Be Reasonable!

Please read Isaiah 1:15-20 in your Bible.

Be Reasonable_final (1)Author Gordon MacDonald provided some insight into the term repentance: “’Repentance’ is not basically a religious word. It comes from a culture where people were essentially nomadic and lived in a world with no maps or street signs. It’s easy to get lost walking through the desert. You become aware that the country side is strange. You finally say to yourself, I’m going in the wrong direction. That’s the first act of repentance. The second act of repentance is to go in an alternate direction. It implies that you not only do this but you admit it to your companions.” https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Repentance/200130/

My family will tell you I have a real dislike for turning around and going back the way I came.  This comes up especially on family trips where we’ve ended up going in an unintended direction.  I prefer moving forward so thoroughly that I will go out of my way and/or figure out an alternate route rather than go backwards.

That kind of stubbornness is deadly when it is manifest in one’s spiritual life.  Sin turns us around; it puts us on a course away from God.  When that happens we need to be quick to repent which involves doing an about-face and returning to God.

CONTEXT: God spoke through Isaiah to address the sin of His people Judah.  Verse four of this chapter sets the stage by utterly condemning the people of Judah for having turned their backs to God.  Isaiah has been empowered to tell them to turn to Him.

True repentance is required for godly living.  It is a paradox of faith that godly living is both something you do for God and something God does for you.

  1. Godly living is something you do for God. (vs. 15-17)

Be warned: God does not acknowledge the prayers of hypocrites. (v. 15)  It is human nature to want to be in control.  One place this desire is evidenced is in religion.  We hope to exercise control of God by putting in our time and expecting His blessing in return.  We fall into hypocrisy, legalism, and merely external religious acts.  Though we would never say so, we believe God ought to be grateful for what we give Him.

Historically, we see this cycle: the Lord gives humanity a revelation/does a new thing.  Then, over the centuries, we paint layers of formality over it until the original becomes difficult to recognize.

Even the Old Testament system of formal religion was not given to be observed merely outwardly.  The sacrifices were to be a means of approaching God to receive inner cleansing from sin.  But according to Isaiah, the people of Judah – if they made the sacrifices at all – did it outwardly without any inner commitment to God.  The sacrificed without repenting.

Their hands were FULL OF BLOOD in two ways identified in this chapter.  There is a reference to THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND LAMBS AND GOATS in verse eleven.  These were the animals they sacrificed in their legalistic/hypocritical pretense of worship.  Religion that is not spiritual as well as material is powerless to save anyone.

In verse eighteen it is written their SINS were LIKE SCARLET, RED AS CRIMSON, the colors of freshly-spilled blood.

In their practice of prayer, hands were raised to God, palms up, not folded as is our practice.  This, then, is a graphic image of blood-red palms being uplifted in prayer, an obvious act of gross hypocrisy.

As “bloody hands” need washing, we must sincerely repent. Verses fifteen to seventeen tell us to WASH AND MAKE YOURSELVES CLEAN.  This expression represents regret over our sins.  What have we done for which we ought to feel regret?  If nothing else, we ought to regret the consequences of our sins, which distance us from God, from one another, and have toxic effects on our health and circumstances.  Washing was required in the Law of Moses as a means of preparation for worship and for meals.  It was a big deal in their faith; the Pharisees faulted Jesus and His disciples for not washing in Mark 7:1 ff.

After regret, repentance requires us to turn away from sin and toward God.  As is often the case in the prophets (i.e., Hosea 6:6-10, Amos 5:1-5; Micah 3:9 ff), turning toward God is revealed more in acts of justice than in conformity to the Law of Moses. Isaiah gives three examples of God-ward directions in life.

TAKE YOUR EVIL DEEDS OUT OF MY SIGHT!  The most complete repentance involves a hatred of the sin that we had committed.

STOP DOING WRONG, LEARN TO DO RIGHT!  We study the Bible to learn God’s moral code so we know what is right and what is wrong.

SEEK JUSTICE, ENCOURAGE THE OPPRESSED…

FATHERLESS… WIDOW.  Seeking JUSTICE requires actively looking for opportunities to come to the assistance of disadvantaged persons.

It takes humility to admit you are wrong and moral courage to ask for forgiveness: this is no less true in our relationship with God than in our relationships with one another.

Notice this section of Isaiah is full of verbs: WASH… TAKE… STOP… LEARN… SEEK… ENCOURAGE) so we need a reminder that we do these things as we are repenting.  We do not do these things in an attempt to earn God’s favor, but out of love and gratitude.

  1. Godly living is also something God does for you. (vs. 18-20)

Use your head – reason is a path to godliness. (18)  There are several court room expressions used in this passage.  The word picture is that of Judah being on trial for her sins.  REASON is supposed to be the means of reaching just decisions in court.

Rely on God to forgive your sin and cleanse you completely.  (18)  Don’t make the mistake of allowing regret to lead you into attempting to make amends.

The contrast of colors conveys the completeness of God’s forgiveness.  SCARLET to WHITE AS SNOW is the same language used in Psalm 51:7.  CRIMSON to WOOL (white).  The red dye used at that time was absolutely colorfast, so the prophet is saying that God can make white what is humanly impossible.

Obedience is required on our end of partnership with God. (19-20)  This passage holds each person responsible for their outcome.  We cannot blame God for our sins or their consequences.  If we, by faith, choose obedience, a full and abundant life is the outcome.  If we choose any way other than God’s, death is the outcome.

Blessings are promised to those who obey God. (19)  In this case, the blessing takes the form of a promise of a full belly: YOU WILL EAT THE BEST FROM THE LAND.  This has a symbolic side to it: it is not only materialistic, but is symbolic of spiritual and material prosperity.

