Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet

buffetPlease read Acts 19:1-7 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

Here we find the beginning of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.  He left his home town of Antioch, crossed Asia Minor, encouraging the churches along the way.  This was what we call “Paul’s Third Missionary Journey.”  Some time previous to this, Paul had briefly visited the city and left two of his associates, Aquila and Priscilla there, to continue the work he started (18:19).  In 18:21 he vowed to return if that was God’s will.  While Paul was away from Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla had an encounter with Apollos, a man who KNEW ONLY THE BAPTISM OF JOHN (18:26).  This was a similar encounter, but we have no evidence Apollos was connected with this group.

Paul operated on the Jeremiah 29:7 principle; seek the welfare of the city and your own welfare will follow.  Ephesus was a city that knew a lot of material prosperity, so the “welfare” sought here was of a spiritual nature.  We’ve already noted it was a gateway city, merging land and sea trade routes.  It was also the city where the local Roman governor of Asia held court.  One example of the wealth of Ephesus is the 25,000 seat theater that also hosted the Pan-Ionian Games, a version of the Olympics.

The people of Ephesus were notorious for their superstition, idolatry, and worldly philosophy.  The use of magic items and oaths was particularly widespread.

The route Paul took from Antioch to Ephesus (v. 1) was not the standard trade route along the coast, but went through the middle of the region.  Though the text does not state this, but the choice of route implies that Paul was in a hurry to get back to Ephesus.

Upon arriving, Paul was introduced to twelve DISCIPLES.  Unfortunately, their discipleship only got as far as the baptism of John.  They had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, as demonstrated in the fact that they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit.

God put them in the path of the Apostle Paul.  He knew something was amiss and he knew just the right questions to ask to identify the problem of their incomplete faith.

  1. The problem: an incomplete faith.

Luke identifies the people Paul encountered as DISCIPLES (1).  Luke normally used the word DISCIPLES to refer to Christians unless some qualifier is added (i.e., “disciples of John” in LKE 5:33; 7:18.)  He also informs us at the end of the passage that there was ABOUT TWELVE MEN IN ALL.  Some take the number twelve to be symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel, a hint that these men were Jewish.  That may be, but Luke never seems to be shy about identifying Jews as such, especially when they are being antagonistic to the Church.

You can have a pretty active discussion of whether these men were Christians or not.  The good news is, the narrative doesn’t depend on a definitive answer.  The point is that their faith – however far it went – was not complete; Paul helped them to find complete faith.  They are ready symbols of all of us who haven’t quite understood or haven’t yet really committed ourselves to Jesus

We’re not told how they met or why Paul asked if they’d received the Holy Spirit when they believed (2).  Happily, the “how” of this event is not what’s important; otherwise we’d have been given more information.  What is important is upon meeting these DISCIPLES, Paul knew immediately there was something wrong.

He needed more information, so he asked, “DID YOU RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT WHEN YOU BELIEVED?”  The fact that Paul had to ask implies that these twelve men “talked the talk,” but didn’t “walk the walk.”  There was something lacking in their spirit/character/testimony.

That “something” was the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit, which God gives to His followers as proof of their faith (Ephesians 1:13-14).  When these supernatural abilities and character qualities are found in a person, they prove to ourselves and to others that we are in Christ.  It was the absence of these things to which Paul was reacting.

The twelve answered Paul in innocent ignorance: “NO, WE HAVE NOT EVEN HEARD THAT THERE IS A HOLY SPIRIT,” (2).  In verse three we find out they had been baptized by John, but he hadn’t taught them everything.  John the Baptist did speak about the Holy Spirit (see LKE 3:16), but only in relation to the Messiah.

To be fair, that was not his role: JTB’s job was to announce the Messiah’s coming.  His ministry was prepatory.  When the Messiah came, his work was over.  John said himself in relation to the messiah, “I must decrease, He must increase,” (John 3:30).  That is what happened; shortly after Jesus began His ministry John was imprisoned and then beheaded for his opposition to the king’s having married his brother’s wife.  While the Gospels portray John the Baptist as living a rather solitary life in the Judean wilderness (Matthew 3:1-6), he also had disciples of his own (Matthew 9:14; 14:12; Luke 5:33; 10:41; John 3:25).

Paul taught them the whole truth (3-4).  To do this, Paul needed to ask a second question, going back a bit further; “THEN WHAT BAPTISM DID YOU RECEIVE?”  (He clearly assumes they had some baptism?)

They replied that they had been baptized by John the Baptist.  We can presume that after their baptism, these men left the region of Judea and were not at hand to see Jesus’ baptism by John or any other part of the ministry, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Paul explained to them, John the Baptist’s baptism was good for its situation, but his ministry was supplanted by Jesus’ ministry.  John’s baptism was for REPENTANCE from sins (Matthew 3:6).  It was not, as we are used to it, for conversion to a new faith or membership in a church/synagogue/group.  The Bible does not tell us the words John the Baptist used when he baptized someone, but we can safely assume he did not baptize INTO THE NAME OF JESUS when these 12 guys were there, as this was something Paul’s group did for them.

  1. The solution: be obedient and go all the way with God.

These DISCIPLES responded in obedience and received a new baptism (5). Their new baptism was better because it was IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. This is not a matter of using the right words; it’s deeper than that.  To do anything IN THE NAME of JESUS is to do it in His spirit, following His teaching, honoring His name, exercising His power, under His authority, and at His direction.

In the history of the Church, people have got wound up about which words you say when you baptize people.  To me, they missed the point.  The point is about genuinely being in Jesus Christ in all the ways I just mentioned.  Anything else is just not real.

These 12 DISCIPLES can represent people who are sincere and yet are not fully in Christ.  They made a good response to the truth they’ve known, but they don’t know the whole truth.  This fact would cause insecurity if not for the Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit being objective evidence.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are truly saved or brings accusation if the Spirit is absent.

Their baptism was needed and was important.  However, it was not by their baptism, but by Paul LAYING his HANDS on them that the twelve received the Holy Spirit, as indicated by the Spiritual Gifts of Speaking in Tongues and Prophesy.  In Acts, these are the first and second most frequent Gifts that accompany salvation.

The Laying on of Hands is a frequently mentioned ritual act with different uses; in every case, it was to be taken seriously (1 Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 6:2).  Biblical uses of this ritualistic gesture include:

– Consecrating offerings (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2; 4:15; 16:21) or items (Numbers 8:10 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9).

– Miraculous healing (Mark 6:5; 7:31-36; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; 28:8).

– Granting blessings (Genesis 48:14; Matthew 19:15; Mark 10:16).

– Granting authority, power, or installing officers (i.e., ordination; Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).

Prayer is sometimes given in conjunction with laying on of hands, but is not considered a single activity.

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues is the miraculous use of a language the speaker does not normally possess (ex., Acts 2, 10, + 19).  The NT recognizes two ways in which this Gift is exercised: publicly & privately.

– Publicly: when it occurs in worship, a second Spiritual Gift, Interpretation of Tongues, must be exercised to translate the utterance or the speaker is required to stop speaking.

– Privately, it can be used without a translator because it is an offering to God in prayer.  In this case, it expresses the heart of the worshiper without using any familiar language.

Especially in worship and other public contexts, Paul vastly preferred readily known speech to unknown speech (see 1 Corinthians 14:19).

The Gift of Prophesy likewise comes in two forms; foretelling and forth-telling (ex., Acts 19 and possibly ch. 8).

– Foretelling is miraculous communication of new things that are going to happen, given in advance of their occurring; communicating what God WILL do. The test here is whether they come true or not.

– Forth-telling builds on what God has already revealed but applies it with authority to a specific situation; communicating what God wants people to do.

A mistake some people make in applying this passage (and similar ones) is to say this one unique situation is supposed to be everyone’s experience: they apply it too broadly and too specifically.  By “too broadly” I mean that they don’t recognize the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Without complicating matters, there are two types of Bible passages and they need to be interpreted differently.

– Descriptive passages narrate historical events.  In addition to the information they contain, narratives can be used to set examples to be followed or avoided.  Just because something happened once or twice in the Bible, it doesn’t by itself mean it should always happen that way.  The narratives do not fit a consistent pattern, except to say that the exceptions are the rule.

– Prescriptive passages that teach truths and give instructions.  God is communicating truth that prescribes righteous behavior and true hearts.  They can be used by literal application of the words expression truth propositionally.

By “too specifically” I mean that Tongues and Prophecy are only two of about 20 Spiritual Gifts.  (As an alternative example, in Galatians 3:5 Paul wrote that working MIRACLES accompanied the Spirit’s coming to that church, not Prophecy or Tongues.)  All Spiritual Gifts are signs of real faith.  Along with the Fruits of the Spirit, they are ways that a real faith works out through our skin into words and deeds we can observe in daily living.

Let me explain the title of this message.  One strategy for getting a reduced cost lunch is to invite your vegetarian friends to the steak house.  “Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet” means you split the ticket evenly.  In that case, the steak-eater literally eats the lunch of the salad-eaters!

I’m teasing my vegan and vegetarian friend a bit.  But seriously, it makes no sense to settle for a little portion of what God offers us.  As we learned last week from Ephesians 1, God’s GRACE is RICH and He lavishes it on us generously.  Why settle for less?

One reason people settle for less of God or even nothing at all is that we somehow know that life will not be the same after we say “yes” to God.  We are not willing to puncture our comfort zone and thereby say “no” to God.  Even if it’s a polite “No thank you,” saying “no” to God is wrong.

However we explain a decision to settle for less, we must take courage and receive all God offers.  We must not settle for a faith tamed by science, secular culture, or selfishness.  To enjoy the view we must brave the heights.  Let’s have an adventure of faith by releasing the weights that hold us down: THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES, LET US THROW OFF EVRYTHING THAT HINDERS AND THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES, AND LET US RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

 

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J. Bradley Chance.

O         More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

O         Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

O         The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

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What’s God Done for You Lately?

Please take a moment to read Ephesians 1:1-14 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

God has done everything for us to inherit eternal life in heaven and abundant life on Earth.

I’d like you to take the message title as a question to you personally.  Ask yourself, “What has God done for me lately?”  How quickly can you come up with an answer?  When good things happen to you, do you tend to think of yourself as “lucky” or would you say you are “blessed?”  The difference between those two words is essential because “luck” is a concept associated with a God-less world view.  To be “blessed” is to have faith and acknowledge that God is in charge.  There is no such thing as luck.

Rev. Michael Cartwright posed this question and here’s how he answered it: “I will mention a few blessings from the last few days:

(May 11, 2007) One of the Managers for the Target stores in Southern California named Jeremy just gave me a free brand new Casio G Shock wrist watch. I did nothing but bring my old Casio watch in to get a new battery and the lady did not know how to put it back together. God blessed me with a new watch.

The same day I went to pick up a mechanic named Larry to work on a car that belonged to my employer named Bob, I explained to him about my Internet Ministry and how I am going to pick up a computer router over the weekend so that I can have high bandwidth. Larry reached over behind a table and under a pile of stuff he handed me a free router.

May 12, 2007, an air conditioner technician named Clarence came over to my home and he handed me a reasonable bill for $150.00 for parts and labor which I paid in cash. We were talking about our faith and what a blessing we are to each other and he gave me back $50.00.

