Which D.Q. for You?

Please read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Once in a while a fictional story draws an exceptionally accurate picture of life and you’re pleasantly surprised to learn something and be entertained.  I had that experience recently reading James S.A. Corey’s book Babylon’s Ashes.  Early in the novel he wrote,

“All through human history, being a moral person and not being pulled into the dramatics and misbehavior of others has caused intelligent people grief.” (p. 88)

The rest of the story went on to prove this point.

Lesson learned: the “dramatics and misbehavior of others” can lead us into grief just as much as our own “dramatics and misbehavior.”  My opinion is that life inflicts enough drama, we don’t need to go around creating more for ourselves or others.

I’d better explain this message’s title.  When we think about ice cream, many of us think about “D.Q.” or “Dairy Queen.”  I saw a t-shirt once that co-opted the Dairy Queen logo but used the letters to refer to “Drama Queen!”

DQ

So my question is, which kind of D.Q. do you prefer?  One’s sweet, the other is sour.  Be careful how you answer, lest your life disprove what you claim.

In spite of the feminine noun, a drama queen is anyone – male or female – who acts in an overly-emotional way.  They habitually blow things out of proportion, brewing a “tempest in a teapot.”

The very best demonstration of a drama queen is a Dutch TV commercial made about seven years ago.  It begins with mom driving her daughter to school.  Maybe the little girl is moping because she doesn’t want to go to school that day.

A policeman’s lights and siren interrupted the mother’s lecture why the she must go to school.  After she pulled over, the policeman said she was speeding and instructed the mom to get out her license and registration.

As mom pokes through her purse, the policeman notices the girl in the back seat and says, “Mom is in a hurry today, isn’t she?”

The somber little girl quietly replied, “She’s not my mother,” and held up a note she scribbled on her pad of paper which read “HELP!”

drama queen

That is a drama queen.  Regardless of their motivation, drama queens cause a lot of problems at home, work, and church.  They leave behind them a lot of burned bridges and create an area of negativity all around them as they careen through life, feeding on the unhappiness they cause.

Not surprisingly, God does not want us to be a drama queen.  Instead, He calls us to a QUIET LIFE.  We will see this morning God’s way to building healthy relationships.

First, let’s note the context of this passage: Paul explained every disciple’s primary ambition is to please God.  He Paul offered three steps to achieve this ambition.

First Step = Remember your INSTRUCTIONS (1+2).

INSTRUCTIONS in this case being the commands of Jesus Christ to love God first, others second, self last.  This is part of the Gospel that Paul had given them, the foundation of their church and life in Christ.  As there is always room for improvement, he urged them to follow those INSTRUCTIONS MORE AND MORE.

Second Step: Love God by being holy (3-8).

In people and objects, holiness means to be set apart to God, exclusively working to fulfill His purpose.  In people, holiness also means moral purity.  That’s why Paul urged them to practice self-control.  Disciples of Jesus are distinguished from the world by their HOLY and HONORABLE behavior.

Third Step = Love others by avoiding drama (9-12).

God teaches His children how to LOVE EACH OTHER (9-10).  Paul encourages them first, congratulating them on their love.  The love these church folk had for one another was known throughout MACEDONIA.

Though he didn’t NEED to write them about their love, as any good teacher would, that’s exactly what Paul did.  For, just as he said in v. 1, Paul repeated in v. 10, to love MORE AND MORE.  I know we can get tired of hearing that; the call to improvement can become exhausting and discouraging.  But, as Paul observed in v. 8, God gives us HIS HOLY SPIRIT, so we get the power to love from Him; we don’t rely on our own strength.

God keeps calling us to growth in Christ, to become MORE AND MORE like Him.  One benefit of making this our priority is that we keep praying, keep relying on God, keep turning back to Him for strengthening.  Besides, this is the definition of ambition, isn’t it?  Ambitious people never quit, are never satisfied, and are always looking to do more or better?

God’s children enact love in their ambition to LEAD A QUIET LIFE (11-12).  It sounds strange to combine the words AMBITION and QUIET, doesn’t it?  Most of us experience ambitious people as loud or bossy, drawing attention to their self.  How do these words work together?

In general, A QUIET LIFE means an end to “drama.”  Life creates enough drama to satisfy a reasonable person.  It makes no sense to go around creating more strained relationships and negative emotions.  Godly people seek a QUIET LIFE to please God and find out that it is also pleasing to others and themselves.

Paul offers two specifics of what a QUIET LIFE involves.  One, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.  Being a “busybody” is identified in the Bible as a sin.  A busybody is not someone with a high energy level or a hard worker; this is someone who involves themselves in other people’s lives without permission.  No matter how we may rationalize it, offering unsolicited advice or comments of any kind is to be guilty of the sin of being a busybody.  God has identified this as a sin because busybodies have a negative effect on relationships and organizations.  Their intrusive and negative spirit makes everyone nervous around them and discourages creativity and/or risk-taking; all behaviors that might be good and necessary but are contrary to the busybody’s sense of the way things should be.

Two, WORK WITH YOUR HANDS.  One cure for busybodies is for them to MIND their OWN BUSINESS, as we’ve seen.  Another cure is to WORK WITH their HANDS because busybodies tend to be idle people.  This must’ve really been a problem in Thessalonica, because Paul addressed this issue again in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12:

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.

I’ve heard church folk eagerly cite this verse as evidence against government welfare programs and flatly ignore the gossip and complaining they do as busybodies.  WORK WITH YOUR HANDS is a figure of speech for “honest labor.”  This is a cure for busybodies because instead of wasting their time and energy on negative incursions into other people’s business, they fruitfully expend themselves on doing good.

Working together is good for a church.  The old maxim is still true: “Votes divide, service unites.”  Churches that work together build up their unity.  Honest work is a way we can serve God and others and it prohibits us making convenient but sinful distinctions between our “work life” and “church life.”  That’s hypocrisy, bud.

There are two aims with respect to the QUIET LIFE, two good reasons to make it our AMBITION.  One, to WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS.  A frequently-used excuse for not being involved in church is that churches are “full of hypocrites.”  There are snappy comebacks and reasonable responses to this excuse, but the most convincing reply is church folk earning the RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS by NOT being hypocrites.

We WIN RESPECT by having integrity; not just making claims of godliness, but by living in godliness.  Some people call this a “Silent Witness” or “Lifestyle Evangelism,” but to Paul, these were simply ways that all disciples were to live.  It is an important benefit to Christ-like living.

Two, to NOT BE DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY.  A secondary benefit to working with one’s hands is independence.  If you can provide for yourself, do so.  If you can’t, then don’t.   Being independent is not getting your own way as it is earning your own way.  Dependency has some negative social effects and God gave Paul the wisdom to see that capable people should be independent as long as they are capable.

This is Paul being practical but also Paul dealing with the culture of the Greek world of that time.  Greeks thought of physical labor as demeaning, while Jews had a strong work ethic they’d received from God.  Paul did not just teach this, he lived it.  Earlier in this letter he wrote;

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.               (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

Laziness might be described as a lack of ambition.  So we understand two problems related to ambition in this passage.  Ambition for anything outside of God’s will is sin.  A lack of ambition is also sin.

God’s people are to behave in ways that are clearly more moral than people who are stuck on themselves, or in the world.  This passage is one of many in the Bible that sets God’s standard before us and then calls us to live accordingly.

This means deposing drama queens.  It means having as a goal for self first, then at home, in church, and in the community, a practice of life that drains the drama.  Here are some simple suggestions as to how you can do that.  I call them “Bumper Sticker Proverbs;” short, sweet, and hopefully, memorable.

#1 –No criticisms without compliments.  If you must complain or criticize, do not do so without making a genuine compliment before or after.

#2 – No advice without permission.  Unsolicited advice is detrimental to every kind of relationship in every context.  Ask first, and respect a “no” reply.

#3 – Nip negativity, push positivity.  Even if this requires a personality makeover, the peace achieved through positivity makes it worth all effort.

#4 – Pray before you say.  Ask God to set a guard at your lips and take away whatever is hurtful.

#5 – Tone down the teasing.  This is my worst thing.  A little bit goes a long way, even if the teasing is directed at yourself.  Humor with a cutting edge is a drama queen’s tool.

#6 – Follow your guide.  Asking yourself if your reaction is something Jesus would do is a handy way to both slow down our reaction time and eliminate sinful reactions.  Follow His example in word and deed.

#7 – Get in your time machine.  Before you react in any way, take a moment to imagine how important this matter will be in a year or 10 years.  A bigger perspective helps us avoid pettiness.

Samson Didn’t Know How to Pick ‘Em

(Please read Judges 16:1-22 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

Samson did not have success choosing the women in his life; he did NOT know how to pick ‘em.  Remember the Philistine bride he left at the altar in ch. 14?

