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March 15 2015

What We Can Learn from St. Patrick

 

One Sunday morning in 1865, a black man entered a fashionable church in Richmond, Virginia. When Communion was served, he walked down the aisle and knelt at the altar. A rustle of resentment swept the congregation. How dare he! After all, believers in that church used the common cup. Suddenly a distinguished layman stood up, stepped forward to the altar, and knelt beside the black man. With Robert E. Lee setting the example, the rest of the congregation soon followed his lead. 

 

This shows the power of a good example. One of the precious functions of scripture is to provide us with examples, both positive and negative. And the Bible provides us with many such examples. This is one reason why it is so good to read the Bible daily: so that we can be influenced by the good examples and made fearful by the bad examples. (Contrary to liberal notions, fear is a very worthwhile emotion as long as it is balanced by other responses.)

 

We see a positive example in the apostle Paul. Let us read Philippians 3:17 – 21. READ.

 

PRAY.

 

Notice what Paul says in verse 17: “join in imitating me.” What does the word “join” imply? (Wait for answers.) Either others are already doing it or he wants the Philippians to join together to follow his example.

 

The context here will help us to determine what Paul meant. He next says, “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” So, if the Philippians are to keep their eyes on the way certain people walk, then this means that some are already following the example of Paul. 

 

Paul is saying, “Join in! Get with the program. God has worked in me in such a way that I am an example to you. You can see in me, right before your eyes, what it means to live Christ. Not only me but Timothy, too --- he says, “…the example you have in us,” meaning he and Timothy (1:1). Not only Paul and Timothy, though, but “those who walk according to the example.” 

 

What we are commended to do, then, is to keep our eyes on the way godly men and women walk so that we can see what it is like. And that is what we are going to do this morning. We are going to consider the life of a great man of God, someone who walked according to the example of Paul. His name is Saint Patrick.

 

I had breakfast with the President of our Baptist Association Friday morning and we had a very pleasant and edifying time together. After about an hour of sweet fellowship, I let him read the first three verses of a writing by this man of God (which he had never read before). When he was done he looked at me and said, “this is just like reading the Apostle Paul.”

 

I want to ask and answer the question this morning, “What can we learn from St. Patrick?” 

 

Before we tackle that a caveat is needed. The Roman Catholic church claims Patrick as their own. That claim is a misappropriation of who he was. The reason is that when Patrick lived, in the early 400’s, the gospel was still apostolic. It wasn’t until many centuries later that it would be corrupted and complicated by human dogma. It is difficult to date the Roman Catholic church since its formation was a gradual process. One date that has been offered is 606 AD when Boniface III declared himself to be the universal bishop of the whole church from his episcopate in Rome. Even before then there were changes made in church government and so forth that did not have apostolic sanction. So, for example, by the late 300’s there were added priests that were not part of the apostolic church’s leadership. The only offices that the New Testament knows about are elders and deacons. Nevertheless, even the so-called priests of the fourth century were, for the most part, sincere and godly men. The corruption which gave rise to the Reformation did not arise until the middle ages.

 

Therefore, Patrick, a great man of God, like Augustine before him, is a leader of the early church that all Christians can and should claim as part of their spiritual heritage.

 

So who was St. Patrick? (Tell his story)

 

Here is what we can learn from him:

 

  • We can learn humility from Patrick.

Humility is not only one of our great needs but it brings great benefits.

 

David said in 2 Samuel 22:28

 

You save a humble people,

but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.

 

Salvation in the Bible has more than one meaning. Here, according to the context, it doesn’t refer to salvation from the wrath of God but to salvation from our enemies. The Israelites enemies during the time of David were the Philistines and the Amalekites. But we have enemies too. Our enemies may not be a people but, for certain, our enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil. For Jesus lists these as our great opposition as we pursue God and His kingdom. Each of those three can not only bring us down in our spiritual walk, but any of those three can

 

  • destroy our relationships, 
  • make our jobs miserable, 
  • disrupt our church life, or 
  • bring us into depression.

 

But, Praise God (!), if we are humble, God saves us from these things. Humility has great reward!

 

David had more to say about humility. 

 

Psalm 25:9 

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

Do you want to be led by God? Do you wish to be taught by God? Then humble yourselves before him and let humility characterize your walk.

 

The apostle James, too, tells us:

  • James 4:6  
    But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  James 4:10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Humility, then, 

  • saves us
  • brings God’s leading and teaching
  • brings God’s grace, and
  • will cause God to exalt you.

 

Pride, on the other hand, is opposed by God. Richard Baxter, the great Puritan writer of the 17th century, says that pride is a greater sin than either drunkenness or whoredom.

Consider the Spirit-generated humility of Patrick. I will read the beginning of his short biography entitled The Confession of St. Patrick.

      “ I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the

   faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon

   Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement

   [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was

   taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did

   not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in

   Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for

   quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we

   obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the

   Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among

   many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness,

   am now to be found among foreigners.”

