All Good Things

Please read Psalm 85 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

One part of the process of maturing is setting aside the myths and mistaken thinking that comfort and guide us when we are young and/or immature.  For example, the inevitable moment in growing up when we set aside the Santa Claus myth.

In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller tells the story of when he first realized that Santa was not real.  He was eight years old at the time and at the mall.  Needing to use the restroom, he went inside and was awestruck to see Santa himself, standing there using the facilities.  He thought it an honor to see jolly ol’ St. Nick, even though he was outside of his usual environment.

Santa finished what he came for, turned around and caught young Donnie staring at him.  He said, “Ho, ho, ho, kid.”

There were no words in young Donald’s mind and nothing came out of his mouth.   Santa shrugged & walked out of the bathroom.

After being starstruck wore off, Donald realized that Santa had left the men’s room without washing his hands.  Yuck!  He could not believe that someone with Santa’s reputation for fussiness about keeping naughty and nice lists could be so lacking in simple hygiene.  It was then and there that Donald decided there was no such person as Santa Claus and the guy with germy hands was just someone trying to earn some extra money during the holidays.

He left the restroom to join his family who were already in line to see Santa Claus.  He asked his mother to be excused.  He sat down in the lingerie department and consider the ramifications of this important decision.

(Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller, 2004, pp. 22-25.)

This process is not just for children, however.  All our lives we are supposed to continue maturing, continuing to put away the myths, superstitions, and half-truths that have made us comfortable but are wrong.

Jesus came, in part, to keep God’s promises.  He became one of us to give us the whole truth about God and set us free from the untrue things that hold us back from real life with God.  Psalm 85 is packed with “adult words” and encouraging promises.

  1. The key words in these promises.

FAVOR (v. 1).  The object of God’s FAVOR is the LAND.  The Promised Land was one of the chief points of Jewish theology, it was a sign of God’s love for His people.

Restoration (v. 1+4).   The historical object of restoration was to be returned to their LAND, to end their 70 years of captivity.

Forgiveness is named and described in four different ways.

God forgave and COVERED ALL THEIR SINS (v. 2).  True forgiveness requires some forgetting, putting away the offense.  When God forgives, He forgets completely.  We must do the same.

The psalmist pleaded with God to forgive and SET ASIDE ALL YOUR WRATH AND TURN FROM YOUR FIERCE ANGER (v. 3).  Forgiveness requires giving up one’s right to seek revenge or punish.  To truly forgive, both the forgiver and the forgiven need to humble themselves and make some sacrifices

He also pleaded with him to PUT AWAY YOUR DISPLEASURE (v. 4).  Forgiveness does not allow grudge-holding.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  This truth is expressed twice in verse five, in slightly different ways.  (Do not BE ANGRY WITH US FOREVER, and do not PROLONG YOUR ANGER THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS.)  They show a concern for the future and a desire to move forward.

Revival (v. 6).  To “revive” something is to restore or renew life; to spark vitality where life is ebbing.  This is a gift from God, another act of grace.  Asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness is the first step toward revival.  Every revival has begun with intense times of conviction of sin and repentance.

LOVE (v. 7).  LOVE is an Old Testament virtue.  It may not be as obvious as it is in the NT, but it is true that throughout the Bible, LOVE is the greatest virtue.  This verse is as accurate and abridged statement of the Gospel as you’d hope to find in the NT.  LOVE has always been God’s thing.

RIGHTEOUSNESS (vs. 11+13).  We think of RIGHTEOUSNESS in moral terms and that’s true, but not the whole truth.  The origin of RIGHTEOUSNESS is not in our moral willpower.  It comes with the Holy Spirit.  It is another grace God gives us.  The Bible says that any righteousness we can achieve is inadequate to save us.  As v. 13 makes clear, the human form of RIGHTEOUSNESS was expressed in the living and teaching of Jesus.  We follow His example.

  1. The results of the promises kept.

REJOICE IN YOU (v. 6).  Joy is supposed to be our “default setting.”  If life is characterized by anger or gloom, something must change.

SALVATION (vs. 7+9).  It is likely the original readers/singers of this psalm saw restoration, revival, and SALVATION as returning home from Babylon.  For us, SALVATION takes on a more eternal perspective.  We think of SALVATION as our going from earth to heaven.

PEACE (v. 8).  This is REAL peace, the kind that passes human understanding (see Philippians 4:7).  More than the absence of conflict, this is an emotional stability that exists in the face of conflict, a contagious positivity and ease.

HIS GLORY will DWELL IN OUR LAND (v. 9).  God’s presence is His glory and is manifest in light.  God is among His people and in the LAND.

The combined virtues of LOVE and FAITHFULNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE become possible (v. 10).  We know it is difficult to be loving AND faithful at the same time.  God will sometimes require us to do the faithful thing and someone will feel like we’ve been unloving.  Doing the right thing will put us at odds with people doing the wrong thing, or doing nothing.  When your choice is between doing God’s will OR anything else, pick God’s way.  Be obedient to God first and let the people sort themselves out.  We have to answer to God.

THE LORD WILL GIVE WHAT IS GOOD, the LAND WILL YIELD A HARVEST (v. 12).  Whether or not we recognize it at the time, the LORD will do what is GOOD for us.  What we HARVEST depends on what we have planted (see Galatians 6:7-8).

  1. Our part in receiving these promises.

We must LISTEN TO WHAT THE LORD GOD SAYS (v. 8).  On a practical level, this means two things.  First, listen to the LORD, not the world and CERTAINLY not the devil.  Second, as James 1:22-23 states, don’t just listen to God’s word and then go out and do whatever you please.  Apply the word.

Be FAITHFUL SERVANTS (v. 8).  Pride can get in the way of being a SERVANT, but you must serve others if you want to serve the LORD.  God’s will is that we should serve each other, not be individuals unconcerned about each other, or worse, in competition with each other, or worst of all, in conflict.

TURN NOT TO FOLLY (v. 8).  FOLLY here refers to claiming to be a child of God but behaving like a worldly person, not following the way of God.  It is the worst kind of FOLLY to see the life that God offers and then reject Him.

FEAR HIM (v. 9).   FEAR of God means at least three things.  One, feeling awe for God; being overwhelmed by His glory and goodness.  Two, having respect for God; complying with His will because you recognize His authority.  Three, it is legitimate to have a healthy FEAR of God.  A healthy fear is based on knowledge that God has all power and that one day we will have to stand before Him in judgment.

