God's Plan for Your Relationships

Sept. 21, 2013 Paul David Tripp

Session Transcript

Paul David Tripp: Well, it has been a privilege for me to be with you. Thank you for all your words of encouragement. Pray for me. If you think of the name “Paul Tripp,” here’s what to pray:

Pray that I will live what I teach. I am more and more aware of the gap between what I say and what I struggle to live.

And do pray for Luella. There’s a lot of sacrifice for a ministry wife, and I’m married to my hero. She is deeply more mature than I am. We almost have a parental relationship. I’ve learned to be okay with that. I do say to her often, and she doesn’t mind me saying this, “Okay, Mom. You’re right.” I do argue with her at points where I know I am wrong—in the beginning. So pray for Luella. She lives with the real me.

Well, I want to get practical with you, as if what I’ve said so far isn’t practical. And I want to actually answer the question: What does it look like for you to be a woman who helps women? What does that mean?

I am very afraid that we throw these things around, we give a scent to them, but we really don’t understand where the rubber meets the road, what it actually looks like, what does that lifestyle actually mean?

I want you to turn in your Bibles to Colossians 3, beginning with verse 12. This is a passage that comes across as being incredibly radical. It’s a radical passage to us. But if we were to study our way through Colossians and you get to these verses, there’s no prediction by Paul that he’s about to say something radical. He doesn’t say, “Okay, people, take a deep breath. This is crazy, radical stuff,” because it wasn’t intended to be radical. It’s radical to us because of how far we have moved away from the lifestyle that’s in this passage. Does that make sense?

So we’ve drifted so far—I’m talking about the Church of Jesus Christ—from the norm that’s in this passage, that the norm of this passage seems incredibly radical.

So having said that, fasten your seatbelts and put on your crash helmets. Here we go!

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 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 (Col. 3:12–17).

Now let’s look at the first few verses: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (vv. 12–14).

Now, why that list of character qualities? Notice the passage is written to every believer. This is God’s plan for ten out of ten people in this room—no exceptions. There is no one who has been given God’s grace who has been intended by God just to be a recipient of grace. No one! Was that loud enough? No one!

The Church of Jesus Christ is shockingly passive—shockingly. The studies say that 80 percent of the monies that are contributed to Christ’s Church are contributed by 20 percent of the people. There was a study not too long ago that actually proposed in evangelical churches 10 percent of regular attenders have never put a penny in the plate.

I don’t care what size your church is. If it’s a church of fifty or 5,000, you will never hire enough ministry professionals to cover all the spiritual needs of any given week of any time in the life of that church. It won’t happen. So this is God’s total involvement paradigm. That’s what it is. All of God’s people are called to this, and we have to stop the drift. It’s hurting us. The Church is not meant to be a place where you can find ministry. The Church is meant to be itself an organic ministering community. There’s a huge difference.

You can feel my passion. In a real way I’ve given my life to proclaiming this message.

Now, why these character qualities? Why did Paul come up with this list? Where did he get this list? You can talk; it’s legal. (laughter) Where did he get this list? It’s the fruits of the Spirit. Well, where did that come from? It’s the character of Christ.

Now, once you say that, you know your position in the work of God. Literally, using the example of clothing, Paul is saying, “Put on Christ.” You carry Christ to one another. It makes me weak in my knees when I say it. Bring Christ to one another. Yes, it is true; Jesus is the answer!

What he’s saying is, all of us, every person, has been called and positioned by God to be His ambassadors. Everyone in this room has been called to be an ambassador of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Now, what is the only thing an ambassador ever does? Represent.

This is amazing to me. The invisible King intends to make Himself visible through His people who carry His presence to one another. How amazing is that?! It boggles my mind when I say it. The invisible grace of God is meant to be made visible as people who received that grace now carry that grace to one another. Welcome to your employment! I’m serious.