(May 14, 2007) As I stepped out of my vehicle this evening, I was just outside of my home thanking my next door neighbor who lives on the left side of my home for helping me with his remote control to open the gate since my remote control needed batteries.

At the same time my other next door neighbor Walter who lives on the right side of my home who has a wonderful wife and family approached me and asked me to not go anywhere as he went back into his garage. He came right back out and handed me a $20.00 bill and told me that he found it in my front yard yesterday and wanted to give it to me.”

How would you like to have a week like that?  Here’s how Rev. Cartwright summed it up: “To some people these may not seem to be big blessings, but to me and God every blessing is a big deal because it shows how God keeps His promises to bless you in everything.”

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I once listened to a lengthy testimony from a guy who was convinced God helped him find morel mushrooms, leading him step by step through the woods.  The testimony was rather like following a treasure map!  These men are to be commended for the attitude of gratitude they are showing, but I wonder about one thing: do they see the big picture too?

I wonder if we have faith enough to see God at work in the more important matters of eternal life?  Do we have faith to see God is in charge when disease strikes, when we’re flat broke, when we feel lonely, when adversities pile up?  Do we sense God’s leading in all these circumstances of life?

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus, a city where he’d made new disciples and founded churches.  He wrote to encourage them that God is in charge of all life’s events, ups and downs included.  He wanted them to have faith to see that God’s eye is on both the details and the big picture; that He is actively working to bring all of it into conformity with His master plan for humanity.

CONTEXT: Ephesians 1:1+2 sets the stage for what is to come in the letter.  We can note some themes in the first two verses:

One, Paul established his authority to write them not on his having founded the church, but on a higher level: the commission of CHRIST JESUS BY THE WILL OF GOD.

Two, Paul identified his target audience: TO THE SAINTS IN EPHESUS, THE FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS.  This looks like two ways of saying the same thing, but I take it to be a two-fold greeting.  It’s as if Paul wrote, “To the church in Ephesus and believers in the Ephesus metro area.”

The city of Ephesus was an important city in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  It was a junction for land and sea trade routes for what we call Asia Minor, in modern Turkey.

God’s strategy in spreading the Church in Asia Minor was to start at Ephesus and fan out to other cities along the roads built by local governors to improve trade and impress their Roman rulers.

Three; using his typical greeting of GRACE and PEACE, Paul set forth two of the major themes of the letter.  He used the word GRACE 95 times in his letters, twelve of them in Ephesians.  PEACE is one of the great blessings of faith; Paul used the word eight times in Ephesians.

Paul wrote this letter six or seven years after he last visited the city.  In this letter he is doing everything he can to reassure the former pagans that their fate is not determined by the impersonal, unfeeling stars or any whimsy of false gods.  Instead, their hope is safe in the hands of the one true God.

  1. God has blessed you with every blessing (3).

In the Jewish culture of that time, the matter of blessing someone was very important.  A blessing directed to God was called a berakah.  Paul’s blessing of God is unusually long – it was written as one sentence 202 words long!  In it, He blesses the Lord for the way He’s blessed us with a plan of salvation.  He began with two general statements:

First, God has BLESSED US IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  Rather than referring to a place you can find on a map, Paul’s reference to HEAVENLY REALMS is similar to Jesus’ use of the phrase, Kingdom of God.  It is more a state of being and a sphere of authority than a place.

Two, God has BLESSED us WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.  Some may prefer earthly kinds of blessings, but the best things in life are not discerned by the five senses.

  1. God chose you (4 + 11).

He CHOSE you early – BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.  God chooses individuals to do particular parts of His plan.  People like Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, and Peter are examples of God’s choosing.  This term is also used in a broader sense, that God chose the nation of Israel and the Church to be His covenant partners.  The fact that He made His choices BEFORE T CREATION OF THE WORLD indicates that God – in His wisdom and power – formed a plan of salvation long before it was needed!

He CHOSE you for a reason – TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.  To be chosen is an undeserved honor.  (As we will see, the word GRACE figures prominently in this passage and in the letter overall.)  God has His reasons for choosing some people, but none of them have to do with our worthiness or His need: neither of those things really exists.

Instead, God chooses us in order that we might become HOLY and BLAMELESS. (See also 5:27.)  God, by calling us into service, makes us HOLY.  The word HOLY means set apart from everyday, worldly, and especially from sinful purposes to be used by God.  God, by forgiving our sins, makes BLAMELESS.  This is a moral perfection made possible by the complete forgiveness.  God does these things because He is creating for Himself a people all His own.  He is qualifying us to be part of His Church.

The key phrase is IN HIS SIGHT.  No matter how you or I may feel about ourselves; no matter what lies the devil may feed us to discourage us into thinking we are unholy and full of blame, what’s true in the mind of God is absolutely true.  You can rely on that!

The word CHOSEN in v. 11 can also be translated as “made heirs,” referring to our adoption into the divine family.  More on that next.

  1. God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

Because He loves you, God PREDESTINED you to be adopted into His family.  The word PREDESTINED is used to explain how God CHOSE us even before the world was created.  He set our destiny before the events that brought us into being!  PREDESTINED is a popular word among theologians, but occurs only six times in the Bible (see Romans 8:29-30 and 1 Corinthians 2:7).  For the benefit of theological readers, let me offer this statement: in thinking about how God saves us, we can emphasize free will and suffer the loss of eternal security or emphasize sovereignty and enjoy the security of eternal life based on grace, not works.

Adoption into God’s family is one of Paul’s favorite metaphors for salvation, which is a little surprising.  Adoption was a common custom in Greek and Roman law, but there are no laws or teaching regarding it in the Old Testament, only a passing mention in Esther 2:15.  His use of this metaphor says something positive about Paul’s use of the Gentile culture to communicate the Gospel.

This is an image of affection and deep relationship that illustrates God’s choosing.  After all, adopted children are chosen, and then welcomed into the family.

This is also a forward-looking image because according to Roman & Greek law, adopted sons become legal HEIRS of the father (v. 11).  This is meant to reassure us that we have a future and it is a very good one.

Your predestination gives Him PLEASURE because it fulfills His WILL and because He loves you.  That’s a feeling we can all understand: how it pleases us when things go acc. to plan.  Although in God’s case, I suspect it is a PLEASURE that is less self-centered.  Because He loves us, God is pleased to think about us as spending eternity with Him.

As an aside, it bothers me when we downgrade the joy that the Bible says is supposed to accompany a genuine faith.  Paul teaches that the whole process is effused with joy: he wrote that God took PLEASURE in choosing us and we enjoy the blessings His choosing imparts to us.

He predestined you by means of HIS GLORIOUS GRACE, which He FREELY gave us by means of Jesus (the ONE HE LOVES).  What this implies about Jesus is that He was present with God the Father before creation and that He was a party to our being chosen.  Jesus is God the Son.

GRACE is undeserved favor.  It is God giving us what we don’t deserve, because death is the only outcome sinners deserve.  The word FREELY helps us under-stand the word GRACE.  There is no way we can earn God’s choosing us.  We don’t deserve to be part of the family, but we are.  God’s GRACE is GLORIOUS in the sense that it directs our attention to God.  As the highest good, God deserves our attention and has earned our PRAISE.  All this was according to God’s PLAN, the one that works all things to conform to His WILL.

  1. God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

God accomplished redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross: His shed BLOOD.  In a culture where slavery was widely practiced, REDEMPTION is a commonly understood term.  In our culture, less so.

A person became a slave if they were captured during a war, or more commonly, as an item to be sold to pay off one’s debts.  (Instead of holding a rummage sale or going to a pawn shop, an indebted person avoided prison by selling one’s self or children into slavery.)  Death brought an end to one’s servitude, but it could be accomplished sooner by financial means.  If someone paid off the debt, the slave was set free.  That payment is the “redemption price.”

The Bible lists several “owners” to which we were in slavery:

The devil.

Our own sin nature and human nature hold us in bondage to sin.

The “darkness” of sin and willful ignorance of God.

God redeemed us from these three “masters” through the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus paid the price for our lives by giving His own.  He is our saving substitute, sacrificing Himself that we might live.  Thanks to Him, we do not have to face God’s wrath onf Judgment Day.

This redemption was an act of GRACE.  It is so good, His salvation is “rich.”  There is nothing lacking in God’s GRACE.  He is completely able to save.  You can trust God’s power.  It is so generous, God LAVISHED it on us.  God is not stingy with His grace, He loves to a degree beyond our ability to understand.  You can trust God’s generous character.  God’s GRACE is evidence of His WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING and/or part of GRACE is bestowing WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING on us.  In either case, GRACE is not at all like our overly-permissive, child-centered parenting; it produces change and growth.  You can trust God to challenge you to mature as He provides all you need to achieve it.

  1. God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

The MYSTERY is revealed; it was there all the time.  The phrase “hidden in plain sight” comes to mind.  From before creation on to our own time, God is graciously making His will known to His people.  One means of His self-revelation is the Bible.  We understand that the Bible is God’s “progressive revelation;” that means that God did not reveal all of His plan to save humanity in the first chapters of Genesis.  As time progressed and throughout the pages of the Bible, more of his plan was revealed.  Paul understood Jesus Christ as being the important piece to the puzzle, the key to understanding the Old Testament and preparing for the future.

Here’s that word PLEASURE again (vs. 5+9).  This word measures the joy God has in loving and saving people.

We are informed again, God the Father accomplished His will through God the Son. Paul clarified this in three verses.

In verse seven, the phrase THROUGH HIS BLOOD refers to the sacrifice, the physical means that makes salvation, the fulfillment of God’s plan, possible.  In verse nine, the phrase WHICH HE PURPOSED IN CHRIST identifies Jesus as the “linchpin” or “keystone” of God the Father’s redemptive plan. To emphasize this point, Paul used three different words which can be translated as PLAN.

In verse ten, the phrase TO BRING ALL THINGS…UNDER ONE HEAD, EVEN CHRIST looks ahead to the Second Coming, the event that will bring history to a close and complete the plan of God.  On that day, all rebellion and sin will come to an end, this current version of reality being replaced.  The paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will be regained and established for all eternity.

That is such a big promise, a universe-sized vision, that it can be difficult to believe.  But this passage is about HOPE (12) and about describing all that God has done for us.  We are being informed that God’s plan looks forward to complete fulfillment; we live in a time when we are God’s partners in bringing it to pass.

Verse eleven seems to serve as a restatement of Paul’s points in this section; here he repeats vs. 4-6+10, emphasizing that all these promises are what God intended to do all along, even before creation (4).  Notice the word EVERYTHING.  Our hope is that all things will be made new in Jesus Christ.

  1. God sealed His promises with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

God’s plan fulfills the promises He made to His people Israel, to the Jews: WE WHO WERE THE FIRST TO HOPE IN CHRIST (12).  Here Paul simply notes the historical events coming to pass in his own lifetime: Jesus was a Jew and considered His mission to be to His own people.  When the Church was formed, it was primarily made up of Jewish people, centered in Jerusalem, and continued to support temple worship and other Jewish traditions.

However, God’s plan always included the non-Jews (Gentiles); He always intended to save all people: AND YOU ALSO WERE INCLUDED IN CHRIST (13).  The means of the Gentiles’ inclusion: YOU HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH and BELIEVED.