Curses are threatened on those who RESIST God and REBEL against Him. (20)  In this case, the curse is the threat of a violent death: YOU WILL BE DEVOURED BY THE SWORD.  As with the blessing, this should be taken generally and symbolically but also seriously.  As Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, THE WAGES OF SIN ARE DEATH.

This combination of blessings and curses are found frequently in Proverbs (2:21) and elsewhere in the OT.  They are positive and negative incentives to seek God and do right by Him.

These truths did not come from Isaiah; the LORD HAS SPOKEN. (20)  This assurance is one final incentive to obey, as the Lord’s warning is not to be taken lightly, nor are His promises.  He will do as He says.

2) Historically, we know that these curses did come to pass because the people of Judah refused to repent.

True repentance is required for godly living.

I’ve been reading a book entitled Extravagant Grace by Barbara R. Duguid.  It’s a summary of the teaching of John Newton – the pastor who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  Newton believed that a maturing believer took responsibility for his or her own sins, but was never paralyzed by guilt.  We can be encouraged to know that God’s grace is so powerful he can use even our sins to bring about increased spiritual maturity.  Specifically, he identified three virtues typical to a maturing believer’s life.

Humility – True humility is an accurate view of self.  People who ignore their guilt and people who obsess over it are both being self-centered & mistaken.

Tenderness – Seeing one’s self honestly allows one to see others in a true light and show mercy on their human weakness.  As Jesus taught in Matthew 7:3-4, tenderness is seeing the speck one’s own eye before fussing over the log in another’s.  In a word, not legalistic.

Spirituality – This virtue can be confused with being religious, but it is actually not putting one’s affections or trust in anything or anyone in this world.  Spirituality is a matter of focus.  Our focus should be on Jesus.

To the degree that these three things are true of any of us, we are receiving the spiritual maturity God wants of us.  Duguid’s point is that God’s grace is not going to be thwarted by our sin.  As Isaiah made plain, sin has serious consequences, but frustrating God’s plan is not among them.  This truth should cause us to both relax and be more vigilant at the same time.  In this life we continue to struggle against sin.  We can relax in the sense that there is no sin a believer can commit that will cause a loss of salvation.  We want to be more vigilant because we love the Lord and one another as we love ourselves and sin does cause a separation from those we love.  So we prefer the virtues of humility, kindness, and spirituality to all the vices the world has to offer.  Find happiness in being virtuous.

 

RESOURCES:

The Daily Study Bible Series, Isaiah, Vol. 1, John F. A. Sawyer

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, G. W. Grogan

Zondervan Bible Commentary, David F. Payne

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Gleason L. Archer

Extravagant Grace by Barbara R. Duguid

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (7 of 7)

Greed & Generosity

Greed is a vice as it places a greater value on things than God or people.  Generosity does the opposite.

If you are 50 year of age or older, you know this guy:

howell

“Thurston Howell III” from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island.”  The opening credits call him “the millionaire.”  In one episode Howell’s wife Lovey explains that during the Great Depression the Howell family suffered great loss going from being billionaires to being mere millionaires.  Though they were allegedly only going on a “three hour cruise,” the Howells brought several suitcases of clothes and money.  This makes me think they were really on the lam from debt collectors!

In 2013 Forbes magazine published a Fictional Top Fifteen list of the wealthiest fictional characters.  Thurston Howell III came in fifth overall, behind Santa Claus, Richie Rich Jr., Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, and Scrooge McDuck.  Pretty heavy hitters there!

Both the Howells were pampered rich people who bragged about their possessions, wealth, and connections to the rich and famous.  Neither of them offered to work on daily chores or help with rescue plans, despite their alleged eagerness to return to civilization.

As a symbol for the deadly sin of GREED, Mr. Howell is the obvious choice.  Veteran actor Jim Backus hammed his way through the role, achieving a surprising range of emotions, including a child-like need to sleep with a teddy bear imaginatively named “Teddy.”  Backus so successfully affected a character of East Coast wealth and privilege that we have a hard time thinking of any other character as the stereotypical “millionaire.”  In fact, during the 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney was compared to Thurston Howell III as the epitome of a wealthy Easterner, out of touch with reality and the common American.

Jim Backus died in 1989, his last screen credit being the voice of Howell on “Gilligan’s Planet,” an animated spinoff of “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of greed (1 John 2:15-7).

Usually we think of GREED as being a love of money, an unquenchable desire for more.  Today we’ll expand our definition to include love of worldly things when we love anything or anyone more than God.  In fact, that’s the also the definition of idolatry!

John taught that love of the world and love of God are mutually exclusive.  In abundant clarity, the Spirit revealed through John the trials we can face.

What we love reveals a lot about us (15).  Here are the contrasting orientations.  Love of self and love of worldly things go hand in hand.  Love of God and love for others is manifest in an attitude that discounts worldly things, using them to bring joy to others and self.

John identified a “Big Three” set of attitudes that betray love of worldly things (16).

First, the CRAVINGS OF SINFUL MAN.  The phrase SINFUL MAN is translated as FLESH in other versions.  The CRAVINGS are SINFUL because they come from the sin nature and lead to sin.  As sin, these CRAVINGS separate us from God and from one another.  This is GREED in the form of exalting self so much that God and others don’t matter.

Second, the LUST OF THE EYES.  LUST can also be translated as “covets” or “envys.”  It is a sin that is not limited to sexuality; it covers everything in this world that we can desire passionately.  It is the life of an addict; so self-centered that one is unaware that their passion is not normal or healthy, but is consuming them.  This is GREED in the form of acquiring, hoarding, or using things.