Speaking of picking them, I read recently of similar relationship issues: a daughter texted her dad the following: “Daddy: I am coming home to get married soon, so get out your check book.  I am in love with a man who is lives far away, in Scotland.  We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, and had long chats on Whatsapp.  He proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two wonderful months of relationship on Viber.

“My beloved and favorite Dad, I need your blessing, good wishes, and a really big wedding.  Lots of love and thanks, Lilly.”

The father replied with a text which read: “My dear Lilly.  Like wow!  Cool!!  I’d suggest you get married on Twitter, have fun on Tango, buy your kids on Amazon, and pay for all of it with Paypal.  Oh, and when you get fed up with this new husband, you can sell him on Ebay.  No need to thank me.  Lots of love, Dad.”

Today we’ll begin the final chapter of Samson’s story.  We’ll add two more sins to add to the tally, including the one that brought Samson to his end.

The story of Samson has had its humorous moments and we’ve had some fun pointing them out along the way.  But Samson’s life is also tragic; a tale of wasted time and potential.  He was gifted beyond most people in history, but taking his gifts for granted, Samson wasted time working for himself and disobeying God.

Let’s face a sobering fact: God is going to do what He has promised He will do.  We have the choice to join God in what He is doing or waste our lives on sin and selfish pursuits.  The choice is – as always – ours.

  1. Samson Sin #6 = Patronizing a Prostitute.

Samson made a bad decision and put himself in danger (1-2). Patronizing prostitutes is condemned in Scripture; it is morally dangerous.  For example, Proverbs 9:13-18 used a prostitute as a symbol of FOLLY and pointed out the foolishness of trusting one.  In 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, Paul singled out uniting with a prostitute as a particularly bad sin.  We have not seen in Samson much wisdom about relationships.  But this choice of partners is a new low in foolishness.

Samson put himself in physical danger by going all the way to Gaza, which was one of the capital cities of the Philistines.  It was surrounded by fortifications that worked to trap enemies INSIDE as well as to keep enemies OUTSIDE.  (That’s why the bit about the CITY GATE is important.)  Gaza was located 45 MILES from Samson’s home.  He really went out of his way to find trouble.

Verse two says THE PEOPLE OF GAZA WERE TOLD that Samson was within their walls.  Who told them?  Presumably, the prostitute or someone connected with her.  Or maybe Samson was so reckless as to make his presence public knowledge.  In either case, Samson’s enemies prepared to trap Samson in their city and kill him.  They surrounded the house and staked out the CITY GATE.

Having made these preparations, they then MADE NO MOVE DURING THE NIGHT, intending to kill him by day.  This seems like poor strategy to me, but they may have been so overconfident they believed they could afford to wait.  Or, more likely, they waited until the entire city was out and about; more people would see and applaud their vengeance against “public enemy #1.”

Samson relied on his strength to get out of danger and mock his enemies (3).  Samson was not surprised to find the enemy gathered outside the brothel.  He waited until the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, when sleep and boredom would distract the soldiers watching the house.

Demonstrating he was as stealthy as he was strong, Samson got out of the house and to the gates of the city.  There he yanked the massive gates out of the wall and carried them off to the top of a hill facing Hebron.

This is obviously a feat of supernatural strength.  Those gates, with all the connected woodwork, have been calculated to weigh between five and ten TONS.  Besides which, Samson carried them 36 miles and up 3,200 feet in elevation!

Why go to all that trouble?  Samson did this to rub the Philistines’ noses in their defeat.  They thought they had Samson dead to rights, but he made escape look easy.  Of course, we know this is another case of God bailing Samson out of trouble he’d created for himself.

  1. Samson Sin #7 = Sleeping with the Enemy.

What does the text tell us about Delilah (4+5)?  She lived in the Valley of Sorek, the same place Samson and his parents lived.  Delilah meant “amorous, temptress, delight, and devotee” in Hebrew.  This clue may suggest she was a temple prostitute.  Functioning as a priestess, Delilah may have used sex as a means of worshiping their false gods.  Just in case you thought Samson’s choice of the Gaza prostitute was the worst ever.

Samson FELL IN LOVE with her.  While this sounds different from vs. 1-3 and his engagement in ch. 14, it is clear that Delilah was still a bad choice for love interest.  Samson had “relationship issues.”

Samson paid no attention to his past (ch. 14) or present, and was thereby duped by Delilah (6-20).

The RULERS OF THE PHILISTINES have learned a lesson.  In chapter fourteen they threatened Samson’s fiancé.  Here, the made Delilah an attractive offer for her cooperation in capturing Samson. They each offered her 28 POUNDS of silver.  That translates into $7,804.16 in today’s market.  (That’s 28 lbs. X 16 oz. = 448.  448 oz. X $17.42/oz. = $7804.16.)  3:3 said there were 5 leaders of the Philistines, so that’s a grand total of $39,020.80!

Their aim is betrayed in the word SUBDUE.  In the original language that refers to subjecting someone to hard labor.  In my opinion, this is why the Philistines decided to capture Samson, not kill him.  Killing him would make a martyr of him and might cause the Israelites to revolt, but humiliating him might discourage resistance.

Samson’s first game of wits is recorded in verses six through nine.  Samson must’ve really been blinded by love; otherwise you’d think a question like Delilah’s in v. 6 would make a fella pretty suspicious.  Maybe Samson was suspicious, and that’s why he lied to her.

And what a lie.  What’s up with the BOW STRINGS?  Nothing.  My guess is he settled on the first thing he could think of that Delilah wouldn’t have in her closet.  We’ve already seen how clever Samson was with riddles and poems, so we know he can think on his feet.  Of course, the bowstrings weren’t at all effective in restraining Samson.

Later on, Delilah worked while Samson slept, but in this first game he is awake and allows her to bind him.  Why would he allow such a thing?

In the first three verses we saw Samson’s recklessness and arrogance.  It’s no stretch of imagination to see him as amused by Delilah’s actions.  That’s why I call these incidents “games of wits;” he was playing her.

Notice that when the trap is sprung (8-9), the Philistines are HIDDEN IN THE ROOM.  Though he might suspect the Philistines are using Delilah, Samson has no visual evidence.  (You’d think the feet sticking out the bottom of the curtains would be a dead give-away wouldn’t you?)

Samson’s second game of wits (10-12).  Though the text does not tell us any time passed between these events (just between the third and final game of wits – see verse sixteen), I have to believe that we’re looking at a set of events that happened over several days.  After all, what kind of lady has unused bow strings and new rope just lying about?

Just as Samson’s previous love interest had done (14:16), Delilah went into pout and nag mode (11); complaining, “YOU HAVE MADE A FOOL OF ME.”  Samson offered another lame lie.  NEW ROPE had already failed to incapacitate him (15:13-14), but Delilah apparently didn’t know that and fell for this second deceit of Samson’s (12).

Samson’s third game of wits (13-14).  Delilah makes it clear she doesn’t like being made a fool (13) but she makes it so easy for Samson.  He uses the number seven for a second time but gets closer to the truth by mentioning his hair.  This time Delilah waited until Samson slept to fall for the third lie.  When awakened, he jumped up and pulled his hair out and the loom apart.

Samson loses his wits (15-20).  Vs. 15+16 sound like 14:16; why didn’t Samson learn?  “YOU WON”T CONFIDE IN ME” is literally, “Your heart is not with me.”  That was true.  What he would not do for love, Samson finally did for relief from Delilah’s nagging; he told her the truth (17).  My guess is he tired of the game.  He was SICK TO DEATH OF IT.

Somehow Delilah was convinced that at last Samson told her the truth and she arranged her final betrayal (18).  The Philistines came back later (the fact that they’d left may imply they’d lost patience with her), with their bribe in hand and a barber in tow.  Why Samson trusted this woman enough to sleep around her is hard to explain, but he did it twice at least.  The barber came in and sheared Samson as he slept (19).

When she woke him, Samson, in his arrogance, believed that he was still invulnerable and would shake off the latest set of bonds.  Here’s a sad statement: BUT HE DID NOT KNOW THAT THE LORD HAD LEFT HIM (20).

Why did the Lord take His Spirit from Samson?  The better question is, “Why didn’t the Lord take His Spirit sooner?”  Samson’s character doesn’t bespeak someone worthy of all this divine assistance.  But rather than see this as a punishment, we have the benefit of hindsight and can see God had a higher purpose here: to get Samson in the middle of the Philistine leadership where he could do the most damage.  Once again, we’re seeing how God overcame the disobedience of Samson but still used him to fulfill the purpose He’d stated before Samson’s birth (13:5); to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Later in Israel’s history, this same fate would befall King Saul for the same reason: arrogant defiance of God and taking His Spirit for granted (1 Samuel 16:14).  Both ended tragically.

The vengeance of the Philistines is terrible but short-sighted (21-22).  It was terrible to gouge out his eyes, chain him, imprison him, and set him to work grinding grain, which was humiliating because women and donkeys were used to run small and large grain mills (21). They literally added injury to insult by gouging out his eyes.  The Israelites counted blind people among lepers and others who were “walking dead,” not really people any more.

