Let’s Get Real

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Just before worship was to start, the pastor heard a loud argument going on outside the church.  He stuck his head out the door to see four preteen boys and a dog.

It didn’t seem like they were going to resolve it or move on any time soon, so the preacher stepped out and approached the boys.

“Hey fellows,” he said, “We’re about to start worship here and can’t have this ruckus.  What’s the problem?”

One of the boys spoke up.  “It’s like this, preacher.  We found this stray dog and caught him and made this leash.  We all want to take him home and keep him.  Just before you walked up here, we decided to hold a contest.  Whoever could tell the biggest lie would get to keep the doggie.”

“Oh no, boys,” the pastor looked shocked.  “That idea is straight from the pit of hell.  When I was your age, I never told a lie.”

The boy’s faces suddenly took on a glum aspect and one of them put the leash in the preacher’s hand.  “All right, pastor, you win.”

When a whopper is told, the reply is given, “Get real.”  By that, we express our desire to know the truth and be governed by honesty.  The most real thing in all creation is our Creator.  As we’ve been learning, in order to get real, we need to get closer to Him.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

NEW:

We must be faithful laborers (according to vs. 5-9, that means farmers and builders).

Paul and Apollos both served the church in Corinth,  each in their assigned roles.  Contrary to the controversy that co-opted them, both Paul and Apollos were SERVANTS (see Philippians 1:1 where Paul identified both himself and Timothy as SERVANTS).

The word for SERVANTS is diakonai, the word we translate as “deacons.”  There are several things implications from Paul’s use of this term.

One, as SERVANTS, leaders are never to idolize themselves or be idolized by their followers.  Leaders are not to cooperate with controversy by becoming the figurehead of one side.  Paul wrote this chapter to defuse that very thing in the Corinthian church.

Two, SERVANTS know their master.  In all his letters, Paul identified himself and his associates as serving God or the Gospel, but NEVER as serving churches.  This means his authority to preach and teach did not stem from the church members, but came from God Himself.

It can be confusing because when we look at the relationship between church and pastor, it looks like an employer-employee relationship.  However, that is not the whole truth.  The pastor’s authority includes and surpasses the local congregation.  For example, in Corinth, Paul did not draw a wage, but Apollos did.  Their authority was the same in both cases, as Paul makes clear.  The pastor-church relationship needs to be understood biblically first, then implemented in ways that exhibit good stewardship.

Three, SERVANT is not a demeaning term.  Servants are not doormats, scapegoats, or gophers.  All people, regardless of their roles are worthy of a basic level of respect.  Leaders are to receive an extra dose of respect according to 1 Timothy 5:17; The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

Jesus Himself took on the role of a servant (see John 17).  Paul wrote the same thing about him in Philippians 2:7.  No one is greater than Jesus.

Four, Jesus taught true leadership begins and ends with service: Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Biblical servanthood is always voluntary; never imposed.  It is a choice we make out of the best possible motive; to serve Jesus by serving each other.  Ephesians 5:21 says plainly; Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Servanthood is not for leaders alone: how can leaders lead when followers don’t follow?  That’s why Hebrews 13:17 says, Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

In terms of roles, Paul identified three.  Paul identified himself as the “planter,” the one who started the church.  In 2 Corinthians 13:10, Paul asserted his authority to BUILD UP the Corinthian church. He identified Apollos as the “waterer,” someone who nurtured the church.  Paul identified neither himself nor Apollos as the one who grew the church, but instead, rightly credited God as the “grower.” The planter and waterer have their roles, but they deserve neither the blame nor the credit for church growth – that is solely God’s work.

Leaders in the church are CO-WORKERS.  We have differing roles but only one purpose; pointing people to Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, our job is two-fold.  We plant, which is we prepare for growth by creating opportunities for ministry and training ministers.  We water, which means we nurture followers that come into our church, helping them to mature in their faith.  God requires faithfulness, which He recognizes with fruitfulness.                 Church growth is not supposed to be our achievement, but sometimes it is.  Human will and worldly wisdom do account for numerical growth in some churches.

True church growth can’t be measured in numbers alone.  It is measured in improved character, in greater spiritual maturity, more joy, deeper prayer, and improved service, among other things.

Logically, God exercises wisdom choosing churches to receive His gifts of growth.  When we get frustrated at what we perceive as a lack of growth, we should ask ourselves, “What is my contribution to the life of the church?  Am I building up or tearing down?”