Third, he BOASTING OF WHAT HE HAS AND DOES.  This is a “KIA” person.  No, I don’t mean “Killed In Action,” instead this acronym means “KNOW IT ALL.” This is the kind of person who can’t stop telling you about their brainstorms, their kid’s honors, and what they bought on sale!  This is a life dominated by the latest thing, having the “prettiest” or the “greatest.”  It is chasing after achievement to make you feel better about yourself; a vain effort to justify your misdeeds and even your existence.  This is GREED in the form of reputation; focusing on what other people think about you.

Worldly things are not worthy of our love because they do not last forever: THE WORLD AND ITS DESIRES ALL PASS AWAY (17). Either at death or at the second coming, this world is going to cease for every one of us.  On a personal scale and also on a universal scale, all that glitters and all that is gold will one day be no more. There are other reasons not to love the world.  Satisfy a worldly urge and the urge will soon return.  Worldly things do not provide lasting satisfaction.  Satisfying a worldly urge will not benefit your spiritual life; worldly honors will not make you more spiritually mature.  God is eternal; things are temporary.  It makes no sense to invest ourselves in the stuff that won’t last. Instead, here’s where we should be putting our time and energy: THE MAN WHO DOES THE WILL OF GOD LIVES FOREVER.

  1. The vital virtue of generosity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Paul condemned the LOVE OF MONEY so thoroughly in vs. 6-10 that someone might think it impossible to be RICH and heaven-bound.  Here Paul instructs rich people how to live in a godly way that prepares them for heaven.  That fact disproves any notion that the RICH are automatically excluded.

The RICH person’s “don’t do” list.

First, don’t be ARROGANT (17).  I want to interpret ARROGANT to mean “self-sufficient.”  Paul is commanding Timothy’s people to rely on God, not on their wealth or any other worldly thing.  Both self-sufficiency and outright arrogance are subtle and frequent temptations for people who have a lot of stuff.

Second, don’t put your HOPE IN WEALTH (17).  Why not?  Because it’s so UNCERTAIN.  The word UNCERTAIN notes that worldly things are likely to disappoint us; they will disappear when needed most.  For example, money can buy insurance and medical care, but you can’t buy health or recovery from illness.  Proverbs 23:4-5 makes a point I believe all of us have experienced at least once: DO NOT WEAR YOURSELF OUT TO GET RICH; HAVE THE WISDOM TO SHOW RESTRAINT.  CAST BUT A GLANCE AT RICHES AND THEY ARE GONE, FOR THEY WILL SURELY SPROUT WINGS AND FLY OFF TO THE SKY LIKE AN EAGLE.  Time flies; it seems money does too.

Worldly things are unworthy of our love for all these reasons.  What is certain is God’s love and He is the only

Next, we read the RICH person’s “to do” list.

First, put your HOPE IN GOD (17).  Why?  For one thing, it is God who RICHLY PROVIDES US WITH EVERYTHING.  RICHLY means God has been generous with us; we must be generous with one another.  Notice the word EVERYTHING; we need to be reminded that neither we nor the bank really “own” anything.  All of it is owned by God and put in our hands to use for His glory.  His purpose in this provision is FOR OUR ENJOYMENT.  Worldly things are never to be the center of our affections, but they are given for us to enjoy.  Joy is at the center of the life of godly people.

Second, do GOOD (18).  GOOD is best defined as “godly.”  Morally good things are in line with the revealed will and character of God.

Third, become RICH IN GOOD DEEDS (18).  Worldly ambition is to become rich in worldly things; to possess much.   Godly ambition is to do good as often as possible.  Accumulating good deeds for their own sake is not the point; that would merely be pride.  Instead, Scripture describes three God-approved motives:

Love for God; gratitude for what He’s done.

Love for others; a desire to serve and connect them with God.

Love for self; the accumulation of heavenly rewards.

Fourth, be GENEROUS (18).  God has loved us unconditionally; we ought to love each other unconditionally.  God has generously provided for us all things needed to survive and to enjoy life.  We must be similarly generous with each other.  If we thought of ourselves as a pipe, and not a pool, it would help.  We tend to see ourselves as pools; God gives and raises the level of stuff we accumulate.  That’s not biblical.  More appropriately, we are pipes or conduits through which God’s gracious gifts flow from us to others.

Fifth, SHARE with others (18).  This word is translated “distribute” in the King James’ Version.  Take the wealth entrusted to us and distribute it among the needy and good causes.  No hoarding.  If you don’t have much money, share your time.  If you don’t have much time, share your table.  Scale is never a reason for not sharing; typically the poorest people are the most likely to SHARE, the wealthiest the most likely to hoard.

Whether we consider ourselves rich or poor or something else, we are to use worldly wealth to gain eternal rewards.  Paul wrote, LAY UP TREASURE FOR THEMSELVES AS A FIRM FOUNDATION FOR THE COMING AGE and TAKE HOLD OF THE LIFE THAT IS TRULY LIFE (19).  Do you need to a reminder you can’t take any of this stuff with you past death?  If so, here’s your reminder (v. 7): FOR WE BROUGHT NOTHING INTO THE WORLD, AND WE CAN TAKE NOTHING OUT OF IT. It may help to think of worldly things as things we can expend to “invest” in heaven, looking forward to receiving a “dividend” when we stand before Jesus Christ.

If you are younger than 50, you know all about:

linkedIn

LinkedIn, a website that is designed to help people fulfill their business ambitions.  The site was launched in 2002 to help employers and job seekers network and find one another to facilitate employment.

