Halfhearted or Wholehearted?

“The Easter Sunday Morning service began with the choir singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” as they marched in perfect step down the center aisle to the front of the church.
“One lady was wearing shoes with very slender heels. Without a thought for her fancy heels, she marched toward the grating that covered a big hot air register in the middle of the aisle. The heel of one shoe got stuck in the register grate.
“In a flash, she realized her predicament. Not wishing to hold up the whole processional, without missing a step, she slipped her foot out of her shoe and continued marching down the aisle.
“There wasn’t a hitch. The procession moved with clock-like precision. The first man after her spotted the situation and without losing a step, reached down and pulled up her shoe, but the entire grate came with it! Surprised, but still singing, the man kept on going down the aisle, holding in his hand the grate with the shoe attached.
“Everything still moved like clockwork until the next man in line stepped into the open register and fell into it, disappearing from sight. The service took on a special meaning that Sunday, for just as the choir ended with ‘Allelujah! Christ arose!’ a voice was heard under the church shouting, ‘I hope you are out of the way ’cause I’m coming out now!’
“A little girl shouted, ‘Come on, Jesus! We’ll stay out of the way.’”

That’s what a fully-committed disciple of Jesus Christ does: gets out of the way.  We have got to surrender self entirely for God’s Spirit to fill us entirely.  Ego, comfort, convenience, and choice are some of the idols we have to destroy because God cannot and will not share us with anything else.

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-bob-hager-humor-2433 on 3/10/17.>

In a 1999 article entitled “THE DANGER OF HALFHEARTEDNESS,” Mark Beaird described HALFHEARTEDNESS as “indecision or double-mindedness – a lack of enthusiasm sometimes because of the lack of a clear goal. HALFHEARTEDNESS causes the heart, the head and the hands to hang down.  HALFHEARTEDNESS, although common, understandable and explainable—whether a result of fatigue, disappointment or disillusionment—is still above all DANGEROUS!”

<Retrieved on 3/10/17, from http://markbeaird.org/wmlib/pdf/sermons/mark_beaird/the_danger_of_half_heart.pdf.>

I hadn’t thought of halfheartedness as “dangerous” before.  A halfhearted person might downplay any sense of danger by saying, “Well, at least I’ve got it half right!”  But honestly, half a faith is a danger because it tempts us to say, “Close enough” and quit.  The danger of being halfhearted is stopping short of a truly saving faith.  Look: half a faith isn’t going to get you where you want to go any more than half a car would.

  1. Being “halfhearted” means having divided loyalties (James 1:2-8).

The context of these verses is James’ teaching on God’s purpose in trials.  The expression TRIALS OF MANY KINDS speaks of multiple types of experiences and multiple repetition of experiences.  It means that all of them, without exception, should be occasions for JOY.

While we don’t want them to happen to us, difficulties are sources of PURE JOY.  That we should count troubles as JOY is surprising enough.  That is contrary to human nature.  We’re more likely to complain.  But the word PURE adds another element of surprise.  What does that mean? PURE could mean “undiluted.”  This would be joy that is not mixed with sorrow.  And it sets up the contrast between a believer and the doubting, double-minded person in verses six through eight.

How does that work?  James explains in vs. 2-4.  TRIALS and TESTING produce a string of virtues that mark the life of a true disciple: PERSEVERANCE, maturity, perfection, completion.  If you don’t get it – if that perspective is difficult to achieve – ask God for WISDOM to understand it and believe it fully.

Verse five promises God will honor this prayer and give WISDOM to see life from His point of view.  This is also a promise regarding prayer and is in line with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 21:22; “IF YOU BELIEVE, YOU WILL

RECEIVE WHATEVER YOU ASK FOR IN PRAYER.”  This verse is about someone who lacks WISDOM – the way to apply God’s word to their life – or is tempted to chuck it, especially in times of trial.  In the Bible, WISDOM is always a practical quality.  It’s about how to live one’s life by following God.  The outcome of God’s wisdom is persevering in trials and finding the victory of faith.

As verses six through eight make clear, being halfhearted about our faith is the same as having no faith at all.  James offers three things that characterize a halfhearted individual.  A word of caution: these are characteristics, not occasional bouts.  When we cease to fight the enemy and our nature these three things become sins.

The first is DOUBT (v. 6).  Powerful prayer is founded on the conviction that God CAN do anything we ask.  That’s faith at work in prayer.  Impeded prayer results from a lack of conviction that God can do what we ask.

The second is UNSTABLE (6+8).  To the ancient Jew, the ultimate word picture of instability was the open sea.  The waves, with their crest and troughs, were to them the very image of chaos.

The third is DOUBLE-MINDED (8).  This is a person who is fully conscious that they’re not doing right but is unwilling to change.  They purposely pursue compromise though it always fails them.