Then we should ask of our church, “What is it about our planting and watering that is not of God?  Are we prepared to receive growth or not?  Are we nurturing what we have or not?”  As we saw last Sunday in vs. 10-15, in v. 8, the laborers’ work will be REWARDED after it is judged by God.

Paul clarified the identity of the Church in two figures of speech.

One, YOU ARE GOD’S FIELD.  The Greek word for FIELD is georgion, and it refers to a cultivated field; land that has been worked for the purpose of growing things.  We are a FIELD in the sense that we try to make Jesus visible every moment we live.

Two, YOU ARE GOD’S BUILDING.  In Ephesians 2:20-22 and 1 Peter 2:5, the people of God being a BUILDING that is constructed of living stones like a physical building is constructed with individual bricks and stones.  We are also God’s BUILDING in the sense of our being the result of His work building up His Church, causing it to grow, as in v. 6.  Finally, we are God’s building in the sense of being His TEMPLE, as affirmed in vs. 16-17.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

According to the USDA, the harvest is pretty much over here in SD.  The rich black soil of planted fields in the spring has given way to the green, growing fields of summer and the brown harvested fields of fall.  Unless global warming becomes perfectly obvious, the ground will rest and be covered in white. The seasons in the life of a church are measured in years, sometimes generations, and follow similar cycles of growing and going fallow.  Following this agricultural

symbolism, Paul taught that it is our job to prepare for growth and care for growth, but we cannot make church growth happen on our own; it is a gift from God. It is preparing our church as a farmer prepares the soil in the spring, then planting the seed.

How do we do that?  If we desire God to grow our church, we have to prepare by becoming the kind of people He can trust with new lives.  Specifically, this means:

– Getting rid of all sin, especially sins of the tongue.  God will not build where the people will tear down.

– Encouraging right living by means of Scripture, prayer, and spiritual maturity.  God will grow His best fruits where the soil is fertile with His Spirit and His words.

– Building community through worship, fellowship, and Christian education.  God will not sow His seeds among weeds.

– Creating relationships outside our walls by pairing acts of service with words of witness. God will not grow fruit in a walled garden.  He wants His fruits to bless all the people.

Let’s get real.  Let’s prepare this field by praying for wisdom to see ourselves candidly and know the truth.  Listen to no one else.  Repent of the problem parts, explore and expand the solution parts.

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Reality Sets In

Please read 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 21-23 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

The Internet search company Google is probably the world’s biggest data collector.  No surprise there.  It may surprise you to hear they have spent millions of dollars measuring their own employees, attempting to learn how to compile “the perfect team.”

They assumed building good teams required combining the best people, but it wasn’t that simple.  In 2012 Google started Project Aristotle.  Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics division “We looked at 180 teams from all over the company. We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’

The study concluded that in good teams, members show sensitivity, listening to one another.   This lead to a concept called “psychological safety;” a belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.  That feeling of safety allows all members to contribute to the conversation knowing that their ideas and emotions will be respected.  Putting together a successful team has less to do with who is on the team, more with how the members interact.

(Adapted from https://www.scoro.com/blog/teamwork-stories-importance-of-teamwork/ on 11/3/17.)

Once again, this is a case of science affirming what was already revealed to the writers of Scripture.  We see affirmation of the fact that being a church requires an agreement to love one another.

Love forbears, forgives, and forgets.  Love welcomes the practice of trial and error as a means of discovering God’s will and is never guilty of putting someone on trial for making an error.

In Christian families and churches we are called to create the kind of safe environment that Google’s data revealed as the most productive type of environment.  Psychological Safety will exist among people who emphasize grace and gentleness.  People who follow Jesus and who want their church to grow begin with love, which is manifest in purpose tempered by positivity, success achieved by means of interpersonal support.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

a. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

NEW:

b. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

First, godliness involves knowing who you are.  According to this passage, you are GOD’S TEMPLE (16) and YOU TOGETHER ARE THAT TEMPLE (17).  The Gk word for TEMPLE (naos) refers specifically to the building itself; the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, not the whole temple campus.  This gives the analogy a depth of meaning.

Here in 1 Corinthians 3, believers joined together in a church form GOD’S TEMPLE.  (See Ephesians 2:21-22 and 1 Peter 2:5.)  Later, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul’s emphasis seems a bit more centered on individual believers as God’s dwelling-place:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Individual believers being “little temples” (God’s “mobile homes,”) going about the world is a thought that follows Jesus’ description of Himself.  He said His earthly body was a TEMPLE (JHN 2:19-21).

