Living passionately (Sermon Text)

Text: Ephesians 3:1-4:1, primary verses 3:4-12.

We are talking about Living Passionately today. Passion is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot and means something different to many people. There seems to be not only a myriad of opinions, but some differing views on passion’s place.

“The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.”
Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays, 1961.

I ran into more than one person expressing great fear about what type of subjects I may be talking about this morning and if they were “family” friendly.

Does Living Passionately mean living without reason and/or common sense? To clear this up, I went to the dictionary and discovered that passion is a strong feeling or emotion. It also can mean love or it may refer to an object of warm affection or devotion. I want to define it this way for us this morning: passion is what gets us going each day. It is the element in life that defines who we are what we do, and how we react to situations. Let me explain a bit further. Have you heard the expression, “if everything is important then nothing is.” Passion in our life helps us identify our priorities in our life, and we act upon those priorities by spending our time and energy upon them.

The more I thought about it this week, the more obvious it became to me that we all have passion in our lives for something. I am passionate about Starbucks coffee. I am passionate about Dallas Cowboy and Texas Aggie Football. I am passionate about my family and sleeping. You have passions as well. We all have those things that get us out of bed. Some of us are more demonstrative of our passions and some or more reserved. Regardless of outward expression, we all have passion.

I am fortunate to live with someone whose passions show through at most moments of time. His name is Marshall and he lives for the daytime. He is passionate about getting the mail. Passionate about watching golf on TV (think about that for a moment, a 6 year old passionate about TV golf…please don’t call Social Services on me!) He loves his family, his friends, and his church. Of course with Marshall, as with us, passion comes with a price. To date the price of Marshall’s passion is: a broken windshield, a mini-blind, 2 cabinet drawers, stair handrail, and don’t let me forget 4 top-front teeth. 4 front teeth you say, most children only have two. That would be his and his younger sisters. And we wouldn’t trade him for anything. We tried once and they did call Social Services. I am kidding of course.

The bible is full of passionate people. Think about King David for a moment or the Apostle Peter whose zest and zeal for life propelled them. And in the passage we study this morning, the Apostle Paul sheds light onto his passions in life which left an indelible mark on his life and the lives he touched.

In verses 4-6, Paul builds a compelling case that he has every right, on earth that is, to trust in his worldly record to gain acceptance by God.

He was circumcised on the 8th day, a matter of law for all Jewish boys. Circumcision was not just a Jewish custom, it was also used by the Ishmaelites who circumcised in the 13th year. Paul is also drawing a distinction between him and proselytes to Judaism which would be circumcised later in life. Paul is making a statement, I am the original thing.
He one of God’s chosen people, who couldn’t be boastful about that (please note that he was writing to a primarily Gentile audience in Philippi which was a Pagan centric city. One of the current argument in Christendom in the first century was over following the Jewish law in order to be a Christ follower too.)
It is interesting that he calls himself a Hebrew of Hebrews. Hebrew was the insiders term for the people of Israel. Most Israelites called themselves Hebrews while the rest of the world used the term Jew. Paul is telling the Philippians that his is the ultimate insider.
Not only was a Hebrew insider, he was a privileged Jew because he was born into the tribe of Benjamin an significant tribe in the nation of Israel.
If that is not enough, Paul says that he was a Pharisee, a keeper, protector and teacher of the law having been trained up under Gamaliel a well known Rabbi and leader in the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court for the law in 1st century Israel.
And he doesn’t stop there…here is where we see his passion in full view. He not only loved the Jewish religion, he took great strides in protecting through persecuting those who would seek to hurt it. That included persecuting the very church he was now building. Acts 8:1b-3 says that Paul went throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria entering house by house and “dragging off both men and women and committing them to prison.” He calls himself a zealot.
And finally, Paul announces that the life he led would have been found blameless according to Jewish law. He needed know help in obtaining righteousness in the eyes of the law.

He was everything a Jewish boy in 1st century Israel would have ever wanted to be. I grew up wanting to play pro baseball. You may have grown up dreaming of other things. But not in that day, this would have been the pinnacle of Jewish life. Scriptures verify that passion was driving Paul’s life. Pau was LIVING PASSIONATELY…But where was it taking him? Persecuting the church that Jesus died for?

Jesus understood the power of passion in our life when in Matthew 6:21 he says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I believe Jesus is trying to warn us about the passions in our life that lead us.

By now you are on to me. Living passionately is not an “end” it is a means to an “end”. It is the very fuel which takes us through life. As I said earlier. We all have passion in our life. The question we must all consider is where this fuel called passion is taking us. Closer to or farther away from God? Fulfilling our God-designed purpose? Fully utilizing our potential as children of God? Or as in Paul’s case tearing down the Kingdom of God? I personally want to be remembered as a driven and passionate person. But I am most concerned about where I am driving to.

Paul did too, which is why he made a dramatic shift in his life’s aspirations. Read verses 8-10 with me. He freely gave up everything for Christ. He moved from success in the world’s eye to significance in God’s perfect plan. At the root of the change was his passions. They changed from inwardly focused to outwardly focused. And so too should it be with us.

Bob Buford in his book “Halftime” helps us to understand in a more clear way what I am trying to say. He uses the expression, “moving from success to significance”. Moving from a place where your passions are helping you live out of a fundamental need to accumulate, gravitate toward more and better, and utilize tour gifts and talents for personal gain. That is the picture of success. It is an inwardly focused. It’s primary question is, “How much can I get.” Significance, on the other hand, I will define as submitting to God’s plan and measuring yourself based on Kingdom building instead of any other parameter. It is an outwardly focused life. It’s primary question is, “How much can I give away.”

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates were in the news within the last two weeks. Warren Buffett was on the cover of Fortune and Bill Gates was in the WSJ. Seems that they have done quite well financially. In fact, they have rubbed together a few coins worth over $60 billion. The number 1 and 2 wealthiest people in the world. But they weren’t in the news for making money, they were in the news for giving it away. They are giving away their vast fortunes to aid society. Their passion is leading them to personally sacrifice in order to better society. That is a picture of moving from success to significance in a secular context.

How does a person go from Living passionately for personal gain and Living Passionately for God? Paul is a prime example. Paul’s turning moment is recorded in Acts chapter 9. He has been sent to Damascus to continue persecuting the church, but along the way he has a powerful encounter.

3 And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” 7 And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. 8 And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.

We know the rest of the story, because we have just read the cliff notes in Philippians. From chief persecutor to chief defender and builder. From accumulating earthly things and successes to giving himself completely away body, mind, and spirit. In other words, a heavenly minded. From inwardly to outwardly focused. That type of change is what happens when Jesus enters the seen. Folks, we can read all the self-help books in the world. We can buy the tapes, attend the seminars, and devote ourselves to the practices, and they might change some of our outward practices. But Jesus works from the inside out. He first changes our deepest desires (i.e.. passions) which in turns changes our priorities which in turn changes our life choices. Radically different. Transformed. Living Passionately.

Are you in a place this morning where your passions are taking you places you would rather not be? Or perhaps they may be taking you places that are not fulfilling the deepest parts of your soul? Jesus is Lord over all things, including our emotions. He holds the power to dramatically change the things we long for. We have been hardwired to be a passionate people. Passion defines us. It is the fuel that propels us. Passion moves the church into the world for Christ. Are we willing to allow God to reach into our lives and change our passions? Are we willing to allow God to redefine who we are and what we do as individuals and a congregation? Are we willing to Live Passionately for the Kingdom of God?

For the sake of the world I pray that we are.