God the Father’s plan features the God the Holy Spirit (14).  The HOLY SPIRIT is a SEAL.  In Paul’s world, a SEAL was a mark of ownership.  Seals were often made of stone or precious metal that had some kind of image engraved in them.  When pressed in hot wax, the seal left an impression that identified the owner.  In our time, a brand on cattle, a trademark, copyright, signature, or fingerprint are ways we record identity and/or ownership.  When we truly believe, the Holy Spirit is given to us and His presence is indicated by Spiritual Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit, along with a change of character.  This is God the Father’s SEAL on us.

The HOLY SPIRIT is a DEPOSIT, GUARANTEEING OUR INHERITANCE.  Think of a “downpayment” or “earnest money” in modern financial transactions.  These are ways of validating a commitment to keep a promise.

Think of it!  God has no need to make a DEPOSIT; by faith we should take Him at His word.  And yet, He offers part of Himself; God the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that all He has promised will come to pass.  This also means God has not left us alone to sweat out the time between promise and fulfillment; He is with us.

The ultimate end of all of this is THE PRAISE OF [God’s] GLORY (v. 14; also vs. 6+12).  God’s GLORY is another way of referring to His presence among His people.  When the Bible talks about giving GLORY TO GOD, it means making Him known, sensing His presence, and responding to Him appropriately.

In the Bible, God’s presence is referred to in various ways:

As THUNDER (Psalms 29:3; 33:22).

As bright radiance (Ezekiel 1:28).

As a bright cloud (Exodus 40:34-35).

As unapproachable and invisible LIGHT (1 Timothy 6:16).

To PRAISE God is to sense His presence, recognize Him for who He is, and to make Him known to others.  It is worship.

Let’s review the four truths we’ve learned:

One, God is in charge; His plan is unfolding as He directs and will one day result in the salvation of all creation.

Two, God is at work; His plan was set into motion even before the world was created.  He took full inititiative and chose us for salvation.

Three, God will succeed; His plan to restore the paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will completely come to pass, with universal effect.

Four, Jesus Christ is God.  God the Son helped God the Father formulate the plan and is central in its success.  God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity is the worldly evidence that identifies those whom God has chosen and encourage them to trust that all promises will be kept.

“The story is told of Dr. Christianson, Professor of Religion at a small college in the western United States. Dr. Christianson taught the required course in Christianity.

“He found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery.  Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.

“One year, Dr. Christianson made a special arrangement with a popular student named Steve who was studying with the intent of going on to seminary for the ministry.  When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts: the extra fancy big kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it because was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get some delicious donuts.

“Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, ‘Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?’

“Cynthia said, “Yes.”

“Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?’

“’Sure.’ Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.

“Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, ‘Joe, do you want a donut?’

“Joe said, ‘Yes.’ Dr. Christianson asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”

“Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.

“Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christianson came to Scott, who wanted a donut, but asked, ‘Can I do my own pushups?’

“Dr. Christianson said, ‘No, Steve has to do them.’

“Scott said, ‘Well, I don’t want one then.’

“Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?’

“With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups.

“Scott said, ‘Hey! I said I didn’t want one!’

“Dr. Christianson said, ‘Look!, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.’ And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.

“Steve had begun to slow down and the students were beginning to get a little angry.

“Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, ‘Jenny, do you want a donut?’

“Sternly, Jenny said, ‘No.’

“Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, ‘Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?’

Steve did ten….Jenny got a donut.

“A growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say “No” and there were a lot of uneaten donuts on the desks.

“As Dr. Christianson finished the fourth row, Steve’s arms were shaking with each push-up, sweat was profusely dropping off of his face.  There was no sound except his heavy breathing and there was not a dry eye in the room.

At last, the professor explained, “’When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.’

“’And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave His gift on the desk, uneaten.’

“’My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying on the desk?’”

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RESOURCE:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (7 of 7)

Greed & Generosity

Greed is a vice as it places a greater value on things than God or people.  Generosity does the opposite.

If you are 50 year of age or older, you know this guy:

howell

“Thurston Howell III” from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island.”  The opening credits call him “the millionaire.”  In one episode Howell’s wife Lovey explains that during the Great Depression the Howell family suffered great loss going from being billionaires to being mere millionaires.  Though they were allegedly only going on a “three hour cruise,” the Howells brought several suitcases of clothes and money.  This makes me think they were really on the lam from debt collectors!

In 2013 Forbes magazine published a Fictional Top Fifteen list of the wealthiest fictional characters.  Thurston Howell III came in fifth overall, behind Santa Claus, Richie Rich Jr., Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, and Scrooge McDuck.  Pretty heavy hitters there!

Both the Howells were pampered rich people who bragged about their possessions, wealth, and connections to the rich and famous.  Neither of them offered to work on daily chores or help with rescue plans, despite their alleged eagerness to return to civilization.

As a symbol for the deadly sin of GREED, Mr. Howell is the obvious choice.  Veteran actor Jim Backus hammed his way through the role, achieving a surprising range of emotions, including a child-like need to sleep with a teddy bear imaginatively named “Teddy.”  Backus so successfully affected a character of East Coast wealth and privilege that we have a hard time thinking of any other character as the stereotypical “millionaire.”  In fact, during the 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney was compared to Thurston Howell III as the epitome of a wealthy Easterner, out of touch with reality and the common American.

Jim Backus died in 1989, his last screen credit being the voice of Howell on “Gilligan’s Planet,” an animated spinoff of “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of greed (1 John 2:15-7).

Usually we think of GREED as being a love of money, an unquenchable desire for more.  Today we’ll expand our definition to include love of worldly things when we love anything or anyone more than God.  In fact, that’s the also the definition of idolatry!

John taught that love of the world and love of God are mutually exclusive.  In abundant clarity, the Spirit revealed through John the trials we can face.

What we love reveals a lot about us (15).  Here are the contrasting orientations.  Love of self and love of worldly things go hand in hand.  Love of God and love for others is manifest in an attitude that discounts worldly things, using them to bring joy to others and self.

John identified a “Big Three” set of attitudes that betray love of worldly things (16).

First, the CRAVINGS OF SINFUL MAN.  The phrase SINFUL MAN is translated as FLESH in other versions.  The CRAVINGS are SINFUL because they come from the sin nature and lead to sin.  As sin, these CRAVINGS separate us from God and from one another.  This is GREED in the form of exalting self so much that God and others don’t matter.

Second, the LUST OF THE EYES.  LUST can also be translated as “covets” or “envys.”  It is a sin that is not limited to sexuality; it covers everything in this world that we can desire passionately.  It is the life of an addict; so self-centered that one is unaware that their passion is not normal or healthy, but is consuming them.  This is GREED in the form of acquiring, hoarding, or using things.

Third, he BOASTING OF WHAT HE HAS AND DOES.  This is a “KIA” person.  No, I don’t mean “Killed In Action,” instead this acronym means “KNOW IT ALL.” This is the kind of person who can’t stop telling you about their brainstorms, their kid’s honors, and what they bought on sale!  This is a life dominated by the latest thing, having the “prettiest” or the “greatest.”  It is chasing after achievement to make you feel better about yourself; a vain effort to justify your misdeeds and even your existence.  This is GREED in the form of reputation; focusing on what other people think about you.

Worldly things are not worthy of our love because they do not last forever: THE WORLD AND ITS DESIRES ALL PASS AWAY (17). Either at death or at the second coming, this world is going to cease for every one of us.  On a personal scale and also on a universal scale, all that glitters and all that is gold will one day be no more. There are other reasons not to love the world.  Satisfy a worldly urge and the urge will soon return.  Worldly things do not provide lasting satisfaction.  Satisfying a worldly urge will not benefit your spiritual life; worldly honors will not make you more spiritually mature.  God is eternal; things are temporary.  It makes no sense to invest ourselves in the stuff that won’t last. Instead, here’s where we should be putting our time and energy: THE MAN WHO DOES THE WILL OF GOD LIVES FOREVER.

  1. The vital virtue of generosity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Paul condemned the LOVE OF MONEY so thoroughly in vs. 6-10 that someone might think it impossible to be RICH and heaven-bound.  Here Paul instructs rich people how to live in a godly way that prepares them for heaven.  That fact disproves any notion that the RICH are automatically excluded.

The RICH person’s “don’t do” list.

First, don’t be ARROGANT (17).  I want to interpret ARROGANT to mean “self-sufficient.”  Paul is commanding Timothy’s people to rely on God, not on their wealth or any other worldly thing.  Both self-sufficiency and outright arrogance are subtle and frequent temptations for people who have a lot of stuff.

Second, don’t put your HOPE IN WEALTH (17).  Why not?  Because it’s so UNCERTAIN.  The word UNCERTAIN notes that worldly things are likely to disappoint us; they will disappear when needed most.  For example, money can buy insurance and medical care, but you can’t buy health or recovery from illness.  Proverbs 23:4-5 makes a point I believe all of us have experienced at least once: DO NOT WEAR YOURSELF OUT TO GET RICH; HAVE THE WISDOM TO SHOW RESTRAINT.  CAST BUT A GLANCE AT RICHES AND THEY ARE GONE, FOR THEY WILL SURELY SPROUT WINGS AND FLY OFF TO THE SKY LIKE AN EAGLE.  Time flies; it seems money does too.

Worldly things are unworthy of our love for all these reasons.  What is certain is God’s love and He is the only

Next, we read the RICH person’s “to do” list.

First, put your HOPE IN GOD (17).  Why?  For one thing, it is God who RICHLY PROVIDES US WITH EVERYTHING.  RICHLY means God has been generous with us; we must be generous with one another.  Notice the word EVERYTHING; we need to be reminded that neither we nor the bank really “own” anything.  All of it is owned by God and put in our hands to use for His glory.  His purpose in this provision is FOR OUR ENJOYMENT.  Worldly things are never to be the center of our affections, but they are given for us to enjoy.  Joy is at the center of the life of godly people.

Second, do GOOD (18).  GOOD is best defined as “godly.”  Morally good things are in line with the revealed will and character of God.

Third, become RICH IN GOOD DEEDS (18).  Worldly ambition is to become rich in worldly things; to possess much.   Godly ambition is to do good as often as possible.  Accumulating good deeds for their own sake is not the point; that would merely be pride.  Instead, Scripture describes three God-approved motives:

Love for God; gratitude for what He’s done.

Love for others; a desire to serve and connect them with God.

Love for self; the accumulation of heavenly rewards.

Fourth, be GENEROUS (18).  God has loved us unconditionally; we ought to love each other unconditionally.  God has generously provided for us all things needed to survive and to enjoy life.  We must be similarly generous with each other.  If we thought of ourselves as a pipe, and not a pool, it would help.  We tend to see ourselves as pools; God gives and raises the level of stuff we accumulate.  That’s not biblical.  More appropriately, we are pipes or conduits through which God’s gracious gifts flow from us to others.

Fifth, SHARE with others (18).  This word is translated “distribute” in the King James’ Version.  Take the wealth entrusted to us and distribute it among the needy and good causes.  No hoarding.  If you don’t have much money, share your time.  If you don’t have much time, share your table.  Scale is never a reason for not sharing; typically the poorest people are the most likely to SHARE, the wealthiest the most likely to hoard.

