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.

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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.

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (3 of 7)

Gluttony/Temperance

Gluttony is the vice of over-indulgence.  Temperance keeps need from becoming greed.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

skipper

“the Skipper” from “Gilligan’s Island.”

          Of course, “Skipper” is a nickname and a title: extra points for anyone who can tell me the character’s actual name.  (A: Jonas Grumby.)  The Skipper and Gilligan are characters reminiscent of screen legends Laurel and Hardy.

The actor’s name was Alan Hale Jr.  (Can you imagine calling a man his size “JUNIOR?”)  In the show, the Skipper was easily the strongest man and probably the tallest character too.

Before Hale was cast in the role, actor Carroll O’Connor was considered for the part.  Thinking about Archie Bunker as the Skipper is almost too much for the mind to handle isn’t it?

A side note: in 2003 film and TV critic Thomas Carson wrote a book, Gilligan’s Wake, which supplied a back story for the Skipper, where he served with JFK on PT-109 and Captain McHale (Ernest Borgnine) from the “McHale’s Navy” TV show.  Blending history and fiction, the book was well-received.

I chose this picture of the character because its’ the one that best shows off the Skipper’s sizable paunch.  It’s true that a guy like me has no right to fault the Skipper’s figure.  The point simply is that the Skipper is our best symbol of gluttony because the evidence is piled up above his belt.  Hale was also a seafood restaurant owner, so no reason to limit dinners.

When he died in 1991, Alan Hale Jr.’s ashes were sprinkled over the Pacific Ocean, a fitting end to a character who spent 30 years on “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of GLUTTONY (Luke 12:13-21)

What is “gluttony?”

– An obsession over satisfying any physical appetite beyond what’s needed.

– A perversion of need into greed. Billy Graham wrote: “Gluttony is a perversion of a natural, God-given appetite.  We must fix in our minds the fact that sin is not always flagrant and open transgression.  It is often the perversion and distortion of natural, normal desires and appetites.  Love is distorted into lust.  Self-respect too often is perverted into godless ambition.  When a God-given, normal hunger is extended greedily into abnormality…it becomes sin.”  (7 Deadly Sins, p. 75.)

Overeating is a common example of gluttony, but it takes many forms.

– A thirsty person needs to drink.  Consuming too much of some kinds of drink leads to drunkenness.

– A hungry person needs food.  Too much food leads to obesity-related issues.

– A hurting person needs medication.  We’ve heard a lot about how opiod addiction has hurt so many people.

– A poor person needs to work, but workaholism hurts relationships and one’s physical health.

– A bored person needs activity.  We spend so much time and money on amusements, they can be addictive.

– An ambitious person needs achievement. Too much of self sacrificed to being #1 reduces relationships to superficiality.

What’s needed is moderation.  Take eating as an example, the Old Testament Law set aside days of feasting and fasting.  In both cases, the issue was never food; the issue was love for God manifest in obedience. The feasting and fasting were both commanded by God and were good.  In our day and theirs, sin intervenes when we do too much of either or do any of it out of an ungodly motive.  “Gluttony” is over-doing anything that is otherwise necessary and/or good.

Why is gluttony deadly?

– It is an expression of materialism. Where are your thoughts most of the day?  How often are you thinking about God and what He wants you to do?  How often do you cross the line between need and greed?

– It is another form of selfishness. Whenever we try to justify abundance and ignore the need of others, we are guilty of sinful self-centeredness.  Whenever our own pleasure becomes the most important thing, we’ve gone over into gluttony.

– It is a subtle version of idolatry. The maxim, “we eat to live, not live to eat” is a reminder that we’re not to let anything in this life take the place of God.  While we may not bow down and pray to a sandwich, it can still be idolatry.

– It violates God’s commands to honor Him with our bodies.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and Romans 6:13 are two examples of God’s commands to offer ourselves, body and soul, in service to Him.  Reminding ourselves that all things belong to God is one way we avoid gluttony.

Jesus gave a fictional example of the deadly reality of gluttony.  The context of the passage is Jesus’ refusal to be brought into a family feud (vs. 13-15).  He had the spiritual insight to know that the real issue was GREED and he wisely avoided taking sides.  Never one to waste, Jesus turned the incident into a “teachable moment.”

The main point of the parable: it is foolish to have an insatiable appetite for worldly things and neglect God. How do we know that?  We look at the specifics.

The man expressed the point of view typical for a glutton (vs. 16-19).  Rather than see his abundance as a blessing and honor God, the RICH FOOL’s only thought was how to hoard it and keep it for himself.  Rather than see his abundance as God’s supply to enable him to help others, he only made plans how to have more.