Verse 11 lists two virtues and describes their different points of origin.  FAITHFULNESS is something we practice: that’s why it SPRINGS FORTH FROM THE EARTH.   To be faithful, we must make our daily decisions based on the guidance we receive from God’s word; it involves our will.

RIGHTEOUSNESS is a virtue we receive from heaven: that’s why it’s said to look DOWN FROM HEAVEN.  To be righteous, we must allow the Holy Spirit within us to guide us into the right things to say and do.

  1. Jesus was born to keep these promises.

This truth is affirmed in the Gospels.  In Matthew 1:21, an angel declared to Joseph one reason for the birth of Jesus; “[Mary] WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS, BECAUSE HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.”

To Mary, the angel Gabriel declared a different purpose, “YOU WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO CALL HIM JESUS.  HE WILL BE GREAT AND WILL BE CALLED THE SON OF THE MOST HIGH.  THE LORD GOD WILL GIVE HIM THE THRONE OF HIS FATHER DAVID, AND HE WILL REIGN OVER JACOB’S DESCENDANTS FOREVER; HIS KINGDOM WILL NEVER END.” (Luke 1:30-33).

Paul affirmed Jesus was the keeper of God the Father’s promises (see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  He is our RIGHTEOUSNESS, HOLINESS, and REDEMPTION

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

Don’t be content to just hear the words; be ambitious to do them.  The world needs godly people ambitious to do God’s will.

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Love Never Fails

Take up your preferred Bible and read 1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1.  Myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Now that the turkey is reduced to leftovers, we put Thanksgiving behind us and think more about Christmas.  I know we have Christmas overachievers in our church family; you already have your gifts bought, probably wrapped, and either hidden or placed carefully under your tree.  The underachievers who will wait until Dec. 24 OR LATER to shop and all the rest of us are going to be out and about the next three weeks.

One of the things we experience while out and about, especially this time of year, are strangers doing “random acts of kindness” to other strangers.  This week, Richard Hanson had a great idea to improve the custom.  His idea was to have a card prepared explaining that your act of kindness was not random at all, but was the product of a love-relationship with Jesus Christ.  Do the act, leave the card and have a “silent witness” of Jesus.

We have printed several of these cards for your use.  Let me recommend you take a few of these and when you buy lunch for the people in line behind you or pay for the purchases of the person in line ahead of you, give them one of these cards and put the face of Jesus on your kindness.

J.B. McPhail wrote, “Love is the fabric of a life well lived.” Acts of kindness are seasonally appropriate and give evidence of good character.  If you use these cards, you will add witness to service and improve both, with eternal consequences.

  1. Context: THE GREATER GIFTS, THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY,

THE WAY OF LOVE (12:31 + 14:1).

There are three expressions Paul used that provide context for this teaching, so it’s important to interpret these first.

The first is, EAGERLY DESIRE THE GREATER GIFTS.  Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts because his original teaching had been corrupted by false teachers for their purposes.  The Gift of Tongues had been exalted as being above all the others, so Paul countered by saying there are greater Gifts than Tongues. Paul didn’t identify which Gifts are GREATER, but in chapter fourteen, he made it clear that the Gift of Prophecy is a more useful Gift than Tongues.

The second phrase is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  This is Paul’s transitional statement, the way he introduces this chapter about love.  1 Corinthians 13 is a passage lifted out of its context possibly more often than any other in the Bible.

Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts in the chapter before and after.  Ch. 13 is NOT a parenthesis, but part a chain of reasoning covering chapters 12-14.   In chapter 12 he introduced the reader to the Spiritual Gifts, listing and defining them as God’s way of growing churches.  In chapter 13 he puts them in proper perspective vis-à-vis LOVE; the Gifts are ways to express and enact love.  In chapter 14 he showed how misuse of the Gift of Tongues messed up worship in the Corinthian church.

Paul made it clear that LOVE is superior to t Gifts; it is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  The Greek word for LOVE here is agape.  The word was used only once in all the secular Greek texts which survive into modern times.  This word was taken up by New Testament authors and the Church to convey the ultimate love given by God to humanity.  It is the deepest, most spiritual version of the three Greekk words for LOVE.  It is the ultimate kind of LOVE.  It is not superficial, sensual, or sentimental.

The third phrase is FOLLOW THE WAY OF LOVE is in 14:1; LOVE is a WAY of life.  We are to pursue this virtue in our daily living and ultimately, in our character.

  1. Without love, even the Spiritual Gifts are powerless (13:1-3, 8-10)

Without love, TONGUES fail to communicate (1) and will ultimately be STILLED (8).  LOVE is the difference between merely making noise and communicating in a godly way.  Without a translation, public use of the Gift of Tongues only succeeds in making noise and worse, may irritate the Body of Christ, like the clang and bang of a GONG and CYMBALS, say.  The GONG and CYMBALS were used in Old Testament worship (see 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8; Psalms 150:5) and also idol worship; not referred to in a derogatory way. Instead, there’s just not a lot you can communicate with a GONG or CYMBALS.  We need to make words, not just noise.  One aspect of love’s superiority over Tongues is that LOVE will continue to exist after the Second Coming, while the Gift of Tongues will cease (8).

Without love, the knowledge and faith bestowed by PROPHECY amounts to NOTHING (2) and will ultimately CEASE (8).  The Gift of Prophecy can involve FORE-telling the future but it is mostly FORTH-telling; interjecting the truth where people are misunderstanding or misbehaving.

MYSTERIES and KNOWLEDGE are variations of the same Gk word.  They refer to deep knowledge of hidden and significant things.  In Paul’s time as in ours, “moving mountains” is an expression for overcoming great challenges (see Mark 11:22-23).  BUT – done without love, even great achievements are NOTHING.  After Jesus’ Second Coming, there won’t be any need for the Gift of Prophecy because all survivors will know God’s will (see JMH 31:33-34).

Without love, GIVING has no benefit (3).  The kind of sacrifice Paul describes in verse three is total, even to the point of giving up one’s life.  In modern terms we might paraphrase Paul to say, “Even if I become such a workaholic that I suffer burnout”.  This may be a reference to the fiery trials of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abenego in Daniel 3.  Notice that Paul did NOT say in verse eight that giving will cease.  Heaven will be a place of ultimate and true giving (never false or for evil, only good).

Our knowledge is, at best, partial and immature (8-12).  It requires love to make it valuable.