Every day you are called to be the look on the face of Jesus, to be the tone of His voice, to be the touch of His hand, to be His gentleness, His patience, His forgiveness, and His love. People need to see Jesus. People need to see Jesus. People need to see Jesus. People need to see Jesus.

People need to see Jesus because what happens is my sin looms large in front of me, and it defeats me. The problems of life get me down, and they cloud my vision of the One who is my hope. I need you to carry Jesus to me. I need it all the time. I need it because no one this side of eternity is a grace graduate.

I need it. I need people in my life who are the voice of Jesus, who are to me the love of Jesus, who are the hand of Jesus. That’s what I need.

Now, I would just like to say to you, you have no ability at all to do what I just described—none, none. You just don’t have any ability. Don’t say, “Yeah, I’m gonna do that!” because you’ll be one scary Jesus. (laughter) If you think you can do this, you won’t be reflecting Jesus. You’ll be reflecting something, but it won’t be Jesus.

You see, people of grace who intend to carry grace will be driven to the throne of grace in order to give that grace. That’s the way it works. People of grace who have been given grace will be driven to the throne of grace in order to be able to carry that grace to one another because you can’t do it.

Now this brings us to this point: There are really only two ways of living. There really are. You live as owner of your life, or you live as an ambassador. And this just blows apart our normal conceptions of ministry.

Here’s our normal formalistic view of ministry: I own my little life, and I step out of my life as an act of submission to God, and I give Him a little piece of my life—hero that I am—for an episode—short-term-missions, me. . .I went to Africa and built stuff. . .shared the gospel today. And so you give God an episode of your life, and then you step back out of ministry and back into your life. That’s not a biblical view of ministry.

Hold on to your seats: Your life is a ministry—every dimension of your life. Every dimension of human life is a forum for ministry.

Now, you have to ask yourself the question right now: If we were to watch the video of your existence, would we see an owner or an ambassador? Oh, I find that so convicting. I would like to think of myself as an ambassador.

I told you that my family would take these vacations to the Jersey Shore, and we still gather as a family every summer for a week. I have four children—three boys, they’re all married; my daughter, Nicole is not married. And we’re a “foody” family, and we cook for one another. And it really is amazing the food we eat.

My contribution that week, because I like to make things that our kids remember that I would make for them, because I love to cook, is the world’s best cinnamon rolls. No, there is no competition. (laughter) These are the best. These are an edible glory. I don’t know about you, but I love how much the glory of God in creation is edible. (laughter) I just do.

And I know what’s going to happen. I will get up earlier before anyone else, and I will make the rolls, and I’ll put them in the oven, and that gorgeous smell will start wafting down the hallway, and my children will begin to rise out of their beds and say, “My life is worth living because Paul Tripp is my father, and he makes rolls.” (laughter) I know it’s going to happen. It’s predictable. The angels sing.

And so I’ve made the rolls. They’re in the oven. And I’ve now positioned myself in a chair that can sort of look down the hallway, because I’m ready for the worship that’s going to come. (laughter) My oldest son, Justin, comes down the hallway, and I’m getting ready for him to kneel, and he says these words to me: “Dad, do you mind if I make something else for breakfast?” (laughter)

I’m having trouble even processing the words at that point. I want to say, “Of course I mind. What are you talking about?” And then he says this: “My wife”—interloper that she is in this family—“doesn’t like to eat things so sweet for breakfast.” Some people just can’t recognize glory. (laughter)

And he says, “So I’d like to make her some eggs.” Eggs. Eggs. Scrambled eggs. Beaten apart, former embryos. (laughter)

Now, I would like that not to bother me, but it does. I’m mad. I’m personally offended.

And the rolls are done, and we’re sitting at breakfast, she positions herself right in front of that pile of glory. You know, most people don’t think you can actually hear the sound of people eating scrambled eggs, but I could. (laughter) It sounded like this to me: “Hrrrgggh! Hrrgggh! Hrrgggh! Hrrgggh!” I can’t believe it, and I just know she will break down, and she’ll just pull a piece of one of those rolls off and say, “Ooooh, father-in-law, I was wrong. You are right. I curse my eggs. I run to your rolls.” (laughter) But she doesn’t.