God condemned his point of view in v. 20.  Morally & spiritually, he was a FOOL.  In the Bible, ungodly and evil people are foolish.  Their problem is not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of attention to the things of God.  Evil deeds are the result.  The man in the parable is not condemned as foolish because he had wealth, but because he made the decision to waste it on himself. God grants us the ability to create wealth (see Deuteronomy 8:18) for two reasons; so we can care for ourselves, not depending on others, and also so we can help others who find themselves in need. On a practical level, he wasted time and money on himself: death would cheat him of all he’d stored up.

It is better to be RICH TOWARD GOD than well-stocked in worldly things.  Jesus ended with a stern warning in v. 21; “THIS IS HOW IT WILL BE WITH ANYONE WHO STORES UP THINGS FOR HIMSELF BUT IS NOT RICH TOWARD GOD.”

  1. The vital virtue of TEMPERANCE (Daniel 1).

What is temperance?  It is an attitude of moderation in regard to satisfying physical appetites.

– It is using worldly things without being used by them or getting too used to having them.

– It is owning things without being owned by them or forgetting that God is the true owner of all of them.

Temperance involves acts of self-control that disciplines one’s self by self-denial.  Moderation is only possible when we exercise our intelligence, practice self-discipline, and rely on the Holy Spirit. Falling into extremes requires less of these virtuous things, often resulting in a loss of truth and ruination of relationships.

God’s preference for moderation in all things is clearly revealed in Ecclesiastes 7:18 = IT IS GOOD TO GRASP THE ONE AND NOT LET GO OF THE OTHER.  THE MAN WHO FEARS GOD WILL AVOID ALL EXTREMES.  How much better would our American society be if all extremists took this line of thinking?

Obedience to God’s commands requires us to put Him before all worldly things.  Love for God is manifest in obedience.  Actions convey love for God.

Obedience is also required because God is self-identified as “jealous” of us.  God will not share you with the world.  We must be His; first AND foremost.

Why is temperance a vital virtue?  First, because temperance recognizes that our liberty in Christ is boundaried by our responsibility to obey God and bless others.  Human nature seeks to satisfy self first and take the path of least effort to do so.  Our new divine nature seeks to obey God first and bless others by pointing to God.  People who are prompt to insist on their rights and/or ignore their responsibilities reveal a heart in rebellion against God, making an idol of self.

Second, temperance seeks to avoid sin by keeping things in perspective; God’s perspective.  Temperance is founded on seeing the world as God does; flawed by sin, one day to be replaced.

Daniel is a great example of temperance.  The context of Daniel 1 is the historical fact of the “Babylonian Captivity.”  Daniel was one of many deportees from Judah.  In ancient times, the winners of a war took captives from the conquered people to be slaves.  The intent was to inculcate them with the victor’s culture and then send them back home to spread the influence of the conqueror to the subject nations.

Daniel was one of a group of especially promising young men who were going to be renamed, retrained, and put to work in government offices (v. 4).  Daniel is one of the most godly men in the Old Testament.

The place Daniel demonstrated the vital virtue of temperance was – unexpectedly – in his diet. The people serving in the king’s palace were naturally used to the very best food (v. 5), probably lots of it.  This was the king’s will and that was not a thing to be trifled with (v. 10).

Daniel’s objection to the king’s diet was spiritual!  We choose to diet for physical or emotional reasons.  But v. 7 says Daniel RESOLVED NOT TO DEFILE HIMSELF with the king’s food.  Though it might be used in an emotional sense, the word DEFILE is a spiritual term.  To defile something was to compromise or impugn its holiness.  We see the spiritual/religious/love-as-obedience-to-God aspect of Daniel’s dietary designs in three inferences.

– One, the food had probably been offered to idols first, which meant that to eat it made Daniel a participant in idolatry, even if it was “after the fact.”

– Two, the Babylonians did not observe Jewish kosher laws and thereby put food on the table that the Law had forbidden.

– Three, gluttony was probably encouraged at every meal.  Then – as now – conspicuous consumption of food is something for which the wealthy and powerful are notorious.  (Ask me about Roman vomitoriums and using bread as napkins.)

Daniel did not act in rebellion, but reasonably asked for an exception to the royal table. He overcame his handler’s hesitation by suggesting a test: a ten day veggie diet (vs. 9-14).  Eating veggies only was the only sure way to avoid eating meat offered to idols, so this is not a vindication of vegetarianism.  This situation came up because Daniel and his friends insisted on following God’s law, not man’s law.  If you choose to be a vegetarian or vegan, you are free to do so for other reasons; please don’t cite this chapter as justification.

The result of the ten day table test was that Daniel and his Jewish friends were healthier than the guys who bellied up to the “Royal Buffet” every meal (vs. 15-16).  Daniel’s instructor approved their special meal plan and God did too, as indicated by two stamps of “divine approval.”