Our knowledge is always partial.  People who ignore this fact fall into a vice that makes people hard to live with: the arrogant assumption they know it all.  Paul identified this vice in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP means that knowledge can lead to pride.  The Bible teaches that only God is all-knowing, so put your pride in park and get real!

Our knowledge is always immature.  Growing old and maturing are not the same thing.  Growing old happens automatically; the longer we survive, the more birthdays we accrue.  Maturing takes time, so it looks similar, but maturing is a process that happens by intention and application of hard work.  Spiritual maturing, the greatest of all kinds of maturity, happens only with hard work and the help of the Holy Spirit.

The more we learn, the more we have to admit there is more we CAN learn.  It takes a maturing person to admit there is still room for self-improvement and then to take up that challenge.  There is no reason to be “puffed up.”

In heaven (WHEN COMPLETENESS COMES, v. 10), our knowledge will be full and mature.  Now we see God only as He is reflected in human beings – sometimes a very poor likeness – but then we shall see Him FACE TO FACE.

(Corinthian mirrors of polished metal were famous in the ancient world – Paul refers to them here.)  In heaven we will KNOW FULLY, even as God now has perfect knowledge of each of us.

  1. The qualities of true love (13:4-8, 13).

Paul expressed the qualities of LOVE positively: LOVE IS…

– PATIENT (4) = it overlooks small offenses; resists becoming resentful; is active, not passive.

– KIND (4) = it thinks of ways to help others.

– Joyful in the TRUTH (6) = lovers are happy with honesty.

– Unfailing (8) = as God is love, love will always be needed, appropriate, and powerful.

– Maturing (11) = childish ways of thinking and speaking giving way to adult means are Paul’s way of symbolizing spiritual maturity.

– Protective (7) = it helps, doesn’t hurt unless pain is necessary for healing.

– Trusting (7) = by being trustworthy.  Loving people have discernment but start with positivity.

– Hopeful (7) = Negativity always hinders and hurts.  Hopeful people give others the benefit of the doubt.

– Persevering (7) = will not give up on people and is willing to endure adversity in order to love.

– The greatest of all virtues (13) = HOPE and FAITH are important, even essential virtues.  They will all remain for eternity, but LOVE is t GREATEST.

– You could summarize all ten of these virtues as being having a focus on someone other than self.  Those who truly love are focused on God first, others second, self last.

Paul also expressed the qualities of LOVE negatively: LOVE IS NOT…

– Envious (4) = it is not materialistic; it does not want what others have.

– Boastful (4) = it does not seek superiority over others, nor is it characterized by “one-upmanship” and an insistence on “winning” arguments.

– Proud (4) = it is not arrogantly centered on one’s achievements and qualifications to the point of feeling entitled.

– Dishonoring (5) = it is not so self-absorbed as to disregard the well-being of others, even to the violation of God’s standards.  It doesn’t withhold respect.

– Self-seeking (5) = this vice sums up this entire section.  The other eight vices explain how to recognize self-centered people.

– EASILY ANGERED (5) = it’s focus is not on one’s self manifest in a short temper and/or perceiving insults or injuries where none were intended.

– A recorder of WRONGS (5) = it does not withhold forgiveness.  When we pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” we may be asking for a world of hurt.  Selfish people hold grudges.

-Delighted with evil (6) = it does not derive a wicked happiness when seeing someone else “get what they deserve” or get away with wrong-doing.

Horror is not a genre I enjoy, so I rarely read or watch it.  One of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever seen has no monsters or killers or violence of any kind.  It is a film shown to us in elementary school, called “Cipher in the Snow.”  It is the short story of an ordinary school kid who walked off the school bus one morning and fell over dead.  His teacher undertook to understand what killed Cliff.

The film was based on a story by Jean Mizer, a lady who worked as a teacher and guidance counselor, published in the NEA Journal in 1964.  It was produced by Bringham Young University and has been used extensively for anti-bullying education and moral training.

Although the film does not come out and say so explicitly, it is clearly implied that Cliff died from a lack of love.  The teacher finds that Cliff’s parents divorced and he had no friends at school.  There was no one there to love him.

It scared the willies out of me, but I took the lesson to heart.  The film illustrates the disaster that is a loveless life.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Love is one of the easiest things to talk about and sing about.  Everyone wants to celebrate love and everyone wants to receive love.  It’s not so easy

to do.  It’s not always part of our nature or personality to be loving, especially not at the high standard God sets for love.

It’s much easier and more natural for us to love self first, or substitute legalism for love and then make excuses to conceal our lack of love.  Love is not optional for a follower of Jesus, it is essential, indeed, the defining aspect of our character.

Seek ways to love.  Act on opportunities that present themselves.  Love is too important to be kept waiting, so get to it.  And, there’s no better time than Christmas to go about proclaiming and enacting the love of Jesus Christ.

Worth the Wait

patience

<Image retrieved from http://bookboon.com/blog/2017/02/patience-important-soft-skill/.>

Please use your favorite Bible to read Isaiah 30:18-26.  In a momentary departure from the usual, I’ve used the NRSV to prepare my remarks.

Wait for it – God will dispense perfect justice.

Today we’re going to talk about patience.  I am always grateful for the opportunity to TALK about patience but aren’t always as appreciative of the opportunity to practice it.  Patience is a virtue, but not everyone understands it in the same way, as illustrated by the following quotes on the subject of patience.

+ “At my age, patience is not a virtue… it’s a luxury.”  – Erma Bombeck, humorist

+ “You can learn many things from children… how much patience you have for instance.”- Franklin Jones, businessman & humorist

+ “Patience and diligence, like faith, can move mountains. – William Penn

+ “Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.” – Mac McCleary

+ “I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.” – Edith Sitwell English biographer, critic, novelist & poet

+ “Opportunity knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter, educator & writer

+ “Patience is what you have when there are too many witnesses.” – Anonymous

+ “Genius is patience.”  – Sir Isaac Newton

+ “Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to maintain a good attitude while waiting.”  – Anonymous

An even better understanding of patience can be found in Isaiah 30:18.  It is an unusual verse in that it explains the patience of God and commands His people to follow His example.  There are texts aplenty to be cited to support either of those propositions, but to find both in one verse is, to my knowledge unique.

  1. The general principle: God graciously waits for our repentance; we must patiently wait for His justice (v. 18).

God waits for us to repent; He graciously gives us a lifetime of opportunities because He wants to be merciful.  Mercy tempers JUSTICE.  God is just, but He waits for people to repent and be saved. Justice delayed is not justice denied.  God’s justice will be perfect and universal and complete when it happens.  Peter also explains what seems like a delay in God completing his plan.  (See 2 Peter 2:8-9.) God’s holiness demands justice be completed, so this is a limited time offer.