This website serves us as a symbol of GREED because it is all about worldly ambition, climbing the corporate ladder, being a success in purely worldly terms.  In fact, the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, made that connection himself in an interview last year.

I joined LinkedIn five years ago as a means of searching for a job.  Now I use it to publish my messages on the Internet and stay in touch with friends and associates.  LinkedIn has a great deal of influence on our culture; it is the 34th most popular website world wide, with with 500 million members in 200 countries as of a year ago.  In 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for 26.4 billion dollars.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that we’ve covered seven deadly sins and there were seven castaways on Gilligan’s Island.  We picked on the Skipper twice but haven’t talked about Gilligan at all.  You may be wondering what role the character of Gilligan is supposed to play in this series of messages.  What deadly sin is Gilligan supposed to symbolize?  Let’s stop and think about it:

– Gilligan is responsible for marooning them on the island.

– His clumsiness and ineptitude foils all their escape plans.

– He wears red in every episode.

– It is HIS island.

Isn’t it obvious?  Gilligan is a symbol of the THE DEVIL!

– The devil deceived Eve and is responsible for marooning us in this world of sin.

– The devil will always foil “escape plans” that depend on any kind of worldly resource.

– The devil, however, doesn’t always wear red; he’s more subtle than that.  The Bible says he can appear as an angel of light (see 2 Corinthians 11:14).

– This world is HIS “island.”  In John 12:31, Jesus called him THE RULER OF THIS WORLD.  2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan THE GOD OF THIS AGE.  Ephesians 2:2 depicts him as THE PRINCE OF THE POWER OF THE AIR.

I heard something recently from a radio preacher that struck me as quite profound.  He said that the devil is incapable of creating anything new.   There is no good thing in him.  So he must invade the good to borrow from it or copy it.  This means that the seven deadly sins are all corrupted versions of seven vital virtues.  Let’s resolve to NOT give the devil his “due” or anything else.  Let us practice the virtues and dump all seven of the deadly sins.

 

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia.

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Thru the Bible, McGee

Seven Modern Maladies and their Divine Solutions (4 of 7)

#4 = Laziness/Godly Ambition

Laziness is the vice of avoiding necessary deeds.  Godly Ambition aims at doing God’s work in His way.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

220px-Lovey_Howell

“Mrs. Howell” (the “millionaire’s wife”) from “Gilligan’s Island.”

        Of all seven characters on Gilligan’s Island, it may be Lovey that has the least backstory.  The writers never even bothered to give her a first name.  Her maiden name was “Wentworth,” and attended Vassar, but details are scarce.

The actress’ name was Natalie Schaefer, a lady whose stage and film career spanned more than seventy years!  Through wise investments, Ms. Schaefer parlayed her acting earnings into millions.  Ironically, she played a millionaire’s wife on TV and in real life was a millionaire single woman!  Both Alan Hale Jr. (the Skipper) and Ms. Hale died of cancer in 1990 and both had their ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.

Lovey Howell was chosen as the symbol of laziness because she never lifted a finger to help with the islanders’ escape plans.  She was used to having servants wait on her in the Howells’ various homes in the US and Europe.  No one would say Lovey was apathetic or uninvolved with the other castaways, but she obviously preferred the life of the “idle rich.”

  1. The vicious vice of LAZINESS (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)

What is sloth or laziness?  It is an unwillingness to exert or even inconvenience one’s self, regardless of how important or needed an action may be.  It is seeking the path of least effort or least resistance. (In this sense, laziness can be manifest in an unreasonable insistence on doing the cheapest, easiest, most familiar way.  It is a “dumbing down” of method and mission when something better can be achieved. Lazy people set low expectations.)

Laziness is a sin of omission: omitting good works; not doing good things.  Godly living is a full morality.  It is not just the avoidance of evil (sins of commission), but is also the practice of good. Practicing good is an active effort put into seeing the good and responding to opportunity in a timely way.

This vice of laziness or sloth most often involves making excuses, even telling lies.  For example, a chronically lazy person can rationalize their lack of love by means of a false sense of entitlement, a claim of victimization or disability, and/or a fear of failure or loss.

Why is laziness deadly?  Most importantly, because one’s salvation is called into question.  Salvation is something we’re commanded to “work out” in Philippians 2:12: THEREFORE, MY DEAR FRIENDS, AS YOU HAVE ALWAYS OBEYED – NOT ONLY IN MY PRESENCE, BUT NOW MUCH MORE IN MY ABSENCE – CONTINUE TO WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING.  The meaning of the command to “work out” our salvation may not be obvious.  Let’s think about it.  We do not obtain salvation by means of good works, it is God’s gift.  Having obtained it, salvation changes our character. We WORK those changes out of our inner person so others can experience them and be blessed by what we say and do.  A chronic refusal to do good works is a sure sign of not yet being saved.

Laziness is also deadly because it is rooted in self-deception.  The previously mentioned excuses are one example of how self-deception occurs.  Inflated views of self, apathy, or depression are different forms of self-deception but have the same deadly effect: people who have convinced themselves they don’t have a problem are not going to seek a solution.  Never solving one’s problem of sin results in eternal condemnation after death in this world.  A more serious problem than that you cannot find.

Laziness is insensitivity to the needs of others.  It is arguably the most obvious form of self-centeredness.

A lazy person expects all kinds of things but offers little or nothing in return.      This behavior  creates a “net loss” in the community (be it family, church, or municipality) when a person is only a consumer.  As we will see, God wants us to be “contributors” and “consumers.”

