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.

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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.

We Must Get Along… And More!

(Please read Romans 14:1-15:13 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

From the beginning of my ministry, even in seminary, I have numbered my messages as I wrote them.  I can’t tell you from where the idea came. When I realized last month that my 1600th message would be coming up, I resolved to do something a little different.  Not that there’s anything at all special about this particular number other than its roundness.

So I asked you to submit ideas for a message and then I randomly selected one of the responses and that’s how we ended up here at Romans 14+15.  This is obviously too much material to cover in one 20 minute message, so we’ll split it up over two Sundays, Lord willing.

Now that we know how we got here, let’s read a portion of our passage:

This is actually old news, but as I only heard about it last week, I’ve been interested and eager to share it with you.  Have you heard about the “9/11 Bible?”  When I read the headline I assumed it referred to some new kind of specialty Bible that had been recently published.

Not so!  This is the story of the discovery of an artifact at Ground Zero, the place where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed.  It is a Bible that was fused, by heat and pressure, to a portion of a steel beam that had framed one of the Twin Towers.

A firefighter discovered the artifact in March of 2002, months after the terrorist attack that brought the Towers down.  He recognized immediately what the find represented, he called to a nearby photographer to come and record the discovery.  Eventually the artifact became one of several discoveries that memorialize the events and people of 9/11.

What’s more interesting about the “9/11 Bible” is that the exposed pages of the Bible are open to Matthew’s Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount section.  Part of Jesus’ teaching on view on these pages – plainly legible – is “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Jesus is teaching us about the futility of revenge.  Hundreds of years after these words were spoken, in a spot hundreds of miles removed from the mountain on which they were spoken, the words delivered a timely rebuke of calls to avenge the deaths of the lives lost that way.

It is an amazing story and a great illustration of one of the important truths of the Bible; God calls His people to peace.  We are to be peace-makers and nothing else.  Division, conflict, and violence are often the result of sin and selfishness, a product of spiritual immaturity and biblical illiteracy.

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

Food serves as an example of legalism (2).  A faith that is WEAK imposes limits and makes laws that everyone must follow.  It is a sign of weakness because that person can’t have convictions of their own; they must have partners or follow the crowd.  (“Misery loves company?”)  It is a sign of weakness because that person’s convictions can’t stand scrutiny; they don’t hold up under opposition.

Eating ONLY VEGETABLES is not a condemnation of vegetarianism (no matter h0w much you may want it to be).  Paul is writing about people who chose to eat vegetables only because of their religious convictions, not because of perceived dietary benefits.  Some people of faith in Paul’s time were so concerned about avoiding meat offered to idols that they ate only vegetables.  Also, Jews couldn’t be sure meat sold in the market was kosher; rather than take the chance it wasn’t, they ate ONLY VEGETABLES.  We might call this a “faith-based lifestyle choice.”

The WEAK person rejects their liberty in Christ, the freedom of grace.  They settle for avoiding evil but don’t attend to doing good. Both of these moral priorities are necessary for a full-featured faith.

God’s standard for moral behavior is simple: EVERYTHING THAT DOES NOT COME FROM FAITH IS SIN (23).  For example, legalism is rooted in self-centeredness, not God-centeredness.  Therefore it is sin.

To put it another way, “If you’re not sure, assume it’s not God.”  Observing this guideline will steer us clear of a lot of trouble.

How do we know whether or not something comes from faith?

Test #1 – It arises from and is confirmed by the plain teaching of the Bible.

Test #2 – It opposes the traditional teaching of the Church only rarely; when the tradition is in conflict with #1.

Test #3 – It is in harmony with the Holy Spirit.

Test #4 – It promotes unity in the Church and enacts love toward maturity.

  1. The STRONG churched person is a realist (14:2, 14 + 15:1).

Food is a place where realism can be exercised (2).  One of the issues in the Corinthian church was eating meat offered to idols.  The WEAK person saw it as spiritually contaminated and made eating it a moral issue.  The STRONG person did not approve of idolatry but saw meat simply as meat.  “Realism” does not deny the supernatural, but affirms it in ways that are consistent with FAITH.

Paul’s reference to UNCLEAN things (14) refutes legalists’ claims to be more biblical.  Paul’s personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF.  To conclude otherwise is to attempt to return to the Old Testament Law and use parts of it to support one’s personal biases (legalism).  Folks, God sorted all this out with Peter in Acts 10+11; what I call Peter’s vision of “meat on a sheet.”  Look it up for yourself!

However, Paul’s conviction was tempered by consideration for the people around him.  Out of respect for them, he would heed what they believed was unclean.  He did not force his view on anyone and expected others to do the same.

The kinds of things on which we typically disagree are DISPUTABLE MATTERS.  Paul may be thinking about moral and theological points that are of lesser importance and/or are more difficult to resolve to everyone’s agreement.  I heard recently there are currently 40,000 different groups calling themselves “Christians.”  Another person predicted more divisions; by 2025 there will be 55,000 Christian sects.  Why do we divide?  Because we’ve not learned to agree to disagree on DISPUTABLE MATTERS.  We are prone to “major on the minors.”

We can think of this phrase in terms of human nature: it is human nature to get mad about trivial things and be more forgiving on more important matters.  We can avoid a lot of division if we would overlook small matters.

Another quality of DISPUTABLE MATTERS is that agreement is not required.  We can agree to disagree without either one of us being untrue to Christ.

People who are STRONG in their faith will be more accepting, even of people who disagree with them.  Even when the WEAK refuse tolerate disagreement, the STRONG are to BEAR with them.  BEAR does NOT mean to growl at one another from our separate caves; it means to forgive and forget; to show patience and acceptance.

The STRONG can BEAR with the weak because they see things from God’s perspective and trust Him to work them out.  The STRONG are not out to please themselves but their neighbors (15:2), just as Jesus commanded.

The key word in this passage is “accept.”  In the NIV it is the first word in the passage: 14:1 = ACCEPT THE ONE WHOSE FAITH IS WEAK.  It comes up again in 15:7; ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, THEN, JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU, IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.  The idea of mutual acceptance is developed in the rest of the passage.

ACCEPT is the Greek word proslamban, which means “to receive kindly or hospitably” and “to treat with kindness.”  In a general sense, it is to “welcome” each other, receiving each other wholeheartedly.  Specifically, when we “proslamban” one another, we grant each other admission into our heart, looking beyond the merely superficial, striving to build relationships.”

The important phrase for understanding and practicing this command is JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU.   How did Christ accept us?   According to Romans 5:8 the Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We don’t follow Jesus’ example in the principle of self-sacrifice.  We must be so in love with God and each other that we are willing to make sacrifices in order for love to flourish.

  • I sacrifice my prejudice and stereotypes to welcome someone different from me.
  • I sacrifice petty things like my comfort, convenience, and choices so I can help someone in need. More than that, I want them to feel included in my family of faith.
  • I sacrifice some of the possessions, my time, my money, to support ministries that open doors to people who genuinely seek God.
  • I sacrifice my ego, pride, or self-centeredness to make my circle of friends a bit larger every day because I have served them, not myself.
  • I sacrifice the need to be right, to be the center of attention, to get my way all the time, in order to really hear the heart cries of people around me.
  • I sacrifice my private ambitions in order to grow our church, one person at a time.

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.