Whether we consider ourselves rich or poor or something else, we are to use worldly wealth to gain eternal rewards.  Paul wrote, LAY UP TREASURE FOR THEMSELVES AS A FIRM FOUNDATION FOR THE COMING AGE and TAKE HOLD OF THE LIFE THAT IS TRULY LIFE (19).  Do you need to a reminder you can’t take any of this stuff with you past death?  If so, here’s your reminder (v. 7): FOR WE BROUGHT NOTHING INTO THE WORLD, AND WE CAN TAKE NOTHING OUT OF IT. It may help to think of worldly things as things we can expend to “invest” in heaven, looking forward to receiving a “dividend” when we stand before Jesus Christ.

If you are younger than 50, you know all about:

linkedIn

LinkedIn, a website that is designed to help people fulfill their business ambitions.  The site was launched in 2002 to help employers and job seekers network and find one another to facilitate employment.

This website serves us as a symbol of GREED because it is all about worldly ambition, climbing the corporate ladder, being a success in purely worldly terms.  In fact, the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, made that connection himself in an interview last year.

I joined LinkedIn five years ago as a means of searching for a job.  Now I use it to publish my messages on the Internet and stay in touch with friends and associates.  LinkedIn has a great deal of influence on our culture; it is the 34th most popular website world wide, with with 500 million members in 200 countries as of a year ago.  In 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for 26.4 billion dollars.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that we’ve covered seven deadly sins and there were seven castaways on Gilligan’s Island.  We picked on the Skipper twice but haven’t talked about Gilligan at all.  You may be wondering what role the character of Gilligan is supposed to play in this series of messages.  What deadly sin is Gilligan supposed to symbolize?  Let’s stop and think about it:

– Gilligan is responsible for marooning them on the island.

– His clumsiness and ineptitude foils all their escape plans.

– He wears red in every episode.

– It is HIS island.

Isn’t it obvious?  Gilligan is a symbol of the THE DEVIL!

– The devil deceived Eve and is responsible for marooning us in this world of sin.

– The devil will always foil “escape plans” that depend on any kind of worldly resource.

– The devil, however, doesn’t always wear red; he’s more subtle than that.  The Bible says he can appear as an angel of light (see 2 Corinthians 11:14).

– This world is HIS “island.”  In John 12:31, Jesus called him THE RULER OF THIS WORLD.  2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan THE GOD OF THIS AGE.  Ephesians 2:2 depicts him as THE PRINCE OF THE POWER OF THE AIR.

I heard something recently from a radio preacher that struck me as quite profound.  He said that the devil is incapable of creating anything new.   There is no good thing in him.  So he must invade the good to borrow from it or copy it.  This means that the seven deadly sins are all corrupted versions of seven vital virtues.  Let’s resolve to NOT give the devil his “due” or anything else.  Let us practice the virtues and dump all seven of the deadly sins.

 

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia.

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Thru the Bible, McGee

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (6 of 7)

Anger & Self-control

Anger can quickly lead to other sins.  If controlled, we can avoid a falling-out.

If you are 50 year of age or older, you probably know this guy:

skipper2

the “Skipper” character from the TV series “Gilligan’s Island.  Do you remember the character’s real name?  Jonas Grumby.  Do you remember the actor’s name?  Alan Hale Jr.

Do you remember we identified the Skipper as a symbol of GLUTTONY in a previous message?  Perhaps you’re wondering why we’re picking on the Skipper twice.

We needed a symbol for WRATH or anger, and who was the guy that when he lost his temper hit Gilligan on the head with his hat?  That must have happened at least once an episode.   As often as it happened, you’d think I could find a picture of it on the internet, but I could only find this one.  Remembering what I can of the episode pictured on your notes, I recall the Skipper was only pretending that he was going to hit Gilligan.  His anger never broiled over into really harmful violence.

Of course, that doesn’t make anger right.  Physical abuse is only one kind of abuse, and anger can cause all kinds of harm without leaving any physical marks as evidence.

  1. The vicious vice of uncontrolled anger (Matthew 5:21-26).

Anger is a feeling of opposition and the emotions/actions it motivates.  (I was careful to use the word “motivates” in that sentence to counter the excuse that someone “makes” us angry.  We always have a choice whether to be angry or not and therefore always bear responsibility for our choices.  No excuses allowed; angry reactions can be avoided.)  The classic word for this sin is “wrath.”

Anger can be a deadly sin.  It says “can be” because we need to understand that the one word, ANGER, can refer to two situations.  One situation is a flash of anger and the second is a settled and lengthy decision to remain angry and act upon it.

Initial anger (the “flash” of anger”) is most typically a morally neutral experience.  Like temptation, it can come out of nowhere to surprise us.  We are not morally responsible if a sudden feeling of anger hits us that way.

That said, if we predispose ourselves to feel anger by being characteristically unhappy, negative, overly sensitive, grudge-holding, or a drama queen, then even flashes of anger can be immoral; they are our responsibility because we’ve made anger a greater part of our character.  Anger isn’t as likely to come as a surprise to a person who makes it a way of life.  Character is always a factor in determining moral guilt.

A decision to be angry or sustain anger is more common than a flash of sudden anger.  It’s what we do with our feelings of anger that makes us guilty.  Words and actions are other factors in determining moral guilt or innocence.  What we choose to say and/or do in response to anger is where our responsibility clearly lies.

Motive is a third aspect in judging moral guilt; of the three motives for anger, only one of them is good.

FRUSTRATION is a motive for anger where the person says, “I didn’t get my way.”  We typically get frustrated over little things.  Frustration is founded on self-centeredness and immaturity.

FEAR is a motive for anger that says, “I might not get my way.”  Fear and anger are the two most basic human emotions.  We respond more quickly to these stimuli because a quick response might be necessary to survive a life-ending threat.  However, at least 90% of the things we fear never happen and when they do, they rarely threaten our survival.  This is a survival mechanism that God hard-wired into our brains; it can make us overreact to fear, causing nervousness that is unhealthy and too often immoral.   If fear is ongoing, we call it “stress.”

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is a spiritual motive that declares, “It didn’t get done God’s way.”  There is only one instance in the Gospels were Jesus is said to be angry.  In Mark 3:5, Jesus is angry and distressed at the stubbornness of hypocritical hearts.  People commonly cite Jesus’ chasing the moneychangers and sellers out of the temple as a time He got angry, but none of the Gospel writers explain it that way.  Instead, zeal is the motive offered for that act (see John 2:17).  Following Jesus’ example, we can say several things about RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION to distinguish it as the only godly motive for anger

ANGER is a sin when it is based on self-centeredness; it begins as a perceived threat to self-interest.  RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION starts in love for God & addresses sin and/or disrespect of God.  RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is often a response to hypocrisy where ANGER is often a result of hypocrisy.  Here are several observations about the difference between the virtue of RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION and the vice of ANGER.

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION defends the truth while ANGER often tramples over it.

Like Jesus, persons expressing RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION are not characterized by aggressive words and deeds while people given to ANGER are often aggressive in what they say and do.

ANGER tends to be sudden, explosive, and frequently out of proportion to the actual offense suffered.  RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is measured because it is a considered response and never out of proportion.

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is never an act of revenge and would not consider “fighting fire with fire.”  Unlike ANGER, it seeks reconciliation, repentance, and restoration.

ANGER is characterized as flaring up over trivialities while RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION upholds fundamental moral issues, encouraging obedience to God’s will.

Unlike ANGER, RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is not about self-defense or even defending others or God’s reputation.  Instead, it is about doing what is right and calling others to do the same.

We’ve looked at Jesus’ example regarding anger, now we’ll look at what Jesus taught about anger in Matthew 5.  First, He proved the seriousness of anger; it can become a sin (vs. 21-22).

Were you to ask a stranger if they were a good person, what would be the most likely answer?  “Well, I haven’t killed anybody.”  Is that because we consider murder to be the most serious sin?  Would that person be surprised to hear that Jesus considers ANGER to be as serious a sin as murder?  That being angry is akin to murder?

“YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID…BUT I TELL YOU” is the expression of contrast we read throughout the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus is introducing a newer, better, deeper, and more true understanding of spiritual and moral life.

Under the old way, anger that did not result in murder was more or less OK.  Certainly considered a “misdemeanor” if at all.  But under Jesus’ way, anger is a sin, without regard to whether violence occurs or not.

Second, to avoid being guilty of serious sin, Jesus commanded swift and righteous resolution of anger (vs. 23-26) by giving two examples, one set in a religious context and the other in a secular context.

In the context of temple, Jesus taught that resolution must precede worship.  Consider: ANGER is sin.  Sin disrupts our relationship with God.  Worship is impossible under that circumstance.  In this predicament, it is essential to pause BEFORE worship to reconcile with other person, (your BROTHER or sister).  By way of another example, 2 Peter 3:7 implies that a disrespectful husband risks having his prayers “hindered” by the way he treats his wife.  Here is an overlap of relational and spiritual that merits a deeper examination.  (I can personally vouch that Peter’s warning is true.)

In the context of the legal system of the day, Jesus appealed to a practical and wise side of the issue.  Jesus advised that it is easier to settle a lawsuit out of court than it is after the judge has arrived.  That is probably still true today!  Just as an issue should be settled before worship, so should an issue be solved before appearing before a judge.  The person who fails to resolve in a timely way risks losing everything.

In this teaching Jesus underscores the foolishness of giving into anger.  Whether it’s a quick fuse or a slow burn, anger has destructive consequences.   Wise people will consider the consequences and exert the self-control necessary to squelch anger, reconcile relationships, and honor God instead of disobeying His will.

  1. The vital virtue of self-control (James 1:19-27).

As James presents it, self-control is a matter of timing.  We write this because he makes three references to time as central to his teaching about self-control in communications.

The first reference to timing is QUICK TO LISTEN; which means to get all the facts before reacting.  Begin by checking your perceptions.

– Do you have all the facts straight or are you overreacting to a misunderstanding?

– Are you really angry at that person or are you angry because something going on in your mind or heart that does not involve them?  If there is not a cause and effect relationship, then your anger is more likely to be a sin.

– Ask yourself, “What is my motive?”  If it is to “get even” or anything other than giving God glory and reconciling people, there’s a good chance your anger is just selfishness, no matter how self-righteous or reasonable you can make it sound.  Cancel the “spin” in your head!

– Ask yourself, “Is this any of my business?”  Previously in this series we’ve learned that godly ambition includes living a quiet life, minding our own business.

Next, since you can’t read minds, look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.

– Try to think of extenuating circumstances or other meanings to their words and deeds.

– In conversation with that person, check your perceptions and their intention.  Tell them how you see things and ask them if they see them differently.  Try to forge a common understanding of what is causing anger in your relationship.

Finally, by faith, try to see the situation from God’s perspective.

– If there is not a command of God being violated or a good deed left undone, is there really any reason to take offense?

– Can you be certain you are in the right on the matter and how you intend to resolve it?

– We have been warned that on Judgment Day, all “careless words” will be judged by God (see Matthew 12:36).  How will you feel when petty and hurtful words are repeated before Jesus?