It’s a problem when cheats us out of two things: joy and health.  There is a particular joy that comes with growth and achievement.  People who don’t care enough to try will never know this kind of unique and deep joy.  Where mediocrity and failure are accept-able alternatives, laziness is present.  It is a fact of life (physical AND spiritual) that health and vigor can only be developed by exertion.  God created us to grow by challenging ourselves.  Trials of all kinds will force challenges on us, but we need to choose challenges in order to develop health, growth, and energy.

Idleness leads to other sins: like marijuana – which is a “gateway drug” (leading to other forms of drug abuse) – sloth is a “gateway sin,” leading to other kinds of sin.  “Nature abhors a vacuum” is old expression grounded in science.  In the natural world, nature fills empty spaces.  This expression is just as true personally as it is scientifically.  When we are bored or lonely, we seek to solve the emptiness of those feelings.  Too often, the “filling” is with evil words & works.  “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” is another old expression proven by experience.  Idle people are more likely to get themselves in trouble.  Work has positive spiritual benefits and laziness has negative spiritual effects.  These are facts of human nature that are affirmed in Scripture.

It can be argued that laziness is the original sin: it promises reward without effort or risk.  In the garden, the serpent deceived Eve by offering her godlike powers without any effort and without risk.  All that was required was disobedience of God.  The serpent’s promise was, of course, a lie.  As we’ve observed, all laziness is based on some kind of lie.

Being lazy leaves one unprepared for the future. While we are not to be prey to anxiety or obsess about the future, the Bible commands we put reasonable effort into preparedness.  Lazy people don’t care.

Laziness betrays a lack of love.  I don’t think the opposite of love is hate.  Hate at least implies SOME kind of passion, a level of involvement that – though evil – is still involved.  I think apathy is the opposite of love, because it is disinterest, disregard.  In any case, the lazy person has no love for themselves, say nothing of loving others.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, we see how the Apostle Paul dealt with lazy folk in the flock. Paul’s warning about “idleness” came IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST (v. 6).  This is not a case of name dropping; it is the kind of language Paul used when a command needed extra emphasis.  Reading this phrase, the reader was to sit up and take extra notice of what followed.

Paul dropped two rules in dealing with lazy people.  They are to be subjected to church discipline.  Discipline should be invoked because idle persons cause trouble.  Boredom, if nothing else, ensures this.  The Greek word for IDLE can be translated as “truant.”  Truancy is not meeting one’s obligations; being idle.

The first means of discipline is to invoke the “Golden Rule of Work;” IF A MAN WILL NOT WORK, HE WILL NOT EAT” (v. 10).  Eating ought to motivate even the laziest person to get up and do something.  This rule covers those who refuse to work.  Persons who cannot work are covered by grace, not by law.  This first level of response to laziness calls the offender to repent and to take their full place in the community by getting to work.

When hunger fails to move a person to repentance, the second means of discipline the church is disfellowshipping (aka “shunning” or “excommunicating” in other churches).  We might call the second rule the Rule for Unrepentant Idlers.  Disfellowshipping is the ultimate penalty the Church can levy; this is serious business.  However, order must be maintained and disorderly and lazy people must act to protect its fellowship and reputation and act decisively to put the offender out o/t church.

According to 1 Thessalonians 5:14, plenty of warning and opportunity to repent needs to be given before applying the second rule.  When there is no good response to the use of these two rules, “tough love” is needed and the chronic offender needs to be disfellowshipped.  Here’s how Paul expressed this rule of law regarding unrepentant idlers:

Verse six = KEEP AWAY FROM THE BROTHER WHO IS IDLE.

Verse fourteen = DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH HIM.

There are three purposes to the use of church discipline.  First and most importantly, discipline is used to win the offender back to the truth; to save their life.  Verse fourteen states, IN ORDER THAT HE MAY FEEL ASHAMED (14).  And, in verse fifteen, even when disfellowshipped, DON’T REGARD HIM AS AN ENEMY, BUT WARN HIM AS A BROTHER (15).

– Church discipline is a difficult thing to do, but when love and grace do not promote godliness, it’s time to embrace the temporary difficulty of discipline to attempt to achieve long-term reform.

The second reason is to protect the church.  Every local church must act to protect its unity, spirituality, and reputation.  When we allow people to flaunt them-selves as chronic, unrepentant sinners, then the church is better off without them.  The problem is we put up with it too long and let the congregation be poisoned by toxic personalities.  Church folk often say, “We can’t afford to lose any members,” when the truth is, there are some members we can’t afford to keep!

A third reason is to do justice and protect the more needy members of the congregation.  We need to protect one another from the chronic toxic people that exist even in churches.

Paul gave us insight on how to recognize a lazy person.  He wrote that lazy people disavow the truth.  In verse six he wrote they do not LIVE ACCORDING TO THE TEACHING YOU RECEIVED.  Someone whose lifestyle is based on deception is not going to tolerate the truth.

Lazy people act as BUSYBODIES.  In verse eleven we read THEY ARE NOT BUSY, THEY ARE BUSY-BODIES.  Idlers tend to fill their empty hours by being “drama queens;” consciously or subconsciously creating drama to relieve their boredom.  Naturally, this makes for disorder in the church.  Paul knew that it is in the nature of idlers to be disorderly (those words are alternate translations of the same Greek word).

  1. The vital virtue of GODLY AMBITION (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12).

What makes ambition “godly?”  Making effort toward finding and doing the will of God in all situations is godly ambition.  This effort flows from like-mindedness with Christ and His people.  The word ZEAL conveys the attitude behind the actions.  Love for God and others must be manifest in a passion to do right by God and others.  ZEAL is passion that submits to God’s commands to love and tirelessly works to achieve them.