But they were short-sighted in that they didn’t have the barber come back to the prison; Samson’s hair started growing back again (22).  There was nothing magical about the hair.  The hair is not the point.  The point is obedience to the Nazirite vows that Samson had observed since birth.  The growing back of his hair is more like a symbol of Samson’s repentance.  At his lowest moment, Samson finally saw that cooperation with God was a lot easier than defying Him all the time.  It’s too bad he had to suffer blindness, imprisonment and the rest.  His life would’ve been so much better if he’d kept God as his focus instead of himself.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

In a way, Samson is a symbol of what we men typically go through – we lose our hair and our strength at about the same time!

The irony of Samson’s life is that his great physical strength stood in contrast to his great moral weakness. The bottom line: don’t repeat Samson’s mistakes.

Right from the Beginning #7

(Please read Genesis 3:7-24 in your Bible.  I have used the (c) 2011 NIV for these remarks.)

Jesus calls us to be people who live in present-tense.  This is not human nature.  An average person’s anxiety is focused on :
40% — things that will never happen
30% — things about the past that can’t be changed
12% — things about criticism by others, mostly untrue
10% — about health, which gets worse with stress
8% — about real problems that will be faced
Stop trying to grapple with the what ifs¨ and let God take care of it. You simply make that long term investment in God’s kingdom day by day.
While touring Italy, a man visited a cathedral that had been completed on the outside only. Once inside, the traveler found an artist kneeling before an enormous wall upon which he had just begun to create a mosaic. On some tables nearby were thousands of pieces of colored ceramic. Curious, the visitor asked the artist how he would ever finish such a large project. The artist answered that he knew how much he could accomplish in one day. Each morning, he marked off an area to be completed that day and didn’t worry about what remained outside that space. That was the best he could do; and if he faithfully did his best, one day the mosaic would be finished.
<This information was found in Today in the Word, September 5, 1995, p. 32.  It was retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-paul-fritz-stories-anxiety-guilt-10217.asp on 11/10/16.>

The difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood is as crucial today as it has ever been.  Consider the devastating consequences of false guilt and untrue anxiety on the human personality.  And there are larger, theological and philosophical issues at stake: we need a macro-narrative in this culture that exalts micro-narratives and is bent on extreme individualism.  Post-modernism may be a fad but people of faith need authoritative answers that set human nature in its most true – most biblical – roots.  To this end we have delved into Genesis 1-3 and complete this series with this seventh installment

  1. What was the people’s offense (3:6)?

They both ate fruit from the forbidden tree.  This verse does not describe the trees, but it does name two of them.

– The Tree of Life.

– The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

On the basis of the information given, I imagine that they were all the same kind of tree.  This would mean that, to Adam and Eve, God’s command seemed arbitrary; there was no visual reason for setting these two trees aside as special.  I believe this detail is implied in the text to reinforce the fact that our understanding of God’s commands is not required, only our obedience.  If we trust God, we obey immediately and fully.

It’s worth noting repeatedly that v. 6 shows Adam had been there all along and did/said nothing.  Though it is a detail easily overlooked, the text makes it plain that Adam was there all along: HER HUSBAND, WHO WAS WITH HER.

Are you surprised or not to note Adam’s contribution in vs. 1-5?  It was nothing.  He said and did nothing during the whole exchange between the WOMAN and the SERPENT.  He did nothing to stop her from taking fruit from the tree and eating it.  Worse, when the situation turned to him, he joined the WOMAN in her disobedience; HE ATE IT.

  1. What were the consequences of their sin (3:7-24)?

Shame (7).  Whereas in chapter two their nakedness had been a sign of their innocence, Adam and the WOMAN’s sudden knowledge of evil turned their nakedness to shame.

FIG LEAVES are the only description of the trees in the account.  Could it be that the garden was populated with fig trees? That is the reason for my earlier imaginative interpretation that there was only one kind of tree in the garden.  Later in the Bible the fig tree is used as a symbol of Israel, the people of God.  What’s important here in verse seven is that they attempted to hide their nakedness with roughly made garments, composed of what was at hand.  They must’ve been desperate for a cover-up.

Fear (8-10).  Hiding becomes a coping mechanism; they attempted to conceal themselves entirely from God.  Maybe they thought their leaf wardrobe would be like “camo” and help them blend into the trees.  Notice how the writer sets the scene of shame and a frantic cover-up in contrast to the idyllic paradise: when God arrived on the scene, He walked IN THE COOL OF THE DAY.  God called out to our parents; not because He didn’t know their location, or what they had done (He appeared immediately after their sin), but to call to them personally, in a loving, non-confrontative way.

Adam offered a lame explanation and in the process exposes his moral failure: “I WAS AFRAID BECAUSE I WAS NAKED.”  Of what was Adam AFRAID?

– Embarrassment?  It’s possible.  I know I would not be comfortable standing before God with only a salad around my hips.

– Wrath?  Adam had never known wrath – it had never been necessary before.  So, unless this came with the KNOWLEDGE gained from the fruit, I can’t see a fear of wrath motivating him.

– Most likely, death.  In 2:17 God had warned Adam that he would die if he ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Surely that was on Adam’s mind as he tried to hide from God.

Division in relationships (11-13).  God confronted Adam with the truth. Again, “WHO TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE NAKED?” is not a question asked for information’s sake, but to draw Adam out and allow him to be responsible for his mistake and ask God’s forgiveness.  Likewise the third and fourth rhetorical questions God asked.  If we understand God’s three questions as being opportunities for Adam to repent, he failed miserably.  Sin had already driven a wedge between him and God, so when he blamed the WOMAN, he not only failed to repent, but opened the world’s first experiment in “the blame game.” So instead of fixing his relationship with God, he makes matters worse by offending his wife as well!

The WOMAN followed Adam’s lead, and blamed the SERPENT.  Comically, the SERPENT has no one left to blame and soon it will have no fingers with which to point!  This leads to rhetorical question #4; “WHAT IS THIS YOU HAVE DONE?”  (The same question God posed to the first murderer, Cain, in 4:9-10.)

Curses (14-19).  By being at the end of the line, the SERPENT lost the Blame Game and is cursed first; it is cursed to groveling & enmity (14-15).  In part 6 we theorized that the SERPENT was an animal unlike any of the other animals of creation, given powers of speech and reason but not the IMAGE OF GOD.  The divine curse also sets it apart from all the other animals created on Day Six.

Groveling.  Micah 7:17 depicts God’s wrath on pagan nations as causing them to “lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth.”  In the Bible, this is a way of describing total defeat.  Crawling and eating dust will be the way of life for the SERPENT for the remainder of its life.

ENMITY means that all the OFFSPRING of the SERPENT and the WOMAN will forever hate one another.  Some people have seen the last part of verse fifteen as a prophecy, predicting that Jesus would gain the final victory over Satan.

The curses on the WOMAN included painful childbirth and masculine authority (16).  Being fruitful and multiplying will come at a high cost for the WOMAN from that moment on.  God says this twice, so we know it’s important.  “YOUR DESIRE WILL BE FOR YOUR HUSBAND AND HE WILL RULE OVER YOU” is clearly not a description of God’s plan for husband-wife relations, it is a curse.

Some object that this statement is putting words in God’s mouth, trying to justify the paternalistic culture of the Bible writers.  That’s just nonsense.  God is exercising His wrath on the WOMAN for her role in this whole awful affair, not rewarding the man.  As the text makes very plain (2:24), God created the marriage relationship to be a special blessing, the two becoming ONE FLESH.  Now sin has entered the picture and marriage becomes a tug of war, a struggle for dominance with the WOMAN the loser.

The curses on ADAM were toilsome labor & death (17-19).  We’ve observed that God intended from the beginning that His people should work (2:15).   While it is a four-letter word, work itself is NOT a curse.  Instead, God’s wrath on ADAM was to make his work frustrating – it will become toilsome – hard labor and sometimes unfruitful.

More importantly, death enters the picture: “FOR DUST YOU ARE AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN.”  As we’ve seen, Adam will not immediately die, but as long as he had access to the TREE OF LIFE, he would have lived indefinitely.

Male authoritarianism is revisited in v. 20 as Adam named Eve.  This is the first of the curses we see coming to pass.  Up to this point, she was simply called THE WOMAN (2:23); she had no personal name.  But in v. 20 Adam named her; this is the first exercise of the male authority God warned the WOMAN would be her due for disobedience.  The act of naming the WOMAN eve is an extension of what we saw in 2:19-20; God delegated part of His authority to ADAM when He tasked the man with naming the animals.  He is exercising the same authority here in 3:20.