The second reference to timing is SLOW TO SPEAK, which means to prefer silence and to carefully guard your words.  As we’ve been learning on Wednesday Bible Studies, the Bible has a lot to say on the subject of words.  One piece of wisdom is that the best away we can avoid speaking rashly is to avoid speaking.  Silence may not always be the best choice, but taking time to think is always good.

The amount of time we need to take before giving a comment or answer depends on how long it takes you to do the aforementioned three steps of homework prior to answering.  Besides, if you take your time, you will find that a good deal of hurtful speech and miscommunication can be avoided.  Taking time may give you an opportunity to recognize bad speech and its effects.

The final reference to time is to be SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY. This means to carefully and prayerfully guard your actions.

Obviously, words aren’t the only way we give in to anger.  But they are the most common way and I believe that’s part of the reason why the Bible has so much to say on this subject.

It takes time to be certain an offense is truly intended, who is at fault, and decide what, if anything, needs to be done to reconcile the parties involved.  If you practice this, you will find that simply because you waited to react, the situation resolves itself.  God will always do a better job than we can hope to do.

Modern scientific studies of emotional intelligence show that our brain structures are set up to respond most quickly to anger and fear.  There is literally another set of brain parts that are used for reason, love, and self-control.

This is evidence of what we have learned by experience: it is not in our natural self to be self-controlled.  Doing right requires that we take more time and use the parts of our brain that work more slowly than the mouthy, angry, and evil parts.  James’ double use of the word SLOW reflects the findings of modern science!

Our best motive for self-control is to achieve the RIGHTEOUS LIFE GOD DESIRES (v. 20).  Stated briefly, the RIGHTEOUS LIFE GOD DESIRES is becoming more like Jesus.  James is also clear about the details of what a RIGHTEOUS LIFE looks like.  Verse 26 says that a RIGHTEOUS person has a TIGHT REIGN ON HIS TONGUE. Verse 27 says that a RIGHTEOUS person looks after the needy and keeps themselves from being morally POLLUTED BY THE WORLD.

Elsewhere in James we develop a broad view of a RIGHTEOUS LIFE:

2:10 = Keep the entirety of God’s commands, not just your favorite parts.

4:7 = Become submissive to God, resistant to the devil.

5:13-16 = Rely on prayer.

James instructs us that self-control is a mark of maturing faith.  Writing plainly, verse 26 warns that uncontrolled speech betrays a RELIGION that is WORTHLESS.  We need our faith to be true in order to be saved and to persevere in this life.  When trials and death come, a false faith will be WORTHLESS to us.

One way to cure self-deception about our status before God is to look at what we are doing.  James gave three examples:

A person who says what they think reveals they are self-deceived and they will find, on Judgment Day, that their RELIGION is WORTHLESS in regard to getting into heaven.

Anyone can claim faith, but God-approved religion is proven by two actions: keeping from following the WORLD so closely that your moral status becomes as dirty as theirs.  God approves service and protection for the neediest members of the community, not the wealthiest.

In James 3:2 we understand moral perfection is proved by control of what one says: WE ALL STUMBLE IN MANY WAYS.  IF A MAN IS NEVER AT FAULT IN WHAT HE SAYS, HE IS A PERFECT MAN, ABLE TO KEEP HIS WHOLE BODY IN CHECK.

Ideally, self-control is achieved by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and thereby being Spirit-controlled.  GLS 5:22-23 = self-control is one of the Fruits of the Spirit.

Anger can quickly lead to other sins.  If controlled, we can avoid a falling-out.

If you are younger than 50, you know all about

twitter

Twitter as a place where angry exchanges can easily take place.  Twitter is an app and website that aims at providing news and social networking by allowing users to post and interact with messages called “tweets”.  Originally, tweets were restricted to 140 characters, but late last year, the limit was doubled to 280 for most languages.   On this basis, it may be argued that Twitter’s greatest virtue is brevity.

Twitter was launched in July, 2006. In ten years Twitter grew to more than 319 million active users.  Another gauge of the influence of Twitter occurred on the day of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when 40 million election-related tweets sent by 10 p.m.

The gentleman who may have benefitted most from all that election day activity was President Trump, who has also become one of Twitter’s most famous/infamous users.  I have a Twitter account with a whopping THIRTY followers.  This means 30 people get notified when I tweet.  Nine out of ten times my tweet is simply an announcement that I have posted my sermon notes on the internet.

Because of the relative anonymity (you can use a net name – pseudonym) and the brevity of the messages, Twitter has become a place where social interactions take on the form of angry opposition.  The word “Tweets” sounds like a happy thing, but the fact is, these brief messages too often take on hateful, condemning, and argumentative tones.  Occasionally you will hear about a celebrity who has closed their Twitter account because the messages left were so hurtful.

In fact, in February of this year the company announced that they were responding to constant criticism of the wrathful aspect of tweets by providing help for those who tweeted about self-harm or suicide, and restricting the access of users who encourage others to harm themselves or commit suicide.  This ought to come as no surprise to anyone: human nature is such that if we make it easy to hurt others, more people will engage in that behavior.

One of the things that is supposed to distinguish followers of Jesus from the rest of the world is the presence of peace and the absence of anger.  We will show the world we are different if we don’t tweet or talk in anger.  We will demonstrate we truly belong to Jesus if we take the time needed to act in love, not anger.  That will take pursuit of self-control and avoidance of the deadly sin of wrath.

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia.

Getting in Touch with His Masculine Side

Please read Isaiah 42:10-13 and Revelation 19:11-21 in your favorite version of the Bible.  As usual, I’ve used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

God is our Father and our King; a full view of God and humanity celebrates masculinity and femininity.

God is our Father.  As we learned last month on Mother’s Day that does not mean that His character is limited to masculine behaviors.  Scripture occasionally describes God in terms that are maternal as well.

May we agree that “male” and “female” refer to scientific states that can be objectively established, while outside of biology, “masculine” and “feminine” are terms that reflect a more subjective reality?  Can we acknowledge that the vast majority of us are a mix of character traits that can be described as “masculine” and “feminine”?  God Himself is described in both ways, and we are, both genders, made in His Image.

This set of Mother’s and Father’s Day messages is an attempt to satisfy our curiosity about the nature and character of God.  What we’ve learned is that in His nature, God is NEITHER male nor female; instead, He is a spiritual being.  We’ve learned God’s personality is both fatherly and motherly.

In honor of the day, a little story is required.  One summer evening during a severe thunderstorm a mother tucked her young son back into bed.  She was about to turn off the light when the boy asked, a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?”

The mother smiled and said sweetly, “I can’t dear, I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”

A dark, angry look crossed the little face and his lower lip began to protrude.

“The big sissy!”

Last month, on Mother’s day, we got in touch with the “feminine” side of God’s character.  This month, for the sake of truth and equal time, we will look at two passages that clearly point to the “masculine” side of God.

  1. The LORD is a MIGHTY MAN (Isaiah 42:10-13).

Context: Sandwiched between a description of the Lord’s Servant (ch. 42) and Israel’s Savior (ch. 43), we find this passage of praise that affirms God’s nature has characteristics we could call “feminine” (v. 14) and “masculine” (v. 13).

The heading reads “Song of Praise to the Lord.”  Verse nine states that the LORD is doing something NEW; this song may be the announcement promised in this verse.

Comments: The passage juxtaposes the paternal/masculine image of a warrior (v. 13) with the maternal/feminine image of a child-birthing mother in the very next verse (v. 14).  The fact that these images are side by side says to me we needn’t obsess over God’s gender identity, but see them as two sides of the same coin.

The LORD is a victorious warrior.  This martial imagery is quite a contrast to the gentleness of the SERVANT in verses two and three.  THE LORD WILL MARCH OUT is the ancient expression for an army taking the field to fight.  Let’s look at the particulars of Isaiah’s portrayal of the LORD in verse thirteen.

The LORD is a MIGHTY MAN; this phrase reminds us of the soldiers who served King David (2 Samuel 23).  Their conquests and exploits are legendary.

The LORD is a zealous WARRIOR.  The word translated here as ZEAL can also be translated as FURY.  This is His wrath against the wicked and vengeance on those who persecute His people.  God’s eagerness to rescue His people is also measured by the feminine imagery of verse fourteen.

The phrase the LORD will RAISE THE BATTLE CRY gives us an exciting, dramatic picture of God as a general, leading the battle.  It is typical for soldiers to take the field with a shout.  This is done to excite their own courage and intimidate their enemy.  God is taking the field to lead His people into battle versus evil.

The LORD will TRIUMPH OVER HIS ENEMIES.  The identity of HIS ENEMIES is not revealed here, but we can safely generalize it to include the nations persecuting His people and all idolators.  (Verses ten to tweleve have a “four corners of the earth” kind of theme, so His ENEMIES are all over.)  Elsewhere, God is depicted as victorious over the primeval chaos (Psalm 93), the Egyptians (Exodus 15), Babylon (Isaiah 47), death (Isaiah 25:8), and the devil (Revelation 20:7-10).  These all give us information about the ENEMIES the divine WARRIOR has vanquished in battle.

This is masculine imagery, comparing God to a man of action, dynamism, and victorious over all opposition.  This is the kind of stuff that nourishes a man’s soul!

  1. Jesus is the Conquering King (Revelation 19:11-21).

Context: Between a scene of heaven rejoicing over the victory of God (ch. 19) and Judgment Day, we are treated to a description of the King who is the object of worship and the warrior who defeated the enemies judged guilty and destroyed.

Comments: Jesus is the conquering King of Kings.  The WHITE HORSE he rides is a symbol of victory.  We will examine the particulars.

He is CALLED FAITHFUL AND TRUE in verse eleven.  See 3:14, where the letter to the church in Laodicea is the words of the one who is FAITHFUL AND TRUE.  Jesus can be counted on to do the right thing.  Unlike earthly military commanders, He never abuses the might at His disposal.

It is promised that WITH JUSTICE HE JUDGES AND MAKES WAR (11).  This reads a lot like Isaiah 11:3-4, the description of the BRANCH OF JESSE (Jesus).

HE WILL NOT JUDGE BY WHAT HE SEES WITH HIS EYES, OR DECIDE BY WHAT HE HEARS WITH HIS EARS; BUT WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS HE WILL JUDGE THE NEEDY, WITH JUSTICE HE WILL GIVE DECISIONS FOR THE POOR OF THE EARTH.  In Revelation, the theme of a holy war at the end of time is introduced in chs. 13+14.

In verse twelve, it is written that HIS EYES ARE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE.  This description has already been used in Revelation 1:14 for the figure of the SON OF MAN, and for the SON OF GOD in 2:18, addressor of the letter to the church in Thyatira.

ON HIS HEAD ARE MANY CROWNS (v. 12); obviously, CROWNS are a symbol of authority.  It’s the number and origin of the CROWNS that’s interesting.  Without specifying a number, one might guess the rider wears more CROWNS than the seven on the DRAGON’s head (12:3) and the ten on the BEAST’s head (13:1).  These CROWNS may be the ones the 24 ELDERS laid down before Him (4:10-11) represent the worship offered the LAMB in Revelation 5.

The rider is wears a ROBE DIPPED IN BLOOD (v. 13). Some alternative ancient manuscripts of the Revelation use the word “sprinkled” here.  That translation makes more sense in light of Isaiah 63:1-3, where the conqueror’s robe is STAINED WITH CRIMSON, the blood of the Edomites, enemies of Israel.