This prophecy has an immediate and ultimate fulfillment.  The immediate recipients were the people of Judah.   They were to be faithful until He delivered them from Babylon.  The ultimate recipients of this promise are all those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  Judgment Day comes at the end of human history and is the day of ultimate justice.

  1. A specific example: God’s promises to His people (vs. 19-26).

This section explains and expands on the promises of vs. 15-18 by applying the principle to the situation in which the Judahites found themselves.  The people of Judah were captives in a foreign land and they would be for 70 years. It was a situation so far outside our own experience we can’t imagine how lonely and forsaken what that must’ve felt.

But – and this is the important part – God had not forsaken his people.   He made promises to them to motivate their faithful endurance.  We will examine each of them, noting the immediate and ultimate fulfillments we see.

Promise #1 = No more tears (19).  Restored to their homeland, the Jews would have no more reason to WEEP.  This promise fits perfectly with Revelation 21: 4, where God promises to wipe every tear from their eyes.

Promise #2 = God hears and answers prayer (19).  We should never use the expression “unanswered prayer.”  Verses like this assure us God hears and answers them all.  His answer may be “yes,” “no,” or “hold, please,” but those are all answers.  Seventy years is a lifetime to most of us, but even if you have to wait a lifetime, the point is that God responds at just the right time to the cries of His people.

Promise #3 = He sends ADVERSITY and AFFLICTION only for a limited time (20).  BREAD and WATER are the usual fare of prisoners of war.  Isaiah uses them as metaphors of the trials we face in life. The end of the Jews’ Babyloninan trial would be the appearance of their TEACHER (the Messiah).  This was fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming.  For us, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is that our trials will end at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Promise #4 = He will guide you (21).  The emphasis here is not on the fact that God would be willing to guide them for that had always been the case.  The emphasis is on the degree of their repentance; they will at last listen and heed God’s guidance.  They will no longer ignore God and thereby wander off the path.

Promise #5 = He will meet your needs (23-25).  The references to RAIN, SEED, GROUND, GRAIN, CATTLE, PASTURES, OXEN, DONKEYS, SILAGE, and RUNNING WATER all sound worldly, like God is offering prosperity in return for loyalty.  It is a mistake to see these verses in such materialistic terms.  Instead, this promise has two less obvious meanings.

One, it is a promise to the Jews that they will be restored to their land.  In Judaism, the land is of central importance.  It was the Promised Land and to be out of it – even for just 70 years – was the worst sign of God’s having forsaken them.  To return to it was a sign of forgiveness.

Two, it is a promise that God would provide all they needed to survive.  Everything from SEED to GRAIN comes from God.  If we think our brains and strength are the means by which we provide for ourselves, we had better stop and remember who gave us brains and strength in the first place.

Promise #6 = In fact, God’s care will be so complete that even the DAY OF SLAUGHTER will not be a thing to be feared (25).  Referring to something like a DAY OF SLAUGHTER and the falling of TOWERS seems out of place, a downbeat in a passage packed with positivity.  Instead, its realism.  In this world there will never be a time of ONLY good news.  Everything is a mix of pleasant and unpleasant, gain and loss, good and bad.

It is a warning, based on fallen human nature:

– Do not take God for granted during the days of prosperity.

– Do not turn to idols and give them the credit for days of ease.

– Do not repeat the sins of the generations that resulted in your current exile, for you will suffer a similarly disastrous outcome.

Promise #7 = Enlightenment (26).  The repeated use of the number seven is not an accidental one; it is a significant number in the Bible, starting with the seven days of creation.  It is a divine number.  Scientifically, I’m not sure that the sun shining with seven-fold intensity would be a good thing.  However, most of us would be happy to have the sun shine seven times more often than it seems to shine.  I think the point is that – along with everything else from SEED to GRAIN – God will provide abundant sunshine to make the crops grow.  This factor is singled out because sunshine is one part of the ag process over which we exercise no control.

Promise #8 = Healing (26).  The LORD is clearly the power behind the throne of Babylon.  Though it was Babylonian soldiers that overran Jerusalem, they achieved victory only because God allowed them to do so.  Just as God allowed his people to be injured and wounded, He will be the means of their healing.  He will personally bind up the hurts of His people.

Look verse twenty-two, for here we find the application of these truths, the human half of this promise-keeping: repentance. Verser twenty-two is clear that repentance involves throwing away your idols.  THEN YOU WILL DEFILE YOUR SILVER-COVERED IDOLS AND YOUR GOLD-PLATED IMAGES.  YOU WILL SCATTER GOLD-PLATED IMAGES.  YOU WILL SCATTER THEM LIKE FILTHY RAGS; YOU WILL SAY TO THEM, “AWAY WITH YOU.”

The references to the idols being plated with precious metals is meant to remind us that idols are things that look precious and important on the outside but are worthless and woody underneath.  Idols are always superficial things that have no lasting value.

Repentance involves rejection of idols.  This is not a casual attitude.  The word RAGS describes the most foul, defiled thing of which the writer could think.  Repentance involves an 1800 turn, hating and casting aside the sinful things we used to worship and adore.

Since most of us do not have silver or gold-covered statues set up on little altars at home, we have to think of “idols” in a more symbolic sense.  We need to think about the things in this life that we love but cause us to sin and worse, occupy the place in our life that God is supposed to take: first place.  Those are the things we have to cast out.

What are the gold-plated idols in your life?  Even good things like Family, friends, church, business, can all be idols.  When you pray, ask God to reveal them to you and be prepared to act on His response.

An Ethic Based on Life

A Suggested Ethical Basis for Neighborliness for All World Citizens: A Common Valuation of LIFE

Acknowledging my naivte, I hold out hope that one day people will come together around a commonly held ethic that transcends national, religious, and philosophic lines.  I get energized by ideas, but have learned repeatedly that not everyone else does.  With those caveats, I humbly submit for your consideration the first plank in a platform for citizenship and world cooperation.

 

TAKE                    USE/DENY         TOLERATE        AFFIRM           GIVE

LIFE1                     LIFE2                 LIFE3                 LIFE4                LIFE5

<———————————————————————————————————————–>

-2                           -1                         0                        +1                     +2

Evil                        Offensive          Neutral               Good              Ideal

 

1 Respect for life is truly the foundation for civilization.  However, there are always exceptional situations that prove the rule.  On an international and individual level, we observe that sometimes we have to take life in order to save more lives or defend innocent lives.  Taking life is the ultimate act of negativity.  Examples of this value are murderers, serial killers, and mass murderers.