Now, you get the point? That’s all about me. It’s all about my glory. It’s all about what I want. It’s all about me being the center. It’s all about me being right. It’s all about me having control. It’s fundamental, scary, anti-gospel me-ism. Sad. I am so busy loving me, I have no time to love Jesus or to reflect the love of Jesus to the life of those people.

Listen, you know that’s your struggle. And so as you accept your ambassadorial calling, you say, “Jesus, I have no ability to do this, but I am not alone. You have literally unzipped me, got inside of me by Your Spirit. Oh by the power of Your Spirit, in some way today help me to be Your ambassador.”

And that’s a beautiful thing because—hear this: No one then gives grace better than a person who is deeply persuaded they need it themselves. It’s that accepting the grandest calling that drives you to the throne of grace, that makes you thankful for grace and desires to give grace to someone else.

Now that’s just the beginning. Look what Paul says next: “If you’re going to do this, then you have to have the peace of Christ ruling your hearts.”

He’s not first talking about horizontal peace. He’s talking about something within you, something between you and Christ. And if you’re going to accept your ambassadorial calling, there’s two things that will just destroy that, that will just be constant obstacles—fear and amnesia.

First is the fear that as I minister, I will begin to be exposed as being such a poor example of the gospel I teach. If you are afraid of that, you won’t minister. And there are hundreds of thousands of Christians who are afraid. Listen, your qualifications for ministry is Christ. It’s Christ. He measured up. Stop trying. It’s God’s choice to use unfinished people to carry the message of His grace. It’s God’s choice. You didn’t get a vote.

And people say, “But won’t that harm the message of the gospel? I’m such a poor example.” Listen, your sin preaches the gospel. Your weakness proclaims the gospel. Go in your brokenness. Go in your brokenness because if you wait to be unbroken, you won’t minister to anyone because you’re too busy wanting to be something to celebrate the fact that Christ was something for you. That fear just destroys the ministry.

Second is amnesia. It’s a corollary. You must remember your identity in Christ. You get your identity vertically. You get your deepest sense of well-being vertically.

Listen, if you don’t have that, you will shout for it horizontally, and what you end up doing is you end up asking people to be our own personal messiah. “Tell me I’m good. Tell me that I was helpful to you. Give me identity. Give me a sense of well-being.” That just destroys ministry, because it makes it too scary because I’m too attentive to your responses. I wish I didn’t have that struggle, but I do.

The last several years (I’m not doing this now) I was the evening preacher at Tenth Presbyterian Church—historical pulpit, church faithful to the gospel for over 200 years. And there was a particular leader at Tenth that just didn’t understand the glory of my preaching, and he would get together with me and put me through first-year seminary students’ tutorials in preaching. I appreciated it so much. (laughter) That’s a lie.

And I would like to think that that didn’t affect me, but I would stand up to preach, and everybody in the congregation had a normal-size head but this guy, and he had the eyes of the Mona Lisa—you know that wherever you stand, they’re looking at you. (laughter) And it was like he had a big clipboard, “No, not yet.”

I even—this is sad to admit—I even was preparing one week, and I came to a certain point, and I thought, This will get him. He’ll come to me after this sermon, and he’ll say, “Paul, I was wrong. Your preaching is amazing.”

That is idolatry. That’s a preacher who’s an identity amnesiac. And so we’ve got to preach to one another the security of our identity in Christ, because it’s only when you embrace your identity in Christ, when you embrace the utter completeness of who you are in Him, that you stop looking for life horizontally. Stop looking for life horizontally. Your people in your life—your husband, your children, your friends—will never be your personal messiah. Situations won’t make you feel good. Locations won’t do that for you. Earth will never be your messiah.