A change in the function of animals: they became a resource for human beings (21).  Since FIG LEAVES do not make a very good garment, God took the skins of animals to make our parents a nice set of leather clothes.  Fancy. Formerly, animals existed for their own sake; now they exist to sustain people.  This act would draw an obligatory protest from PETA (had it been in existence) but nicety gives way to necessity.

Going back to death again, God explained in v. 22 two reasons for exiling our parents from paradise.  They now had knowledge of evil and were forever changed by it.  They could not be allowed to be LIKE God in that way and remain in the Garden.

The man was cursed with death.  If he were allowed to remain in the Garden he could continue to eat from the TREE OF LIFE and thereby avoid death.  This is NOT saying that our parents were created to be immortal and lost it – just the opposite – they were created mortal and needed access to the TREE OF LIFE to be immortal.  And so we read in Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25, THERE IS A WAY WHICH SEEMS RIGHT TO A MAN, BUT ITS END IS DEATH.  No doubt many tombstones could be marked with an epitaph that reads, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”  Like Adam and Eve, we were tempted by the appeal of sin, but failed to weigh its consequences and suffered them just the same.

A final consequence is loss in relationship with God; in this case taking the form of banishment from the garden (23-24).  V. 23 indicates that Adam would immediately begin the toilsome work God indicated in the curse: TO WORK THE GROUND FROM WHICH HE HAD BEEN TAKEN.  What irony!  The very stuff from which his life had been made would now frustrate and exhaust ADAM!

In case they had any notions of sneaking back in, God put them to rest by stationing angelic guards at the entrance to the Garden, armed with a FLAMING SWORD!  What they had lost because of sin, Adam and Eve would never regain.  This put them at a physical distance from God; there would be no more walks IN THE COOL OF THE DAY (8).

  1. What the New Testament has to say about the Fall.

– Regarding Adam = Adam’s sin brought death to the human race.  (See Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.)

– Regarding Eve = Eve’s daughters are subject to Adam’s sons.  (See the Apostle Paul’s use of Genesis to support gender roles in the First Century Church in 1 Corinthians 11:7-12, 2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  These passages present a challenge for moderns.  Working out a biblical and useful interpretation takes courage, wisdom, and a commitment to dialogue.)

One mom was out walking with her 4-year-old daughter when her girl picked up something from the ground and started to put it in her mouth. The mother tells what happens in her own words:
“I took the item away from her and I asked her not to do that.” My daughter quickly asked, “Why?” “Because it’s been lying outside, you don’t know where it’s been, it’s dirty and probably has germs,” I replied.
At this point, my daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked, “Wow! How do you know all this stuff?”
I thought quickly and said, “All moms know this stuff. It’s on the Mommy Test. You have to know it, or they don’t let you be a Mommy.”
We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, as she pondered this new information. “Oh…I get it!” she beamed, “So if you don’t pass the test you have to be the daddy?”
I smiled and replied, “Exactly.”
<From a sermon by Mark Opperman, Mothers: Guardians of the Heart, 6/19/2012, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-humor-mothersday-82154.asp on 11/10/16.>

You see how misinformation gets started?  But seriously, it has been our objective throughout these series of messages to correct misunderstandings and get Genesis right from the beginning.

With that goal in view: in case we missed it in 2:4, let’s review and reassert the point of view of the author of Genesis: THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH WHEN THEY WERE CREATED, WHEN THE LORD GOD MADE THE EARTH AND THE HEAVENS.  He is writing with the purpose of accounting for, or explaining how what is came into being.  There is nothing in his mind about symbolism or allegory or other such stuff and nonsense as modern writers apply to Genesis.  Moses wrote history.  He wrote it as it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.

That is another reason we have approached our study of Genesis as a study of facts, not symbols.  We have seen time and again that when we don’t let scientific arrogance or modernism get in the way that the facts do speak for themselves.  They present a coherent and consistent development of the origins of the human race and the world in which we live.

Obviously Gentle

(Please read Philippians 4:2-9 in your Bible.  I have based my research on the NIV.  Also, a brief explanation.  This post is twice the usual length because it represents two weeks’ of messages.  Rather than reproduce it in two parts, I’ve put it all in one post.)

Gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit and evidence of true discipleship.

  1. The principle stated: Evident Gentleness (5).

The biblical standard for gentleness is expressed here in terms of both quality and quantity.

First, “quality.”  What are the qualities that define “gentleness?” GENTLENESS is a virtue that places others before self and emphasizes process over product.  For a gentle person, the ends never justify the means.

I was surprised to read that the Greek word very nearly cannot be translated into English.  It refers to a “sweet reasonableness” or magnaminity.  Greek philosophers said that it was the opposite of “strict justice.”  So, legalism and nitpicking are the enemy of GENTLENESS.

The word is defined as being generous and allowing exceptions to the rules where circumstances merit it.  Gentle people uphold the SPIRIT of the law, by occasionally violating the LETTER; as paradoxical as that sounds.

Harshness, stubbornness, and abrasiveness are the vices that stand in opposition to GENTLENESS.  These vices betray a heart that is not yet touched by the Savior.

Another way GENTLENESS manifests itself is in a person who is not always insisting on their “rights,” who is not exclusively concerned with doing things “right” (as they define it), but in treating people in a loving way.

Unity in the church is not achieved by uniformity.  Persons who insist on doing things exactly the same for all persons and at all times are betraying a spirit of harshness.  Instead, true unity is achieved by being of the same mind – the mind of Christ.  True unity is a grace God gives us, not something we achieve by force or will.

Second, in “quantity;” GENTLENESS is a virtue that is to be universal in scope.  It should be EVIDENT TO ALL, not just one’s family or little circle of friends.  God-given GENTLENESS is offered to all persons all the time because that’s how God has treated every single one of us.

The motive Paul offers here in verse five is preparedness; for THE LORD IS NEAR.     THE LORD is the Gentle Shepherd of Psalm 23.

He is NEAR in terms of proximity; He is nearby, present with His followers at all times.  When we remember He is always watching, we should not assume anything in our homes or even our heads is secret from Him.  So – you can’t fool Jesus; if you are ungentle, He knows it.  And – chances are – everyone else in your life does too.  If you haven’t been confronted about it, that does not mean you’re not guilty of it.

The LORD is also NEAR in terms of time.  His Second Coming can happen at any time. There are at least two consequences in this situation.

One, this means that every moment might be our last opportunity to do to good, to grow in godliness, to show love.  It also means that in the end God wins and we don’t have to go about pushing and punishing; God will take care of it.  His justice is perfect.

Two, even if this were not true, we all have a limited amount of time in this world: life is short.  Wise people will therefore cram life full of good things, godly actions, and avoid the negativity.

  1. The principle applied: Feuding Church Ladies (2-3).

Notice that 2000 years later, no one remembers what they were feuding about.  There are at least two reasons for this.

First, because the true causes of feuds are rarely about the presenting issue.  People complain about things to act out their emotions but mask them by transferring their feelings to another issue.

Second, because feuds are, by nature, exercises of pettiness, the presenting issue is almost always something trivial blown out of proportion.  So when you have a “ten dollar” reaction to a “fifty cent” problem, start asking probing questions to get behind the façade to the real issue.

The real danger with feuds is not the presenting issue, but the divisive effect on the church; the ruination of relationships and progress deterred.  Relational carnage happens because these squabbles never occur in a vacuum; collateral damage is created as the combatants naturally seek allies and draw others into the disagreement.  Others will join in even if they’re not invited; sometimes with good motives.

They were good church ladies.  His reference to their feud is not a slur on their character, but a situation that is impeding the progress of the church and needs to be acted upon by the church to move them to resolution.  There are two clues that tell us how Paul felt about them.

First, because Paul identified them as colleagues in ministry.  He made this point in two phrases.  He wrote that they CONTENDED AT MY SIDE. “Contended” is a word picture of a team of athletes engaged in competition or teams of gladiators fighting in the arena.  Brotherhood is born in battle.  He also referenced  THE REST OF MY FELLOW WORKERS, thus including Euodia and Syntyche.  Paul named Clement specifically, who may have been one of the elders in Ephesus as an example for those persons he saw as collaborators.

Second, he reminded of what’s really important: WHOSE NAMES ARE IN THE BOOK OF LIFE. The BOOK OF LIFE is one of the ways the Bible depicts God’s knowledge of His own people (see Exodus 32:32; Psalms 69:28; 139:16; Revelation 3:5; 15:21+27).  It is a symbol that is meant to give us confidence that God knows us by name, that He has not forgotten us, and assure us that we have a future in heaven.

We’ve already looked at how the presenting issue may not be THE issue. Therefore, one way of resolving conflicts is to drain away the emotions that make molehills look like mountains.  To regain a truthful perspective, we need to look at the big picture.  Here’s the best example; we’re all going to be in heaven; the rest is temporary and trivial, so dial down the “emo.”

Paul hinted there were problems of this sort in the Philippian church in 2:14, where he commanded them to DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING.  That is one of God’s standards for church life.