– In v. 17 we see that God gave Daniel something like the Spiritual Gift of Discernment in his ability to interpret VISIONS and DREAMS OF ALL KINDS.

– In v. 20, God gave Daniel and fellow Jewish superior wisdom, making them TEN TIMES more able than ALL THE MAGICIANS AND ENCHANTERS in all of Babylon.

How do we practice temperance?  We can follow Daniel’s example.  Don’t follow the crowd.  The world will mislead and distract you from following God’s will.  This will result in sin and a life less than what God has chosen.  Don’t compromise God’s standards as you understand them.  In this situation, God did not give Daniel a new command to be a vegetarian or reward Daniel for that kind of diet.  Instead, we see Daniel used his brains and followed the Spirit to figure out a way to avoid idolatry.  Similarly, we must be creative to see God’s path.  New solutions may be needed!

We must recognize self-control is a biblical virtue and one area that needs control is our impulse to please ourselves.  Our spiritual nature must control our human nature.  We must be more concerned about pleasing God than pleasing ourselves.

Practice moderation in all things is a biblical virtue; simplify your life by practicing it.  Moderation has very few advocates and it is more difficult to achieve, but almost always puts you closer to God.

If you can’t do push-ups, practice your “push-aways.”  As in “push away” from the table.  More importantly “push away” from things that will tempt you to deny God.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

glut yelp

“Yelp,” a website and app that allows users to post and read reviews of local businesses, especially restaurants.  Yelp was started in 2004 by a couple of former PayPal employees.  At the end of last year, users had posted 148 million reviews, using a five star rating system.  Most of the people who use Yelp live in major metropolitan areas and are doing so on a mobile device.

Studies have shown that Yelp carries considerable clout.  A study showed that restaurants gain 5-9% more reservations for every star in their Yelp rating.  Of course, this kind of success attracts criticism and some have claimed the system is flawed and abused.

I suppose it is because of the connection to restaurants that Yelp was chosen as the symbol of gluttony.  However, given the amount of criticism Yelp receives each year, it may have been chosen because use of the site are “gluttons for punishment!”

At an entirely different site, Trulia.com rated Las Vegas, Nevada as the most gluttonous city in America.  Vegas’ rating of 113 (most other cities scored in the 20s) was probably based on the number of buffet restaurants, the number of plastic surgery offices (0.94 per 100,000 residents), obesity, drinking, and smoking rates.  If Vegas really is the capital of gluttony, then not EVERYTHING that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  Some of it comes home on one’s tummy and thighs.

Gluttony is the vice of over-indulgence.  Temperance keeps need from becoming greed.

Gluttony is the sin of abuse and over-use of things that God created for our good.  It has deadly spiritual consequences and does our health no good either.

Remember, gluttony is not limited to food and drink.  Anything in this world can be a means of gluttony.  Part of our daily life must be making decisions that exercise self-control so that God’s good gifts never become a substitute for God Himself.

Seven Modern Maladies and their Divine Solutions (2 of 7)

Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things.  The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

Mary Ann

“Mary Ann,” a character on the TV series “Gilligan’s Island.”  Actress Dawn Wells played this character in all 98 episodes of the series.  She and Tina Louise are the only surviving members of the cast.

The character of Mary Ann is chosen as a symbol of ENVY because it was clear that she envied the beauty and glamor of the movie star character named “Ginger.”  In fact, in episode 92, “The Second Ginger Grant,” Mary Ann suffered a blow to the head and took on the persona of Ginger, wearing her clothes and acting like her.

Mary Ann’s envy of Ginger was purely a plot device and exactly at odds with reality.  Of the two, Dawn Wells was the beauty queen (Miss Nevada, 1950), she was “Gilligan’s” personal favorite, and received more than twice as much fan mail as cast mate Tina Louise.  In 2005, Wells consigned her costume for sale and it sold for $20,700!  In forty years of polls on the subject, men have expressed a preference for Mary Ann over Ginger that is 3-1 or even 4-1.  If art had imitated life, Ginger would have been envious of Mary Ann!

ENVY is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, a list formulated by the Church in medieval times.  We are examining this list and each week offering a virtue to take the place of the vice.  Today we’ll see how and why believers must replace ENVY with CONTENTMENT.

  1. The vicious vice of ENVY (Genesis 4:1-16).

What is envy?  ENVY is wanting what you don’t have, often paired with an unwillingness to wait for it or earn it.  It is a form of materialism that reflects on what others possess.

In his book, 7 Deadly Sins, the late Billy Graham wrote, “The envious man somehow feels that other people’s fortune is his misfortune, that their success is his failure and hat their blessing is his curse.” (p. 42)

Why is envy so deadly?  It puts a priority on things over God and others. An envious person values material things over persons.