However, as this is a figure of Jesus, it is more likely His own blood that makes his ROBE crimson-colored.

IN HIS MOUTH, A SHARP SWORD (15) reads like a startling detail, but it’s not unique to John’s Revelation.  Something similar is mentioned in Psalm 2:9 and Isaiah 11:4: HE WILL STRIKE THE EARTH WITH THE ROD OF HIS MOUTH; WITH THE BREATH OF HIS LIPS HE WILL SLAY THE WICKED. This description has already been used twice in the Revelation.  In 1:16 it appears as part of the description of the One like the Son of Man.  In 2:12+16, we read it in a warning to the church in Pergamum.

The SWORD symbolizes judgment and the MOUTH is the source of words.  Together, this odd-sounding image is one of the powerful words of Jesus, judging sin and condemning sinners to God’s wrath.

The name of the rider is both a mystery and a revelation.  Or, more likely, He has three different names.  Verse twelve relates that HE HAS A NAME WRITTEN ON HIM THAT NO ONE BUT HE HIMSELF KNOWS.  In verse thirteen we read HIS NAME IS THE WORD OF GOD, a name used for Jesus in John 1.  In verse sixteen the location of his NAME (ON HIS THIGH) is revealed to be KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS.  This designation is used for God in Deuteronomy 10:17 and for Jesus in Philippians 2:9.  In Matthew 11:27 Jesus said;

“ALL THINGS HAVE BEEN COMMITTED TO ME BY MY FATHER. NO ONE KNOWS THE SON EXCEPT THE FATHER, AND NO ONE KNOWS THE FATHER EXCEPT THE SON AND THOSE TO WHOM THE SON CHOOSES TO REVEAL HIM.”

His victory is described in verses 17-21.  There are two important things to note.

One, His victory will be FINAL. In a grotesque image, the scavenging birds and beasts are invited to feast on the flesh of those fallen in battle (17-18, 21)

Two, His victory will be TOTAL.  In vs. 19-20, the BEAST and FALSE PROPHET, two symbols of the spiritual evil that is behind worldly evil, are defeated and destroyed in THE FIERY LAKE OF BURNING SULFUR.

Even though militaristic images are used here, the ultimate triumph over spiritual evil and its human accomplices was not accomplished by military might, but by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  It is a spiritual victory.

God is our Father and our King; a full view of God and humanity celebrates masculinity and femininity.

What I’ve learned from this set of two messages is that if gender is not an issue where God is concerned, it shouldn’t be an issue where His people are concerned.  Were we to investigate the issue further, we’d find that God’s ideal is that all His children experience a kind of wholeness that comes from having both maleness and femaleness in our character and thinking.  In the plan of God, both genders exist so that each can supply what is typically lacking in the other.  Starting with Adam and Eve, men and women are to complement one another.  This is the genius of God’s plan where marriage and the Church are concerned; the people coming together to be one, and that one being more than the sum of their parts.  That strikes me as a virtue worth working toward.

Speaking of work…

A father was conversing with his young daughter, showing off her knowledge of geography to proud grandparents.

He said, “Where does mommy live?”

“Minn-e-apolis” the little voice answered, carefully forming each syllable.

“Right!  Where do grandpa and grandma live?

“Bal-ti-more.”

“Good job!  And where does daddy live?”

“At work.”

Convicted, the father took the next day off and spent it with his little girl.

Apart from having truthful theology that recognizes God as our Father and King, what difference does all of this make?  It is crucial in at least two ways:

  • You can bow before Him now or later, but later is too late. Believe on Him today!
  • Don’t just acknowledge His kingship, make Him YOUR King. Bow to Him today!

Make a personal commitment, not just a profession of faith.

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solution (5 of 7)

#5 = Lust/True Love

Lust (impurity) violates God’s command to honor Him with our body.  True Love keeps His commands.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

ginger

“Ginger Grant” (the “movie star”); a character on the “Gilligan’s Island” TV series.

The actress who portrayed Ginger on the show was Tina Louise, an actress who had an impressive acting resume on stage and screen.  In fact, her acting career started at age two when she appeared in an ad for her father’s candy business!  In 1958 the National Arts Council named her the Most Beautiful Redhead.  (What has that got to do with ART?)  She and cast mate Dawn Wells are the only two survivors of Gilligan’s Island.

Ms. Louise won the role after Jayne Mansfield turned it down.  She became increasingly unhappy with the role, claiming it typecast her and ultimately ruined her career.  Her dislike of the character might be implied in the fact that she turned down every chance to reprise the role in subsequent Gilligan’s Island movies.

On the other hand, there aren’t many roles that come along that make an actor a “pop culture icon.”  In fact, in 2005, a TVLand special program ranked Tina Louise as second only to Heather Locklear as TV’s all-time sex symbols.

Because the character of Ginger was written to be beautiful and glamorous, it is an obvious choice to link the character with the vice of LUST.  Additionally, Tina Louise traded on her good looks to encourage LUST, appearing twice in “Playboy” magazine.  This means both Ginger and Tina are good choices as symbols of the modern malady of LUST.

  1. The vicious vice of IMPURITY (Matthew 5:27-30).

What are the sins of impurity, including lust?  First of all, sexual impurity violates God’s will.  God’s will in sexuality simply expressed: a husband and wife may enjoy sexuality together.  In any other relationship, sex is “adultery;” the Bible term that includes all the other variations on sexuality you can name.

In a culture drowning in sexual sin, we especially need to maintain a healthy balance on this subject.  Adultery is only one sin of many.  In the mind of God, it is no better or worse than any other.

Adultery is condemned in the Seventh Commandment: in Exodus 20:14 we read, YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.  In the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17) a man is not co covet your neighbor’s wife.  The similarity of these prohibitions lead to the misconception that ADULTERY was a form of thievery, reflecting an attitude toward women that they are the property of a husband or father.  We need to make a distinction between the two: the sin of coveting involves property, not people.  Though it may feel similar, the sin of lust involve people, not property.

Jesus broadened the definition of adultery to include lust. In Matthew 5:27 He compared the Old Covenant with the New Covenant He was making, introducing the topic with “YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID.”  Under the old definition, adultery was misidentified as being a version of theft, motivated by covetousness.  This combination of the 7th & 10 Commandments.

This was wrong in two other ways: it placed the responsibility for the sin on the woman but gave the authority to resolve it to the man.  It put a wife on the level of other property.

As with all kinds of sin, sexual impurity has deadly consequences.   In Jesus’ time, they understood it as a physical act of unfaithfulness, not as an attitude of unfaithfulness.  However, in v. 28 Jesus supplied a new, larger, and more challenging definition.

His new and better way was to understand adultery as being sinful as a physical act AND as an emotional/mental act as well.  Jesus condemned LUST as marking a person as being just as guilty of adultery as persons physically committing it: “ANYONE WHO LOOKS AT A WOMAN LUSTFULLY HAS ALREADY COMMITTED ADULTERY WITH HER IN HIS HEART.”

This word LUST is to be understood as a prolonged look while mentally considering a sexual act.  In the Greek, there is more to LUST than meets the eye.  (Pun fully intended!!)  The word LUST included a consideration of the physical act, even planning how to do it.

What’s true of ADULTERY is also true of other sins.  An act is sinful because it takes a sinful thought and/or perpetuates it in an evil act.  The process is explained in JMS 1:13-18.  Let me be clear about what Jesus taught; ADULTERY is just as much a lustful look and/or thought as it is a physical act.

Morally speaking, we are not responsible when temptations come to us spontaneously.  We are responsible for tempting ourselves, but we are in all cases responsible for our reaction to temptation.  If we keep looking at it, keep thinking about it, or dwell on it, we are responsible for turning temptation into sin.  If we avert our eyes, dismiss it from our thoughts, pray, and in any other way resist the devil, we are not guilty of sin.  We need to resolve, as Job did, to look away from temptation and thereby avoid sin.  In Job 31:1 it is written; “I MADE A COVENANT WITH MY EYES NOT TO LOOK LUSTFULLY AT A YOUNG WOMAN.”  This is an example of a simple and practical means to minimize the frequency and depth of temptations.  As ever, Jesus’ standard is higher; it is not enough just to refrain from the physical act, but one must also avoid the heart-attitude to avoid being guilty of adultery.

Avoiding the temptation and repenting of it is the more important thing.  One measure of the deadly consequences of sin is the lengths to which one is willing to go to prevent being guilty.  In vs. 29-30, Jesus sets a high value on avoiding adultery.  The seriousness of a crime is determined by the seriousness of its punishment.

I don’t know about you, but I value my RIGHT EYE and my RIGHT HAND pretty highly.  Jesus said these are worthless compared to life after death. In this teaching, Jesus is on the same page as Jewish rabbis of the time, who taught:

“The eyes and the hand are the two brokers of sin.”

“Woe to him who goes after his eyes, for they are adulterous.”

Some people think Jesus is exaggerating here a bit or using metaphoric language.  It doesn’t make sense to them that Jesus would really advocate self-mutilation as an alternative to self-control.

I disagree.  I believe He was being literal.  In this teaching, Jesus puts a high value on the deadliness of sin and on the worth of eternal life with God.  When you think about it, what He said is true: it’d be better to give these body parts up than lose one’s entire self to hell and eternal death.  Two counterpoints: One, sin is serious.  It is deadly.  With this sin and with others, we’ve got to stop winking and making excuses.

Two, heaven is so wonderful, it’s worth everything in this world.  There is nothing we can give up to earn salvation, but if there was anything of this world that we might have to give up to obtain eternal life the trade would be a no-brainer.  Jesus made this point again in 16:26; “WHAT GOOD WILL IT BE FOR A MAN IF HE GAINS THE WHOLE WORLD, YET FORFEITS HIS SOUL?”  As we read in verse 29: it is far better to sacrifice earthly things than lose heavenly blessings.

ADULTERY, like all other kinds of sin, often has consequences in this life.   There are consequences to every decision we make; some of them occur naturally and others are chosen (”structured”) for us by God and/or others.  In the case of ADULTERY, the natural consequences can include diseases and relationships broken by feelings of betrayal.  The structured consequences are intended to end the sin, enable repentance, and restore relationships by means of forgiveness.

A fourth warning about sexual sin is that it is a perversion of true love.  Based on Jesus’ teaching, any part of love we’ve promised to our spouse that is given to another is ADULTERY.  A look, a thought, a flirtation – anything that is outside the blessing of marriage can be ADULTERY without any kind of physical contact involved.

The devil can’t use the things of God to tempt us, so he uses copies.  Like a reflection in a broken mirror, these are false and distorted versions of the truth.  In this case, LUST is a distorted version of LOVE.  A person guilty of LUST is entirely wrapped up in themselves.  A person in LOVE is wrapped up in their beloved.  The difference is obvious.

A fifth reason to understand IMPURITY as deadly is that it defies God’s commands to use our body to glorify God; ADULTERY is doing the opposite.