In very emotional language, Paul begs Euodia and Syntyche to reconcile.  He plead with them to simply AGREE.  That should not be as difficult as it may seem in deep feuds.  The biblical standard for church relationships is to be so close and so frequently in agreement that it could be said that we share one mind: the mind of Christ!  (See 1 Corinthians 2:16; Acts 4:32; Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11.)

We know nothing about these ladies or their feud and I believe that’s what God wanted.  Though Paul specifically named them, we are not to focus on their situation, but instead see it as a universal example of how God’s standard is to be enacted in our church.  The bad actors and miserable situations that we experience should be resolved to achieve God’s standards.

Paul wisely sought the help of a third party to help end the bickering and reconcile the two church ladies.  An alternate reading may be footnoted in your Bible names this mediator as Syzygus, which means “the Unifier.”  As is frequently the case in the Bible, we can’t say with certainty that word is a title or a name.

  1. The principle extended: Virtues and Practices Joined to Gentleness (4, 6-9).

Because August is the month of the Spiritual Fruit of Gentleness, we are emphasizing it as we interpret this passage.  In truth, all virtues overlap one another and share one another’s attitudes and actions.

Verse four develops the virtue of JOY.  I WILL SAY IT AGAIN: REJOICE! Paul wrote.  Philippians is the “Book of Joy.”  It uses that word more frequently than any other book in the Bible except Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah, which are all much longer books.  Joy is a virtue and it fits with gentleness because gentle people are not engaged in a 24/7 mission to find faults in others, a mission that results in making one’s self miserable and others too.

Note it is REJOICE IN THE LORD.  The prevalence of joy is one indicator of genuine faith.  True followers of Jesus are marked by cheerfulness because they have received God’s grace and in turn, extend it to others.  REJOICE clearly refers to an emotional experience that is grounded in God, not the empty-headed or mean-spirited or obscene kind of merriment that the world can provide.

In verse six we are instructed to annihilate anxiety by the practice of prayer.  Anxiety robs us of JOY and works against GENTLENESS because it makes self the object of our attention again.  Even if we think we’re anxious for others, anxiety is not manifest in legitimate concerns.

Anxiety is carrying unreasonable burdens of care for self or others.  It can be an excuse to justify our being bossy, a busybody, a gossip, or any kind of sin. Oddly, it can also provide an opportunity for someone else to be bossy, a busybody, to gossip to you.  Don’t give them that opportunity!

Look at the scope of Paul’s command – there are no exceptions – DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING.  Stop making excuses for your anxiety, that only puts worry on “life-support” and keeps it working on you.

The antidote to anxiety is not an exercise of will or positive thinking, for those things keep the emphasis on self.  We’ve got to get our minds off ourselves and on the LORD instead.  One way to do that is by prayer.  Turning to God in prayer is NOT a means of avoiding responsibility or making light of things that really are serious.  Instead, it is a faithful and reasonable act when we remember that God is greater than all our troubles: see Psalm 54:22; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 Corinthians 7:32.

God can handle all the things that cause you to be anxious; dump them all on Him, trust Him, and move on to something more pleasant or to a place where your sense of responsibility will do someone some good.  Turn off anxiety by being assured that God hears and answers your prayers.  Always.

Stop trying to be God or manage God, for that is the way of anxiety. Instead, accept His will and His timing with the absolute assurance that He is acting in your own best interests.  It will turn out better than you can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).  As Hebrews 11:6 says, God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.  Prayer relieves anxiety to the degree that we release our problems (real and imagined) into God’s care.

I think Paul uses three different words for prayer not because we’re to see them as three different forms of prayer, but so that we will see that all prayers are to be done WITH THANKSGIVING.  You can define PRAYER, PETITION, and REQUESTS in such a way as to emphasize their differences, but that serves this point, too: all prayer is to include THANKSGIVING.  This principle is true of all experiences of life, but especially prayer.

If we go to complain, list grievances, expand divisions, emphasize things that seem large because of our anxiety, we are not doing God’s work.  Whether we’re talking about business meetings or prayer meetings, THANKSGIVING and other acts of positivity are a necessity, not an add-on (see Romans 1:21).  To thank God is to give Him glory and to give Him glory is to make Him known, to bring our focus to His presence among us.  All good begins here.

In verse seven, Paul sets forth the virtue of peace.  A result of prayer is the elimination of worry.  Into that emotional/spiritual vacuum rushes God’s PEACE.

PEACE is tranquility, calmness, serenity that is not based on circumstances or emotions – which swiftly change – but on the unchanging character and purpose of God.  This isn’t worldly peace, but THE PEACE OF GOD.  It is not peace with God, for that is assumed; that is a prerequisite of discipleship.  It is PEACE from GOD, an act of grace that is positive and positively other-worldly.

Godly peace is so wonderful it TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING.  It is not reasonable or explainable in any typical worldly sense.  It exists in spite of experience, circumstances, and the ill will of Satan and his human accomplices.

It has a stabilizing effect; God’s peace will GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.   As they lived in a imperial colony city, the Philippians would’ve understood and appreciated this word GUARD, as they were a protected city; a garrison of Roman legionnaires were tasked with keeping them safe.  This is the picture this word is meant to give a feeling of being projected.

But it’s fair to ask; GUARD YOUR HEARTS from what?

– From what has happened. Your past does not have to determine your present or future.  You do not need to feel anxiety that what has happened before will happen again.

– From what is happening. We’ve all experience the shock of unexpected and unwanted things intruding on us suddenly.  God’s peace will proof us against the present if we will make it a matter of thanksgiving and prayer.

– From what will happen; say nothing of what we fear may happen. Prayer puts God in charge of the future and trusts He knows how to make it good.

By HEART, Paul refers to the place from which our thoughts, emotions, and moral decisions come.  Modern science tells us all that happens in the brain.  The battle for your soul is fought between your ears, so naturally that is the very place that should be characterized by PEACE.

MINDS might have been understood by Paul’s readers as describing our character, the ways that we typically behave.  Character is the accumulation of all the decisions we’ve made.  We need a GUARD there so we will make good decisions and continually improve our character.

Verse eight develops the benefits of the practice of positive thinking.  Given Paul’s reference to HEARTS AND MINDS in v. 7, he naturally turns to our thinking in v. 8.  Positive thinking means to focus our attention on God and the good things that surround Him.  Paul lists a few representative examples of God’s good things, the things that should dominate our conscious thoughts.

Truth = everything of God is true; everything untrue is of Satan; sincerity doesn’t enter into the picture.

Nobility is another Greek term that cannot be adequately translated with a single English word.  It takes in “honest, honorable, venerable, worthy of respect or reverence, esteemed, majestic.”

Righteousness is also justice.  To be just, each of us must give God and other people what they are due.  It is fulfilling our obligations, satisfying our duty, keeping responsibilities.

Purity is a comprehensive term that takes in moral and religious dimensions, being free from sin in motive, word and deed.

Loveliness includes everything that prompts a loving reaction; things that are “amiable, attractive, winsome.”

Admirability refers to one’s reputation; especially anything that is “gracious, kindly, auspicious, winning, attractive.”  Living an admirable life means giving people more reasons to like you (positivity) than reasons to be offended by you (negativity).

Excellence includes all virtue.  It is a word that is comprehensive in all things good and moral.

Praiseworthiness: Paul elsewhere uses this word in reference to praising God (see Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5), but here it is a conduct of life that makes everybody happy, having universal approval.

We’re to do two things with this information: First, THINK on these things.  The word THINK means to “reckon, calculate, evaluate, take into account, ponder, dwell on, reflect upon.”  We are to consider these virtues fully.

Second, this is not to be just an exercise of brains, as Paul ends with the words PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.  These virtues are not just to be admired at a distance and put on a shelf as trophies, they are to be increasingly part of our character, increasingly manifest in the decisions we make.

In verse nine we learn that we can receive peace by following our leaders. This is a case of Paul taking the theoretical ethical discussion and putting in into concrete, personal terms: “Inasmuch as you have seen these things in me, practice them.”  In 1 Corinthians 11:1 & Philippians 3:17 Paul urged his readers to follow his example as he followed the example set by Jesus.

He also reminds them to stay faithful to the faith as they LEARNED it from him.  False teachers would inevitably come in behind him, sowing seeds of doubt and division.  The easiest way to resist them was to stick with what they already knew to be true. (See Acts 20:20-21.)

They were also to stick with what they had RECEIVED from him – the ways of ordering church life and the specific practices that Paul instituted from the founding of the church until that time.

PEACE is the result of following our leaders.  THE GOD OF PEACE WILL BE WITH YOU means that God wants His people to be at PEACE.  Knowing our nature, He knows that PEACE is only possibly in submission to godly leaders.

People who place self-interest ahead of the good of the church often manifest this sin in rebellion against established leaders.  We all know that in any situation where the “leaders” outnumber the followers, confusion and division are rife.