Whether together or apart, believers are God’s dwelling-place.  That fact alone makes us responsible to behave like a believer everywhere we go.

How do we know we’re His temple?  We know it is true because God the Father has given God the Spirit to us.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote: GOD’S SPIRIT DWELLS IN YOUR MIDST.  In 2 Corinthians 1:22 & 5:5, Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit is our GUARANTEE that all God’s promises are true; they will be kept.

Part of God’s guarantee is His promise to protect us.  GOD’S TEMPLE is SACRED as indicated by His promise to avenge us against all who DESTROY us.  The word SACRED means “holy” and “set apart.”  It is a state of moral/spiritual purity and a state of separation from sin and worldliness, as we saw last week.  DESTROY also means “to defile or corrupt,” so it doesn’t only mean persecution in the form of acts of physical violence.  It includes spiritual corruption.  This warning is not limited to persons outside the church.  People inside the fellow-ship who are divisive or in any way impede the ministry of the church are in trouble.

Paul was concerned this is what was happening at Corinth.  He didn’t exaggerate the situation: they were dividing over flagrant

immorality, idolatry, relationships between WEAK and STRONG members, Spiritual Gifts, mis-practiced communion and the resurrection, just to hit the highlights.  Competitiveness and false doctrine had created separate parties in the church and anyone who pushed the success of their party over obedience to Christ was destroying the church.  God Himself opposed them.

People of faith should be encouraged to know that God will defend His own.  Justice will be served.

YOU ARE OF CHRIST AND CHRIST IS OF GOD explains how it is that ALL THINGS belong to God’s people.  This is a theological statement that reveals the fact that God the Son and God the Father are one, just as Jesus said (see John 10:30).

– It is through our faith-relationship with Jesus Christ that the unlimited resources of God the Father are made available to us.

– In His death and resurrection, Jesus redeemed us.  That is, He paid the price for our sins; He bought us out of slavery to sin.

– Through Jesus Christ – God the Son – we have access to God the Father, and that is the life-giving chain by which all this is possible.

Second, godliness involves knowing what is in store for you (21-23).  Good things are in store for those who wait upon the Lord.  Paul’s words ALL THINGS ARE YOURS (22) and ALL ARE YOURS (23) leave nothing to worry about.  Because we have God’s unlimited provision in the PRESENT and FUTURE, we can obey God’s command in Philippians 4:6 = Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Your future does not depend on any of your leaders; WHETHER PAUL OR APOLLOS OR CEPHAS.  This should be obvious; God is in charge.  Church leaders have their roles to play, but God decides whether a church will be fruitful or not (as we’ll see in v. 7).

Your future does not depend on the WORLD’s approval or support.  That’s good news because we can generally depend on the WORLD’s disapproval and, in some places, outright persecution.

Everything – LIFE and DEATH, PRESENT and FUTURE – is in God’s hands.  God is going to work in favor of His family.  He is going to work for the betterment of His children.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Last week we observed that one of the appeals of the Christian faith is that we offer the world something real.  We hold forth words of assurance that there is more to life than what the world offers.  We can make such claims until we run out of breath, but when our actions are merely worldly, then the claim is denied.

We need to work at having a culture of safety in our church.  Competition and condemnation shut down imagination and  experimentation, which forbids the innovation we need to succeed.

Churches tend to fall into one of two extremes just because it’s easier to think in extreme terms.  The one extreme exalts innovation.  With an evolutionary point of view, the assumption is that newer is always better.

The other extreme is imitation.  People in these churches have an opposing view that older is always better.  They assume that if we better imitate the way we’ve always done things, recreating the good old days, they better off we will be.

A more biblically realistic view, but one that is more difficult to achieve, puts imitation and innovation on an equal level, understanding these are both merely tools to achieve what is our true goal: pointing people to God.

Philosophies and programs are not goals; they are means to the real goal, which is making Jesus Christ apparent in our lives, whether we are together in this building or apart from it.  Good builders know how to use a variety of tools to complete their job.  If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, then hanging pictures is easy, but sawing wood is practically impossible.

What we see here in 1 Corinthians 3 is that God’s people use God’s methods and His tools to faithfully build more of Jesus in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

a. We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

b. We must be faithful builders (vs. 5-9).

Four Bear Ants

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

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. God’s solution has many layers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He Ain’t Heavy…

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

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW:

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

NEW:

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

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

When Paul condemns “judging” what does he mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREVIEW:

  1. The solution has many layers.

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.