First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, October 31, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“Our Duty to God!”
I find it inspirating and challenging at the same time that a person gets to the end of his or her life and boldly declares, “I have fulfilled my duty to God.” In Acts 23:1, Luke tells us that Paul appeared before the Sanhedrin and looking straight at the Council he said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” What a statement! I hope that when I am near the end of my life, I would be able to say that I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience.
The Sanhedrin was the most powerful judicial and religious Jewish council consisting of 71 members. This is the first time Paul faces the Sanhedrin ever since he was sent by them to Damascus to arrest the followers of Jesus. Paul stood before them bold and fearless! He takes the initiative to address them. He does not appear to be like one on trial, but rather like one who is reporting back in regards to a mission he had been entrusted with some time ago by this very body. “I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day,” Paul said.
As I pointed out, I am challenged this morning by Paul’s declaration before the Sanhedrin, and it causes me to examine my own heart to decide if I could boldly make such a statement. Have I fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience? What did Paul mean by that? What is our duty to God? Was he talking about living a sinless life, always doing the right thing? I don’t think so. Paul knew he is a sinner saved by God’s grace. In 1 Timothy 1:15 he wrote, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” So we know that Paul was not bragging or anything like that.
In humble boldness, Paul was saying he completed the mission God had given him. He did his best. His conscience is spotless and clear before the living God. Today is Reformation Sunday. It’s an important day in our Church liturgical calendar that is set aside to remember that our God is an active God. He is active in the history of humanity. He is at work through His faithful followers in the world. He has never left Himself without witness.
It was through the witness of the early Church that the gospel spread. It was through the faithful witness of the 16th century reformers that God restored the purity of the Church. It is through our witness today that God will continue to transform lives. Two short observations as we look at Paul’s speech in Acts 23 this morning:
First: We Have a Duty Toward our God
We all have duties. A duty is a responsibility outside of yourself. We all have responsibilities toward our families, our jobs, and our local community. Parenthood is a big duty. Being a parent is hard and tedious work. Day-in and day-out you need to perform your duties and take responsibility for your children, no matter how you feel, and often with little sense of reward or pleasure or a simple “thank you.” Despite this lack of reward or pleasure or appreciation, fulfilling your duties often provides a deeper sense of meaning in the grand scheme of things.
I think one of our problems is we often forget we have a duty toward our God. It’s a commitment we make to God; an intentional commitment to take our faith seriously; to make His kingdom at the center of our lives. As I was preparing my sermon for today, someone stopped by my office to give me these two booklets. They belonged to his great grandmother who attended Blackwood Presbyterian Church over one hundred and twenty years ago. Going through her stuff, he found these two pieces: The programs for the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary and the One Hundred and Seventy Fifth anniversary program. I had the chance to read through them this week and among the many wonderful things I came across was this note on page 30 in the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary took place on September 30, 1900. Under the report of “The Foreign Missionary Society”, it says: “The object of the Society has been to increase the interest in missionary work, and to raise money to help further it. Last year, we sent $56 to the work in Ferozepore, India.”
In his “Historical Outline from 1900 to 1925”, Rev. Cedric Miller wrote these words on page 28, “The First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood has a record of which she is proud, but let one and all not rest on “those things which are behind but reach forth unto those things which are before and press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13-14. We have a duty toward our God.
Second: Be a Participant, not a Spectator
Fulfilling our duty to God invites us to be participants not spectators. Everything about duty to God invites us to act—we act by learning, we act by serving, we act by doing, and we act by sharing. Friends, we have the privilege to be not spectators but participants.
We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses who were participants not spectators. On page 20 of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary, it states, “In 1880, the lecture room was built at a cost of two thousand dollars. It was dedicated on January 1, 1881. The dedicatory sermon being preached by the Rev. V. Reed, then Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Camden. The people cheerfully subscribed toward the building and as cheerfully paid their subscriptions so that there was no debt on the day of dedication.”
Friends, every person has a duty to fulfill. We have a duty to work and pay our bills. We have a duty to care for our families. We have a duty to take care not to harm others around us. May we never forget that we have a duty toward our God. Before the Sanhedrin, Paul said that he has fulfilled his duty to God as far as he can tell.
As Christ’s followers today we must examine ourselves and see if we are actually fulfilling our duty to God. As believers, God has called us to build His Kingdom. He got a job for you to do upon this earth. It may be completely different than those around you, or very similar, but it is one that only you can accomplish. Ask yourself today if you have fulfilled your duty to God in all good conscience. If not, it is time to start. And remember, fulfilling your duty to God is not a program but a process. Be a participant, not a spectator. Amen!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.