Samson’s Mistaken Marriage

Please read Judges 14 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our first look at the adult Samson is in Judges 14, where Samson makes a big mistake in marriage, but God use it to get him busy about soldiering the people of Israel out from under the Philistine boot.  While the account is deadly serious, it has some comedic elements and therefore reminds one of marriage in general.  Marriage is a deep well from which those of us who have a sense of humor can draw.  In the spirit of the passage, let me offer a couple humorous takes on marriage.

The speaker at a women’s club was lecturing on the subject of marriage.  Her point was that women are to be partners with their husbands, not to mother them.  To reinforce this point, she excitedly asked the audience of women, “How many of you want to mother your husband?”

Only one woman raised her hand.  The speaker was shocked.  This had never happened before, in all the times she had given this speech.  She asked, “Do you really want to mother your husband?”

“Mother?” the woman echoed.  “I thought you said smother!”

Now, in the interest of fairness, I offer this view from the other side of aisle.

A guy was out for a walk when he saw a guy walking a dog.  The pooch was an impressive specimen of a German Shepherd.  “Nice dog!” he said.

“I got this dog for my wife,” he replied.

The man sighed.  “Sure wish I could make a trade like that.”

In today’s passage we’ll see Samson, the biblical macho man, making a number of mistakes, sinning against God.  But the big mistake, the one that gets to the heart of the matter, is Samson’s mistaken marriage.

Samson proves God can accomplish His will with our help or in spite of our helping ourselves.

  1. Samson Sin #1 = Marrying a Pagan Woman.

This was a culture of arranged marriages.  That’s why, in spite of being the strongest man in history, Samson still asked his father to arrange for him to marry her because that’s the way those folks got married (1+2).

This was “love at first sight” or “lust at first sight,” or something equally unreliable.  Samson made this decision based only on what he’d SEEN.  He doesn’t even meet or talk to this woman until v. 7, after the marriage had been arranged!

Mr. & Mrs. M. tried to get Samson to do right; they may be a little child-centered, but are otherwise not at fault.  What was the right thing to do? As we read in Deuteronomy 7:1-6, God had expressly forbidden marriage between His people and pagans.  He knew it would lead to divided loyalties and then idolatry.  Accordingly, Samson’s parents objected to his intended being an UNCIRCUMCISED PHILISTINE (3).  Samson’s folks used that phrase in the usual way – as an insult.  You can understand their resentment, as at this time the Philistines WERE RULING OVER ISRAEL (4), and had been for forty years (13:1).

Naturally, they preferred a nice local girl.  The word RELATIVES refers to the tribe of Dan.  (No jokes about inbreeding, please.)  ALL OUR PEOPLE refers to the nation of Israel.  You can almost hear a Jewish mother say, “Can’t you find a good JEWISH girl?”

Here’s the important verse of the passage, the part that proves God can do His will with or without our cooperation.  Verse four explains God’s plan was to force a confrontation between Samson and the Philistines and a feud over a beautiful woman is a time-honored way to start a fight.

Samson was selfish and stubborn.  Here again with the “love at first sight” thing; the NIV translates v. 3 to say, “SHE’S THE RIGHT ONE FOR ME.”  It literally means, “She is right in my eyes.”  This is Samson being selfish and undisciplined, disobedient to the law of God.

This attitude characterized the Israelites at this time.  As 17:6 & 21:25 elaborate, IN THE DAYS ISRAEL HAD NO KING EVERYONE DID AS HE SAW FIT.   This sounds very close to the condition of the whole human race before God destroyed them with the flood: Genesis 6:5 states, EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF THE HUMAN HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

  1. Samson Sin #2 = Breaking t Nazirite Rules.

REMINDER = in looking at chapter 13, we learned that to be a Nazirite was to take on an additional set of rules in order to more fully dedicate one’s self to God.  Samson was supposed to follow these rules his entire life.  It is implied that this special relationship with God was the source of his miraculous strength.

Rule #1 = abstain from all fruit of the grapevine.

Verse eight tells us Samson was in a vineyard alone.  “When mom’s away, the kids will play.”  Here, in one place, at one time, it looks like he broke TWO of the Nazirite rules.

To be fair, we have to note three things.  One, we’re just observing opportunity here.  Why had he chosen to go to the vineyard alone and to meet the future Mrs. Samson there beside?

Two, this was the site where he’d had a miraculous experience of the Holy Spirit and killed that lion (5-6).  Maybe he went there to see what was left of the lion.

Three, the text does not specifically say Samson ate any grapes.  BUT if he had, it was a violation of the Nazirite rules.

Rule #2 = avoid touching a dead body.

As he traveled with his parents from Zorah to Timnah, the family walked through a vineyard (5-6).   Timnah was a town situated in the same valley as Zorah.  But apparently they weren’t travelling close together, because suddenly, a YOUNG LION (sent by the Lord) decided he looked like lunch, charging and roaring at him.

Verse six is the second time we’ve read this about Samson = THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME POWERFULLY ON him.  This empowerment went right to Samson’s muscles and enabled him to tear the lion apart as easily as one would tear apart a YOUNG GOAT.

It’s a miracle.  Super strength!  (See also 14:19, 15:14 and 16:28-29.)

Samson gave Mr. & Mrs. Manoah the “mushroom treatment,” he kept mum on the subject.  That will be an important point later in the story.  Somehow, Samson is the only one who knew about the lion attack.

SOME TIME LATER (8-9), Samson returned to the site of his victory.  It must’ve been quite a while later, because some bees had taken over the rotting remains of the YOUNG LION and established a colony there.  Without ANY sense of hygiene, Samson scoops out TWO hands full of the honey from the lion carcass.  GROSS!  Worse, he spreads his germs to his parents.  WHY would you eat honey off another person’s hands?!  Because he didn’t bother to tell them where it came from, I suppose.  To my way of thinking, the fact that Samson didn’t tell his parents where the honey came from implies that his visit to the vineyard included violation(s) of his Nazirite commitments.

Interestingly, a beehive in a carcass was a widely-believed thing in the ancient world.  The Egyptians related bees to their bull-god Apis.  The scientific name of the honeybee is Apis, an keeping bees is called “apiculture,” with beehives called “apiaries.”  Modern science shows that bees will make hives in empty spaces of all kinds.  A gutted rib cage would be just about ideal.

The Law of Moses (see Numbers 19:13) forbade touching a dead HUMAN body, declaring that person “unclean.” This is a lion’s corpse, not a human’s, so does this not count against Samson?  One part of the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:6) forbid touching A DEAD BODY, not being specific about which kind.  So, to be fair, it’s iffy.  I mean, what Samson did was gross, but was it really a sin?

Rule #3 = Abstain from intoxicating drinks.

What can we prove here?  Verse ten says that they held a wedding feast, AS WAS CUSTOMARY FOR YOUNG MEN.  What happened at the FEAST?  We don’t know exactly, but the Hebrew word for FEAST is literally translated as “a drinking party.”  If this was anything like a “bachelor party” then what is CUSTOMARY in our culture is binge drinking and bad behavior.

If you import our culture’s practice of a bachelor party, that might not be an exact fit.  If we’ve learned anything about the Bible, we should learn that we do not live in the same culture.  Assume nothing.  Research everything.