This reference to the presence of God and His peace forms the benediction to six of Paul’s letters.

What’re You Waiting For?

(Please read James 5:7-11 in your Bible.  I cite the NIV below.)

Patience makes all relationships better.

  1. We must be patient with God (5:7+8).

It may sound odd to say it this way, but there are a couple circumstances that require all followers of Jesus to be patient with God.

One is prayer.  We wait on the Lord for a “yes” answer to prayer.  Luke 18 instructs us that we do not stop praying, but continue to call on the Lord.

Another is Jesus’ Second Coming.  The Bible concludes on a promise that Jesus is coming again.  This time, His coming will signal a series of events that will bring this reality to an end, replacing it with a perfected and glorified reality, creation restored to the way it was before sin corrupted it.

This is what James meant when he wrote BE PATIENT…UNTIL THE LORD’S COMING (v. 7).  Our hope, whether we are currently enduring suffering or not, is that at the LORD’S COMING, our faith will be vindicated, all wrongs made right, and all losses replaced with rewards.

Patience with God is defined in the expression STAND FIRM (v. 8).  To STAND FIRM means to keep the faith.  It is to trust in God, confident that His promises will be kept.

James offers the illustration of a FARMER demonstrating patience as he waits for nature to follow its customary process.  SPRING RAINS were important for germination.  AUTUMN RAINS were important for maturation of the crop.  (Both of these rains were specifically promised in Deuteronomy 11:14.)  The FARMER can do nothing to hurry the process or change weather conditions.  He must be patient and so must every believer.

Whether we’re maturing crops or disciples, the periods of waiting are not wasted time.  Instead they are periods of development & growth.

Why should we STAND FIRM until the Second Coming? BECAUSE THE LORD’S COMING IS NEAR.  Paul expected the Second Coming in his lifetime.  It didn’t happen.  Does that mean he was wrong to have that expectation?  No, we’re all supposed to think that way and allow it to affect our decisions.  Is it right for us to think about the Second Coming as NEAR?  Of course it’s right.  One of the things that motivate our patience is the expectation that Jesus’ return is right around the corner.

In the Bible, true faith is distinguished retrospectively.  When we see that person remained true – stood firm in the faith – all the way to their end, we know they possessed true faith.

  1. We must be patient with each other (5:9-11).

One of the events connected with the Second Coming is Judgment Day.  Logically, it also is near; THE JUDGE IS STANDING AT THE DOOR (v. 9).

One of the aspects of judgment will be the way we have treated one another.  So James commands DON’T GRUMBLE (v. 9).  Though the word patience is not in this verse, we can easily see that choosing not to grumble is one way patience manifests itself in our relationships.  This echoes Jesus’ teaching about judgmentalism – if we are judgmental about each other, we can expect to face that same standard exercised against us on Judgment Day.

Another aspect of Judgment Day will be how we handled SUFFERING.  Was it with PATIENCE or not?  Being patient in SUFFERING means we don’t abandon our faith.  We stick with what we believe.

This kind of patience can be called perseverance and we have biblical examples of perseverance we can follow.  The PROPHETS (v. 10) spoke God’s messages in Old Testament times.  Their devotion to the truth put them at odds with their countrymen and made them the target of hideous acts of persecution.

Hebrews 11:35-37 summarizes their sufferings.

Job (v. 11) is, of course, the oft-used example of patience.  When you read the account of Job in the Bible, you note that he struggled with what he suffered and maintained his faith with a great deal of difficulty.  We are human, after all.  James mentioned JOB’S PERSEVERANCE.  This is attested to in Job 1:22 where we read, IN ALL THIS JOB DID NOT SIN BY CHARGING GOD WITH WRONGDOING.  James also mentioned JOB’S OUTCOME.  In Job 42:12 we read about God’s approval of Job in these words: THE LORD BLESSED THE LATTER PART OF JOB’S LIFE MORE THAN THE FIRST.

Our patience in suffering will inevitably result in our being blessed by God: WE CONSIDER BLESSED THOSE WHO HAVE PERSEVERED.  BLESSED means “happy.”  Life is a happier, better experience for those who wait on the Lord.

If we are patient, our patience in suffering will inevitably reveal that THE LORD IS FULL OF COMPASSION AND MERCY (V. 11).  At the end of our suffering we should be more convinced than ever of the loving character of God.

  1. How we can be patient with each other (1:19-21).

Patience is our first defense against ungodly anger as it allows us to slow down our reaction to offenses.  James writes to the BROTHERS, but EVERYONE should exercise the virtue of patience by setting a guard at their lips.

Verse nineteen is the thesis statement of the book of James.  His letter is organized around this proverb.  Here he outlined a 3-fold strategy for godly communication.

One, BE QUICK TO LISTEN to each other, but also to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand the word of God.  Read the Gospels and you will be impressed by Jesus’ ability to LISTEN: He heard everything!  You will enjoy other people more if you spend more time listening to them and less time talking.

Two, be SLOW TO SPEAK: that means to guard our speech.  Maturing believers do not “let off steam” or use any other excuse for unguarded speech.  Instead, we take time to consider our words before we say them and keep from sins of the tongue.  In 3:2, James says that the follower who controls their tongue is PERFECT!  This gives us some sense of the import of sins of the tongue.

Third, SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY refers to misdirected wrath or selfish vengefulness.  Modern science has shown that anger is one of the emotions that takes the shortest pathway from brain to mouth.  In order to have a more considered response, we must involve more of our brain and that takes time.  Counting to 20 is as good a step to take as any.  When we are angry without a godly reason, we do more harm than good.

Why is anger a problem as regards the virtue of patience?  Anger is typically the opposite of patience; it is reacting quickly and overreacting.  It is reacting for the wrong reasons.  As a result, anger almost always impairs our spiritual maturity: MAN’S ANGER DOES NOT BRING ABOUT THE RIGHTEOUS LIFE THAT GOD DESIRES (v. 20).  When anger compels us to say or do the wrong thing, unrighteous results follow.  Harm comes to relationships, causing strains that can last a lifetime.  It is no good to God or man.

Ungodly anger is a sin; it is one aspect of the MORAL FILTH and EVIL that is PREVALENT in the world around us (v. 21).  It is PREVALENT because most people try to get through life without God.  Remember, Jesus said that it is “out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

What makes a true follower of Jesus different from merely worldly folk is their decision to HUMBLY ACCEPT THE WORD PLANTED in them, to the effect that they are saved.  The word HUMBLY is of key importance because it is pride and self-centeredness that causes us to behave in ways opposite God’s will.  The sacrifice of self in order to love God and others will build relationships and increase happiness.  That seems backwards from a worldly point of view, but it is God’s honest truth.

One scale by which we can assess our spiritual maturity is the degree to which virtues are evident and sins are absent.  Another scale is the degree to which our words are helpful or hurtful.  On a personal scale, this means we must be more concerned about what comes out of us.  Our words and deeds are public revelations of our character; what are people finding out about us?  On a church-wide scale, it means that we value the unity God gives us above self-interests and work hard to guard it against deliberate attempts to create division.

How to Keep James 1:19 = A Serving of “P’s”

  1. Agree on the situation.

P = Paraphrase. “This is what I hear you saying.” (Relate your version of their words.)  “Is that what you want me to hear?”

P = Personalize. “When I hear you say that, this is how I feel.  Is that what you want me to feel?”

  1. Agree on the solution.

P = Partner. “What do you think we should do to resolve this situation?”  (Share ideas.  Negotiate a compromise.)

P = Perform. Work together to enact the solution you’ve agreed upon.

How to Recognize Sins of the Tongue

  1. If you are talking about a situation to anyone outside the group of those who are directly involved, that is gossip.
  2. If your desire is to make another person look bad or yourself look good in comparison, that is slander.
  3. If you are deliberately withholding any portion of the truth or including any portion of an untruth, that is a lie.
  4. If you are listing reasons someone is guilty of something you have not observed them doing, that is false accusation.
  5. If you find yourself talking more about things that are less important or trying to be funny without considering others, that is idle patter.
  6. If you are using words that you would not say in the presence of God, that is obscenity or swearing.
  7. If you are quietly muttering words that you would be embarrassed to speak aloud, those are evil whispers.
  8. If you are speaking out of anger or trying to “win” an argument, that is quarreling.
  9. If you are finding fault without working out a solution, you are complaining.

Notice that honesty does not figure in this list.  We can’t use honesty as an excuse for sins of the tongue.  We cannot justify any sin by claiming a virtue.

Notice that being “right” does not figure in this list.  No matter how accurate our words may seem, God is the final Judge of our words.  Being right does not give us the right to speak them.  So decide for yourself whether it is easier to be careful what you say or to just talk less.

Why’d He Do It? To End Division.

(Please read HEBREWS 10:19-25.  I have cited the NIV below.)

