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.

A Heavenly View (Part Two)

(Please read Revelation 21 & 22 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I use the NIV.)

MESSAGE: If we live today with a view toward heaven, today will be a better day as we will be better people.

(Part One was covered in last week’s post. Part Three will be covered in next week’s post.)

  1. The inhabitants of the HOLY CITY.

In 21:7 the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are called the CHILDREN OF GOD. Adoption into God’s family helps us to overcome all of the challenges of life, including persecution by the world, and the shame of the enemy.  That’s why the CHILDREN OF GOD are also called OVERCOMERS.  (Several promises are made to the OVERCOMERS in chapters 2+3.)

This wonderful promise was first made in Jeremiah 24:7; I WILL GIVE THEM A HEART TO KNOW ME, THAT I AM THE LORD. THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE, AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, FOR THEY WILL RETURN TO ME WITH ALL THEIR HEART.

In 21:9 and 22:17 the residents of the Holy City are called the BRIDE and THE WIFE OF THE LAMB.  These are both names for the Church.  This marital language is used because this is the union of God and His people in the fullest and most personal sense.  Ideally, the union of husband and wife is an example, an insight, or sample by personal experience, of the profound relationship between Jesus and His Church.

As you might expect, this symbol is not unique to John’s Revelation: Isaiah 62:5 says, “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”  Throughout the Bible, the joining of husband and wife is a symbol of great celebration; it is an emblem of joy.  In fact, a wedding feast is referred to in 19:6-9 as a means of describing the celebration of the victory of the Lamb.

In Revelation there is a great contrast between the Bride of Christ and Babylon, the seducer of nations, in chapter 17.  She is a picture of the glossy side of evil, the lure of temptation.  She is destroyed and her downfall is part of the final defeat of evil.  The BRIDE OF CHRIST is here polar opposite.

Both chapters refer to the NATIONS gathered within the walls of the New Jerusalem: this points to the multinational make-up of the Church.  In 21:24 we read, THE NATIONS WILL WALK IN ITS LIGHT.  This is a spiritual truth: salvation will be by faith, not ethnicity.  God has made it available to all.  This is not a political truth.  As 21:4 clearly states, THE OLD ORDER OF THINGS HAS PASSED AWAY.  The OLD ORDER of politics and power has had its day and will be no more.  All of the redeemed will be rulers (and PRIESTS) according to Revelation 20:6, a further indication that the old creation ways of power and politics are no more.

The triumph of God over the worldly systems that arrayed themselves against Him and His people was anticipated in the Old Testament as well.  Psalms 72:11 describes a very similar scene to what we read in these chapters: ALL KINGS WILL BOW DOWN TO HIM AND ALL NATIONS WILL SERVE HIM.

What is the real GLORY OF THE NATIONS John saw paraded into the Holy city in 21:26?  In John’s time this would be a military parade, the conquering army bringing back its spoil and captives and parading down the main street for the home crowd to see.  In a spiritual sense, this is exactly what’s intended.  The forces of evil have been destroyed and the vanquished enemies of God and His people are being put on display in a victory parade.  This imagery may have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote, AND HAVING DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, HE MADE A PUBLIC SPECTACLE OF THEM, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM BY THE CROSS in Colossians 2:15.  Of course there will be no military parade down the GREAT STREET of the New Jerusalem, for the enemies of God have been destroyed.  Further, of what use would be treasures in a city made of pure gold and precious stones?

NO, in this case, it’s the people!  It’s not a procession of vanquished foes and captives, but a procession of God’s people who have come out of the NATIONS.  It is a parade of victory, but only the victors are present, none of the vanquished.  Indeed, they have completely faded from memory by this time.  This is a description of the innumerable multitudes mentioned in chapter 7 coming into the NEW JERUSALEM to bring glory to God.  It also made me think of Revelation 4:10, where 24 ELDERS worship God and offer their CROWNS – their tokens of victory – to Him.

In 22:2, the LEAVES of the TREE OF LIFE provide healing for the NATIONS.  This is another way of saying – as we read in 21:4 – that God will WIPE EVERY TEAR from our eyes.  All the hurts of the old order will be healed and will vanish from memory!

Nothing UNCLEAN or ACCURSED – including people – will be admitted to the New Jerusalem.  21:8 gives us a list of specific examples.  We need to remember that biblical lists are meant to be examples, not exhaustive list.  It would be silly say, for example, that because “gossip” does not appear on the list, the sin of gossip will not keep someone from heaven.  Let’s don’t be legalistic here.  It would be more appropriate, following through with this example, to say LIARS represents all sins of the tongue.

Even though the Gates of the NEW JERUSALEM will never be closed, no evil will enter through them.  The reason is simple; no evil thing will exist!  21:27 substantiates this truth in with a more general statement then 21:8. Here IMPURE things are excluded from the Holy City, as well as all persons characterized by their SHAMEFUL or DECEITFUL lives.