There is a Messiah, and His work is complete. You’ve got to have that peace in your heart if you’re going to move forward into ministry.

And then Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (v. 16). Why doesn’t he just say “Word”? Why does he say, “Word of Christ”? Because he means “gospel.” The Bible is literally, from first verse to last verse, the story of Jesus. That’s what the Bible is about.

Now, you forget that this whole Book is the biography of Jesus, the grand redemptive story—maybe it’s better to say it this way: The Bible is a theologically annotated story. It’s a story with God’s essential notes. But it’s the story of Jesus. If you forget that, then you will turn this Book into a set of wisdom principles and a set of rules. And what you will do—this happens all the time in ministry—you will bring rules to people, and you will bring principles to people.

Now, hear what I am about to say, because this is radical: If all people needed were rules and principles, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come.

We don’t believe in a system of redemption. Enough of systems of redemptions. We believe in a Redeemer. And the principles and laws of the Word of God have no power whatsoever to change you if there’s not a Redeemer behind them. There’s too much “here’s-what-I-think-you-ought-to-do” ministry. That’s only where it goes “here’s what you should do.” That completely forgets the person and work of the Redeemer.

Now, what we’re talking about is the now-ism of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here what I’m about to say. Jesus didn’t just die for your past. He didn’t just die for your future. He died for your here and now. He died for every struggle of the here and now. The gospel is for now. We need to become accustomed to preaching the gospel to believers, because that’s what I need. I need the gospel of Jesus Christ again every day.

And so we need to help people to understand what the now-ism of the gospel means. What does it mean to have a marriage that sits in the middle of the gospel? How will that radically change the way a husband and wife relate to one another? What does it mean to have the gospel surround your parenting? How will that change the things that you do and say as a parent? What does it mean to have a gospel view of your finances? A gospel view of your physical body? A gospel view of everything in your existence? Because the gospel is not just an aspect of theology. The gospel is your life. It’s everything. It’s the window through which you and I are meant to look through everything in our existence.

Let me ask you: Could you write ten pages on the gospel in your marriage? Could you? Five pages? A page? A paragraph? A sentence?

Ambassadorial calling, essential that the peace of Christ is ruling in my heart so I live with that rest in Christ, understanding the now-ism of the gospel so I’m carrying the gospel to you. I haven’t reduced the Bible to a bunch of rules and principles.

And then Paul says, “Teaching and admonishing one another.” Who’s doing that? Who’s doing that? Who’s doing that? Everyone to everyone. I mean, this is an amazing concept that the Church of Jesus Christ is meant to be a gathering of teachers. Everyone is a counselor.

Now, I think it’s impossible to have a human relationship without being a counselor. And I’m not concerned about just the formal secular counseling that’s out there that isn’t biblical. I’m concerned about the 10,000 conversations every day by people who are giving life advice who don’t realize that they are.

If Greta May Snorts calls you, and she tells you that she’s found a joint in her son’s book bag—for those of you who are not up on current culture, I don’t mean a knuckle; I mean marijuana. What you do next is gospel ministry. It may be an anti-gospel ministry, Christ-forgetting, legalistic, “This is what you should do right away” without ever considering the personal work of Christ and reflecting His grace in this woman’s life. But you can’t have a human relationship without being in some form of ministry position, because that’s how God designed life to work. So everyone is a teacher.

Now, in this context, what does it mean to teach? Here’s what it means: It means I, in this encounter with you, will help you to look at life through the lens of the personal work of the Lord Jesus Christ, because it’s the Word of Christ dwelling in me richly that is the content of the teaching I’m going to do for you. It’s how does this particular thing that we’re talking about look when it’s looked through the lens of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s teaching.