Jesus’ sacrifice brought to an end division between humanity & God and between one another.

During a wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the pastor with an unusual offer. “Look, I’ll give you $100 if you’ll change the wedding vows. When you get to the part where I’m supposed to promise to ‘love, honor, and obey’ and ‘be faithful to her forever,’ I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave that out.” He passes the minister a $100 bill and walks away satisfied.

On the day of the wedding, when it came time for the groom’s vows, the pastor looked the young man in the eye and said, “Will you promise to bow down before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life, and swear eternally before God and your lovely wife that you will not ever even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?”

The groom gulps, looks around, and says in a tiny voice, “Yes.”  Then he leaned toward the pastor and hissed, “I thought we had a deal.”

The pastor puts a $100 bill into the groom’s hand and whispers, “She made me a better offer.”

<Retrieved from http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/relationship-jokes/5 on 3/11/16.>

The roadblocks in relationships are the ones we put up.  The barriers to love are walls we create because of ignorance and sin.

Today we’re going to see that one of the reasons Jesus gave His life on the cross was to tear down those barriers.  At His death, something supernatural happened that gave us access to God and to His love.

  1. THE CURTAIN is a symbol of division. (HBS 10:19-21).

This curtain hung in the tabernacle and later in the temple; it divided the Holy and Most Holy parts of the temple.  The instructions for this CURTAIN are found in Exodus 26.  It was to be made of fine linen and decorated with blue, purple, and scarlet threads which depicted angelic beings called “cherubim.”  I’ll tell you why that’s important a little later on.

The most important CURTAIN in all Judah was the one that covered the Most Holy Place and the Ark of the Covenant within.  Only the high priest stepped around that CURTAIN and then only once a year to cover the sins of the people.

Part of holiness is separation; that is a virtue.  When the Bible uses the word HOLY, it refers to something that is set apart for God’s glory and His exclusive use.  It has no everyday usage.

All this was done at God’s command.  The Ark was referred to as the “seat” of God and was the physical symbol of God’s presence with His people.  In this way, God was seen as present and distant at the same time.  He was to be approached by the priests, who acted as mediators for the people.

But taken too far, even well-intentioned separation becomes division.  The worst division is that between God and His people. There must be some separation because God is holy in the sense of being pure.  We are not yet perfected, so full fellowship is not possible in this life.

But people who make excuses say God is so separate from us He doesn’t see what we do or care; that He doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.  In cases like that, separation from God is self-inflicted and shows a lack of faith.

Divisions between people are also serious.  Divisions arise between people when our desires are in competition.  Divisions arise when we emphasize our differences and ignore our similarities.  Divisions arise when one or more of us refuse to heed the voice of God and love each other. (Sin creates divisions, love repairs them.)

  1. At Jesus’ crucifixion, THE CURTAIN was torn in half

(see Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51 and Mark 15:38).

His crucifixion was a supernatural event with symbolic meaning.  Both Matthew and Mark’s Gospels report that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the CURTAIN at the center of the temple – the most significant piece of cloth in the land – was suddenly torn from top to bottom.

It was not done by any hand of man – no one would dare to do such a thing.  Instead, it was done by the hand of God and designed to send this message – the Old Covenant, the former agreement, is nullified; TOP TO BOTTOM!  This detail is included to convey to us that the old system of separation was made obsolete and a new system, a new means of access to God, was provided.

It provided access to God, removing the barrier.  The CURTAIN that had once signified separation was now torn and a new way opened.  This symbolized an access to God for all people.  Instead of a CURTAIN separating us, the text informs us that Jesus opened up a NEW AND LIVING WAY into the presence of God.

  1. The tearing of THE CURTAIN represents removal of divisions (HBS 10:22-25).

The torn curtain is a potent symbol we might miss because it is given scant attention in the Gospels.  Here in Hebrews its significance is explained to us. Regarding our relationship with God, the passage indicates three different ways the death of Jesus on the cross was God’s plan to end this most essential division.

First, we DRAW NEAR TO GOD with sincere faith.  You can be sure God knows a sincere heart when He sees one.  One of the ways in which we can gauge our sincerity is to note whether or not we feel FULL ASSURANCE that our faith is not in vain; our trust in God will be vindicated.  We can be emotionally secure about this.

Second, we can be forgiven; cleansed from all guilt.  A benefit to faith is being morally cleansed; our GUILTY CONSCIENCE is removed by God’s complete forgiveness.  It is written, OUR BODIES WASHED WITH PURE WATER as a symbol of baptism and also of the totality of God’s forgiveness from our selfish heads to our wayward feet, sin and guilt are wiped away!

Third, our restored relationship with God gives us reason to HOPE and HOPE steadies us in life’s storms.  Elsewhere in Hebrews (6:19), the author describes hope as AN ANCHOR FOR OUR SOULS.  The purpose of an anchor is to steady a boat and hold it in position.  Hope does the same thing.  If we hold UNSWERVINGLY to our faith we are anchored and we will avoid the wandering that adversity can cause.

The passage does not end here, it gives us direction regarding our relationships with each other, how they are restored by the cross.  We must realize all creation has been affected by Jesus’ victory.

Firstly, loving one another sometimes requires some assertive action; taking responsibility for one another may require us to CONSIDER how we might SPUR each other on to LOVE & GOOD DEEDS.  SPUR is an interesting word in the original language. Paroxsysmos means to “stir up, provoke, irritate.”  It is generally used in the New Testament in a negative sense.  (See 1 Corinthians 13:5.)

Even though the experience may be bitter, our motive in using the spurs is not to irritate, but to initiate an experience that leads to spiritual maturity: to LOVE AND GOOD DEEDS.  This is very difficult.  It requires love and maturity to do the right thing at the right time in the right way with the right motive.

We have to confess that we’re more likely to pamper or procrastinate when we need to provoke, or we attempt to SPUR one another from wrong motives to do the wrong thing.  The best kind of love knows the difference.

Secondly, we meet together for encouragement.  This is the opposite kind of experience from the “spurs.”  Christian, if you don’t generally leave somebody smiling, you need to take a sincere inventory of your spiritual life.  The maturing Christian can be characterized as positive, optimistic, and gracious.

We can’t resort to the “spurs” or give encouragement if we don’t meet together and regularly.  Being in church doesn’t make anyone a Christian, but no one can be a Christian without being in church.  What’s more, we can’t know one another well enough to SPUR or ENCOURAGE each other unless we spent enough time together to have got to know one another.  You should quote this verse to the person who claims they can worship God as effectively holding a fishing pole or at the mall.  But be gentle.

Our efforts at this love need to be intensifying, not slackening.  ALL THE MORE AS YOU SEE THE DAY APPROACHING.  The word DAY in that sentence is capitalized because it refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

In a sermon entitled “The Message Sewn into the Veil,” Pastor James Groce made an inspired insight into the matter of the torn curtain. He drew a line back to the book of Genesis to find a wonderful coincidence:

“What is the message in Cherubims embroidered in the veil that ripped when Christ died?

“We saw so much in the Word of God about the Tabernacle, how it ties in with the Garden of Eden. And how the whole plan of salvation is getting back into the Garden again.

“Notice that Cherubims were sewn into the veil, the barrier, that stood before the Holiest of Holies. And we find that this veil ripped open when Jesus Christ died. The barrier was removed.

“And of course this lines up with access to the tree of Life as found in Genesis. Genesis 3:24: So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-message-sewn-into-the-veil-james-groce-sermon-on-gods-forgiveness-37960.asp on 3/11/16.>

Do you see? From virtually the beginning of the creation of our race, sin has kept us from full fellowship with God.  Angelic beings stood guard at the garden and before the Most Holy Place.  But when Jesus died on the cross, the guards were dismissed.  The gate was thrown open, and access to God was made possible.

That’s one reason Jesus died on the cross.  He gave up His life so we could be reunited with God the Father.  The effect of sin that distances us from Him has been nullified.

In our relationships with each other and our relationship with God, there is no longer any need for division.  Any barriers we find are the ones we put there.

Working on Your People Skills

  (Please read Colossians 4:2-6.)

MESSAGE: Aim at infusing life in your conversations with God and others.

A husband and wife were chatting with some friends when the subject of marriage counseling came up.             “Oh, we’ll never need that. My husband and I have a great relationship,” the wife explained. “He was a communications major in college and I majored in theater. He communicates real well and I act like I’m listening.”

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/jokes/read/322825

That, by the way, was a joke.  Some people believe that a sense of humor is to be hung up by the door of a church just like their coat.