More exciting is the description of those admitted: ONLY THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE.  This is a subject fit for a message all its own.  It is sufficient for our purposes to note that it is an image found in Old and New Testaments and to observe that God knows His people by name and not by reputation alone.  God knows us and loves us anyway, calling us by name out of the world and into His eternal presence!  Wow!!

22:15 is essentially a reiteration of 21:8.  There is only one thing on this list of conspicuous sinners that had not already been mentioned: DOGS.  As dogs were more scavengers at that time (think “hyena” or “dingo” or “wolf” instead) – less pets – I assume this is John’s way of describing people who prey on the vulnerable members of society.  This word was used in the culture of John’s time to refer to people who had fully degraded themselves in sin.  We’d call them “gangsters.”

In 22:18-19 John issues two warnings regarding the prophecy; do not add to it or take away from it.  This is serious; do not make it say what it clearly does not say.  Adding to the WORDS will result in God ironically adding to their life the PLAGUES DESCRIBED IN THIS BOOK (described in the seven trumpets and bowls in chapters 8-18).  People add their own rules, traditions, and false notions.  Taking away from the WORDS will result in God ironically taking away their SHARE IN THE TREE OF LIFE AND IN THE HOLY CITY.  People take away from God’s Word when they want to excuse sin and make easier to sin.

Because the Revelation is written with so much symbolism, it is a bit easier to twist the meaning.  Because the subject matter is so important – it exerts an influence on our imaginations and our faith and thereby has power to influence others – it is tempting to misuse it.  However, those who attempt to manipulate the Revelation to suit their own agenda are warned with the most severe penalties.  Resist the temptation.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can understand Revelation.  This will happen as we allow the words to speak for themselves, not as we impose our meanings on them.  Those who ADD TO or TAKE AWAY from God’s Word reveal themselves to be unbelievers.  This warning sounds a lot like the one Moses gave His people after giving God’s Law to them; “DO NOT ADD TO WHAT I COMMAND YOU AND DO NOT SUBTRACT FROM IT, BUT KEEP THE COMMANDS OF THE LORD YOUR GOD THAT I GIVE YOU.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

The primary activity of the citizens of the Holy City will be worshipping God (22:3+5).

Worship of God appears throughout Revelation. Every scene of heaven is a scene where God is honored and glorified.  He is the hero of every Bible passage and as the highest possible good; it is to our blessing to worship Him.

There are a couple of verses that show what we might call “secondary” activities for the citizens of the Holy City.

– In 22:3, it says that HIS SERVANTS WILL SERVE HIM. From this brief remark we see that we will serve God in eternity as we have served Him in our brief time here on earth.  We do not have enough information to know what kinds of activity will be included with this service.  But the word translated as SERVE is used to describe religious activity.  While you may find work to be a “four letter word,” I believe we are promised that there will be work in heaven.  However, unlike earthly work, our eternal jobs will be meaningful and satisfying!

– In 22:5 we are promised we WILL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER. Who or what will we rule over?  Is this more of a status than an activity?  There simply is not enough information to be specific.  What’s important is that the disciples of the One whom the world rejected will be, like Him, raised to rule.

Finally, the eternal residents of the Holy City fully committed themselves to God during their life in this world.  One way in which this commitment is symbolized is in 22:4: HIS NAME WILL BE ON THEIR foreheads.   (See also Revelation 7:3; 9:4; 13:16; 14:1+9; 17:5; 20:4 for the ways in which a mark on the forehead separates God’s people from the devil’s people.  This is clearly important.)  In Exodus 28:36, God commanded that the headdress worn by the high priest be decorated with a thin gold plate inscribed with the words, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. The connection here is that Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6 all promise that all the citizens of the New Jerusalem will be priests, wearing the NAME OF THE LORD on their foreheads.

Why the forehead?  When God commanded the Israelites to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Moses said, “THIS OBSERVANCE WILL BE FOR YOU LIKE A SIGN ON YOUR HAND AND A REMINDER ON YOUR FOREHEAD THAT THE LAW OF THE LORD IS TO BE ON YOUR LIPS.  FOR THE LORD BROUGHT YOU OUT OF EGYPT WITH HIS MIGHTY HAND.” (Exodus 13:9)  The answer to the question is simply “Because God said so.”  We can sentimentalize about head and hand representing thought and action, but there’s no textual evidence to support that extent of detail.  It is intended as a symbol of allegiance, a demonstration and reminder of whose we are.

The second way the citizens of the city demonstrated their loyalty was by keeping this prophecy, receiving the blessing mentioned in 22:7.  We can be confident about this promise of blessing because, as 22:6 points out, “THESE WORDS ARE TRUSTWORTHY AND TRUE.” The words of this prophecy bless us when we…

… rely on them as a guide to moral living.

… receive hope for salvation.

… learn to love & show grace as God has been gracious to us.

… are drawn into communion with God.