Then, in verse 12:  “I am, then, first of all, countryfied, an exile, evidently

   unlearned, one who is not able to provide for my own future, but I know for

   certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep

   mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and,

   indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from

   there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great

   favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot

   measure.”

Once again, in verse 55: “But I see that even here and now, I have been exalted beyond measure by the Lord, and I was not worthy that he should grant me this,

   while I know most certainly that poverty and failure suit me better

   than wealth and delight (but Christ the Lord was poor for our sakes; I

   certainly am wretched and unfortunate; even if I wanted wealth I have

   no resources, nor is it my own estimation of myself, for daily I expect

   to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion

   arises. But I fear nothing, because of the promises of Heaven; for I

   have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God, who reigns everywhere.

   As the prophet says: Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain

   you.'”

Let us follow Patrick’s example of genuine humility.

  • We can learn from thankfulness from Patrick.

 

Thankfulness should be one of the most evident characteristics of the follower of Jesus Christ. No one likes people who whine, complain, or are unappreciative of their many benefits. Neither does God! But for God it is deeper than just being annoyed, because God knows that ingratitude is a symptom of our inner condition. Ingratitude is really an expression of rebellion.

 

On the other hand, thankfulness is sweet and pleasant. But it works both ways. Have you heard the expression, “You are what you do?” There is a tremendous amount of truth to that statement! “You are what you think” has some truth to it. But, “you are what you do” is more true because we often think things about ourselves that are not wholly true. The Bible tells us that we are a self-deceived people. 

 

What we do reveals what we really are because we only act on the things we believe most strongly. 

 

But here is a glorious truth. It works the other way, too! If we do things our heart gets in line with what we are doing. Are you finding that your feelings for your wife are not as amorous as they ought to be. Then buy her flowers or take her out to dinner. Write her a love note. When you start doing that, your heart will follow your actions. And you just might find that she is nicer to you as well!

 

If you are not a thankful person then the way to remedy that is to start giving thanks for most things that come your way. Give thanks to God and thanks to the people that bless you. “God thank you for my wife.” “God thank you that I’m living in America and not in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Haiti. I don’t deserve to even live in such a prosperous country, but you placed me here.” 

Ephesians 5:20  

giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

Find things to thank God for every day.

 

Patrick’s life was characterized by thankfulness. In verse 34 of the Confession we read: Thus I give untiring thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation, so that today I may confidently offer my soul as a

   living sacrifice for Christ my Lord; who am I, Lord? or, rather, what

   is my calling? that you appeared to me in so great a divine quality, so

   that today among the barbarians I might constantly exalt and magnify

   your name in whatever place I should be, and not only in good fortune,

   but even in affliction? So that whatever befalls me, be it good or bad,

   I should accept it equally, and give thanks always to God who revealed

   to me that I might trust in him, implicitly and forever, and who will

   encourage me so that, ignorant, and in the last days, I may dare to

   undertake so devout and so wonderful a work; so that I might imitate

   one of those whom, once, long ago, the Lord already pre-ordained to be

   heralds of his Gospel to witness to all peoples to the ends of the

   earth. So are we seeing, and so it is fulfilled; behold, we are

   witnesses because the Gospel has been preached as far as the places

   beyond which no man lives.”

 

And, verse 46: “Thus, I should give thanks unceasingly to God, who frequently

   forgave my folly and my negligence, in more than one instance so as not

   to be violently angry with me, who am placed as his helper, and I did

   not easily assent to what had been revealed to me, as the Spirit was

   urging; and the Lord took pity on me thousands upon thousands of times,

   because he saw within me that I was prepared, but that I was ignorant

   of what to do in view of my situation; because many were trying to

   prevent this mission. They were talking among themselves behind my

   back, and saying: Why is this fellow throwing himself into danger among

   enemies who know not God?' Not from malice, but having no liking for

   it; likewise, as I myself can testify, they perceived my rusticity. And

   I was not quick to recognize the grace that was then in me; I now know

   that I should have done so earlier.”

 

Follow Patrick’s example of thankfulness.

 

  • We can learn from Patrick’s evangelism.

Of course, his whole life was dedicated to the task of bringing the gospel to the lost of Ireland. He baptized thousands!

Verse 14 is only a short example of his heart’s desire: “According, therefore, to the measure of one's faith in the Trinity,

   one should proceed without holding back from danger to make known the

   gift of God and everlasting consolation, to spread God's name

   everywhere with confidence and without fear, in order to leave behind,

   after my death, foundations for my brethren and sons whom I baptized in

   the Lord in so many thousands.”

 Follow Patrick’s example by telling of God’s marvels.

Patrick is an example to us in humility, gratitude, and in caring for the lost. His famous prayer, called The Breastplate of St. Patrick, is a fitting close to this message. For, in it, we can see Patrick’s Christ-centeredness and full reliance on His Savior in a daily way.

It begins: I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

But, undoubtedly, the most moving part of the prayer is this portion:

Christ with me, 

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

May this be our prayer!