So what can we take away from this chapter?  The marriage is the definitive sin, the rest is a little sketchy.  God used Samson’s sinful stubbornness to push him along a path of confrontation with the Philistines.

  1. Sam’s Sin #3 = Not Taking His Job Seriously.

The 30 companions with whom he feasted may’ve been spies.  You’ve got to wonder, did Samson think this through?  Let’s do it for him: You’re in enemy territory and the enemy  invites 30 local guys to your party; any chance at least one of them is reporting to the enemy king?

Verse eleven gives us a reason to think these 30 men were spies: WHEN THE PEOPLE [of Timnah] SAW HIM, THEY CHOSE THIRTY MEN TO BE HIS COMPANIONS.  They made these arrangements after the SAW Samson and decided he might just be a threat.  I’d guess Samson LOOKED like a mighty man.  He had the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger but the mind of Larry the Cable Guy.

My guess is that these 30 guys were the Philistine version of “protective custody,” there in case Samson wanted to make trouble.

The riddle (12-18) was a sign he wasn’t acting responsibly.  Instead, he was gambling and goofing around.  This does not seem very macho: the bet involved CLOTHES.  It’s like Samson is betting in order to get a closet full of tuxes.  Exchanging riddles was, in that culture, a typical activity.  People of that time enjoyed riddles as contests of wit or skill.

Samson shows off his cleverness with a cute rhyming couplet.  The riddle involves the honey he obtained from the lion’s carcass.  Since, as the text plainly shows us, only Samson knew this happened, the 30 groomsmen can’t begin to guess the answer, even over three days of guessing.

Desperate and about to lose the bet, the 30 feasters turn to their countrywoman.  Rather than appeal to her patriotism, they threaten to burn her and her dad down with their house (15).  Spies or not, they are not nice.

By their words in v. 15, we understand they suspected that the whole wedding thing was a ruse to trick them out of their wardrobes and they think Miss Philistine is in on the scam.  This riddle gaming thing was serious business and an unusual amount of cash.

Samson’s fiancé uses the stereotypical tricks of crying and nagging (16-17).  This is a preview of Samson’s affair with Delilah (16:1-22).  It’s amazing to think that God gave Samson this kind of warning and he STILL fell for Delilah.  Eventually, she wore him out with her tears and pleas, and he gave her the answer, which she then passed on to the 30 Philistine groomsmen.

These guys savored their victory in secret until the very last moment, when they declared the answer (18).  Samson’s retort is not at all nice, calling his betrothed a HEIFER!  As goofy as this situation seems to us, it was the means God used to provoke the first confrontation between Samson and the Philistines.

  1. Sam Sin #4 = Had a Quick & Violent Temper.

Samson killed and stole in order to pay his debt.  ASHKELON was one of the capital cities of Philistia, so Samson is striking right into the heart of the enemy.  Samson selected the 30 best-dressed men in Ashkelon, killed them, and stole their fine clothing, which he used to pay off his debt to his 30 gambling buddies.

Feeling betrayed by his fiancé, Samson was angry with her and effectively abandoned her, the woman he’d stubbornly insisted on having for his wife.  No doubt this was a problem: some practical-minded person said, “We’ve been having a wedding feat all week, it’d be a shame to waste it.  Somebody volunteer to marry this pretty little gal!”  This would also avoid disgracing the jilted bride.  As we will see in the next chapter, Samson was unaware of these arrangements.  Boy is he gonna be mad!

In Samson we have a guy with commitment issues: like that’s a new story!  This is the climax of the story of Samson; the remaining two chapters of how he took the fight to the enemy.  This chapter shows how God used Samson’s character flaws of impulsiveness, selfishness, and stubbornness to deliver His people.

Two things we can learn from Samson: one, life is much easier when we obey God.  If we follow His lead to do His will, we don’t have to end up defeated by our enemies.  Two, even people with the Holy Spirit do not have other-worldly perfection.  Even with the Spirit’s help, we still struggle against our character flaws and temptations to sin.

This chapter is more about God than Samson.  God’s will is going to be done, whether we cooperate with it or not.  Samson illustrates how our stubbornness and defiance does NOT deter the fulfillment of the will of God in that person’s life.

Turns Out Samson Had Parents

Please read Judges 13 in your well-worn Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson James Dobson told about a mother who was sick in bed with the flu. Her little daughter wanted so much to be a good nurse, she brought mom an extra pillow and a magazine to read. And then she even showed up with a cup of tea. Her surprised mother took a sip and said, ”Wow! I didn’t even know you knew how to make tea!”

The girl said excitedly, ”Oh, yes. I learned by watching you. I put some water in the pot, put the tea leaves in, and I boiled the water, and then I strained it into a cup. But I couldn’t find the strainer, so I used the flyswatter instead.”

Her mother set the tea cup down and said, ”You what?!”

”Oh, don’t worry, mom,” the little helper exclaimed.  “I didn’t use the new flyswatter; I used the old one.”
Being a mom is not easy! One woman who said, ”Before I was married, I had three theories about raising children. Now, I have three children and no theories.”
Moms know motherhood can be everything from exhilarating to exhausting.  So today it is very appropriate to pause and say ”Thank You” to our mothers and thank God for them.

Tdoay we’re going to hold up Samson’s mother as a good example of motherhood.  Even though we don’t know her name, she distinguished herself as a quick-witted, faithful, and reasonable woman.  Samson became a biblical hero because of his mother’s obedience to the revealed will of God.

  1. Context: what’s happening in that part of Judges?

On a national level, we look to verse one and find that Israel was virtually hostage to the Philistines.  Israel’s cycles of evil resulting in suffering, crying out to the Lord, and deliverance are so typical verse one is almost formulaic. The cycle went from Idolatry to Oppression to Repentance to Deliverance, then back to Idolatry.

The EVIL they did was part of worshipping idols; forsaking the true God for false ones.  The discipline they suffered as a result was being DELIVERED into the hands of one of a pagan nation.  The length of Philistine domination – 40 years – is the longest such period in Judges.

The people cried out in their distress and God bailed them out once again.  At this stage of their history, the people God used to bail them out were called “judges:” that’s where the title of the book comes from.

On a personal scale, we turn to verse two to find out about Samson’s parents and Samson’s divine origin.  The surprising part is that they were childless at the time.

Strange as it may seem, biblical accounts of childless women are typical Mother’s Day sermon material: think of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth.  (We save Mary for Christmas.) The Bible says that children are a gift from God.  That’s true.  However, people of that time assumed that the opposite must also be true; that being childless was a sign of God’s disfavor, a mark of shame, maybe even an indication of hidden sin.  (In fact, a later Jewish reference, the Talmud, proverbially state that people who were blind, leperous, in slavery, or childless were “dead.”

The family lived in ZORAH, a town into which they relocated to escape the oppressions of the Philistines.  It was located 15 miles west of Jerusalem.

They were DANITES; descendents of Jacob’s son Dan.  Calling them a CLAN instead of a “tribe” may imply there weren’t too many DANITES left.  To be frank, the Danites were the “outlaw”  tribe of Israel.  They had a history of betraying the other tribes and were often at the pointy end of the oppressions of pagan nations.

