A message text presented Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Akron Alliance Fellowship Church:
This past week, I was able to take the opportunity to use a paid day from work as a volunteer at a charity of my choice. I selected The Emergency Assistance Center in Northfield Center OH, which is the largest food pantry in northern Summit County. I was able to meet Joyce Hunt, the Executive Director, Lori, one of the staff members, and a group of volunteers. The ministry there has grown in the last couple of years since Joyce came on board, and they have extended their footprint beyond the Nordonia Hills area. They also serve the needs of residents in Twinsburg, Richfield and Boston Heights. The need has grown over the years where they are servicing over 700 clients per month who are in need of food, clothing or even hygiene products, and they always serve every person who comes through the door with a smile and the love of Jesus Christ. A person can select what they want according to guidelines established, and they also get free meats and bread. The Emergency Assistance Center has partnerships with churches in the area and businesses throughout Greater Cleveland—and all without one dollar of government grants or assistance. It is all done through donations and the selfless efforts of 60 volunteers. They are making a difference in the community to thwart hunger and provide a lifeline to overcome poverty. Joyce and the staff readily admit that without all of the volunteers, they could never keep up with the demand and maintain the ministry, and they absolutely believe that God is in the midst of all of it—and that He is to be glorified.
Here is one more way that kingdom work is going on for the glory of God—and giving credit where credit is due…to God and for His glory and purpose. The testimony to others is in the sharing of the love of Christ.
Notice how all of the heart and soul of ministry certainly begins with our collective efforts of service and duty for the kingdom, and yet we see how people sincerely attribute their efforts, and especially our successes, to God. When we see testimonies like this, know that God Himself is at the very center of our Christian faith and ministry.
In order to be able to see God truly at work in your life, you need to take a step backward in order to move several steps forward.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Exalt you in what way?
By giving you fame and fortune? Maybe—but it’s highly unlikely.
By giving you a bigger house and car? Maybe—but it’s highly unlikely.
If you’re entertaining these thoughts, you are missing the point.
In the context of the verse, the act of humbling yourself in the book of James chapter 4 means having a serious approach to who God is when you consider your overall unworthiness before Him.
1 What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires.
4 Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. 5 Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously?
6 But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
7 Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
God wants to see more from you than someone who talks a good game. He wants to see how you are truly following Him, and it’s not in what you say or in how much you are doing for Him.
1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong. 2 Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. 3 For dreams result from much work and a fool’s voice from many words.
1 Samuel 15:22-23
22 Then Samuel said:
Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
Look: to obey is better than sacrifice,
to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and defiance is like wickedness and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He has rejected you as king.
Note that your success in Christ has nothing to do with your own thought process, your own ways of thinking or reasoning—all of these originate in the flesh. In order to take steps forward in your faith and in your ministry before others, you need to take a step back and humble yourself before Him. If you choose not to humble yourself, you render yourself useless within His kingdom.
Here’s a point of controversy, for sure—I’m not saying that you can’t do anything without Jesus. You can do a lot of things without Jesus. In fact, you can do many things and even see results, but be sure that you understand what those accomplishments mean according to His ways and His standards. You may have your own standards, but how do they stand up to God’s standards?
Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
You can do something without Jesus, but in the end, it amounts to nothing.
Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Isaiah wrote about these so-called righteous deeds of the Israelites but he was stating, in reality, that they were nothing more than junk before God because of their hypocrisy. This verse is commonly known as the “filthy rags” verse. Gotquestions.org notes that the word filthy is a translation of the Hebrew word iddah, which literally means “the bodily fluids from a woman’s menstrual cycle.” This is how we are to see how God sees our self-centered approach to the good things that we think we are doing—namely, they are as useless to Him as a soiled feminine hygiene product. 
The things that we think we are doing for the Lord amount to nothing that is worth keeping around. It all comes down to thinking more of yourself than you really are when you are outside of God’s will and live in disobedience to Him.
1 This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and buy yourself a linen undergarment and put it on, but do not put it in water.” 2 So I bought underwear as the Lord instructed me and put it on.
3 Then the word of the Lord came to me a second time: 4 “Take the underwear that you bought and are wearing, and go at once to the Euphrates and hide it in a rocky crevice.” 5 So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me.
6 A long time later the Lord said to me, “Go at once to the Euphrates and get the underwear that I commanded you to hide there.” 7 So I went to the Euphrates and dug up the underwear and got it from the place where I had hidden it, but it was ruined—of no use at all.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9 “This is what the Lord says: Just like this I will ruin the great pride of both Judah and Jerusalem. 10 These evil people, who refuse to listen to Me, who follow the stubbornness of their own hearts, and who have followed other gods to serve and worship—they will be like this underwear, of no use at all. 11 Just as underwear clings to one’s waist, so I fastened the whole house of Israel and of Judah to Me”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“so that they might be My people for My fame, praise, and glory, but they would not obey.
Without obedience, your works amount to nothing.
If Jesus is not in it, it isn’t worth doing it.
If Jesus is not in it, you’ve received your prize for your effort.
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
God proclaims that your fleshly works, on their own merit, amount to nothing more than soiled products or ruined underwear. Your works are only justified when you are justified in your humble relationship with Jesus Christ. Your works will be seen as fruits of the Holy Spirit when you humble yourself before Him. Only then will He exalt you, and it will be in such a way where you will see His fruits in your efforts and all that you will be able to do is proclaim, “He did it!”
How connected are you with your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Just as we cannot live without an air supply, we cannot be fruitful in the world, and even within the body of Christ, without the presence of the Holy Spirit. One of the best examples of this is the study of the verses in John, chapter 15, of the vine and the branches. It reflects the necessity of one very important element in our actions as we exist within a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, and it has everything to do with our obedience to His Word, His commands, and His will.
God wants you to see that He values your relationship with Him much more than your service. Yes, the service is important, but not more important than Him.
If you choose to “do good with works” over a relationship with Jesus Christ, you should know that, at some point in the future, you can’t be fruitful without Him. There is no substitute for Jesus Christ. Your ministry depends completely upon the fruitfulness of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who enables you to minister to others.
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. 6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.
Whether you remain in Him (or not)—he will not desert you or forget about you—He encourages us, and even fortifies us with His very presence.
5 Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. 6 Therefore, we may boldly say:
The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
Jesus is the vine that allows you to be fruitful in your ministry.
Without Him, you cannot bear good fruit.
Jesus will also prune you in order for you to be fruitful. Pruning sounds a little painful, doesn’t it?
When was the last time that Jesus used His pruning shears on you? Was it a moment of discipline? Believe it or not, you should be encouraged by the fact that you were indeed shown the way to repentance, for repentance means that God loves you and desires to draw you back into fellowship with Him. Your return to fellowship means that God is pruning you to return you to fruitfulness.
3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart. 4 In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons:
My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly
or faint when you are reproved by Him,
6 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves
and punishes every son He receives.
7 Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. 11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
What work does Jesus need to do in your life to make you more fruitful? Does he need to do some minor pruning—or more than that?
With the knowledge that obedience to Jesus Christ keeps you fruitful, you can now see God working in your life of fruitfulness by showing the love of Christ to others. He chose you to do the work. What an honor it is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ!
9 “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. 10 If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.
11 “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.12 This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.17 This is what I command you: Love one another.
Your work in Christ will show the love of Christ to others. You were selected to do the work for His glory.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
1 “Why are all of our righteous acts considered filthy rags?” (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2014, from http:// http://www.gotquestions.org/filthy-rags.html
Copyright © Melvin Gaines