 

2 These people devalue life with words and/or deeds that treat human beings as something less and animals even worse.    When life is something to be manipulated for personal gain, then that person is making a negative contribution to society.  Examples include bigots, criminals (pimps and pushers), sweat shop owners, and slavers.

 

3 It can be argued that not caring IS making an ethical decision and it is choosing sin.  However, here I compare the societal impact of actions and attitudes rather than evaluate them from any particular ethical system.   People in this category are indifferent and/or circumspect about their value of life, preferring privacy or isolation to engagement.  People who take a hard “scientific” view of humanity can devaluate human life to being merely equivalent to animal life.

 

4 Attitudes and actions at this level are more characterized by words than deeds.  Lots of people have positive, life-affirming beliefs, but not as many get involved in defending life from encroachments on life that happen because of greed and/or negative philosophies.  Examples of this level of affirmation of life include theologians, philosophers, and social scientists who are champions of life on paper and in their armchair, but who do not take those views into the street.  Their advocacy is limited to private or academic circles.

 

5 Those who can be said to “give life” are active advocates for life, defenders of the weak and innocent; those whose love is both public and persuasive.  They aren’t necessarily “activists,” but they act on their convictions even when such action threatens their personal comfort zones.  Parents who raise their children with life-affirming values are perhaps the best example of this valuation of life.

Outrageous Heathens

Please read Psalm 2 + Matthew 5:43-48 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Good Christians are good neighbors.  Good neighbors are good citizens.

On my most recent visit to the library, I checked out How to Create Your Own Religion.  The title was intriguing & offensive at the same time.  But as I try to listen to other perspectives to test my own and to “pan” for nuggets of truth, I took a chance.

I didn’t like the book.  At all.  I gave up after 50 pages or so.

At this point you may be thinking, “Well, what did you expect?”  I expected it to be critical of “organized religion.”  I expected it to target Christianity.  What I’d hoped that there would be a reasonable intelligence at work to make respectful discourse.

Instead it was angry, arrogant, and adolescent.  The few good points were covered over with sarcasm.  It was like a waffle covered in hot sauce.

I went to the internet and found that about a third of the people who wrote online reviews of the book agreed with me: they also put the book away without finishing it.

My reaction to this book reminded me of Psalm 2:1; “Why do the heathen rage?”  God added the part about His people having a better social presence from Matthew 5.  Now you know how we got here.  More importantly, what are we going to learn?

Today we’re going to provide biblical answers to the question, “How does a Christian live in the world? “  How we relate to the secular culture all around us is one of the key parts of being a follower of Jesus.

  1. Psalm 2 = People who reject God are distinguished by their impotent rage.

This is called a “royal psalm” because it may’ve been written by a king (it is attributed to Solomon or David).  It is also a prayer for the king as he faces off against foreign nations.

This psalm has four parts.

The first part is in verses one through three, exposing the folly of pagan kings posturing trying to rebel against God and Israel.  The key word “rage” is translated as CONSPIRE in the NIV.  Elsewhere it is translated as “impotent muttering.”

The object of their rage is the Lord’s ANOINTED.  This title originally referred to the king of Israel, later it referred to the Messiah.

The reason for their rage is that the defeated pagan nations chafed at having to pay tribute to Israel.  They wanted to throw off the rule of Israel. The phrase CHAINS and SHACKLES refers to the tack used to hold a yoke on an animal’s neck.

Why do the heathen rage?  That’s a rhetorical question.  It could just as easily be translated: “Why do they bother?”  It’s clear they can’t win.

The second part is in verses four through six, where God Himself laughs at their “macho” attempts at intimidation.  He calls their bluff.  To us, the threats of evil people may look intimidating, but from God’s perspective they are ridiculous.

We need to live our belief, and one important aspect is that our security is in God’s power, not the king’s strength.  After all, God INSTALLED the king of Israel on his throne.  This means we must not be intimidated by anything in this world, but trust God that He is working all things out for our benefit.

The third part is in verses seven through the king repeats God’s assurance of the defeat of their enemies.  God’s DECREE is a certificate of adoption: the king is under God’s protection as a father protects his children.  The word “I” in verse six is a emphatic personal declaration in Hebrew grammar.  In English it would read something like “as for me.”

The ROD OF IRON is both a shepherd’s tool and a king’s symbol of office.  The Lord’s ANOINTED will use the ROD to DASH THEM TO PIECES.  This is a promise of effortless and total destruction of the wicked: they are powerless to resist.

In verses 10-12 we have the fourth part and it is a warning the rebels, “Get back in line and be blessed or keep rebelling and suffer God’s righteous wrath.”  To SERVE means to submit one’s own will entirely to the will of the king.  If they won’t submit because the understand this, they should at least submit out of FEAR and TREMBLING.

The phrase KISS THE SON sounds strange to us, but builds on the FEAR and TREMBLING.  We might translate it as a gruff command; “Kiss the ground.”  To save themselves, these rebels must humiliate themselves before God’s son.  Like the heathen kings of the time of the psalm’s writing, our choice is to either rebel against God, ending in our own destruction, or submit to God and be blessed to find eternal REFUGE in Him.

The point of this psalm is very simple.  God is in heaven, we are not.  To live, we need to stop our pointless rebellion.  Also, we who are God’s people have nothing to fear in the threats of ungodly folks.  We don’t need to be intimidated by any earthly power.  God is our Deliverer.  Additionally, we are not to envy the wicked nor are we to resort to their methods as Jesus has shown us a better way.

  1. Matthew 6:43-48 = Disciples are distinguished by loving the unlovable.

YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID (43) is Jesus’ way of referring to the Law and/or the culture of that time.  The Old Testament Law set a higher standard than anything else that existed anywhere else before God gave it to Moses.  The Law commanded love for one’s NEIGHBOR.  That love was to be at least as strong as self-love.

However, nowhere in the Old Testament was anyone commanded to HATE one’s ENEMY.  Jesus must have referred to common practices of the time or human nature.

BUT I TELL YOU (44) was Jesus’ statement that He was raising the standard.  Here is His new standard: He commanded love of both NEIGHBOR and ENEMY.  He made everyone a NEIGHBOR, especially persons in need.  In His command to pray for our enemies, Jesus recognized and highlighted the spiritual aspect of love.