  1. Samson was to become a Judge and Israel’s Deliverer (sorta).

The angelic messenger promised Mr. and Mrs. Manoah a child in verses three, six, and eight to fourteen.  In v. 3 he said, “YOU ARE GOING TO BE PREGNANT AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON.”

In v. 6, in the way she summarizes her encounter with the angel, we see that Mrs. M was mostly clued in: She referred to the angel as a MAN OF GOD, a phrase usually used for prophets, judges, and kings.  Wrong, in this case.  Se said “HE LOOKED LIKE AN ANGEL OF GOD, VERY AWESOME.”   AWESOME is a word that meant “fear-producing;” it was often used to describe God.  But Mrs. M may have been so intimidated by her visitor that she was afraid to ask his name.  This is something Mr. M would do in v. 17, when the angel returned.

For his part, Mr. Manoah only slowly caught on.

One teensy detail Mrs. M did not tell Manoah as she recounted the instructions of her visitor was the matter of their son leading God’s people in overthrowing the Philistines.  So it’s clear that Manoah was sufficiently intimidated by the idea of fatherhood alone, and prayed to God for some guidance in how to BRING UP THE BOY WHO IS TO BE BORN.  In verses nine and ten, Manoah’s prayer was answered with a “Yes;” the angel came back.

In verses 11-14, Manoah asked the obvious questions first.  The more intrusive questions came later.

“ARE YOU THE MAN WHO TALKED TO MY WIFE?” and “WHAT IS TO BE THE RULE THAT GOVERNS THE BOY’S LIFE AND WORK?”  (The kid isn’t even born yet and dad is already putting him to work!)

The angel only directly answered the first question.  In answer to the second, he repeats only the instructions given to Mrs. M and also does not mention the whole “lead deliverer” thing either.  This may indicate the angel thought Manoah was showing a lack of faith and/or “the paralysis of analysis.”

Conditions that were attached to the promise; God required the male child be a NAZIRITE from birth to death and for his mother to be a Nazirite throughout her pregnancy (4-5, 7, 13-14).  (See Numbers 6 for the full set of Nazirite regulations.)

The name nazir (Hb) means “dedicated” or “consecrated.”  In general, being a NAZIRITE required keeping an extra set of laws to achieve a higher level of holiness.  In such a role Samson was said to be “DEDICATED TO GOD FROM THE WOMB.”  According to Numbers 6, a Nazirite vow was made by an adult man or woman and was to be kept for a limited period.  To make this vow on behalf of an unborn child and to make it for life are both unique to Samson.

The specifics included: “DRINK NO WINE OR OTHER FERMENTED DRINK” (in Numbers 6, all fruit of the grapevine is prohibited), “DO NOT EAT ANYTHING UNCLEAN,” and no trips to the barber; “WHOSE HEAD IS NEVER TO BE TOUCHED BY A RAZOR” (interestingly, the Nazirite’s head was shaved clean at the end of his or her time of commitment).”  The main concern about Samson was that he didn’t get a haircut (verse five).  I assume we all know how that worked out…?

Mrs. Manoah was commanded to observe these regulations because God knew what the mother consumed would become part of the child’s body as well.  He wanted Samson to be fully pure from birth.

God’s purpose in these extraordinary arrangements was pronounced by the angel: “HE WILL TAKE THE LEAD IN DELIVERING ISRAEL FROM THE HANDS OF THE PHILISTINES.”  God intended Samson to provide leadership for His people in overcoming their oppressors.  It also means he would not accomplish this deliverance alone; Samson was supposed to unite the people under his leadership and they would overthrow the Philistines by working together.

  1. Mr. Manoah misunderstood, then overreacted.

Biblically, angels never tolerate worship that belongs to God.  Mr. Manoah learned that lesson.   Whether or not there was an ulterior motive behind his offer of hospitality (15-16), what’s clear is that MANOAH DID NOT REALIZE THAT IT WAS THE ANGEL FROM THE LORD to whom he was speaking.

The question about the angel’s name (17-18) is not necessarily as innocent as it may appear.  In this culture, to know someone’s name was viewed as being able to somehow exercise power over them or know something special about them.  This made people in general reluctant to give out there name, just as we are supposed to be reluctant to give out personal information on the Internet (especially to Russian hackers).  As is always the case in the Bible, there is a refusal to answer that question directly; the angel replied, “IT IS BEYOND YOUR UNDERSTANDING.”  Or, “It is too wonderful for you,” a hint at his heavenly status.

If is only after the angel’s dramatic exit that Manoah understood, but then he overreacted a bit.  It took an over-the-top demonstration (19-21), but Mr. & Mrs. M were finally convinced.  After all, it’s not every day you see a blast of fire that reaches heaven AND your dinner guest ride it out of sight!  (Something similar happened when an angel appeared to another judge, Gideon, in 6:20-23.)

In verses 22-23 we read Manoah’s overreaction.  Everybody knows that if you see God, you are burnt toast because no one sees God and lives.  So Mr. M panics; “WE ARE DOOMED!”  (Think C3PO in all the Star Wars movies.)  But Mrs. M is a sensible sort and reasons that if God had only wanted to blow them up, He would not have accepted their sacrifice, nor would He have given them the promise of a child and instructions on her pre-natal behavior.

  1. God’s promise was kept.

Mrs. Manoah birthed a boy and named him Samson (24).  The name SAMSON is related to the Hebrew word for “sun,” but is exact meaning is not clear to us today.

What is clear is that the LORD was with him: HE GREW AND THE LORD BLESSED HIM (24).  Sounds a bit like Luke’s summary of the Jesus’ growing-up years: JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MAN (LKE 2:52).

The second detail in this line is also exceptional: THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD BEGAN TO STIR HIM (25).  That word STIR is from the Hebrew word salah (Hb) which meant “to rush upon; trouble.”  This is the only use of this word in the Bible, which is part of what I mean by “exceptional.”  IMHO, this word has a more aggressive sound to it than I would normally associate with the Holy Spirit.

It is also exceptional in its irony.  Of all the Judges, Samson is the one most often empowered by the Holy Spirit (see 14:6+19; 15:14) in the most unusual way and yet was the worst-behaved.  More on that as we develop this series of messages on Samson.

Ted Sutherland wrote an Internet account of a Mrs. Monroe who lives in Darlington, Maryland. “She’s the mother of 8 children. And except for a few interesting experiences, she’s just like any other mother across America.

“She came home one afternoon from the grocery store and everything looked pretty much the same, though it was a little bit quieter than usual. She looked into the middle of the living room and 5 of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, doing something with an object in the middle of a circle. So she put down the sacks of groceries and walked over closely and looked and saw her kids playing with 5 of the cutest skunklets you can imagine.
“She was instantly terrified and she said, ‘Run children, run!’ Each child grabbed a skunk and ran, in 5 different directions. She was beside herself and screamed louder, more frantically, with great gusto. It so scared the children that each one squeezed his skunk! Guess what? Skunks don’t like to be squeezed!”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-ted-sutherland-humor-mothersday-discipline-3704 on 5/13/17.>

As much as we love mom, we realize she’s only human and doesn’t always give good advice.  However, godly moms like Mrs. M. have God’s help to transcend their humanity and obey God’s commands.

Samson had godly parents who loved him a great deal.  But were they always good parents?  You’ll have to come back next week to find that out.