What’s admonishing? Well, admonishing is putting the mirror of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in front of you so you can see yourself as you actually are. It’s helping you see yourself in the mirror of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I love this metaphor. You woke up this morning. You stumbled to the bathroom. You took your first look in the mirror, suppressing your screams at the damage the night had done. (laughter) Now you instinctively receive the message in the mirror. You know in your sad heart that the mirror is absolutely accurate. And then you pull out instruments of human repair (laughter)—some of us even put chemical substances on our epidermis in order to bring us to the place where we’re willing to make our public appearance.

Now, the Bible is the world’s most accurate mirror. People don’t need to know what you think about them. Stop it. Too much opinion stuff. Who placed you in that position? You know what I think? My honest—and maybe this is just anti-social me—when someone says that to me, I’m thinking, I don’t care. Tell me what’s right and true. Put the mirror in front of me. There are a thousand voices in my life. I get so confused. I need accuracy of self-awareness. The gospel gives me that. You can’t give that to me.

Now, here’s the problem, that all of us are all the time looking into carnival mirrors. We are. You know what the carnival mirror does? It shows you you, but with distortion. You don’t actually have a six-foot neck and a three-inch torso. It’s a carnival mirror of cultural values, a carnival mirror of old family values, the carnival mirror of the opinion of a friend, the carnival mirror of your own distorted view of yourself, because you still have spiritual blindness in you.

So I need someone who comes to me, and reflecting the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, all His tenderness and patience and love and faithfulness and mercy will help me to see myself as I actually am. And if they’ve done that, I have already learned that I don’t have to be afraid to look in that mirror, because there’s nothing that will be exposed about me that hasn’t already been covered by the blood of Jesus.

This passage is this, “Welcome to the life I’ve called you to.” That’s what it is. This is not intended to be, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” This passage is a description of the Savior’s plan for normal Christianity. And why is it this plan? Because this One is so zealous in His grace that His intention is to send billions of people of grace out into the world to make that grace visible so that grace can transform people and turn them into more ambassadors of His grace. What a glorious God of grace who would make such a plan!

This is grace living. This is Jesus saying, “You go in My name because I love you, and I love the people that you will be near, and I want them to know My grace. You go. You go. You go. Reflect My grace.”

Run to the foot of the cross of Jesus. Repent of your ownership. I mean it. And after you repent today, repent tomorrow again. And begin to say, “By powerful transforming grace, I want to be an ambassador of grace where You have put me. I want to be part of that.”

Listen, this is a welcome to be part of the most important work in the universe. You could never have a better life than this. This is the best of life. Be willing to make sacrifices. Be willing to get up early in the morning, stay up late at night. Complicate your life. Expend your finances. Give, give, give, give.

And know this: Your Redeemer is not so unfaithful, unloving, or unkind to ever call you to a task without enabling you to do it. If this One puts a Red Sea in front of you and He means for you to cross it, He’s going to build a bridge, He’s going to send a boat, He’s going to give you the ability to swim, or He’ll part the waters.

Get up in brokenness, get up in failure, get up in weakness, and say, “You are with me. I will be Your ambassador.” And watch what Jesus will do.

The world cries for ambassadors of grace. What do the big cities, the broken cities of our culture need? Ambassadors of grace. What do broken families need? Ambassadors of grace. What do hordes of depressed and discouraged and anxious people need? Ambassadors of grace. What do rebellious teenagers need? Ambassadors of grace. What do little children need? Ambassadors of grace. What do older people at the end of their life need? Ambassadors of grace. The world needs the message of grace. You go, you go, you go.

Say, “I will be one of Your ambassadors. I don’t know how that’s going to happen. I feel so weak and unable, but I will go because You’ve sent me. And I will believe that You will grace me so that I may give grace to others.”

Let’s pray.

Lord, we would, in this holy moment, confess our sturdy propensity to ownership. We bask in Your forgiveness. We refuse to wallow in guilt and shame. And we pray that You would help us to rise and represent You well. May we not give way to fear. May we not be identity-amnesiacs. May the gospel live in us with richness. And may we teach and admonish for the sake of Your children and to the praise of Your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.

You go. God bless.