When we meet this standard we show positive proof we are CHILDREN OF [our] FATHER IN HEAVEN (45).  In this world, God treats all equally.  His love is available to all people.  For example, the SUN shines on both EVIL and GOOD people and the RAIN falls on both RIGHTEOUS & UNRIGHTEOUS people.  It will not be this way after death, but Jesus doesn’t touch on that subject here.

As an example, He used 2 people His listeners disliked, TAX COLLECTORS and SINNERS (46-47).  This is to make the point that loving people who love you first or who love you back is no ethical challenge.  Even infamous TAX COLLECTORS are capable of that immature level of love.  Self-centered love like that will not receive a heavenly REWARD from God.

A simple greeting is not asking much at all.  It’s an easy way to show love.  But if you can’t GREET anyone outside your little circle of accomplices, you’ve shown how shallow your love really is.  If you do not love deeply as God commands you should expect no heavenly rewards.

Jesus set the HIGHEST POSSIBLE standard – look at v. 48, where it is written; BE PERFECT, AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT. Perfection is a divine attribute.  It is impossible for us, but NOTHING is impossible with God (Luke 18:27).

Moral perfection is given to us by God as we confess our sins and repent of them.  When God forgives, He forgets, so we are made perfect in His eyes.  Our part is to guard our perfection against sin. PERFECT means loving in word and in good works that include prayer.

Good citizens are good neighbors.

Here’s a joke: A preacher is giving a sermon based on Jesus’ command to love your enemies.  “Now,” he said, “I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies. So raise your hands if you have many enemies.”

Quite a few people raised their hands.

“See,” said the preacher, “most of us feel like we have enemies.  Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.”

A very, very old man raised his hand. He called out, “I have no enemies whatsoever!  I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies.”

The preacher added, “What a wonderful Christian life you lead! And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies.”

“I’ve outlived all of them!”

<Adapted from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-james-martin-sj/how-to-love-your-enemies_b_841538.html on 10/13/17.>

God calls us to a social ethic higher than just outliving people who oppose us ; more like “out-loving” them than outliving them.

In our culture, the extreme viewpoints seem to have gained traction while the more reasonable moderate positions disappear.  One consequence is that the whole is more divided than ever.

So I want to offer a place where I believe we all ought to be able to agree.  I suggest we build unity by affirming our commitment to a basic ethical principle; that all life has value.  The table below represents the spectrum of responses a person can have in the value they place on life, especially human life.  I admit to being naive, but we must start somewhere and this is the most logical place.  For, if we can’t agree here, the rest doesn’t matter at all.

Four Bear Ants

Please read Romans 14+15 in your go-to version of the Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.  (This is the third in a series of three posts.)

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

By the way, if you want an explanation of this post’s title, please repeat it aloud until you hear the word that’s really there.  Forbearance is the virtue of extending forgiveness in advance of an offense: it is essential for godly relationships.

This week an article posted on the Harvard Business Review website caught my eye.  The title of the article was “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.”  The author was Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States.  He served in that position from 2014 to 2017.

His point is that loneliness is more prevalent than we may realize and why it’s a problem.

“Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that t real number may well be higher.”

“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making.”

“Loneliness is t feeling of having inadequate social connections. Why has this feeling increased over past decades? Partly because people are more geographically mobile and are thus more likely to be living apart from friends and family. Indeed, more people report living alone today than at any time since the census began collecting this data.”

(Retrieved from https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic on 09.27.17>)

After we’ve had a chance to complete our understanding of God’s teaching in RMS 14+15, we’ll revisit this article and adapt Dr. Murthy’s advice to businesses on how to help people with the problem of loneliness.

Let me make this simple.  God has two solutions to the problem of loneliness: family and the Church.  This fact makes it even more of a shame that we have so thoroughly messed-up BOTH these institutions.  The result is that loneliness is a problem growing in width and depth.

  1. God’s solution has many layers.

Our motive is love and in this order: God, others, self (14:15).  Given the culture we have, here’s an ethical principle our nation needs to hear and practice: your freedom (“rights”) NEVER trumps your responsibility to love.

The value of other people is NOT dependant on what YOU think of them; the value of other people depends on what God thinks of them.  V. 15 reminds us of what God thinks of them; they are SOMEONE FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED.

The standard is unity (14:7-9, 19-21; 15:5-6) as an expression of our commonly-held life.  14:7-9 explain why we are not in this alone: we’re part of a team, the winning team, as a matter of fact.  Let’s observe something important: you may feel alone sometimes, but you are never really alone (14:7).

The most important reason we’re never alone is that the Lord Jesus is always with us.  In life and in death He is with us and we BELONG to Him (14:8).

Jesus died on the cross to make this depth of relationship possible (14:9).  It is His action not yours; Jesus picked you first.  It’s GRACE, folks.

In 14:19-21 an important objective is set before us, a main reason to be church.  THEREFORE (14:19) alerts us that an application is coming; in this case three of them.

One, MAKE EVERY EFFORT means that unity is a greater priority than getting your way.  Sacrifice selfishness to succeed in spirituality!

Two, DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE requires us to choose our words and deeds carefully; to intentionally select things that cause PEACE.

Three, DO WHAT LEADS TO MUTUAL EDIFICATION means to choose things that will build others’ faith and confidence in the Lord.

The FOOD & DRINK in 14:20-21 are examples of non-issues that became issues because a weaker sibling in the family of God made them an issue. Maturity and freedom do not give anyone the right to purposely ignore the conscience of others or give offense.  Love trumps one’s rights.  If you truly love God and your neighbor, you’ll show it by being considerate.

The weaker sibling is someone who has genuine but wrong convictions.  This obviously does not include people who are choosing to be obnoxious, willful bullies, and hypocrites.  We don’t let them rule the day by pettiness.

Unity is not something we accomplish on our own strength; God provides it (15:5+6).  God gives us ENDURANCE and ENCOURAGEMENT; He gives us THE SAME MIND TOWARD EACH OTHER THAT CHRIST JESUS HAD (a sacrificial one).

These gifts are for the purpose of glorifying God the Father by having ONE MIND AND ONE VOICE.  Of course, having ONE MIND AND VOICE is not possible in our humanity; it is a gift from God.  God is glorified when we are in unity; He is not when we are in disunity.

Have your convictions but temper them by accepting others (14:1, 3, 5-6, 14-16, 22; 15:1-4, 7).  Accepting one another means two things.