Talking About the Table

(Please read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 & 11:17-34 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh wrote about a personal experience of his in an internet study:

“A few years ago, my parents spent a year in Taiwan, where my dad taught in an American school, and my mother assisted. They came to know a young Chinese man whose name was Johnny. He did not know English very well, and my dad agreed to teach him—from the Gospel of Matthew. Johnny was saved at chapter 16. Over time, they got to know Johnny quite well. He began to speak of having them over for dinner, and that he had something very special to serve.

“One evening, my dad and Johnny were walking home and were passing through an alley when a dog began to bark incessantly. Johnny finally yelled something at the dog in Chinese, and suddenly it was quiet. As they continued on, my dad pressed Johnny to tell him just what he had yelled at the dog. Johnny told him that he told the dog to shut up or he would eat him. Johnny was serious. As Johnny began to speak more often about the meal he planned to serve my folks, it came out that the special dish was a dog. As politely as they could, my folks explained that in America we looked at dogs as our friends, and so we would not think of eating one. That seemed to put the matter to rest.

“What we eat really does matter a lot to us, doesn’t it? When one of our children was asked to spend the night at the home of a friend, our daughter had one important question to ask: “What are we having for dinner?” The answer to this question was usually the determining factor in her decision. The Corinthians seemed to have divided over what certain people ate for dinner. Some Corinthians felt they were free to eat any meat whatsoever, even meats offered to idols. They were so liberated in their thinking and behavior that they had no scruples about eating idol-meats at a meal that was part of a pagan religious idol worship ritual. Other Corinthians were much more particular. In fact, some were so sensitive on this matter that they would not eat anything without first knowing its origin. Every meal must have been like an inquisition, with the host being grilled (pardon the pun) concerning the origin of the meat being served.”

<Retrieved from https://bible.org/seriespage/19-table-talk-1-cor-1014-33 on 5/4/17.>

  1. 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 = How to get the rite wrong: practicing it in a worldly way.

CONTEXT = One problem Paul dealt with i/t Corinthian church was how they messed up the faith by combining it w/ their old idol-worship.

COMMENTS = Paul makes his point abundantly clear: FLEE FROM IDOLATRY (14).

Historically, there has always been a temptation to combine Christian faith with other faiths or worldly things.  If you want to impress someone with your vocabulary, this problem is called SYNCRETISM.  (Think of “synchronizing your watches.”)  The problem is, our faith is not modular: you can’t keep the true faith by taking out the bits you don’t like or adding bits from other sources.  We received an entire word of God and a whole faith; it’s a package.  Syncretism was the general issue. In this case, the specific problem was Christians eating meat from the market that had previously been a sacrifice offered to an idol.  Enquiring minds wanted to know: Was the meat tainted spiritually?  Were people sinning in this practice?

A more contemporary example: a church I formerly served was offered money for assistance for paying heating bills by a local service club.  We all knew the money had been raised by selling liquor and gambling tickets.  Was the money tainted spiritually?  Would we be sinning by accepting it?

To begin to answer the question, Paul compared eating the Lord’s Supper with eating meat offered to idols.  By the way he handled this controversy, Paul teaches us something about the Lord’s Supper.  Paul made his point by…

Characterizing his opposition as wrong = I SPEAK TO SENSIBLE PEOPLE (15).

Characterizing the nature of the rite: PARTICIPATION IN THE BLOOD & BODY OF CHRIST (16).  In the Old Testament system, the people who offered the animal sacrifice on the altar shared in the meat from the slaughter of the animal (18).  Then he offers a negative example: those who offer sacrifices to idols are not participating with Christ, but with DEMONS instead (19-21). Verses 19-20 clarify that there is no reality to an IDOL; it is not ANYTHING.  So eating meat offered to any idol has no intrinsic spirituality.  Verse 21 = However, Satan is the “Father of all lies” according to Jesus, so DEMONS are the unseen reality behind the falsehood of all idol-worship, even the kind we do.  The bottom line is we are not to corrupt our faith – including our practice of the Lord’s Supper – by combining it with anything evil or worldly.

Characterizing the effect of the rite on the BODY as unifying: ONE LOAF…ONE BODY (17).

Characterizing violation of the Lord’s Supper as arousing the LORD’S JEALOUSY (22).  This is Paul’s way of returning to the idea of being SENSIBLE PEOPLE.  He’s urging his readers to use their brains and think about what they’re doing, and consider the effects.  God does not want to share you with an idol; discipline will result if we persist in idolatry.

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 = How to get the rite right.

CONTEXT = The way the Lord’s Supper was handled in Corinth was a rite gone wrong.

COMMENTS = The specific problem was that their rite (ritual) was abused as an occasion for PREJUDICE instead of fellowship.  The wealthy members abused their poor brothers and sisters in the way they practiced the Lord’s Supper.  They brought “gourmet” food and refused to share it with the poor; they probably said it was too good for them.  They began the meal before sundown, excluding working folk still on the job.  (A large percentage of the Church at that time were in slavery.)  They were also guilty of drunkenness and gluttony, treating the Supper as a pagan rite.

A result was that the rite drove them apart instead of building UNITY.  Paul used two words:

DIVISIONS (18) = When our focus is on bias, competition and/or dispute, DIVISIONS result.

DIFFERENCES (19) is actually an emotionally stronger word having the same root as our word “heresy.”

This was a serious problem.  Verse 22 is a strongly-worded rebuke.  V. 27 = it was a SIN against the Lord Jesus Himself.  Vs. 29+34 = they brought the Lord’s JUDGMENT on themselves.  V. 30 = His judgment was manifest in sickness and death among them.

They needed to make their rite RIGHT.  Step #1 = They needed to keep the Supper as they’d RECEIVED it (23).  Get back to basics.

Step #2 = they needed to keep it in a way that valued EVERYONE equally as members of the BODY OF CHRIST.  Paul had some practical suggestions on how to achieve this:

WAIT FOR EACH OTHER (33) = wait until after sundown so the working folk could come.

IF ANYONE IS HUNGRY, HE SHOULD EAT AT HOME (34) = the fellowship around the meal is more important than the meal.  If your tummy rules you, quiet it by snacking first.

Understand your motive; examine yourself to know why you’re at the table at all (vs. 28+29).

Appreciate the fact it is always better to obey God than be condemned with the world (30-32).

Why is this important?

The answer is simple.  This is a matter of life and death, just as 1 Corinthians 11:30 made clear.  That is the truth because there is more to this table than bread and grape juice, more even than symbolism.  This table is our participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This is what Jesus taught before His death:

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.” The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”  Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me.” (See John 6:51-57.)

The Lord’s Supper is for all who have truly trusted in Jesus and have received, by faith, the gift of life.  Your years of experience in church, your titles, your awards, your contributions; none of those things matter.  In this moment, what matters is what is real in you.  If you are a participant in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this table is the way He has chosen for you to remember Him.  Honor Him with your actions in these next few moments.

Participate or refrain, but in either case, choose the right thing and in so doing, honor Jesus Christ.  There is nothing else that matters in this sacred moment.

Who Wouldn’t Want Delivery?

(Please read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

God delivers us from death to Himself.

An actual Twitter exchange between an angry customer and Domino’s Pizza:

Customer: Yoooo I ordered a Pizza & Came with no Toppings on it or anything, It’s Just Bread

Domino’s: We’re sorry to hear about this!