It drains happiness and prevents satisfaction.  When your attention is fixed on worldly things you can never be satisfied, because the things of this world – even the good things – always end in an appetite for more.  The other thing we must learn and relearn is that the things of this world – even the good things – are temporary.  Even if they last generations, all worldly things are temporary.

Cain is a biblical example of envy’s deadliness.  When we read the account of Cain and Abel, God’s choice of Abel’s sacrifice and his rejection of Cain’s is obvious.  As the text states, GOD LOOKED WITH FAVOR ON ABEL AND HIS OFFERING (vs. 4+5).

What’s not spelled out is why. We infer the reason for God’s choice by a close reading of the text, particularly Cain’s reaction.  He became envious and angry.  So angry, in fact, he murdered his brother.  Verse six says Cain was ANGRY AND DOWNCAST.

Cain’s anger motivated him to be disrespectful and evasive when God asked him about Abel; “Am I my brother’s keeper? (v. 9)”  The best answer is “YES.”

Cain gave into envy.  He looked upon Abel’s success and wanted it too.  Abel’s sacrifice was motive by gratitude and/or love; some other God-honored motive, as seen in God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice.

This was a murder that God tried to avoid.  In v. 7, God gave Cain an unusual warning: SIN IS CROUCHING AT YOUR DOOR.  He should have heeded God’s warning and dispensed with ENVY.

Cain’s consequences were isolation and failure.  Cain was sent away, separated from his parents and condemned to be a wanderer on the earth (vs. 12+14).  We don’t know what the MARK of Cain was, but it was a two-sided thing: it separated him from every other human being who had no such marking, but it also warned off anyone who might want to take revenge.  It was God saying; “This one is mine.  Leave him alone.”

We see Cain cursed to failure.  In 3:17-19, Cain’s father Adam received God’s discipline for his sin; the GROUND was CURSED because of Adam and it was only by hard work that it would yield any fruit.  Cain’s discipline is worse, in that the GROUND will never YIELD CROPS for him.

Cain later enjoyed some worldly success as an urban developer (v. 17); in fact, the Bible credits him as inventing cities. But envy destroyed his brother, his family relationships, and worst of all, estranged him from God.  ENVY is deadly; it demands to high a price and delivers only unhappiness.

2. The vital virtue of CONTENTMENT (Philippians 4:10-13).

What is contentment?  Contentment is a sense of satisfaction that exists apart from your circumstances.  It is an abiding trust in God that He will provide what is needed, when it is needed.

A contented person trusts in God’s provision, not their own.  As the song says, “Put your hope in things eternal.”  Unlike worldly things, heavenly things truly satisfy and their effects are everlasting.

Why is contentment a vital virtue? There are many reasons; here are a few.

It is God-honoring and faith-based.

It is part of a maturing faith.

It removes the distraction of materialism.

It prioritizes our relationship with God, the Source of true satisfaction.

It allows us to use things without being used by them.

Let’s look at Paul as an example of contentment.  Paul’s philosophy of financing ministry was simple: while he deserved each church’s support, he preferred not to need it.

The occasion for this letter to the church in Philippi was Paul acknowledging their gift to him, recently sent by Epaphroditus (v. 18).  Keep in mind Paul was in prison when he wrote this.  He said their gift gave him “immense joy” (v. 10).  I’m sure Paul was happy that they’d remembered him, especially in his chains.  But Paul wrote that his joy was IN THE LORD.

What’s important for our purposes was that Paul the prisoner had been content when he’d been with them and still practiced contentment while in prison!  This was because Paul had learned the SECRET of contentment in EVERY SITUATION; keeping his priorities in order.

WHETHER WELL FED OR HUNGRY was not a rhetorical comment: prisons of that day did not feed their prisoners.  Food had to be supplied by outsiders.

WHETHER LIVING IN PLENTY OR IN WANT is one way of summarizing Paul’s life.  The Apostle Paul had been born into a wealthy family, but since accepting God’s call on his life, there had been lots of occasions for being in need, not the least of which was being shipwrecked!  The SECRET is this; contentment is found in GOD in not self.

There is good evidence that Paul was well-educated and steeped in the Greek-influenced culture of his time.  It’s likely he’d read what the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the contented man; “that man should be sufficient unto himself for all things, and able, by the power of his own will, to resist the force of circumstances.”  What Plato misunderstood as an achievement of will, Paul rightly understood as an act of God’s grace.  He wrote, I CAN DO EVERYTHING THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH.

God’s strength and His love never fail.  The love and strength of people will ultimately always fail, despite our best intentions.  God never does.  Philippians 4:13 is often taken as a promise of empowerment and it is that, but it is also the basis for our contentment, regardless of whatever we’re experiencing in the moment.  To be content, we must seek to be

DEPENDENT on God,

INTERDEPENT on each other, and

INDEPENDENT of the support of others so we can avoid idleness and support others.

Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things.  The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

FB

        Facebook is an online social media and networking company. It was launched on February 4, 2004, by Mark Zuckerberg, along with some fellow Harvard College students, with membership initially limited to Harvard students.

As of January 2018, Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users. Facebook has become so commonly used that most of the people you know use it.  In fact, some Millennials have abandoned Facebook because it’s gotten so full of “old people!”

We chose Facebook as a symbol of ENVY because, like the cartoon character in this illustration, Facebook becomes a way of looking into the lives of others, a view that can easily degenerate into envy.  However, here’s a disclaimer: just because someone put something on Facebook doesn’t make it true.  No, I’m serious!

In an article on the Independent’s website, Peter Walker cited an experiment by the University of Copenhagen involving 1,095 people, half of whom were asked to continue their Facebook habits and half ordered to abstain from logging on.

The data suggests Facebook causes people to suffer what they called “Facebook envy” and become particularly depressed.  Users taking a week-long break from Facebook were found to be more satisfied with life and gave higher scores to their own well-being.  So “Facebook envy” is not something made up to benefit this message, there is a reasonable connection between Facebook and the vice of ENVY and users suffering the consequences of ENVY.

God’s people are to practice CONTENTMENT instead of being guilty of ENVY.  This leads to our final question:

How do I practice contentment?

One, simplify your life.  Adopt the motto “Less is more.”  Imagine what the object you want to buy sitting neglected and dusty on a shelf or in a closet, as that’s how it will probably end up.  Hum or sing the song “The Bare Necessities” as you shop. Understand the “Inverse Rule of Possessions” – “The more things you own, the more things own you.”

Two, keep your ambition within your means.  This is a financial philosophy: “debt is dumb” as financial guru Dave Ramsey says.  It stresses relationships and creates financial chaos that will take more effort to undo than it did to do.  This is also a philosophy for all of life.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  Envy happens when we mistakenly think we ought to have things that are not actually in our power to possess.

Three, put your priorities in order.  Do we need to be reminded that God is to come first, others second, and self last? We may not need a reminder to believe it, but we probably need a reminder to ACT on that principle.  We affirm this truth in the way we act & speak.

It’s a fairly easy thing to say that the Bible is true and that we ought to follow God’s commands as revealed in the Bible.  However, so much more than a nod of one’s head is required.  We must act as if it is true by having our attitudes and actions be determined by what the Lord says.

Take ENVY for example.  Envy is a poison we take hoping the other person will drop dead.  Don’t do it. Replace ENVY and worry and all other forms of materialism with CONTENTMENT and trust in God.

A Full View of the Father

God is a Spirit; He wants us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

OK, Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who is a mom and everyone who had one.  In honor of the day, we are going to look at the ways the Bible uses motherhood as an example of God’s love for His people.

We need to be careful, even more so than usual, of confusing the imagery with the reality.  On Mother’s Day, sentimental feelings abound, but as is the case with all things in this world, the reality is more complicated.  Let me give you a couple examples.

First, over a decade ago, an email story made the rounds, telling about a report published in National Geographic magazine about a mother bird killed in a forest fire.  When walking through the area after the fire was extinguished, rangers found a bird’s body “petrified in ashes.”  A little heart-sick by the sight, they attempted to break up the corpse by knocking it over with a stick.  When they did so, three little chicks scurried out from behind the body, unharmed.

This inspirational email drew a moral to this story about motherhood and the kind of loyalty mothers feel for their children, sometimes even defending them at the loss of the mother’s life.  It’s a great and inspiring tale, and it’s also not true.

National Geographic denies having printed such a story and officials at Yellowstone national park deny having had or publicized such an experience.  Worse still, one of their bird experts said that for a bird to sacrifice herself in such a way was contrary to all we know about bird behavior.

I offer this solely as a cautionary tale about how the world is more complicated than our symbols can hope to account for.  The best way to honor moms is with real memories of them in the fullness of who they are or were.  Sentiment can get in the way of truth more subtly than an outright lie.

Second, some of you may remember the furor started by a women’s conference held in 1993 in Minneapolis.  It was called a “Re-imaging Conference” in which the 2200 attendees were invited to “re-imagine” God as a woman.  It was hoped that this exercise of imagination might ultimately empower women to overcome bias and a culture that oppressed them because of their gender.

What made headlines about the conference was not anything it did to help women, but the flaky stuff that happened there in unbiblical and ill-advised attempts to be provocative and turn male-dominated culture and theology upside down.  One example is worship directed at Sophia, a goddess of worship.