A halfhearted faith results in frustration (see verse seven).  Here in James, the application is focused on prayer, but this is generally true as well.  In Luke 16:13 Jesus is quoted, “NO SERVANT CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS.  EITHER HE WILL HATE THE ONE & LOVE THE OTHER, OR HE WILL BE DEVOTED TO THE ONE AND DESPISE THE OTHER.  YOU CAN’T SERVE BOTH GOD AND MONEY.”  There is nothing in God’s nature that makes Him incapable of answering prayers with a “yes,” but as James points out in verse seven, there is something in our nature that inhibits powerful prayer, and that is being halfhearted.

  1. Being “wholehearted” requires committing your whole life to the Lord

The prophet Ezekiel was God’s voice to the Jews exiled to Babylon.  He made these promises to His people when they were in captivity in a foreign land.    God gave these promises to inspire them to return and rebuild.  He gave them hope that their rebuilding would be part of an epic blessing.

Ezekiel 11:19 is so similar to the Ezekiel 36:26 passage we studied in the first message in this series, it seems to be a variant reading.  “I WILL GIVE THEM AN UNDIVIDED HEART AND PUT A NEW SPIRIT IN THEM; I WILL REMOVE FROM THEM THEIR HEART OF STONE AND GIVE THEM A HEART OF FLESH.”  These promises are made a third time in Ezekiel 18:31, where they are paired with a warning: RID YOURSELVES OF ALL THE OFFENSES YOU HAVE COMMITTED, AND GET A NEW HEART AND A NEW SPIRIT.  WHY WILL YOU DIE, PEOPLE OF ISRAEL?

There are two notable similarities between these three verses.  One promise to REMOVE THEIR HEART OF STONE and replace it with A HEART OF FLESH is exactly the same.  Likewise, the promise of a NEW SPIRIT is made in all three verses. All the promises God made to His people came after they rejected their idols and quit the sins that went with them.  They had to come to Him wholeheartedly to experience His blessing.

What’s different in 11:19 is the promise of AN UNDIVIDED HEART.  The condition for this promise is ceasing their idolatry and removing all signs of it from their land (see v. 18).  Idolatry is THE sign of a divided heart.  It is anything that we place alongside God or above Him in importance.

We’re going to also turn to Ephesians 6:7-8, a Scripture that develops whole-heartedness as being more than idea or emotion; it is a life of service. SERVE WHOLEHEARTEDLY, AS IF YOU WERE SERVING THE LORD, NOT PEOPLE, BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT THE LORD WILL REWARD EACH ONE FOR WHATEVER GOOD THEY DO, WHETHER THEY ARE SLAVE OR FREE.

As you might guess, the context of this passage is instructions to believers who are slaves.  The fact that we find these instructions in the context of a teaching about slavery does not limit these verses’ application to all followers of Jesus.  As verse six states, all of Jesus’ people are to be wholehearted in their service as if they were serving God Himself, not just other people.  The context intensifies the command to be wholehearted.  If a slave is commanded to live this way, how much easier should it be for us who are free?

Paul defined WHOLEHEARTEDLY as service that is more sincere than “lip service.”  It is more than service given when the master is watching.  A follower of Jesus is characterized by doing the godly thing even when no one is watching, when no one is there to applaud.  This is because we know God is always watching and always rewards obedience to Him.

Paul urged slaves to look beyond their present circumstance to Judgment Day.  When deciding whether or not to serve WHOLEHEARTEDLY, they were to think about the greater reward Jesus would give them on that day.  Obviously, this command is for all of us. Serving WHOLEHEARTEDLY requires concern about what God thinks, not what people think.

CONCLUSION

“A few centuries before Christ a man named Alexander conquered almost all of the known world using military strength, cleverness and a bit of diplomacy. The story is told that Alexander and a small company of soldiers approached a strongly fortified walled city. Alexander, standing outside the walls, raised his voice and demanded to see the king. When the king arrived, Alexander insisted that the king surrender the city and its inhabitants to Alexander and his little band of fighting men.

“The king laughed, ‘Why should I surrender to you? You can’t do us any harm!’ But Alexander offered to give the king a demonstration. He ordered his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a cliff.

“The townspeople gathered on the wall and watched in shocked silence as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths! After ten soldiers died, Alexander ordered the rest of the men to return to his side. The townspeople and the king immediately surrendered to Alexander the Great. They realized that if a few men were actually willing to commit suicide at the command of this dynamic leader, then nothing could stop his victory.”

<James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 102-103.  As retrieved from https://soundfaith.com/sermons/111583-the-tragedy-of-a-half-hearted-religion on 3/10/17.>

That’s an extreme illustration of wholehearted commitment.  It is also a partial explanation of how Alexander the Great conquered almost all the ancient world.  What can a small group of fully-committed followers accomplish?  If they are following Jesus Christ, they can accomplish anything.  A similar level of commitment will be required for us to extend the Kingdom of God into all parts of our world.  A victorious follower of Jesus is one who follows with a WHOLE heart; an undivided commitment to our Savior.

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