Customer (minutes later): Never mind, I opened the pizza upside down :/

A company, feeling it was time for a shake-up, hired a new CEO with a reputation for ridding his companies of all slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning on a wall. He saw a chance to show everyone he means business! The CEO walked up the guy and asked “How much money do you make a week?”

Undaunted, the young fellow looks at him and replies, “I make $ 200.00 a week. Why?” The CEO then handed him $200 in cash and screamed “Here’s a week’s pay, now GET OUT and don’t come back!” Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asked “Anyone know what that slacker did here?”

With a wry grin, one of the other workers muttered “Pizza delivery guy”.
source: http://www.jokes4us.com/miscellaneousjokes/foodjokes/pizzajokes.html

It is believed that Paul actually wrote four letters to the church in Corinth, but only two of them were preserved and made part of our New Testament.  One of the reasons Paul kept writing to them was to defend his ministry from critics.  The false teachers in the church kept trying to elevate themselves by tearing Paul down.

In our section this morning, Paul is attempting to defend the authority of his ministry in an unusual way.  He effectively wrote, “No one has suffered more for the cause of Christ than I have.  What I know about Jesus and what I have taught you I learned at the ‘school of hard knocks’.”

To his credit, Paul never turned to his sufferings as reasons to complain or any other kind of sin.  Instead, he always turned them to good, brought glory to God, and directed people’s attention to Jesus as the One who delivers us from our troubles.

  1. We are delivered again and again (8-11).

This is obviously a personal section of this letter.  Paul did not want the church to be unaware of the difficulties encountered while ministering on their behalf.  It is unusual for Paul to begin a letter this way.  Usually he emphasized the concerns of the church and not his own struggles.

His TROUBLES were personal.  This is obvious in the repeated use of “WE.”  Our TROUBLES aren’t to be only troubling; they serve the divine purpose of drawing us closer to God.  Imagine how more depressing TROUBLES become when we lack faith.

His TROUBLES were profound.  People of faith don’t pretend to be chipper or strong when they face troubles; they don’t make light of them to impress others.  People of faith are just as deeply affected by grief as anyone else; we have God as a greater resource in overcoming pain.

Paul’s choices of words in vs. 8+9 convey a deep emotional impact from his difficult circumstances.

UNDER GREAT PRESSURE (8) may refer to a persecution Paul suffered in Ephesus (ACS 19:23-41).

DESPAIRED OF LIFE ITSELF (8) indicates a deep sense of grief.

SENTENCE OF DEATH (9) means Paul felt that even God was against him.  Later in life, Paul would receive an actual death sentence and died a martyr’s death.

The point was not to arouse sympathy or to boast, but to do two other things.  Primarily, to glorify God as the Deliverer:

THIS HAPPENED THAT WE MIGHT NOT RELY ON OURSELVES BUT ON GOD, WHO RAISES FROM THE DEAD.

HE HAS DELIVERED US AND HE WILL DELIVER US AGAIN.

WE HAVE SET OUR HOPE THAT HE WILL CONTINUE TO DELIVER US.

Secondarily, to thank the churches for their prayer support.  We tend to reflect on the personal effects of our sufferings.  Paul showed a broader vision by looking at how the church supported him in his TROUBLES by means of prayer.

AS YOU HELP US BY YOUR PRAYERS.

MANY WILL GIVE THANKS ON OUR BEHALF FOR THE GRACIOUS FAVOR GRANTED US IN ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS OF MANY.  The result of God’s deliverance should always result in prayers of thanksgiving.

The greater the sufferings we face, the more we feel loved and the closer we draw to God and one another as we overcome them.  This fact should encourage us, especially in moments of greatest sorrow.

  1. We are delivered to be comforters (3-7).

Giving comfort is what God is all about.

THE FATHER OF COMPASSION (3). (“Merciful Father.”)

THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT (3). (“Encouragement” and “consolation.”)

WHO COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES (4).  The Greek word for “comfort” here is the same one used in John 14 as a name for the Holy Spirit – the source of our comfort.  It means “one who stands alongside to help.”

JUST AS WE SHARE…IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, SO ALSO OUR COMFORT ABOUNDS THROUGH CHRIST (5).  (See also Philippians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Colossians 1:24.)  THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST does not refer to the passion of Jesus, but to the things His followers suffer that are similar, and to His identification with us.  As Jesus is the source of our COMFORT, it makes sense that we, by faith, identify our sufferings with Him as well.

Giving and receiving comfort is what God’s people are all about.  Paul saw His suffering as contributing positively to spiritual maturing of the Corinthian believers.

We are also familiar with human nature and repeatedly observe that the most naturally sympathetic counselors are people who have suffered the same things.  Paul affirms both the spiritual and emotional benefits of suffering in five expressions found in vs. 4-7:

SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT THOSE IN ANY TROUBLE WITH THE COMFORT WE OURSELVES RECEIVE FROM GOD (4).

IF WE ARE DISTRESSED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT AND SALVATION (6).

IF WE ARE COMFORTED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT (6).

YOUR COMFORT…PRODUCES IN YOU PATIENT ENDURANCE OF THE SAME SUFFERINGS WE SUFFER (6).

OUR HOPE IN YOU IS FIRM BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT JUST AS YOU SHARE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, SO ALSO YOU SHARE IN OUR COMFORT (7).

The question raised as the title of this message seems easy enough to answer: When you’re sick with real problems or worries, when you’re hedged about with difficulties, when you’re down and grieving, why wouldn’t you want to be delivered from those things?  I’ve been ill for a couple weeks now and have prayed repeatedly for deliverance.  Did I want to be delivered from the flu?  You betcha!

But it is human nature to complicate things, so even deliverance is not as obvious as it first seems.  Do people who hold a grudge pray to be delivered from their anger?

Do drama queens pray to be delivered from conflicts?

Do people who feel empowered by their status as a victim pray to be delivered from that circumstance?

Do people who oppose change pray to be delivered to something new?

Let’s be honest.  The person who stands most securely in the way of deliverance is the person in the mirror.  Sympathy is often a good thing, but good intentions can also impede growth if it merely maintains our affections that oppose God’s will.

God has promised to either deliver us or use our trials to change us more into the image of His son.  People of faith do not waste perfectly good suffering.  They struggle, not only with the trial, but with everything inside them that impedes the work of God on their heart.

Presentation of the King

 

The King has come!  What is YOUR decision?

John 6 is an interesting study because it records the rise and fall of Jesus’ popularity.  If you read it carefully you can see His popular acclaim rise and fall like a presidential approval rating!

The absolute height of Jesus’ popular appeal is found in John 6:14-15.  Not surprisingly, it came after Jesus fed 5000 people.  Give folks a filling free meal and they’re more likely to be your pal, right?

But here’s where it gets strange.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Jesus had supernatural knowledge of what was on the minds of the people around Him.  He knew that crowd of about 10,000 people were ready to drag Jesus along to Jerusalem, using FORCE to make Him their ruler.

This was not God’s plan, so Jesus disappeared and thereby thwarted this crowd that was becoming a mob.  Now here’s the ironic thing: Jesus once fled from the people to avoid being made a king, but now He creates a crowd who openly acknowledge Him as king.  Why this 180?