A couple examples summarize this command to use our physical selves to point others to God.  In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 we read, FLEE FROM SEXUAL IMMORALITY.  ALL OTHER SINS A MAN COMMITS ARE OUTSIDE HIS BODY, BUT HE WHO SINS SEXUALLY SINS AGAINST HIS OWN BODY.  DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT YOUR BODY IS A TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WHO IS IN YOU, WHOM YOU HAVE RECEIVED FROM GOD?  YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN; YOU WERE BOUGHT AT A PRICE.  THEREFORE HONOR GOD WITH YOUR BODY.  Romans 12:1 teaches, THEREFORE, I URGE YOU, BROTHERS, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY, TO OFFER YOUR BODIES AS LIVING SACRIFICES, HOLY AND PLEASING TO GOD – WHICH IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP.

  1. The vital virtue of TRUE LOVE (JHN 15:9-17).

What makes love “true?”  True love has its origin in God’s love.   In John 15: 9+10, Jesus urged His disciples to REMAIN in His LOVE.   In verses 12+17, He made it a command; we are to love one another as He loved us.  Merrill Tenney’s comment on this verse is instructive: “Unity instead of rivalry, trust instead of suspicion, obedience instead of self-assertion must rule the disciples’ common labors.”

In verse eleven we find that true love for God is revealed in obedience.  Love is being wrapped up in God, not self.

Obedience is putting God’s will ahead of my own.

Obedience is surrendering my freedom to do evil in return for the true freedom to do good.

Obedience is leaving slavery to sin to call God our true Master.

Obedience is the source of COMPLETE JOY in our lives.

True love for others is revealed in the sacrifices we make in order to witness to them about Jesus and serve them in His name (v. 13).  Love shows preference for the beloved.

Verses 14-16 warn that the world does not know or practice TRUE LOVE.  Our culture settles for the lesser goals of “tolerance” and satisfaction.  Why settle for mere tolerance when love is a deeper commitment?  Why make self-satisfaction our goal when satisfying the will of God gives COMPLETE JOY?  These verses call us to the deepest kind of love as our first love.

Since sexuality is limited to the husband-wife relationship, we benefit by asking, what are God’s purposes in marriage?  Why did He create it?

One divine purpose for marriage is the foundation of families, which are the building-blocks of civilization.  From the beginning of the Bible and throughout its pages, God instituted marriage as the fundamental human relationship, the source of life and the organizational principle.

Another divine purpose is that marriage be a source of blessing to husband and wife.  Because they are one in Christ, they are to bless all around them.  When He made the world, God declared all of it good, except for one thing: the man’s being alone.  God completed Adam’s manhood by complementing it with Eve’s womanhood.  And so it has always been that the two become a fuller version of the one.  The other blessings of marriage include:

Physical pleasure in sexual ways, but in all the other worldly senses as well.

Emotional pleasure; companion-ship is supposed to be part of marital relations.  Whenever people are in right relationship with one another, COMPLETE JOY is to be the result.

Spiritual maturity is the highest expression of love.  The family founded on husband and wife is supposed to be a relation-ship of mutual support and growth in grace.

A third divine purpose in marriage is to create a place to learn about true love and to train others (children especially) in true love. God’s word reveals that the ideal in God’s institution of marriage is that the two become ONE FLESH (Gensis 2:24).  This is where families begin: at marriage, not at childbirth.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 makes it clear that the family is, in God’s plan, the primary means of passing the faith along from one generation to the next.  This is the priority in family life, training children in godliness.

The primary relationship in families is that of husband and wife, NEVER parent and child.  When we make marriage our priority, family life improves on its own.  It is the child-centered parenting of the last 2-3 generations that has created so many disastrous things in our culture.

Fourth and finally, God wants marriage to be a foretaste of heaven and a symbol of the relationship between God and His people.  Isaiah 54:5; 62:5; Jeremiah 3:14; Hosea 2:19-20; Revelation 19:7 are samples of the scriptures that utilize the metaphor of God as the Groom and His people as His bride.

Its a good metaphor: marriage is an institution created by God, a relationship that is created by entering into a covenant.  So is God’s relationship with His people.  Marriage is a voluntary covenant where two parties motivated by love join together.  Marriage is, ideally, the relationship we know as being the deepest, most joyous celebration of love.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

tinder

“Tinder,” a photo sharing app used as a dating service.  On the surface, Tinder is an app used for sharing pictures.  Users post pictures and look at other posts by swiping a finger across their phone screen to move from one picture to another.  Though it is not billed as a dating service, Tinder is nonetheless used to search for possible dates and initiate conversations.

Tinder has been selected as a symbol of LUST because the pictures posted are sometimes lewd and because with nothing more than pictures to see, people are deciding with whom they want to hook up for casual sex or pursue lasting relationships on the basis of what they see.  People will swipe from picture to picture until they find someone visually appealing and then initiate a conversation with that person.  In this way, Tinder is the EPITOME of LUST!

To understand the scope of Tinder and other sites like it, I offer two bits of data.   The first, from Wikipedia; as of 2015, there are 1.6 billion Tinder users.  “More than 8 billion matches have been made since Tinder launched in 2012.”  The second, from a website called “The Bustle,” citing a study by a marketing service called “Simple Texting,” 13.6% of dating app users have made matches that result in engagement or marriage.  The third, from the Wikipedia again; the biggest group of users of Tinder are in the 16-24 years old range.

Tinder enables people to make life-changing decisions on the basis of a single picture.  In this way, it works very much like LUST; on just one look.  To use this app is to treat love like a slot machine.  Gambling with your life is even more foolish than gambling with your money.

Seven Modern Maladies and their Divine Solutions (4 of 7)

#4 = Laziness/Godly Ambition

Laziness is the vice of avoiding necessary deeds.  Godly Ambition aims at doing God’s work in His way.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

220px-Lovey_Howell

“Mrs. Howell” (the “millionaire’s wife”) from “Gilligan’s Island.”

        Of all seven characters on Gilligan’s Island, it may be Lovey that has the least backstory.  The writers never even bothered to give her a first name.  Her maiden name was “Wentworth,” and attended Vassar, but details are scarce.

The actress’ name was Natalie Schaefer, a lady whose stage and film career spanned more than seventy years!  Through wise investments, Ms. Schaefer parlayed her acting earnings into millions.  Ironically, she played a millionaire’s wife on TV and in real life was a millionaire single woman!  Both Alan Hale Jr. (the Skipper) and Ms. Hale died of cancer in 1990 and both had their ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.

Lovey Howell was chosen as the symbol of laziness because she never lifted a finger to help with the islanders’ escape plans.  She was used to having servants wait on her in the Howells’ various homes in the US and Europe.  No one would say Lovey was apathetic or uninvolved with the other castaways, but she obviously preferred the life of the “idle rich.”

  1. The vicious vice of LAZINESS (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)

What is sloth or laziness?  It is an unwillingness to exert or even inconvenience one’s self, regardless of how important or needed an action may be.  It is seeking the path of least effort or least resistance. (In this sense, laziness can be manifest in an unreasonable insistence on doing the cheapest, easiest, most familiar way.  It is a “dumbing down” of method and mission when something better can be achieved. Lazy people set low expectations.)

Laziness is a sin of omission: omitting good works; not doing good things.  Godly living is a full morality.  It is not just the avoidance of evil (sins of commission), but is also the practice of good. Practicing good is an active effort put into seeing the good and responding to opportunity in a timely way.

This vice of laziness or sloth most often involves making excuses, even telling lies.  For example, a chronically lazy person can rationalize their lack of love by means of a false sense of entitlement, a claim of victimization or disability, and/or a fear of failure or loss.

Why is laziness deadly?  Most importantly, because one’s salvation is called into question.  Salvation is something we’re commanded to “work out” in Philippians 2:12: THEREFORE, MY DEAR FRIENDS, AS YOU HAVE ALWAYS OBEYED – NOT ONLY IN MY PRESENCE, BUT NOW MUCH MORE IN MY ABSENCE – CONTINUE TO WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING.  The meaning of the command to “work out” our salvation may not be obvious.  Let’s think about it.  We do not obtain salvation by means of good works, it is God’s gift.  Having obtained it, salvation changes our character. We WORK those changes out of our inner person so others can experience them and be blessed by what we say and do.  A chronic refusal to do good works is a sure sign of not yet being saved.

Laziness is also deadly because it is rooted in self-deception.  The previously mentioned excuses are one example of how self-deception occurs.  Inflated views of self, apathy, or depression are different forms of self-deception but have the same deadly effect: people who have convinced themselves they don’t have a problem are not going to seek a solution.  Never solving one’s problem of sin results in eternal condemnation after death in this world.  A more serious problem than that you cannot find.

Laziness is insensitivity to the needs of others.  It is arguably the most obvious form of self-centeredness.

A lazy person expects all kinds of things but offers little or nothing in return.      This behavior  creates a “net loss” in the community (be it family, church, or municipality) when a person is only a consumer.  As we will see, God wants us to be “contributors” and “consumers.”

It’s a problem when cheats us out of two things: joy and health.  There is a particular joy that comes with growth and achievement.  People who don’t care enough to try will never know this kind of unique and deep joy.  Where mediocrity and failure are accept-able alternatives, laziness is present.  It is a fact of life (physical AND spiritual) that health and vigor can only be developed by exertion.  God created us to grow by challenging ourselves.  Trials of all kinds will force challenges on us, but we need to choose challenges in order to develop health, growth, and energy.

Idleness leads to other sins: like marijuana – which is a “gateway drug” (leading to other forms of drug abuse) – sloth is a “gateway sin,” leading to other kinds of sin.  “Nature abhors a vacuum” is old expression grounded in science.  In the natural world, nature fills empty spaces.  This expression is just as true personally as it is scientifically.  When we are bored or lonely, we seek to solve the emptiness of those feelings.  Too often, the “filling” is with evil words & works.  “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” is another old expression proven by experience.  Idle people are more likely to get themselves in trouble.  Work has positive spiritual benefits and laziness has negative spiritual effects.  These are facts of human nature that are affirmed in Scripture.

It can be argued that laziness is the original sin: it promises reward without effort or risk.  In the garden, the serpent deceived Eve by offering her godlike powers without any effort and without risk.  All that was required was disobedience of God.  The serpent’s promise was, of course, a lie.  As we’ve observed, all laziness is based on some kind of lie.

Being lazy leaves one unprepared for the future. While we are not to be prey to anxiety or obsess about the future, the Bible commands we put reasonable effort into preparedness.  Lazy people don’t care.

Laziness betrays a lack of love.  I don’t think the opposite of love is hate.  Hate at least implies SOME kind of passion, a level of involvement that – though evil – is still involved.  I think apathy is the opposite of love, because it is disinterest, disregard.  In any case, the lazy person has no love for themselves, say nothing of loving others.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, we see how the Apostle Paul dealt with lazy folk in the flock. Paul’s warning about “idleness” came IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST (v. 6).  This is not a case of name dropping; it is the kind of language Paul used when a command needed extra emphasis.  Reading this phrase, the reader was to sit up and take extra notice of what followed.

Paul dropped two rules in dealing with lazy people.  They are to be subjected to church discipline.  Discipline should be invoked because idle persons cause trouble.  Boredom, if nothing else, ensures this.  The Greek word for IDLE can be translated as “truant.”  Truancy is not meeting one’s obligations; being idle.