Some may claim that the conference was well-intended, but got hijacked along the way by pagans and feminists.  The extremists got all the attention and the more orthodox elements were ignored.

Here we are 25 years later.  I think it’s fair to ask what difference this conference made.  I read a speech given by one of the participants trying to defend the conference.  It was thin stuff.  Personally, I think attempts to paint over centuries of Christian teaching and tradition were unwise and did little, if anything, to expand our faith or our public life.  Gender inequality still exists.  The Re-imaging Conference is a trivia question that only serves as an illustration of how divided we can become when the extremists are allowed to frame the discussion.

All of that to say this: the Bible declares God is our Father, but also uses motherly images to show the comforting and protective aspects of His character.  A full view of God acknowledges both.  Further, a full view of God acknowledges That He is a spiritual being, a higher form of personhood that is not limited to one gender.  When we say God is our Father, we are not saying He has a physical form like dear old dad.  We are not saying He has any gender.  We are saying that He has acted toward us in ways we understand as being typically masculine and in ways we understand as being typically feminine.  When doing theology, we need to be careful about mistaking our words for the reality.  God is greater than our words.  Otherwise, we fall into error akin to that seen at the Re-imaging Conf.

  1. There are Bible Verses that Compare God to a Human Mother.

For a long time I [God] have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. (Isaiah 42:14)  It is comforting to know that God has promised to save His people.  More than that, He is EAGER to do it.  His eagerness is similar to that experienced by a pregnant woman eager to have her baby.  Sometimes other people get eager for the day to arrive!

As a mother comforts her child, so will I [God] comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:13)  We have good biological and cultural reasons to associate comfort with mothers. The fact that God comforts His people in a way like a mother’s comfort of her child does not mean that God possesses a feminine gender; this is a figure of speech that is meant to have an emotional association.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I [God] will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15) It’s comforting to know that even though He brings discipline and allows us to suffer trials, God has not forsaken His people.  Using this metaphor, Isaiah invoked the steadfast love a mother shows her children.

  1. There are Bible verses that compare God to a Mother Bird and a Mother Bear.

A common image of God is of a mother bird sheltering her chicks under her wings.  We can look at six examples.

May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.  (Ruth 2:12)  The word for WING can also be translated as “skirt” for a woman’s garment or “robe” for a man’s garment.  This imagery can be applied to avian and human moms.

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 17:8)  In v. 7, David asked God to show THE WONDER OF YOUR GREAT LOVE.  Apparently God answered this prayer as in v. 8 he offered this image of a protective bird as an illustration of God’s wonderful love.

I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. (Psa. 57:1)  In this verse, the psalmist is calling out for God’s MERCY, not his love, but the analogy of a protective bird is used again.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge. (Psalm 91:4) In v. 3, the reader is promised to be saved from THE FOWLER’S SNARE, doubling down on the bird imagery.  The psalmist is the bird trying to elude the hunter and God is the parent bird giving him a safe shelter from the hunter.

Jesus renewed these images when he lamented over Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34)  Jesus expressed His grief over the people’s unwillingness to recognize Him as their Messiah.  In so doing, He drew from the Old Testament passages we’ve read and puts Himself in the role of the divine mother hen.  His heart’s desire was to save His people from their sin and the city from destruction, but they utterly refused the refuge He offered.

A variation of this image looks to mother eagles, which are known to teach their eaglets to fly by pushing them out of the nest but catching them before they plunge to their doom. “[God] guarded [Jacob] as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.” (Deuteronomy 32:10-11)  This infers that though we have times in our lives that it feels like God has tossed us out to fly or die, He is watching over us to catch us before we truly hit bottom.

The other side of these biblical images of motherly warmth is the fierce protection momma gives when her young are threatened.  In another observation of nature but with a different animal, Hosea 13:8 reads, Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open,” says the Lord.

There are three wild animals mentioned in this chapter; lion, leopard, and bear.  All three were native to that land and were notorious for their relentless and ferocious natures in killing prey, especially in defense of their young.  The maternal instinct can produce wrath as well as warmth. Beware the fury of a mother whose cubs are threatened!  This is not a sentimental mother-image, but it is comforting to know that God will protect us and will make things right.

  1. But God is Never Called “Mother.”

We’ve seen how the Bible uses maternal images to describe the character and action of God.  However, the Bible never uses feminine gender for God and never called God “our heavenly mother”.

Some people will explain that by citing that the Bible writers lived in a patriarchal culture.  While I think you can argue that point, it still surprises no one that in such a culture, it would be expected to use masculine pronouns for God.