I believe this dramatic event served many purposes, one of which was to give God’s people one last chance to receive Him as their King.  It was one last powerful demonstration of His true nature.   It was a call to decision.

  1. There were divided opinions on the King.

First, there were the pilgrims who were coming into Jerusalem: they received Him.   Who were these “pilgrims?”  The Gospels make a clear distinction between the people who welcomed Jesus (the out-of-towners) and those who rejected Him (the residents of Jerusalem).  A VERY GREAT MULTITUDE THAT HAD COME TO THE FEAST.  People traveled to Jerusalem from all parts of the ancient world just to celebrate the Passover.  THE MULTITUDES answer the residents of the city who asked who He was.

Why did they receive Him as King?  They heard the WITNESS of the people who had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Miracles are referred to as “signs” because they are supernatural acts that verify the claims of people who say they are from God.  They believed He was the Messiah, God’s Promised One, selected by God to save His people.  This is indicated by the things they shouted.  They believed Him to be a PROPHET, but of course, He was so much more.  Even the CHILDREN among them offered praise to Jesus.

The second group takes in the religious leadership (including the Pharisees and scribes): they rejected Him.  They realized their earlier attempts to entrap and discredit Jesus were too meager and ineffective.  They feared the crowd coming into the city and the devotion they were expressing in this worshipful procession.  They demanded Jesus stop the procession and tell the people to cease offering worship of Him.  The religious leaders must have realized there was no way the Romans could not take notice of a gathering of this size and this loud.  They feared reprisals from the Romans and riots by their own people.  When they learned of the miracles Jesus was performing in the temple courts and heard their voices joined in worship, they BECAME INDIGNANT.  (INDIGNANT means they pretended to have righteous anger but they were actually just wound up and anxious because they saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo.)

The third group we observe in this account: the people of the city of Jerusalem: they wondered about the Jesus guy and all the commotion He was causing.  The residents of the CITY did not fail to notice all the commotion and asked who was riding into their city at the head of this noisy parade.  They may have recognized Jesus and were asking, in effect, “Who does THIS GUY think he is?”  It was a crabby kind of rhetorical question.  However, as most of Jesus’ ministry was conducted in Galilee, a province several miles to the north, it is possible most people in Jerusalem would not know Jesus on sight.

The distinction between pilgrims and residents is important in the whole scheme of the Passion Week; it helps us understand how the “crowds” could welcome Jesus like this on Palm Sunday and call for His crucifixion on Good Friday.  The answer is that they were two different groups of people.  On Palm Sunday, the “crowds” were pilgrims; people coming to the city for Passover.  It seems likely to me that some of them had come that year especially in the hopes of seeing Jesus.  On Good Friday, the “crowd” was made up of residents of the city, people hand-picked and recruited by the religious leaders for their loyalty and obedience.  Their job was to stage a near-riot to intimidate the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, into ordering Jesus’ crucifixion.

  1. The King had one opinion: He loved them all.

Jesus inspired their worship by fulfilling prophecy: that is the purpose behind the whole donkey-colt aspect of the story.  There is a lot of information about Jesus’ choice of these animals that we’re not going to cover because we don’t have time.  To summarize, all these details eventually contributed to the understanding that Jesus came to Jerusalem as a king.  This is one of those occasions in the Gospels where Jesus acted deliberately to fulfill prophecy:  most of the time He fulfilled prophecy without any input (i.e., His birth), or while doing things that had a more immediate focus (i.e., miracles of healing). For reasons I don’t know, the Jews of this time locked onto Zechariah 9 as a prophecy of the Messiah.  It can be said that those who were there understood the actions of Jesus as a fulfillment of prophecy and happily joined in. The Gospels tell us Jesus’ DISCIPLES DID NOT UNDERSTAND these things in the moment, but after Jesus ascended to heaven, they remembered this chain of events and understood its significance.

Jesus received their worship because it really was due Him.  We shouldn’t let the fact that Jesus started this whole chain of events deter us from getting the real point of this statement.  His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem was part of God’s plan and therefore inevitable.  But it was also something He deserved.  Jesus deserved to be honored this way.

– Because of who He was: King and Creator.

– Because of what He did: throughout His ministry, including that very day in Jerusalem, Jesus healed and taught in the power of God.

Would the STONES have really raised a cheer?  I guess we’ll never know.  Habakkuk 2:11 uses a similar image.  There the STONES of a WALL would CRY OUT against injustice perpetrated against the poor.

When the texts say Jesus LOOKED AROUND AT ALL THINGS, we’re to picture a leader surveying his followers or a king inspecting his holdings.  Jesus was checking to make sure all was in readiness for the important events that were to occur in the days ahead.

Jesus rebuked their falsehood.  Jesus responded verbally on two of the three occasions the religious leaders confronted Him during His Triumphal Entry.  To their demand that Jesus quiet His disciples, Jesus said that if they didn’t worship Him in this way, the STONES beneath their feet would raise up the cry!  This may sound flip, but I think this is meant to show that God chose this day to be Jesus’ day to enter Jerusalem in triumph.  It was so inevitable that the STONES sound forth praise if the people failed to do so.

Later, Jesus quoted Scripture in response to their passive-aggressive protest.  He paraphrased Psalm 8:2.  This is the approach Jesus used in rebuking Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

One important effect of this event is that it forced the hand of the Jewish religious authorities.  This was a very public event and it was in their backyard, so to speak.  They’d already been plotting to kill Jesus, but these events at this time made them push up their timetable and seek Jesus’ death in a hurry.  It’s certain they would NOT have picked the Passover as the time to do this, not the annual time when the population of the city swelled to 1000 times its usual size.  Historically, the city was a powder keg and they saw Jesus as a lit match.  So they were suddenly very motivated.

Jesus warned them about their future sorrows.  I picture Jesus stopping just down slope from the summit of Mount of Olives.  Even as the CROWD surged around Him and kept on partying and celebrating, Jesus looked at the city through tears and predicted the demise of the city and the intense suffering of her people.

This prophecy was fulfilled in AD 72 when the Romans sacked the city and reduced it to rubble.  The Siege of Jerusalem began in AD 70, when the city was surrounded, trapping inside people who’d come to celebrate the Passover.

The reason?  “BECAUSE YOU DID NOT KNOW THE TIME OF YOUR VISITATION.”  In other words, the people of the city rejected Him as their King.

In the Gospels there were two other occasions when Jesus WEPT over the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34).  This shows the tenderness of Jesus’ heart for the City of God and her people.

Jesus healed their hurts.  That Jesus went immediately to the temple courts was obviously also part of His plan for the day.  How wonderful it is that the acclaimed King of the Jews stopped to bless His people.  It gives us insight into Jesus’ character that His ministry of healing continued up to the last days of His life.  It is a good reminder of what He was about, that His mission was not just the cross, but to save people along the way as well.

The King has come!  What is YOUR decision?

This day we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, calling it “Palm Sunday.”  The event itself is called the “Triumphal Entry.”  Think about that for a moment.  That’s a BIG EVENT.  A big event like that goes by the name “Triumphal Entry” is NOT something to be overlooked.  It was loud, splashy, and in the face of the authorities of Jerusalem.  More than any other single event, it is what propels Jesus to the cross.