One, do not quarrel at all & especially not over DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1).  Paul offered the choice of SACRED DAYS (14:5-6), and MEAT offered to idols (14:6) as examples of disputable matters.

Two, no matter which side of an issue you take, don’t TREAT anyone w/ CONTEMPT.  In Jesus, it is possible to be FULLY CONVINCED without being obnoxious.  The “secret” is that regardless of which side you take, you do it for the Lord, not self.  This will keep your pride from getting in the way of your better judgment.  Whatever your conviction is, redeem it from selfishness by  doing it with THANKS to God.  This orientation will take selfishness out of the equation, keeping our priorities in proper order.

Practicing what he preached, Paul accepted other believers (14:14-16).  His personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF.  But he didn’t go around forcing his belief on others.  Out of love, he was considerate and did all he could to avoid causing distress.

When you find yourself in a disagreement or argument, what is your first inclination?

– If you want to force your will and win at all costs, then know you are sinning. It’s serious.  You are destroying someone for who Christ died.

– If you want to give in and do anything to keep even a false peace, then know that you are sinning because you lack the courage of your convictions, even tho’ God gives strengthens us to do right.

– As usual, the best way is in the middle.  In this case, that means being careful to not do anything to offend sincere spiritual siblings.

A practical way to avoid this sin is to keep your opinions to yourself as Paul commanded in 14:22.  If you’re not asked for your opinions, don’t volunteer them.  Instead, do as Paul suggested and KEEP them BETWEEN YOURSELF AND GOD.  Do this and you will be BLESSED because you will avoid unnecessary conflicts and embarrassing yourself.

Those who think themselves STRONG will prove it by not living to PLEASE themselves (15:1-4).  This means bearing with the FAILINGS OF THE WEAK.  We don’t assert superiority – especially if it’s real – but in humility, love them.  This also means we aim to BUILD UP our neighbors in spiritual maturity by doing GOOD.

In this we have Jesus Himself as our example, as everything He did was aimed at helping others, not Himself.  He even suffers the INSULTS intended for us.  15:7 provides perspective; we are motivated to accept one another in the way God has accepted us IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.

The teaching of God’s word makes His will plain: we are to love one another.  The Scriptures help us to endure difficult people and toxic relationships graciously.  The Scriptures give us courage by giving us HOPE.  God is in charge; the truth will win out.

Another method is to keep your perspective broad by trusting God that He will get it right at the end (14:1, 13, 17-18; 15:8-14).  A lack of perspective makes DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1) feel like a matter of life and death, even when they aren’t.  Seeing things from God’s point of view reduces problems down to actual size.

The word THEREFORE in 14:13 introduces two more applications of this truth.  First, STOP PASSING JUDGMENT ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is a command to stop acting on your human nature.  We tend to show prejudice and bias because we’re too hateful or too lazy to get to know people individually.

Another tendency is to “demonize” people who dare to disagree with us.  We imagine them to be bad people because we’re unwilling to concede they may be right.

The second application is to not put a STUMBLING BLOCK or OBSTACLE in the way of another person.  Don’t make living a life of faith harder; make it easier.

When we see life from God’s perspective we don’t allow DISPUTABLE MATTERS to become divisive (14:17-18).  From His perspective, what matters is the KINGDOM OF GOD and it is made up of more important things that mere EATING and DRINKING.  People who make God’s perspective their own will succeed in PLEASING GOD and will ultimately win HUMAN APPROVAL.

This lengthy and essential section on righteous relationships concludes with the ultimate example of God bringing people together: God brought the Jews and Gentiles together (15:8-15).  The Jews were the people of God from the time he made them a nation at the exodus.  Everybody else is a GENTILE.

BUT – God has always been working to bring the Gentiles into the family of God.  In Old Testament times, this was accomplished by Gentiles converting to the Law.  Case in point; Jesus served the Jews to fulfill all God’s promises to the Jewish founding fathers, but by His death and resurrection, He broke down the DIVIDING WALL between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:14), creating one new people, the Church.  The Church is supposed to be God’s greatest achievement in bringing people together and just look at what we’ve done with it.  To prove this point Paul offered a series of OT quotes – all of them with the word GENTILE in them – to demonstrate God always intended all nations to be included among His people.

The passage concludes on a positive note, offering all these divine blessings: HOPE…ALL JOY AND PEACE…OVERFLOW WITH HOPE.  Paul also explained HOW we will come to these blessings.  Two means:

AS YOU TRUST IN HIM.  Interesting.  The more we trust God, the more accepting we are of each other.

BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.  The Holy Spirit is the power cable through which the divine energy of God is channeled to us.

Our days are pockmarked with bullet holes.  Nationalism and tribalism give rise to war and other kinds of conflicts around the world.  Have you seen the news and heard the rhetoric in the media and in government?  We seem to be more divided than ever as a nation.  The Church is divided into tens of thousands of splinter groups.  Individual churches see feud and splits over matters that are trivial.  Families are broken on a scale we would have thought unimaginable a generation ago.

We are in need of righteous relationships.  In Jesus Christ, believers have all we need to make righteous relationships a reality.  The only question is our willingness to believe, to sacrifice selfishness, and to enact the commands of God in the power of the Spirit.  Righteous relationships do not come easy, but they are worth it.

He Ain’t Heavy…

Please read Romans 14+15 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to research these remarks.

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

An umpire named Babe Pinelli once called Babe Ruth out on strikes. When the crowd booed with sharp disapproval at the call, the legendary Ruth turned to the umpire with disdain and said, “There’s 40,000 people here who know that the last pitch was a ball.”

Suspecting that the umpire would erupt with anger, the coaches and players braced themselves for Ruth’s ejection. However, the cool headed Pinelli replied, “Maybe so, Babe, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”

Believers need to realize that God’s judgment is the only one that counts and resist the temptation to argue over disappointments and disagreements.

(Paul Fritz, Sermon Central, via http://www.family-times.net/illustration/Judgment/201427/ ).

Last week we learned the difference between the STRONG and WEAK believers.  We learned that neither type were to sit in judgment on one another, pronouncing perceived faults in one another’s faith.  As we will see today, Paul punctuated this preaching by essentially saying, “Look, we will all be judged, but it won’t be by any of YOU!”  God is our Judge and His judgment is all that really matters.  So, you’re entitled to your opinions; you are responsible to keep them to yourself.