On his internet blog, Shiao Chong offers a better reason. It is his point that the Bible writers would never call God “Mother” because the pagan religions of the day had idols of a “Mother Nature” kind.  They made an idol in a female form, a Mother Goddess, because they hoped to create fertility by worshiping her.  This was not an attempt to glorify women, but to gain some control over nature by personifying it.  Unlike modern pagans, calling god “mother” was never about empowering women. It was about glorifying nature.  God inspired the Bible writers to use metaphors of the fatherly qualities of God with motherly qualities, as need be.

Fatherly qualities are not meant to suggest that God has a masculine gender, nor do the motherly qualities prove that God has a feminine gender.  Together, they prove that God is not limited to a gender as we are: He is greater than both.

God is a Spirit; He wants us to worship Him as Spirit and as Truth.

There are not many verses that present God in a female way but they are part of the Bible and they present a side of God we need to convey more often.  If we were to attempt something similar, we could say of God, “He is like a grandma who puts your coloring pages on her refrigerator.”

Using figures of speech like this does not change our belief about the person of God – He is a spiritual being, without gender – but they help us understand, by association, the characteristics we typically associate with fathers and mothers.  The figures of speech do not define the reality of God, they describe Him to us in symbolic terms that have personal and emotional terms.

We’ve seen that the love of God is protective, comforting, loving, and sheltering.  Those are qualities that some Bible writers used motherhood to illustrate. At this moment you may be wondering if this has anything to do with anything other than theology.

ON A THEOLOGICAL LEVEL: We need to understand what God is saying to us.  God has promised to love His people.  He has declared His love in His desire to comfort, nurture, and protect us. In this relatively short supply of verses, those qualities have been illustrated by examples of motherhood.  These are beautiful and sentimental images that deserve to be heard as such, not used as flimsy justification for re-imaging God.  God does not need a “hostile makeover!”  Let’s defend our theology on this point.

ON A RELATIONAL LEVEL: Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created human beings of both genders in His image.  This verse makes it clear that no one is “more like God” because of our gender.  So this discussion has ramifications for something utterly essential, like our gender and our identity as men and women.  The truth is; both genders together that most completely portray the image of God.

ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL: an application can be found for parents: mothers and fathers must follow God’s example to be the kind of parents He wants us to be.  He is our Father and we must refer to God as such, but He shows us love in forms that we might consider masculine and feminine.

RESOURCES

Shiao Chong’s Blog: “A Reformed Christian’s views on the Christian faith and its engagement with culture and all areas of life.”  https://3dchristianity.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/biblical-maternal-images-for-god/

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

 

Seven Modern Maladies and Their Solutions (1 of 7)

Those of you over 50 years old…

 

professor

need no introduction to this guy.  Chances are you can recount the episode from which this picture was taken.

For the rest of you, this is a picture of “the Professor” character from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island,” which premiered on CBS on September 26, 1964.  Actor Russell Johnson portrayed Professor Roy Hinkley all three seasons the show aired and in subsequent sequels.  He originally did not want the part (in what may have been a prideful moment, he was hoping for a show of his own) and admitted to having difficulty memorizing the lines with a lot of scientific words in them.

Several years ago I received an email that identified the characters on Gilligan’s Island with the seven deadly sins, just for fun.  The Professor was chosen to represent the sin of PRIDE because he was a “know-it-all.”

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

  1. The vicious vice of pride. (1 Cor. 8:1-3)

How can I identify a sinful degree of pride in myself?  It is a matter of trust: do I trust God or self?  Pride is putting trust in myself or any other worldly thing.         It is a matter of love: do I love God first?  Love of self is appropriate if we love God and others first.  It is a matter of grace: do I try to earn favor?  This can be subtle, but I believe that I can be worthy to enter heaven by being a good person, that is a form of pride.

Why is pride deadly?  It is deadly because it can blind us to our need for God.  If we don’t acknowledge our personal problem with sin and our need for Jesus Christ as Savior, we are dead in our sins and unsaved.  Self-reliance can be a good thing except in spirituality.  In spiritual matters we must rely on God.

The context of this verse is a “hot button” issue in the early church; whether or not it was appropriate to eat the meat of animals that had been slain as a sacrifice to an idol.  Paul’s teaching on this issue reveals how pride can replace true spirituality.  In his answer, Paul was inspired to make three points.

First, WE ALL HAVE KNOWLEDGE.  That was Paul’s way of saying, “Everyone in the church has an opinion on this subject.”   The question was, whose opinion was right?

Paul’s answer might be summarized as, “The person who relies on God’s wisdom than human knowledge.”  The spiritually mature view is to not be legalistic because legalism is a religious form of pride.  It puts human knowledge above spiritual revelation, and law above grace.

Second, love is better than knowledge.  Paul wrote that KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP – that is – it creates a pride.  “Know-it-all” people and legalists have a toxic effect on relationships.  LOVE is better because it BUILDS UP other people.  People who have the love of the Lord have a positive effect on relationships.