It is the kind of event that demands a decision.  The residents of Jerusalem asked, “Who is this?”  The Triumphal Entry demanded an answer to that very question.  Today we’ve seen that the pilgrims welcomed Jesus as King, Prophet, and Messiah.  He is all those things and many more.

The people of the city were confounded.  They wondered what all the fuss was about.

The religious leaders decided Jesus was a danger to an order that gave them wealth and power.  He needed to go.

It turns out that today is a day of decision for you too.  Who is Jesus?  Being confounded is not an option.  You must decide to accept or reject Jesus as your king. In order to live, you must honor Him as the pilgrims did on that day, even with your life.

 

Impure Heart or a Pure Heart?

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

If I asked you to name a consumer product that is laboratory tested to be “99 and 44/100 pure,” could you name it?  Hint: the name is found in Psalm 45:8.

I have often thought of that trademarked phrase as a metaphor of the human heart.  Impure by nature, and always at least 56/100ths short of absolute purity, the heart is a symbol of why we need God in our lives.  Why the problem of sin is unsolvable in our own strength.  Without Jesus, the human heart is a puzzle with at least one piece missing, the very picture of never good enough.  Grace is the answer and the path to perfect purity.

  1. An impure heart is the source of sin (Mark 7:20-23).

Context = This is one of the many confrontations between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders.  This particular one is a dispute about keeping the letter of the Law while violating its spirit.

Comment = Jesus showed that keeping the Spirit is more important than superficially obeying the letter.

The hypocrites’ view was that external things like hand-washing DEFILE a pers0n.  As ridiculous and nit-picky as it may sound to our ears, the religious leaders were leveling what they saw as a serious charge against Jesus’ disciples.  The seriousness of the charge is implied in the length of Jesus’ reply.  I doubt He’d waste time on something trivial.

In Mark’s language, to be “defiled” meant to be impure; guilty of sin.  A defiled person was excluded from the temple until they were cleansed by ceremony & sacrifice required by the Law.  There was often a waiting period too.

Jesus’ taught that the seriousness of the matter is dependent on the condition of one’s heart, not one’s hands.  Logically, it is possible for a person to obey all the hand-washing rituals perfectly and yet not have God in their heart.  Having clean hands in no way proves a clean heart.  Dirty hands are a symptom, not the sickness.  The real sickness, the cause of the problem of sin is the condition of a person’s heart.

In fact, as we see from Jesus’ list, sins flow from a sinful heart.  As He described it, EVIL THOUGHTS come from a person’s HEART and they, in turn, lead to all sorts of evil deeds and sins.

Interestingly, listing sins like this is something Jesus did not often do in the Gospels.  It is not an exhaustive list – it was not intended to be – but a sample of what a human heart can produce.  They go from t more obvious/overt/sensational sins to more subtle/covert/ commonplace ones, but Jesus is not ranking them.  All sins have deadly consequences.

As Jesus summarized in v. 23, it is the overflow of evil from within a person that truly defiles them. This is a point Jesus often tried to make in conversation with the Jewish religious leaders; He said it three times in this passage (vs. 15, 20, & 23).

  1. A pure heart produces righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22-26).

Context = Paul wrote Timothy at length about how he was to deal with false teachers. One step is to make sure his spiritual life was in order.

Comment = A PURE HEART is two-sided; it involves fleeing from evil and pursuing good.  Part One – avoiding evil – is expressed in the phrases FLEE THE EVIL DESIRES OF YOUTH (“youth” having more to do with spiritual immaturity more than age) and DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH (“refuse”).

As Jesus did in Mark 7, Paul listed actions that spring from EVIL DESIRES: FOOLISH & STUPID ARGUMENTS (23), QUARRELS (23), and resentment (24).  These sins divide people, and that’s all they really accomplish.  In t heat of the moment, we think something important is at stake, but truth is that the argument is more sound and fury, empty of significance.

Part Two is to PURSUE godly actions.  PURSUE means just what you think it means: to be active, continuously seeking God’s way. Virtuous deeds don’t happen by accident; they have to be actively pursued.  Paul offers a sampler of virtues: RIGHTEOUSNESS, FAITH, LOVE, and PEACE are gifts from God, but we have to choose to express them in our words and deeds.  KIND TO EVERYONE and NOT QUARRELSOME are characteristic of spiritually maturing people, folk who understand they don’t always have to be right or insist on their own way (25).  Indeed, God’s people are characterized by gentleness, even when they are bringing correction to someone else’s life (25).

Pure-hearted people act in virtuous ways because they have a godly agenda, not a selfish one.  For example, their aim in bringing a rebuke is IN THE HOPE THAT GOD WILL GRANT THEM REPENTANCE LEADING TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH, AND THAT THEY WILL COME TO THEIR SENSES AND ESCAPE THE TRAP OF THE DEVIL, WHO HAS TAKEN THEM CAPTIVE TO DO HIS WILL (25-26).  In this very lengthy sentence we see Timothy’s aim was to be to deliver these people from captivity to the devil caused by his lies.  Having this aim required placing God’s will and the good of the other person in higher than his own feelings or benefit; to have a purity of good purpose.  These virtues have to be commanded because they aren’t always part of our nature.  In our heart we enjoy winning arguments, spouting off, or putting people in their place.  But these sinful motives pollute our hearts and dilute the purity God desires.

Paul is here reminding Timothy that even people who choose to be our adversaries are NOT our enemy.  Instead, they are victims of the Enemy, captives of Satan.  Therefore, gentleness aimed at freeing them from the influence of the Enemy is what God wants.

The answer is, of course, IVORY soap.  It has been advertised with that slogan since the late 1800s.

False-hearted or True-hearted?

 

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

Do you remember the flap caused a couple months ago when President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway used the term “alternative facts?”  No?  Most of the rest of us have forgotten about that tempest in a teapot, but let me remind you briefly what happened.

While appearing on Meet the Press on January 22, 2017, Ms. Conway defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s exaggerations of the attendance at the inauguration, Conway stated that Spicer was giving “alternative facts”.  The media, still red-faced at Trump’s election victory, went ballistic.  One of the chief critics of Ms. Conway was former CBS Dan Rather, who you will recall was fired for making up his own set of “alternative facts” about George Bush.  More than a little hypocrisy?

One amusing side note: Rather compared “alternative facts” to the word “newspeak,” created as another name for “propaganda” by writer George Orwell in his book “1984.”  Three days later sales of “1984” had increased 9,500%, making it the number-one seller on Amazon.com.

What may surprise you is the phrase “alternative facts” is similar to a phrase used in Trump’s 1987 book, Trump: The Art of the Deal. There “truthful hyperbole” was defined as “an innocent form of exaggeration—and… a very effective form of promotion.” The book claimed “people want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.” The ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, said he coined that phrase and claimed that Trump “loved it.”

I’m not here to praise or put down anyone except those who have the hypocrisy to pretend to be offended at somebody else’s lies when they tolerate their own or their favored politician’s.  That’s adding a lie to a lie.

I could joke about politicians and lying, but it’s too easy and distracts us from the point.  People can and do lie.  It should not be tolerated, but it seems pretty inevitable, given human nature and the current ethical condition of our culture.

The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves.  They can set us up with a false security, insensitivity to the truth that can blind us to our need for healing.  Lies that lodge in the human heart are the hardest to dislodge.