Why is godly ambition a vital virtue?  One, it keeps our priorities in order.  Though it does not bring in a check, love is JOB #1.  Our vocation is JOB #2, our relationships are JOB #3 and avocations (hobbies) JOB #4.  One can go into more detail, but it’s the order that counts.

Two, godly ambition keeps us in balance: we are neither an “idler” nor a “workaholic.”  An IDLER has already been identified as a vice; see the previous section.  Identifying a workaholic can be more difficult because the line can be subtle; it tends to be hidden by achievement.  Logically, a workaholic is…

overcommitted.  Their schedule is out of control.

a perfectionist.  Their personality is out of control.

consumed with worldly standards of success.  Their inner life is out of control.

Three, godly ambition results in a righteous kind of self-sufficiency.  As we’ve seen in previous messages, our ideal state is to be

DEPENDENT on God,

INTERDEPENDENT with each other, but

INDEPENDENT economically.

Paul is our example here; though he deserved financial support from the churches, he chose to work to support himself.

Four, godly ambition keeps us from idleness.  Work is not a curse; it is NOT a condition imposed the Fall.  The Bible shows Adam working in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2) and explains that the curse on Adam in Genesis 3 was not having to work, but having to work hard and sometimes unfruitfully.  In short, in the Bible, WORK is not a “four letter word.”

Five, godly ambition provides means and opportunity to serve and witness to others.  One of the particularly illogical things about our culture is the separation of work and faith.  We’ve all seen and some have personally experienced the attempt to make the workplace and community secular; to make faith only a private matter.  That is not God’s way, not according to secular law, and we don’t have to be intimidated.  Both the law of God and the law of the land prohibit acts of prejudice against spirituality.  Further, we must see that work is another arena in which we must live out our Christian faith, demonstrating in word and deed that Jesus lives in us.

Six, godly ambition encourages spiritual maturity.  Play and work are both arenas in which we can learn spiritual lessons and proclaim spiritual truths.  We need both anyway, so it makes sense to put them both to best use; serving God.  Work develops good habits and good habits are part of a maturity.

We’ve hailed godly ambition as the best form of ambition, which leaves an additional question: How do I enact godly ambition?  The answer is expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, where Paul expressed it under the words MAKE IT YOUR AMBITION.  This word translated as AMBITION also means to “to study,” or “to strive eagerly.”

Godly ambition is to live a life that pleases God and directs the attention of others to Him. Through the Spirit, Paul supplied five qualities of godly ambition.

Be ambitious to live a QUIET life (v. 11).  Each of us ought to live in a “drama-free” zone, a sphere of influence that begins in our soul and becomes available to others as we relate to them.  Ironically, a quiet life is not achieved by being lazy about work and relationships.  It is about promoting peace and having ambitions more noble than self-centeredness.

Be ambitious to live a self-contained life.  When Paul wrote MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS in verse eleven, he executed a word play, contrasting BUSINESS with BUSYBODIES who make everything their business.  Here are three simple rules that will help you MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.  These rules are not original with me; they are reclaiming consideration for others that our culture used to possess but have disappeared from civic discourse. The MYOB kind of lifestyle respects others and doesn’t inflict every last thought on them.

One, don’t give advice until you are asked or you have asked permission.  Giving unsolicited advice is detrimental to relationships as it puts the other person on the defensive.

Two, keep your opinions (especially complaints) to yourself.  Until you are asked or get permission, assume nobody wants to hear it.

Three, own what you say.  I once received a fairly toxic anonymous complaint.  I gave it the attention it deserved; I tore it up and threw it in the trash.  If you can’t put your name to it, don’t put it in public.  There’s far too much of that kind of gutless nonsense and bullying in social media; it’s especially inappropriate in church.

Be ambitious to live a self-sustained life.  In verse eleven we read, WORK WITH YOUR HANDS.  This does not mean that only physical labor is godly.  Instead, the distinction is between doing your own work and relying on others to do your work for you.

Having state that biblical observation, may I make a cultural one?  We are becoming a culture that condemns physical labor.  People in the media, for example, assume that working at a minimum wage job is for lower class people and that people like them who only use their hands to type are “real jobs.”  We are losing our respect for craftsmanship and doing work with pride.  Love for God and others demands that we do our best.  We need to stop “dumbing down” our standards for good workmanship and recapture the work ethic that helped America achieve greatness.

Four, be ambitious to live a life of witness and service.  We see why this is important in verse twelve: SO THAT YOUR DAILY LIFE MAY WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS.  Idlers, busybodies, drama queens and other toxic personalities are not respectable persons.  When such a person claims to follow Jesus, their lives prove their claims to be a lie and all Christianity suffers a loss of reputation by association.

We win respect by being respectful.  As the late Billy Graham said, “You may be the only Bible some people will read.”  Make sure you are a pleasant and accurate read.

It’s a fact that we will be held responsible for every idle word (Jesus said so in Matthew 12:36).  Stop and think; do you really want to be responsible for some of the things you say?  Does anyone want to miss heaven?

Five, be ambitious to live an independent life.  One purpose of work is to NOT DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY (v. 12).  This is not the infamous “Marlboro Man” shutting himself off from others.  It is someone who works up to the capacity that they can work so they are contributing something positive to the community.

People who can work but refuse to work come under law and need to be treated as lawbreakers.  People who can’t work come under grace and need to be supported.  You can easily tell which kind of person Paul has been writing about in these passages.  Financial independence is a godly goal but must not be turned into an idol.  It is a means to an end (spiritual maturity), not an end in itself, for that is idolatry.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

sloth

“Netflix,” an mail order and online video streaming service. Netflix facilitates “binge watching,” an activity which may be the epitome of laziness. This involves watching episode after episode of a series, one right after another, a kind of “couch potato” marathon.