When this is based on the notion that God does not have a sense of humor or that spiritual folk are supposed to be more serious, that’s just plain wrong.  God’s sense of humor can be plainly seen in the duckbill platypus and the person in the mirror!

http://www.humorpower.com/blog/2006/07/humor-skills-what-people-find-offensive/

One excuse for being excessively somber is that you run the risk of offending someone by telling a joke.  This sounds legitimate, so I did a little research and found an expert to shed some light on this.  Mr. John Kindle is a humor specialist (a great job if you can find it!) in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He has a blog called “Humor Power,” and thus is a very reliable source…

He listed 12 reasons people give for finding a joke offensive.  One thing stood out in the article.  It’s widely accepted as fact that 2% of people will take offense at anything you say and do.  I say, why let the crabby minority ruin the fun for the 98% of us?!!

But if you’ll permit me to be serious for a moment, we all can work on our people skills.  We can all intend to get along better.  That kind of improvement must obviously start with having the love of God in our hearts.  That’s why our passage for this morning concerns both our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.

CONTEXT: Paul wrote this letter while in prison, directing the church to avoid falling for the traps of false teachers and choose life instead.  J. Vernon McGee titled this chapter: “Fellowship of Christians is hearty.”

COMMENT:

  1. Have life-giving conversations with God (2-4).

Paul uses 3 words to describe a lively prayer ministry.

“Devoted” = DEVOTE YOURSELVES TO PRAYER. In the Greek, the root of this word means “to be strong.”  It refers to a strong attachment to the person or thing indicated in the sentence.

How are we to be devoted to prayer?  Devotion can be demonstrated in the QUANTITY of time we give to prayer.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 urges us to PRAY CONTINUALLY.  Devotion can be demonstrated in the QUALITY of our prayers.  This is not a matter of choosing the right words or having the right feelings; it means to enter deeply into fellowship with God.  We learn that by quietness and listening, and by repeating God’s words back to Him – use the Bible as a guide for deep prayer.  Devotion can be demonstrated in CONSISTENCY.  When times are hard, God’s people pray harder and they pray more: they don’t give up on prayer.

WATCHFUL.  For what are we watching?  We’re to be watching for opportunities!

– Opportunities to pray.  Not just when people are sick or have other needs, but to express joy and praise as well.

– Opportunities to serve.  Helping others is a gateway to bringing God into their lives.

– Opportunities to witness.  Telling others about Jesus is one of the most exciting things a Christian can do.

Watch your words and deeds.  We must safeguard the purity God’s forgiveness imparts.  We need to help others see that God’s way is the best way.  Watch for the in-breaking of heaven, especially in the form of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Ordinary moments of life can be occasions for spiritual insight, visions, and revelations of the joy we’ll have in heaven.  We have a future, a new life, an eternal home with God.  In this life, He grants us glimpses of that life, to encourage us.  We don’t want to miss out on these experiences.  The Bible says we are visited by angels occasionally and we have the Holy Spirit always.  How can we hope to hear God’s messages if we don’t watch and listen?

Don’t confuse watching with waiting (inactivity, passivity).  As the old preacher said, “If you’re going to pray for a good crop, you’d better have a hoe in your hand!”

THANKFUL.  For what are we thankful?  Don’t wait until November to be thankful – practice it all year ‘round!  You may be surprised to see the transformative effect it has on your life and others.  More importantly, thankfulness directs our attention to God.  That is the most redemptive direction in which we can look.  Prayer should be like breathing; inhale with your asking & exhale w/ thanksgiving for God’s answer.

Lively prayer also focuses on God’s will for your situation.  The example in this situation is Paul requesting prayer for his ministry.  He asked for things he could be confident were in line with the will of God.

– OPEN A DOOR FOR OUR MESSAGE is asking God to provide opportunities for ministry.

– THAT WE MAY PROCLAIM THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST.  For Paul, this MYSTERY was something that was previously unknown being revealed by God; fulfillment of prophecy.

– FOR WHICH I AM IN CHAINS.  His CHAINS represented Paul’s commitment to the Gospel and it

spotlighted one of Paul’s needs: freedom.

– THAT I MAY PROCLAIM IT EASILY.  God-given opportunities are precious; we need to act on them as effectively as possible.  This requires speaking the truth in love with grace.

2. Have life-giving conversations with others (5-6).

BE WISE IN THE WAY YOU ACT = A wise person knows actions speak louder than words.

Especially TOWARD OUTSIDERS.  The unchurched, unsaved, unbelievers.  This is obviously not meant to make the church sound exclusivistic or stand-offish; it is a practical acknowledgement that MOST people are OUTSIDERS and we must act and speak WISELY to help them become INSIDERS.  Besides, if you know you’re headed to heaven, why wouldn’t you work to take as people as possible with you?

Notice it says BE WISE – what’s that?

– Be REAL.  Tell the truth in your own personal way.

– Be SENSITIVE.

— Be sensitive to the person; listening for their story so you can weave it with Jesus’ story.

— Be sensitive to the context; act and speak in ways appropriate to the situation you’re in.

— Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit; God will give you words and direct you toward effective means of ministry.

— Be sensitive to yourself.  The Holy Spirit will guide you with your intuition and feelings.  Respond appropriately to feelings that are clearly positive or negative and be wary of situations about which you have conflicted feelings.

– Be a FRIEND first; let God make converts.  We must not be driven to press for a decision in every conversation.

The purpose of this kind of wisdom should be obvious; to MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY. This is what I call “Opportunity Evangelism;” let the Spirit make you aware of an opportunity to witness and then follow through to do the deed and speak the words He gives you.  The meaning of the Greek word for OPPORTUNITY means to purchase something with the intent of making a profit on it.  Take a similar attitude to the encounters you have with OUTSIDERS.  Invest in others wisely so you can turn a “profit;” bring them to Jesus.

This approach recognizes the biblical truth that no one comes to the Father except as they have been lead by Him.  So – as He reveals to us persons whom He has already been leading, we will help folks whom God has prepared, not just buzzing around on our own.

The first part of this is about actions, but words are important too, so we must take care to choose good ones.  One aspect of self-control is choosing the right words.  In fact, James 3:1-12 identifies control of one’s tongue as the PRIMARY form of self-control!  The Bible identifies many different sins of the tongue; that’s a subject for another time.  On the other hand, there’s just one way to get it right and that is to guard our speech.

– The first place to guard it is at the source: the heart.  Jesus said, “OUT OF THE OVERFLOW OF THE HEART THE MOUTH SPEAKS.”  (See Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45.)

– The last place to guard it is at the lips.  Paul wrote, DO NOT LET ANY UNWHOLESOME TALK COME OUT OF YOUR MOUTH, BUT ONLY WHAT IS HELPFUL FOR BUILDING OTHERS UP ACCORDING TO THEIR NEEDS, THAT IT MAY BENEFIT THOSE WHO LISTEN.  (Ephesians 4:29)

Paul offers a three-fold definition of purposeful and wise conversation, the type that pleases God.

– FULL OF GRACE.  Wow!  Forgiving and forbearing; loving as God loved you.  The right words in the right way at the right time.

– SEASONED WITH SALT.  Conversation is a sensory experience, so don’t be tasteless.  Salt is also a preservative; it keeps conversations from becoming rotten.

– Knowing HOW TO ANSWER EVERYONE.  Obviously, we have to study the Bible before we can know what it says and use it to explain and defend the truth.  What’s not required is that we “win” every argument.  In fact, if you’re arguing with someone that may be proof you’re already on the “losing” side.  It’s enough that we stand firm in our faith.

Take a look at the “People Skills Test” in your bulletin.  Would you like to guess what the problem is?

* “We are doing our part.”

* “Can you make a little time in your busy schedule to take care of this?”

* “He won’t answer the phone.”

* “That division always goofs it up for everyone.”

* “I looked and you still haven’t done it.”

The problem is that all of those statements are, to one degree or another, accusations.  They all imply that the problem is the other person.  They could easily put the other person on the defensive, and communication problems will undoubtedly be the result.

Communicating in a civil and constructive manner is a problem in our society.  The internet and mobile ‘phones offer an illusion of anonymity and people feel uninhibited.  They put their worst thoughts into words and fling them into the public eye without any forethought.

Let’s be clear.  Saying, “At least I’m being honest” is not going to cut it.  God’s standard for speech is much higher than that!  In fact, let’s take notice of the fact that this passage addresses prayer (conversation with God) directly alongside conversation with one another.  This leads me to think of a simple rule of thumb: Think before you speak and think twice about saying something to someone else that you would never say before God!

Christians are called to be neither offensive nor invisible.  True wisdom is found in the middle of these extremes, responsive to context and the Spirit’s guidance.  Our words and deeds must reflect a Christ-like spirit which is loving and considerate.

And finally, a plea for balance.  I’ve seen too many church discussions end with, “We can’t do that.  So-and-so will be offended.”  I’ve also seen Christians censored in the public square with the excuse of not offending atheists or Muslims.  Well, no offense, but we all need to GROW UP!  Doing the right thing is almost always going to offend someone!   One way we can achieve balance/moderation is by asking, “Do they have a legitimate offense?”  If not, proceed and deal with the offense if it becomes a problem.  If yes, then reconsider – start over or let it go if necessary.