The first means of discipline is to invoke the “Golden Rule of Work;” IF A MAN WILL NOT WORK, HE WILL NOT EAT” (v. 10).  Eating ought to motivate even the laziest person to get up and do something.  This rule covers those who refuse to work.  Persons who cannot work are covered by grace, not by law.  This first level of response to laziness calls the offender to repent and to take their full place in the community by getting to work.

When hunger fails to move a person to repentance, the second means of discipline the church is disfellowshipping (aka “shunning” or “excommunicating” in other churches).  We might call the second rule the Rule for Unrepentant Idlers.  Disfellowshipping is the ultimate penalty the Church can levy; this is serious business.  However, order must be maintained and disorderly and lazy people must act to protect its fellowship and reputation and act decisively to put the offender out o/t church.

According to 1 Thessalonians 5:14, plenty of warning and opportunity to repent needs to be given before applying the second rule.  When there is no good response to the use of these two rules, “tough love” is needed and the chronic offender needs to be disfellowshipped.  Here’s how Paul expressed this rule of law regarding unrepentant idlers:

Verse six = KEEP AWAY FROM THE BROTHER WHO IS IDLE.

Verse fourteen = DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH HIM.

There are three purposes to the use of church discipline.  First and most importantly, discipline is used to win the offender back to the truth; to save their life.  Verse fourteen states, IN ORDER THAT HE MAY FEEL ASHAMED (14).  And, in verse fifteen, even when disfellowshipped, DON’T REGARD HIM AS AN ENEMY, BUT WARN HIM AS A BROTHER (15).

– Church discipline is a difficult thing to do, but when love and grace do not promote godliness, it’s time to embrace the temporary difficulty of discipline to attempt to achieve long-term reform.

The second reason is to protect the church.  Every local church must act to protect its unity, spirituality, and reputation.  When we allow people to flaunt them-selves as chronic, unrepentant sinners, then the church is better off without them.  The problem is we put up with it too long and let the congregation be poisoned by toxic personalities.  Church folk often say, “We can’t afford to lose any members,” when the truth is, there are some members we can’t afford to keep!

A third reason is to do justice and protect the more needy members of the congregation.  We need to protect one another from the chronic toxic people that exist even in churches.

Paul gave us insight on how to recognize a lazy person.  He wrote that lazy people disavow the truth.  In verse six he wrote they do not LIVE ACCORDING TO THE TEACHING YOU RECEIVED.  Someone whose lifestyle is based on deception is not going to tolerate the truth.

Lazy people act as BUSYBODIES.  In verse eleven we read THEY ARE NOT BUSY, THEY ARE BUSY-BODIES.  Idlers tend to fill their empty hours by being “drama queens;” consciously or subconsciously creating drama to relieve their boredom.  Naturally, this makes for disorder in the church.  Paul knew that it is in the nature of idlers to be disorderly (those words are alternate translations of the same Greek word).

  1. The vital virtue of GODLY AMBITION (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12).

What makes ambition “godly?”  Making effort toward finding and doing the will of God in all situations is godly ambition.  This effort flows from like-mindedness with Christ and His people.  The word ZEAL conveys the attitude behind the actions.  Love for God and others must be manifest in a passion to do right by God and others.  ZEAL is passion that submits to God’s commands to love and tirelessly works to achieve them.

Why is godly ambition a vital virtue?  One, it keeps our priorities in order.  Though it does not bring in a check, love is JOB #1.  Our vocation is JOB #2, our relationships are JOB #3 and avocations (hobbies) JOB #4.  One can go into more detail, but it’s the order that counts.

Two, godly ambition keeps us in balance: we are neither an “idler” nor a “workaholic.”  An IDLER has already been identified as a vice; see the previous section.  Identifying a workaholic can be more difficult because the line can be subtle; it tends to be hidden by achievement.  Logically, a workaholic is…

overcommitted.  Their schedule is out of control.

a perfectionist.  Their personality is out of control.

consumed with worldly standards of success.  Their inner life is out of control.

Three, godly ambition results in a righteous kind of self-sufficiency.  As we’ve seen in previous messages, our ideal state is to be

DEPENDENT on God,

INTERDEPENDENT with each other, but

INDEPENDENT economically.

Paul is our example here; though he deserved financial support from the churches, he chose to work to support himself.

Four, godly ambition keeps us from idleness.  Work is not a curse; it is NOT a condition imposed the Fall.  The Bible shows Adam working in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2) and explains that the curse on Adam in Genesis 3 was not having to work, but having to work hard and sometimes unfruitfully.  In short, in the Bible, WORK is not a “four letter word.”

Five, godly ambition provides means and opportunity to serve and witness to others.  One of the particularly illogical things about our culture is the separation of work and faith.  We’ve all seen and some have personally experienced the attempt to make the workplace and community secular; to make faith only a private matter.  That is not God’s way, not according to secular law, and we don’t have to be intimidated.  Both the law of God and the law of the land prohibit acts of prejudice against spirituality.  Further, we must see that work is another arena in which we must live out our Christian faith, demonstrating in word and deed that Jesus lives in us.

Six, godly ambition encourages spiritual maturity.  Play and work are both arenas in which we can learn spiritual lessons and proclaim spiritual truths.  We need both anyway, so it makes sense to put them both to best use; serving God.  Work develops good habits and good habits are part of a maturity.

We’ve hailed godly ambition as the best form of ambition, which leaves an additional question: How do I enact godly ambition?  The answer is expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, where Paul expressed it under the words MAKE IT YOUR AMBITION.  This word translated as AMBITION also means to “to study,” or “to strive eagerly.”

Godly ambition is to live a life that pleases God and directs the attention of others to Him. Through the Spirit, Paul supplied five qualities of godly ambition.

Be ambitious to live a QUIET life (v. 11).  Each of us ought to live in a “drama-free” zone, a sphere of influence that begins in our soul and becomes available to others as we relate to them.  Ironically, a quiet life is not achieved by being lazy about work and relationships.  It is about promoting peace and having ambitions more noble than self-centeredness.

Be ambitious to live a self-contained life.  When Paul wrote MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS in verse eleven, he executed a word play, contrasting BUSINESS with BUSYBODIES who make everything their business.  Here are three simple rules that will help you MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.  These rules are not original with me; they are reclaiming consideration for others that our culture used to possess but have disappeared from civic discourse. The MYOB kind of lifestyle respects others and doesn’t inflict every last thought on them.

One, don’t give advice until you are asked or you have asked permission.  Giving unsolicited advice is detrimental to relationships as it puts the other person on the defensive.

Two, keep your opinions (especially complaints) to yourself.  Until you are asked or get permission, assume nobody wants to hear it.

Three, own what you say.  I once received a fairly toxic anonymous complaint.  I gave it the attention it deserved; I tore it up and threw it in the trash.  If you can’t put your name to it, don’t put it in public.  There’s far too much of that kind of gutless nonsense and bullying in social media; it’s especially inappropriate in church.

Be ambitious to live a self-sustained life.  In verse eleven we read, WORK WITH YOUR HANDS.  This does not mean that only physical labor is godly.  Instead, the distinction is between doing your own work and relying on others to do your work for you.

Having state that biblical observation, may I make a cultural one?  We are becoming a culture that condemns physical labor.  People in the media, for example, assume that working at a minimum wage job is for lower class people and that people like them who only use their hands to type are “real jobs.”  We are losing our respect for craftsmanship and doing work with pride.  Love for God and others demands that we do our best.  We need to stop “dumbing down” our standards for good workmanship and recapture the work ethic that helped America achieve greatness.

Four, be ambitious to live a life of witness and service.  We see why this is important in verse twelve: SO THAT YOUR DAILY LIFE MAY WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS.  Idlers, busybodies, drama queens and other toxic personalities are not respectable persons.  When such a person claims to follow Jesus, their lives prove their claims to be a lie and all Christianity suffers a loss of reputation by association.

We win respect by being respectful.  As the late Billy Graham said, “You may be the only Bible some people will read.”  Make sure you are a pleasant and accurate read.

It’s a fact that we will be held responsible for every idle word (Jesus said so in Matthew 12:36).  Stop and think; do you really want to be responsible for some of the things you say?  Does anyone want to miss heaven?

Five, be ambitious to live an independent life.  One purpose of work is to NOT DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY (v. 12).  This is not the infamous “Marlboro Man” shutting himself off from others.  It is someone who works up to the capacity that they can work so they are contributing something positive to the community.

People who can work but refuse to work come under law and need to be treated as lawbreakers.  People who can’t work come under grace and need to be supported.  You can easily tell which kind of person Paul has been writing about in these passages.  Financial independence is a godly goal but must not be turned into an idol.  It is a means to an end (spiritual maturity), not an end in itself, for that is idolatry.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

sloth

“Netflix,” an mail order and online video streaming service. Netflix facilitates “binge watching,” an activity which may be the epitome of laziness. This involves watching episode after episode of a series, one right after another, a kind of “couch potato” marathon.

The cartoon picture depicts someone doing some binge watching on Netflix.  Time for confession: I have watched three episodes in a row once or twice.  I am a lightweight when it comes to binge watching.  A fair amount of mental stamina is required, even though there’s little more physical exertion than going to the kitchen for a snack.

Netflix was started way back in 1997 when its main business was renting videos by mail.  Sometime between then and now, the online streaming part of the business took over and I’d guess most people utilize Netflix through their computer or on their phone as an app.  As of April this year, Netflix had 125 million total subscribers worldwide, in 190 countries.  It has become a behemoth in the entertainment world, producing a LOT of its own content.

Since TV took off in the 50s, Americans have wasted a huge portion of their lives staring at the “one-eyed monster.”  Whether you binge watch or not, TV can be an addiction that demands nothing more than vast amounts of time and delivers nothing more than distraction and soul-sapping worldly culture.

In Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus taught, “THE EYE IS THE LIGHT OF THE BODY.  IF YOUR EYES ARE GOOD, YOUR WHOLE BODY WILL BE FULL OF LIGHT.  BUT IF YOUR EYES ARE BAD, YOUR WHOLE BODY WILL BE FULL OF DARKNESS.  IF THEN THE LIGHT WITHIN YOU IS DARKNESS, HOW GREAT IS THAT DARKNESS!”  What a warning these verses supply!

It would not be right to say that TV and/or Netflix are the authors of laziness.  That sin has been with us since our first parents, Adam and Eve.  However, in our modern time, it’s safe to say that we feed too much of our lives to the one-eyed monster, exchanging precious time and energy for worldly distractions.  What we lose in the process can be so much more important than just life.  What we give up is part of our soul.  We stare at the one-eyed monster and allow its light to cast darkness in our souls.  I fear we give up a little of our spirit in the bargain.

This is a struggle.  I am convinced that if we eliminated staring at a screen just to be entertained, we would automatically improve our inner life.  But it is a hard thing to give up, even experimentally, to see the improvement we would receive from quitting TV and internet cold turkey.

Two things.  One, think of the struggle in terms of the vice of laziness versus the virtue of godly ambition.  There is a moral high ground here worthy of battling to possess.  Two, start small.  Declare a Sabbath from screens.  I’d suggest sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday.  Give that part of your life to God and your loved ones and see what He will do for you physically, spiritually, and in every other sense.