Talking About the Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this important?

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

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

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

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

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

Who Wouldn’t Want Delivery?

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

God delivers us from death to Himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HE HAS DELIVERED US AND HE WILL DELIVER US AGAIN.

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

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

AS YOU HELP US BY YOUR PRAYERS.

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

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

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

Giving comfort is what God is all about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do drama queens pray to be delivered from conflicts?

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

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

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

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

Presentation of the King

 

The King has come!  What is YOUR decision?

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

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

But here’s where it gets strange.

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

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

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

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

  1. There were divided opinions on the King.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Because of who He was: King and Creator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The King has come!  What is YOUR decision?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Impure Heart or a Pure Heart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

False-hearted or True-hearted?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The comedian Groucho Marx said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
<Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/grouchomar128465.html on 3/24/17.>

The good news is, God has given us the truth in His word and His Son.  We don’t have to guess or make it up ourselves.  He has given us our church family to help us live with true hearts.  Let’s not make this more complicated by being false in any way.  A heart for God is only a true heart.

Fearful Heart or True Heart?

 

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

Some folks think courage is something like adrenaline: it will be there when you really need it. That makes for a good story, but it is rarely true.

The fact is, courage is like a muscle you build through constant exercise.  Like all character traits, it must become a functional part of us through repeated practice.  I realize words like “practice” and “exercise” are not popular words and they do not make for a dramatic story, but they are the means by which character is built.

So, in order to have courage when you need it most, you have to exercise it every day.  It’s the little decisions, the daily tests that develop more courage in us.

  1. Fear God only; do not have an anxious heart (see Leviticus 26:36-37).

In a lengthy section detailing the warnings of penalty for disobedience, God said, “AS FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE LEFT, I WILL MAKE THEIR HEARTS SO FEARFUL IN THE LANDS OF THEIR ENEMIES THAT THE SOUND OF A WIND-BLOWN LEAF WILL PUT THEM TO FLIGHT.  THEY WILL RUN AS THOUGH FLEEING FROM THE SWORD, AND THEY WILL FALL, EVEN THOUGH NO ONE IS PURSUING THEM.  THEY WILL STUMBLE OVER ONE ANOTHER AS THOUGH FLEEING FROM THE SWORD, EVEN THOUGH NO ONE IS PURSUING THEM.  SO YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STAND BEFORE YOUR ENEMIES.’

An anxious heart can be a sign of disobedience.  Among all the warnings in this section, this one has to do with a state of heart.  If they won’t fear God and respect Him, then He will ironically send a fear so strong that they will retreat from shadows; worry over nothing.  The picture here is rather comical; like Abbot and Costello or “Dumb and Dumber,” these characters are going to be falling over one another to retreat from things that are not actual threats.  Though is mocking or comical, it’s not a funny situation.  The outcome will be constant defeat: YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STAND.  This truth is also expressed in the form of a contrast in PBS 28:1; THE WICKED FLEE THOUGH NO ONE PURSUES, BUT THE RIGHTEOUS ARE AS BOLD AS A LION.

An anxious heart can be a sign of discouragement.  Ten times in the Old Testament fear and discouragement are directly linked.  God repeatedly said to His people; “Do not be afraid or discouraged.”  There were different threats at different times, but always His message was the same; “do not be afraid or discouraged.”  Based on human nature, fear and discouragement are typically our first responses when we have to face setbacks.

  1. God does not want you to have a fearful heart (see Isaiah 35:3-4).

STRENGTHEN THE FEEBLE HANDS, STEADY THE KNEES THAT GIVE WAY; SAY TO THOSE WITH FEARFUL HEARTS, “BE STRONG, DO NOT FEAR; YOUR GOD WILL COME, HE WILL COME WITH VENGEANCE; WITH DIVINE RETRIBUTION HE WILL COME TO SAVE YOU.”

The context of this Scripture is a word of encouragement first given to the Jews who were captives living in the nation of their conquerors.  The people of God spent 70 years in captivity before these promises were fulfilled.  These promises are also for us, for our encouragement in anxious hours.

A fearful heart needs to be strengthened.  We can strengthen our human nature by means of reason and emotion, but we can receive spiritual strength only as we rely on God.  Prayer and knowledge of the Word are used the Holy Spirit and are the ways we begin the process of receiving this strength from God.  The process continues with the encourage-ment God’s people give to one another.  Fear in one’s heart weakens not only one’s resolve but also one’s hands; our physical strength is sapped when fear takes over.

We are strengthened by trust in God.  There are two specific promises in this passage.  When He appears, God will bring about completion of all the woes of creation.

He will bring about perfect justice.  This is indicated twice in our text: HE WILL COME WITH VENGEANCE, and WITH DIVINE RETRIBUTION.  These promises have a negative ring in the ears of some.  However, we need to be reasonable; the only way perfect peace can be achieved is by the destruction of all evil.  This isn’t negative at all; it is God keeping His promises and rewarding the faith of His people.

He will save you.  He will save His people from all their enemies, all evil doers.  He will save them for eternal fellowship with Him and with one another.

The two sides of the ultimate victory of God are the eternal life given to His people and eternal destruction visited upon those who refused to be His people, choosing evil instead.

3. Follow Joshua’s example to have a courageous heart (see Joshua 1:5-9 + 18)

God promised Joshua complete victory over his enemies.  There were a lot of them and the territory they occupied is described in v. 4.  Let’s note all God’s promises:

– “I WILL GIVE YOU EVERY PLACE YOU SET YOUR FOOT, AS I PROMISED MOSES.” (3)

– “AS I WAS WITH MOSES, SO I WILL BE WITH YOU; I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU OR FORSAKE YOU.” (5)  Moses occupied a unique and important role in God’s salvation plan, but the grace of God did not end with him; it continued with Joshua as Moses’ replacement.  What is noteworthy here is that it is the presence of God that makes all the difference.  Military power or any kind of earthly advantage is nothing compared to the works of God.

– “YOU MAY BE SUCCESSFUL.” (7)

– “YOU WILL BE PROSPEROUS AND SUCCESSFUL.” (8)

– “GOD WILL BE WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.” (9)

– “GOD IS GIVING YOU YOUR OWN [land].” (11)

God repeatedly commanded Joshua to be “STRONG and COURAGEOUS.”  Moral strength and courage are part of this command.  As God repeated promised His people, doing the right thing is a key to achieving the right result.  This is important because people can be stubborn or in some similar way display something that looks like strength or courage.  However, it is the strength and courage that come from God that matter.  These we receive by faith and obedience.

 

Biblical courage can be defined as “following through on your faith-based decision to obey God’s will.”  This results in doing the right thing without regard for earthly support or opposition.  Courage is built by consistently choosing God’s way in the daily and seemingly trivial daily decisions we all make.

For example, why do bullies prosper?  It’s because their victims are not prepared to exercise courage from the beginning, when the stakes are comparatively low.  Instead, they give into their emotions early and repeatedly until their emotions get out of control and they explode from pressure.  The result is sometimes very unpleasant and always avoidable.  (Think of “Ralphie” teeing off on “Scot Farkus” in the movie “A Christmas Story.”)

One other example.  Some of the most courageous acts we do is to have an open mind and trust others.  The person who insists on “my way or the highway” is a bully whose mind is closes and is distrustful.  Courage is manifest in the undramatic and ordinary circumstances where we obey God in His timing.

Halfhearted or Wholehearted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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