KNOWLEDGE asks questions like…

What are my rights?

There are no exceptions – no need to pay attention to context – so, what does the law say?

How can I be vigilant to correct wrong-doing in others?

How do I need to exert my will?

LOVE asks questions like…

What is my responsibility?

What has God revealed to me?

What can I do to show God’s grace and promote spiritual maturity?

How can I help others to do God’s will?

Third, humility is best defined as accurate self-knowledge.  This may sound shocking: self-reliance is the greatest enemy of faith because it encourages inaccurate self-knowledge.

People who are intellectually self-reliant are proud of their big brains.  They tend to reject faith, tradition and Scripture because they’ve “figured it all out” and “know better.”

People who are materially self-reliant seek security from money in the bank or are materialistic in more subtle ways.

People who are physically self-reliant tend to emphasize experience and value excitement.  They refute absolute truth and morality as it might limit on their freedom.

People who are spiritually self-reliant have made up their own faith; they see no problem with placing their hope in something that has no more authority than wishful thinking.

Humility is needed and none of these self-reliant people are humble because they fundamentally misperceive themselves.   Accurate self-knowledge comes only in relationship with God.  For example, every day we rely on a mirror to accurately view our appearance.  In a similar but more important way, we need someone to reflect our true self back to us.

Apart from God, all we have are other people to be mirrors for us.  There are at least two problems with depending on people to serve as our “character mirrors.”

No one else really knows us.  They can’t know read minds and they have not lived all our life with us.  God knows us better than we know ourselves and He has been with us all our lives.

The perspective of others is always heavily influenced by their own thoughts and experiences; they are incapable of being a truly accurate reflection.  God IS the truth.  He alone can truly reflect us.

So how do we access God’s perspective?  Primarily, we gain God’s perspective through prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit.   Secondarily, we can gain God’s perspective through other believers who are spiritually maturing and speak through the Holy Spirit.

  1. The vital virtue of humility. (Romans 12:3)

The context of this passage: in Romans 12, Paul reminded the church members that they were not separate bodies, but one.  The individual believers, like organs in a body, must all function and function together for the health of the whole.

How am I to practice humility?  Paul listed three specific requirements.

First, I must stand in God’s grace, not in my works.  In the phrase, FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME Paul identified the authority behind his words (God) and the source of his words (also God).

GRACE is God’s favor on undeserving people.  Pride is a sin because it attempts to do away with GRACE, to make it unnecessary by redefining sin out of existence or at least making it unimportant.

Humility is a virtue because it admits to our complete dependence on God.  You can’t have humility without GRACE.

Second, I must not think too highly of myself; no more than I OUGHT to.  Humility is NOT making yourself a doormat.  It has very little to do with passivity.  Humility is knowing who you really are, as God has given you perspective to know yourself accurately.

Accurate self-knowledge will never lead to pride.  It is never self-centered.  Accurate self-knowledge is awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and a desire to live within them.  Accurate self-knowledge does not deny ambition, but it tempers it.  It is based on truth and is the most realistic view of self.

I must think of myself as God does.  Because of GRACE, I see myself as a child of God.  Thereby I can…

Third, exercise SOBER JUDGMENT.  I can see good and evil in the world and react accordingly.  I understand life IN THE MEASURE OF FAITH.

Notice FAITH too is God’s gift.  FAITH is not something we make up to suit ourselves or to fit in with the crowd.  FAITH is received.  It must be sought and discovered.  It is passed on and received.

Humility is vital because pride can blind us to our need for God. Pride replaces God with self.  Pride leaves us dead in sin because if we don’t acknowledge our sin & our need for the Savior then we will never have faith.

Those of you under 50 years old…

selfie

know what this woman is doing.

For the rest of you, this gal is taking a “selfie” and she’s using a “selfie stick” and her smart phone to do it.  She will post the self-portrait on a website called Instagram, where people typically draw attention to themselves.

A friend gave me a copy of this cartoon that identifies the seven deadly sins with websites, updating this list for modern times.   Instagram is a photo and video-sharing website and app that began way back in 2010 and is owned by Facebook.  As of September, 2017, Instagram had 800 million registered users and over 40 billion photos and videos have been uploaded to it.  Instagram is criticized both for its censorship and its lack of censorship, proving again you can’t make everyone happy.

My point is not that users of Instagram are raging egomaniacs.  Instead, I merely offer Instagram is a symbol of pride because it is a place where people show themselves to the world.  However, the self they’re showing is possibly more flattering than accurate.

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

Our message is simple: avoid the vice of pride while practicing the virtue of humility.  We prize independence and in politics and finances, that is a good thing.  But in every other respect, dependence on God and interdependence among believers is the ideal.  It is an ideal achieved by humility, not pride.