The cartoon picture depicts someone doing some binge watching on Netflix.  Time for confession: I have watched three episodes in a row once or twice.  I am a lightweight when it comes to binge watching.  A fair amount of mental stamina is required, even though there’s little more physical exertion than going to the kitchen for a snack.

Netflix was started way back in 1997 when its main business was renting videos by mail.  Sometime between then and now, the online streaming part of the business took over and I’d guess most people utilize Netflix through their computer or on their phone as an app.  As of April this year, Netflix had 125 million total subscribers worldwide, in 190 countries.  It has become a behemoth in the entertainment world, producing a LOT of its own content.

Since TV took off in the 50s, Americans have wasted a huge portion of their lives staring at the “one-eyed monster.”  Whether you binge watch or not, TV can be an addiction that demands nothing more than vast amounts of time and delivers nothing more than distraction and soul-sapping worldly culture.

In Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus taught, “THE EYE IS THE LIGHT OF THE BODY.  IF YOUR EYES ARE GOOD, YOUR WHOLE BODY WILL BE FULL OF LIGHT.  BUT IF YOUR EYES ARE BAD, YOUR WHOLE BODY WILL BE FULL OF DARKNESS.  IF THEN THE LIGHT WITHIN YOU IS DARKNESS, HOW GREAT IS THAT DARKNESS!”  What a warning these verses supply!

It would not be right to say that TV and/or Netflix are the authors of laziness.  That sin has been with us since our first parents, Adam and Eve.  However, in our modern time, it’s safe to say that we feed too much of our lives to the one-eyed monster, exchanging precious time and energy for worldly distractions.  What we lose in the process can be so much more important than just life.  What we give up is part of our soul.  We stare at the one-eyed monster and allow its light to cast darkness in our souls.  I fear we give up a little of our spirit in the bargain.

This is a struggle.  I am convinced that if we eliminated staring at a screen just to be entertained, we would automatically improve our inner life.  But it is a hard thing to give up, even experimentally, to see the improvement we would receive from quitting TV and internet cold turkey.

Two things.  One, think of the struggle in terms of the vice of laziness versus the virtue of godly ambition.  There is a moral high ground here worthy of battling to possess.  Two, start small.  Declare a Sabbath from screens.  I’d suggest sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday.  Give that part of your life to God and your loved ones and see what He will do for you physically, spiritually, and in every other sense.

Seven Modern Maladies and Their Solutions (1 of 7)

Those of you over 50 years old…

 

professor

need no introduction to this guy.  Chances are you can recount the episode from which this picture was taken.

For the rest of you, this is a picture of “the Professor” character from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island,” which premiered on CBS on September 26, 1964.  Actor Russell Johnson portrayed Professor Roy Hinkley all three seasons the show aired and in subsequent sequels.  He originally did not want the part (in what may have been a prideful moment, he was hoping for a show of his own) and admitted to having difficulty memorizing the lines with a lot of scientific words in them.

Several years ago I received an email that identified the characters on Gilligan’s Island with the seven deadly sins, just for fun.  The Professor was chosen to represent the sin of PRIDE because he was a “know-it-all.”

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

  1. The vicious vice of pride. (1 Cor. 8:1-3)

How can I identify a sinful degree of pride in myself?  It is a matter of trust: do I trust God or self?  Pride is putting trust in myself or any other worldly thing.         It is a matter of love: do I love God first?  Love of self is appropriate if we love God and others first.  It is a matter of grace: do I try to earn favor?  This can be subtle, but I believe that I can be worthy to enter heaven by being a good person, that is a form of pride.

Why is pride deadly?  It is deadly because it can blind us to our need for God.  If we don’t acknowledge our personal problem with sin and our need for Jesus Christ as Savior, we are dead in our sins and unsaved.  Self-reliance can be a good thing except in spirituality.  In spiritual matters we must rely on God.

The context of this verse is a “hot button” issue in the early church; whether or not it was appropriate to eat the meat of animals that had been slain as a sacrifice to an idol.  Paul’s teaching on this issue reveals how pride can replace true spirituality.  In his answer, Paul was inspired to make three points.

First, WE ALL HAVE KNOWLEDGE.  That was Paul’s way of saying, “Everyone in the church has an opinion on this subject.”   The question was, whose opinion was right?

Paul’s answer might be summarized as, “The person who relies on God’s wisdom than human knowledge.”  The spiritually mature view is to not be legalistic because legalism is a religious form of pride.  It puts human knowledge above spiritual revelation, and law above grace.

Second, love is better than knowledge.  Paul wrote that KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP – that is – it creates a pride.  “Know-it-all” people and legalists have a toxic effect on relationships.  LOVE is better because it BUILDS UP other people.  People who have the love of the Lord have a positive effect on relationships.

KNOWLEDGE asks questions like…

What are my rights?

There are no exceptions – no need to pay attention to context – so, what does the law say?

How can I be vigilant to correct wrong-doing in others?

How do I need to exert my will?

LOVE asks questions like…

What is my responsibility?

What has God revealed to me?

What can I do to show God’s grace and promote spiritual maturity?

How can I help others to do God’s will?

Third, humility is best defined as accurate self-knowledge.  This may sound shocking: self-reliance is the greatest enemy of faith because it encourages inaccurate self-knowledge.

People who are intellectually self-reliant are proud of their big brains.  They tend to reject faith, tradition and Scripture because they’ve “figured it all out” and “know better.”

People who are materially self-reliant seek security from money in the bank or are materialistic in more subtle ways.

People who are physically self-reliant tend to emphasize experience and value excitement.  They refute absolute truth and morality as it might limit on their freedom.