What we’re trying to avoid here is rejection.  One of our greatest fears is that of being rejected by others.  Some of us try to avoid rejection by cutting ourselves off from others; we become “loners.”  Some of us try so hard to avoid giving reason for rejection that we become perfectionists.  Some of us retreat into addictions to try and fail to manage feelings of rejection.  These are all attempts at coping with rejection that result in failure and mental/emotional dysfunction.

As always, God offers us a better way; He calls us to a higher standard.  The best way to deal with rejection is to remove the threat entirely.  Our most important earthly relationships are those we have with our fellow believers.  The Church is to be a model community of relationships where rejection is never a danger because we are all seeking the godly virtue of acceptance instead.

REVIEW:

  1. The WEAK churched person is a legalist (2, 23).
  2. The STRONG churched person is a realist (2, 14).

NEW:

  1. The problem is rejection (14:4, 10-12).

The biblical word similar to the meaning of “rejection” is JUDGE.  We will unpack the meaning of the word first, then I’ll offer the word “reject” as an alternative that might be less confusing/more relevant to modern ears.

When Paul condemns “judging” what does he mean?

FIRST, notice that this teaching is directed at believers and their relationships.  In verse four Paul used a relationship typical in his day as an example.  He referred to one MASTER, but several SERVANTS.  Our MASTER is God; his other SERVANTS are other believers (14:4).  His point; just as it would be bad manners to interfere in someone else’s management of their SERVANTS, so it would be inappropriate to criticize other believers.  Paul makes the point even more obvious in 14:10; YOU, THEN, WHY DO YOU JUDGE YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER?

SECOND, we are not qualified to JUDGE one another, that’s God’s job.  He wrote, WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE SOMEONE ELSE’S SERVANT?  TO THEIR OWN MASTER SERVANTS STAND OR FALL. (14:4)  God alone decides who is saved and who is not; that decision is not ours to make.  None of us is “worthy” of salvation; all of us are beggars at the gates of heaven; we are all recipients of grace.  The extent of our judgment is our own imperfect discernment of right and wrong.  God knows everything and sees our inner person with perfect clarity; the same cannot be said of any of us.

Paul made three statements that show we are accountable to God, not to one another.  This theological fact makes it extra important that each believer minds his own business and refrains from being judgmental or a busybody.

One; WE WILL ALL STAND BEFORE GOD’S JUDGMENT SEAT (14:10).

Two, verse eleven quotes Isaiah 45:23, predicting Judgment Day when all people will bow before God to receive His just decision on their eternal outcome – heaven or hell.

Three; 14:12 states EACH OF US WILL GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF OURSELVES TO GOD.

THIRD, our judgment too often results in contempt of spiritual kindred, rejection of others, and sin.  Paul made this cause and effect relationship plain in 1 Corinthians 8:11-12 = SO THIS WEAK BROTHER OR SISTER, FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED, IS DESTROYED BY YOUR KNOWLEDGE.  WHEN YOU SIN AGAINST THEM IN THIS WAY AND WOUND THEIR WEAK CONSCIENCE, YOU SIN AGAINST CHRIST.

FOURTH, God’s promise is to make His people STAND on Judgment Day.

The Bible is consistent, but our use of the word JUDGE is not; it gets confusing.  The most frequently misinterpreted passage in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, where Jesus is quoted as saying, “DO NOT JUDGE, OR YOU TOO WILL BE JUDGED.”  This verse is misused because it has been co-opted by our culture in support of an attitude that only winks at sin and excuses immorality in the name of “tolerance.”

It is based on the rejection of absolute truth and any standard of morality except “let’s leave each other alone.”  In practicality, it means that no one is responsible or guilty; there is no threat of judgment.  People frequently preface a confession with the words, “Don’t judge me.”

We have learned that God’s standard for relationships is much more ambitious than what this world calls “tolerance;” God calls us to ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER (14:1 + 15:7).  Acceptance can be a virtue when it is based on God. God loved us and did not reject us, but gave us means (Jesus’ death on a cross) by which our relationship with Him could be restored.  He loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay that way.  God is constantly calling us into personal growth and greater maturity.

When Paul calls us to ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, he is calling us to love one another in exactly the same way God has loved us; He accepted us into His family.  People who are in God’s family will ACCEPT other believers.  People who are judgmental betray their true allegiance.

To avoid the confused and tortured use of the word “judge” in our culture and to clarify what we mean, I suggest we use the word “reject” instead.  We have no fear of the morals of others, but we don’t want to be rejected by them.  We don’t want to be excluded or feel as if we’re being discriminated against.

Rejection is one of our deepest fears.  It drives us to make sorry compromises in our moral decisions and can keep us in toxic relationships.  Also, the virtue Paul names here is “acceptance.”  The vice, the opposite behavior, might be called “rejection.”

In 1988, quarterback Jeff Kemp was to start for the Seattle Seahawks against his old team, the San Fransisco 49ers. He entered the stadium brimming with excitement.

After the pregame meal, one of the coaches put his arm around Kemp and said, “I want you to know how happy I am that you are our quarterback. I’ve been waiting for this day.”  Kemp felt honored, valued, esteemed.

Kemp’s first pass of the game hit Hall of Famer Steve Largent right in the hands but he dropped the ball.  When everyone huddled up, Kemp moaned, “Steve, what’s the matter? You never drop the ball. Why are you doing this to me?”

After that, Largent didn’t make any mistakes but Kemp played the worst game of his life. At half-time the 49ers lead 28-0. Kemp later wrote, “Have you ever heard nearly sixty thousand people booing you? It’s quite an experience.”

He knew he might be benched for the second half.  He sought the coach who had been supportive before the game. Kemp approached him and began, “Coach—” he turned his back on Kemp without a word. Then he called to another quarterback, put his arm around him, discussing plays he would run in the second half.

Worse, that coach didn’t talk to Kemp for the rest of the game, even though we stood next to each other on the sidelines. For the next month, there was silence between them; complete rejection. That coach couldn’t deal with the fact that Kemp hadn’t helped the team succeed. He rejected Kemp relationally because his professional performance fell short.

(Jeff Kemp, “Rules to Live by on and off the Playing Field,” Imprimis, July, 1998, p. 3, retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/coach%E2%80%99s-rejection on 9/22/17.)

Obviously, this is NOT the kind of attitude being described here in Romans 14-15.  God calls us to a higher standard, a deeper love.  One that is based on acceptance, not performance.  He calls us to a love that is not centered on love of self, but love of God.

PREVIEW:

  1. The solution has many layers.