His presence on that day and speak of all that they did and all that they accomplished—not only in His name, but also for Him within and upon the earth. Jesus spoke of those who would dare come unto Him on that day and profess concerning their prophesying in His name, and how in His name cast out many devils. What’s more, is that Jesus went on to speak of those who would dare speak unto them on that day and proclaim how they had done many wonderful works in His name. What is so sobering concerning this particular passage of Scripture and Jesus’ words is how Jesus responded to them once they were finishing boasting of all that they had accomplished—“I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Despite all they had done, and even despite all they had done in His name, Jesus would profess and declare unto them that He never knew them, and would then command and instruct them to depart from Him, for they worked iniquity.
The more I read this particular passage found within the seventh chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, the more I am gripped and captivated by the reality that there is a vast and fundamental difference between our boasting of what we have done and what we have accomplished rather than what Jesus has done and accomplished within our lives. I read the words which Jesus spoke in this particular passage of Scripture, and I can’t help but see a contrast between a testimony that is centered upon what we have done in and of ourselves, and a testimony which is centered upon that which Jesus has done in us, through us and for us. Perhaps the single greatest thing that is missing within this so-called testimony expressed in the presence of Jesus is that which Jesus had done for them. In that moment when they enter into the presence of Jesus these individuals sought to boast concerning themselves, and sought to boast of their own accomplishments rather than that which Jesus had done within their lives. I am reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of the epistle which was written unto the saints which were at Ephesus. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote beginning with the first verse of the second chapter of this particular epistle:
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made night by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in His flesh then misty, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:1-22).
Notice within the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular portion of the epistle written unto the saints at Ephesus that he mentioned absolutely nothing of what they had done in and of themselves. When you read the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular passage of Scripture you will find that what the apostle wrote and spoke of was not anything which they themselves had done, for they had done absolutely nothing. That which the apostle Paul writes unto the saints which were at Ephesus in this particular passage of Scripture was that which God the Father had done through, according to, and by the work of His Son which took on the form of human flesh and gave Himself willingly and voluntarily as a sacrifice before and unto the Lord. That which the apostle Paul writes and speaks of within this passage of Scripture is in fact the incredible power of God working within our hearts and lives to accomplish His purposes, His plans, His will and His desire. This reality is further echoed in the first chapter of this very same epistle written unto the saints at Ephesus beginning with the third verse: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through His blood the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace; wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will: that we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:3-14). It is quite clear when reading this particular passage of Scripture that for the apostle Paul there was absolutely nothing with which we ourselves could boast of. For the apostle Paul the testimony he had—the testimony which each and every one saint of God has—was not a testimony in and of themselves concerning and regarding anything they had done or accomplished, but that which the Lord their God through Christ had done for them, within them, and through them.
I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints of Corinth within the first chapter of the first epistle beginning with the seventeenth verse: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputed of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:17-31). Notice within this particular passage of Scripture that not only does the apostle Paul write and declare that no flesh should glory in the presence of God, but the apostle Paul also goes on to write and declare that he which chooses to glory, let that man or that woman glory in the Lord. Please don’t miss or lose sight of that which the apostle Paul wrote within this particular passage of Scripture, for within this passage of Scripture the apostle Paul not only sets forth the reality that through the preaching of the cross of Christ the Father has destroyed the wisdom of the wise and the strength of the strong, but the Father through Christ has also done away with all glorying and our ability to glory in ourselves. For the apostle Paul there was absolutely nothing we could glory in within our flesh, for there was absolutely nothing in ourselves that deserves or warrants any boasting. Oh, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize that when we speak concerning the testimony which we ourselves have has absolutely nothing to do with ourselves, but has everything to do with that which God through Christ and through the Spirit has done within in, through us and for us.
When you read the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular passage of Scripture in the second and third chapters of the second epistle written unto the saints which were at Thessalonica, you will find the apostle Paul giving thanks to God for them because God did from the beginning chose them to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief in truth. What’s more, is the apostle Paul would go on to write how this same God called them by their gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. As you continue reading the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular passage you will find him writing of Jesus Christ who loved us, has given us everlasting consolation, and has given us good hope through grace. The apostle Paul would go on to speak unto these saints concerning the work of Christ within their lives—namely, comforting their hearts, and establishing them in every good word and work. In the third chapter the apostle Paul goes on to write concerning these saints how the Lord is faithful to establish them, to keep them from evil, and that not only do, but also will continue to do the things which the Lord commanded unto them. Within the epistles written unto the Ephesians, the Colossians, the Philippians, as well as the epistles written unto the Thessalonians we find the apostle Paul thanking God concerning the churches, and thanking God concerning the testimony which they had within and upon the earth—not only in the streets, but also in the synagogues. When we consider the tremendous power of testimony we must consider it in light of that which the Lord our God has done in us, that which the Lord our God has done for us, and that which the Lord our God has done through us. The apostle Paul would never glory or boast in anything he had accomplished, but would boast only in his infirmities and his weaknesses. I leave you with the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the third chapter of the epistle he wrote unto the Philippians saints:
“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follower after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall Renée all even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Philippians 3:7-16).