BUT – the truth and only the whole truth – will set us free.  The One who is never deceived by the most sincere-sounding, heart-held lies is God.  Hebrews 4:12 says that His word exposes the inner-most parts of a human being, we cannot lie to Him.

We need to stop lying to ourselves and approach God with complete honesty and complete dependence on Him.  Only in the truth can we be saved.  We obey Him by holding the truth in our hearts as our highest priority.

  1. No one can please God with a False Heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Context = God gave Jeremiah messages to His people while they were held captive in Babylon.  These messages explained their punishment and promised them restoration.  Bringing these messages cost Jeremiah a great deal personally.  Chapters 16+17 develop Jeremiah’s unhappiness.

Comment = We can be deceived, but God cannot.  We can deceive ourselves and be deceived by others.  Jeremiah was not deterred from telling the truth by his depressed feelings and thoughts.

THE HEART IS DECEITFUL.  In 17:1, he wrote that the sins of Judah were engraved on THE TABLETS OF THEIR HEARTS.  The word “heart” is used more than 50 times in Jeremiah.  This word picture shows, as he does again in verse 20, that the guilty people of God could not escape the truth; their hearts betrayed their guilt.  The word translated as DECEITFUL can also mean “tortuous” or “crooked.”  We complicate matters to suit us, to obscure the truth.  The people of Judah, for example, turned 10 Commandments into 650+ laws, complicating matters so thoroughly that the average person didn’t bother trying to keep the Law.

In our culture, we see the “heart” as the place of emotions while the “head” is the seat of reason.  In biblical culture, both of these inner aspects of human life are assumed to reside in the HEART.

ABOVE ALL THINGS.  Since the HEART is the origin of actions, the source of our attitudes and decisions, it can be rightly said to be the most evil thing.  (Exception: Satan?)  God wants us to know and feel how desperately wicked is the HEART that keeps God out.  People are increasingly rejecting the doctrine of hell because they are willfully ignoring how the human heart is DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS.

BEYOND CURE.  The word here is “sick,” so it is rightly translated as BEYOND CURE.  “Deathly ill” or “mortally wounded” might be a good English equivalent.

All of this to say this: a fundamental part of our faith is the problem of sin.  Sin is universal: every human heart is stricken with it; the only exception is Jesus.  Sin is BEYOND our ability to CURE it.  We cannot be good enough to merit a relationship with God or to solve our problem.  We need God to save us; that’s where Jesus Christ comes in.  Without first admitting personal ownership of the problem of sin, we cannot be saved.  We never get over ourselves.

WHO CAN UNDERSTAND IT?  No one but God knows the depths to which any heart can sink into sin or rise to righteousness.  To obtain what understanding we can grasp, we need two things indicated in this passage:

This verse conveys an essential truth about human nature.  We are prone to self-deception.  We need people close enough to us to help us see things that are invisible to us because of our self-deception.

There is a legitimate need for “emotional intelligence;” knowledge of emotions & their effect on us.  The more we know about people in general, the better chance we have of knowing ourselves.

Now, we go from anthropology to theology proper, stating no one can deceive God.  God sees beneath the surface.

I THE LORD SEARCH THE HEART.  The situation is desperate but not hopeless.  God is our hope.  He knows every human heart and judges in perfect justice.  For what is He searching?  For every evidence of faith.  For true commitment to Him.

AND EXAMINE THE MIND.  This word has also been translated as “bowels” or “kidneys.”  It refers to the inner person without being literal or scientific about the organs involved.  It can also be translated as “hidden depths,” the parts of a person that cannot be directly observed, only indirectly through their actions.  These “hidden depths” are not hidden to God.  As the writer of HBS wrote; “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  (Hebrews 4:13)

God rewards each person according to what He sees them doing.  Two phrases develop this.

REWARD EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO THEIR CONDUCT.  CONDUCT and DEEDS are the external manifestations of our internal priorities.  This is not to say that attitudes have no moral relevance, but is in line with biblical teaching that a person’s deeds are reflections of their nature.

ACCORDING TO WHAT THEIR DEEDS DESERVE restates the truth to indicate emphasis.  These verses are a warning to everyone who falsely claims faith in God and a promise to everyone who truly serves him.

  1. God is pleased with hearts that are entirely true to Him (Acts 11:19-24).

Context = Barnabas is an example of someone with a true heart for God.

Comment = God blessed the ministries of Barnabas and the early church for their true hearts.

God blessed the church in Antioch (19-22).  Antioch was near a large and ornate garden in which a temple to Daphne was located.  This was a center for culture and vice and became a byword for immorality.  In light of this history, it’s a work of God that this city became important to Christianity.  It was here followers of Jesus were first called “Christians;” it was the birthplace of missions to non-Jewish peoples (Acts 13:2), and the place where the Apostle Paul got his start in ministry (Galatians 2:11-13).  As verse 19 explains, Antioch was one of the places to which Christians fled when the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem got too hot.  In Acts 11:21, God’s blessing of the church is revealed by two expressions: THE HAND OF THE LORD WAS WITH THEM and A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE BELIEVED AND TURNED TO THE LORD.

But the Mother Church in Jerusalem still held influence over the new churches.  When they heard that non-Jews had come to believe in Jesus too, the leaders decided to send Barnabas to check it out (22).

It’s hard to over-emphasize the historic importance of these events.  The first Christians considered their faith to be the fulfillment of Judaism.  Including non-Jews in the Church was not something they’d planned. The book of Acts records the Church’s difficult adjustment to this revolutionary concept.

Barnabas called on the believers to be true-hearted to the Lord (23).  Acts 4:36-37 mentions Barnabas as a particularly generous believer who sold his land and donated the proceeds to the Church.  “Barnabas” is a nickname that meant “Son of Encouragement.”  Acts 9:27 shows Barnabas standing with Paul when others doubted the sincerity of his conversion to Christianity.

After looking the situation over, Barnabas decided the outreach to non-Jews was a godly thing and was happy to see God at work.  Note the only instruction Barnabas gave them: TO REMAIN TRUE TO THE LORD WITH ALL THEIR HEARTS.  TRUE in this case refers to loyalty and honesty.   We can’t fool the Lord anyway, so we must be honest with Him and with ourselves.

God blessed the ministry of Barnabas (24).  Barnabas was praised as A GOOD MAN, FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND FAITH.  The church in Antioch would later commission Barnabas and Paul to go start new churches, reaching out to non-Jewish peoples (Acts 12:25-13:3).  His own ministry in Antioch resulted in several people being saved: A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE WERE BROUGHT TO THE LORD.  Both Barnabas and the church in Antioch were important to the Lord’s work because their hearts were wholly and truthfully devoted to the Lord.

There’s an old joke which goes, “Today my parents read the new book I am writing.  They said the main character was not likeable.  It was an autobiography.”

While that is a little amusing, it’s a little uncomfortable too.  Sometimes we worry that people would reject us if they really knew us.  That becomes a reason to keep them at arm’s length, hide our inner self away and put on a false front.

The comedian Groucho Marx said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
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The good news is, God has given us the truth in His word and His Son.  We don’t have to guess or make it up ourselves.  He has given us our church family to help us live with true hearts.  Let’s not make this more complicated by being false in any way.  A heart for God is only a true heart.