People who are spiritually self-reliant have made up their own faith; they see no problem with placing their hope in something that has no more authority than wishful thinking.

Humility is needed and none of these self-reliant people are humble because they fundamentally misperceive themselves.   Accurate self-knowledge comes only in relationship with God.  For example, every day we rely on a mirror to accurately view our appearance.  In a similar but more important way, we need someone to reflect our true self back to us.

Apart from God, all we have are other people to be mirrors for us.  There are at least two problems with depending on people to serve as our “character mirrors.”

No one else really knows us.  They can’t know read minds and they have not lived all our life with us.  God knows us better than we know ourselves and He has been with us all our lives.

The perspective of others is always heavily influenced by their own thoughts and experiences; they are incapable of being a truly accurate reflection.  God IS the truth.  He alone can truly reflect us.

So how do we access God’s perspective?  Primarily, we gain God’s perspective through prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit.   Secondarily, we can gain God’s perspective through other believers who are spiritually maturing and speak through the Holy Spirit.

  1. The vital virtue of humility. (Romans 12:3)

The context of this passage: in Romans 12, Paul reminded the church members that they were not separate bodies, but one.  The individual believers, like organs in a body, must all function and function together for the health of the whole.

How am I to practice humility?  Paul listed three specific requirements.

First, I must stand in God’s grace, not in my works.  In the phrase, FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME Paul identified the authority behind his words (God) and the source of his words (also God).

GRACE is God’s favor on undeserving people.  Pride is a sin because it attempts to do away with GRACE, to make it unnecessary by redefining sin out of existence or at least making it unimportant.

Humility is a virtue because it admits to our complete dependence on God.  You can’t have humility without GRACE.

Second, I must not think too highly of myself; no more than I OUGHT to.  Humility is NOT making yourself a doormat.  It has very little to do with passivity.  Humility is knowing who you really are, as God has given you perspective to know yourself accurately.

Accurate self-knowledge will never lead to pride.  It is never self-centered.  Accurate self-knowledge is awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and a desire to live within them.  Accurate self-knowledge does not deny ambition, but it tempers it.  It is based on truth and is the most realistic view of self.

I must think of myself as God does.  Because of GRACE, I see myself as a child of God.  Thereby I can…

Third, exercise SOBER JUDGMENT.  I can see good and evil in the world and react accordingly.  I understand life IN THE MEASURE OF FAITH.

Notice FAITH too is God’s gift.  FAITH is not something we make up to suit ourselves or to fit in with the crowd.  FAITH is received.  It must be sought and discovered.  It is passed on and received.

Humility is vital because pride can blind us to our need for God. Pride replaces God with self.  Pride leaves us dead in sin because if we don’t acknowledge our sin & our need for the Savior then we will never have faith.

Those of you under 50 years old…

selfie

know what this woman is doing.

For the rest of you, this gal is taking a “selfie” and she’s using a “selfie stick” and her smart phone to do it.  She will post the self-portrait on a website called Instagram, where people typically draw attention to themselves.

A friend gave me a copy of this cartoon that identifies the seven deadly sins with websites, updating this list for modern times.   Instagram is a photo and video-sharing website and app that began way back in 2010 and is owned by Facebook.  As of September, 2017, Instagram had 800 million registered users and over 40 billion photos and videos have been uploaded to it.  Instagram is criticized both for its censorship and its lack of censorship, proving again you can’t make everyone happy.

My point is not that users of Instagram are raging egomaniacs.  Instead, I merely offer Instagram is a symbol of pride because it is a place where people show themselves to the world.  However, the self they’re showing is possibly more flattering than accurate.

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

Our message is simple: avoid the vice of pride while practicing the virtue of humility.  We prize independence and in politics and finances, that is a good thing.  But in every other respect, dependence on God and interdependence among believers is the ideal.  It is an ideal achieved by humility, not pride.

Unsaved and Showing It

Please read Titus 3:1-15 in your Bible.   This is the second of three messages on this chapter.

We are saved in order to do good works.

Being a father and being gifted with an exceptional sense of humor, I was naturally interested when I saw an internet article on funniest Dad Jokes.  Before we get to today’s message, I’d like to share a small part of this feast of funny.

Dad complained of tooth pain. When asked if he’d made an appointment to see the dentist, he replied, “Yes, at tooth-thirty!”

“You hear about the guy who invented Lifesavers? They say he made a mint.”

When the cashier at the grocery store asked if he would like the milk in a bag dad replied, “No, just leave it in the carton!”

While watching commercials, dad said aloud, “Why did the Clydesdale give the pony a glass of water?”  The family knew better than to answer, so dad continued, “Because he was a little horse!”

During a serious conversation of family history one dad said, “I used to have a job at a calendar factory but they fired me because I took a couple of days off.”

My kids can tell you I enjoy comparing dreams.  On a similar occasion one dad said, “I had a dream that I was a muffler last night. I woke up exhausted!”

Dad was trying to help Junior with his math homework and said, “You know, 5/4 of people admit that they’re bad with fractions.”

And finally, dads like to joke by conjuring up their own fake news.  For example, “Did you hear the news? FedEx and UPS are merging. They’re going to go by the name Fed-Up from now on.’”

I admit there were a few groaners there.  My plan is to offer a light-hearted example of how we can make life difficult for one another.  I wanted to start this way because the subject matter of today’s message is deadly serious.

Someone said at a recent Bible study, “You don’t hear preachers talk about sin much anymore.”  Today sin is going to be our exclusive subject.  As we begin, all I ask is that each of use this biblical truth first as a mirror to our own souls, and only after truthful introspection, turn our gaze to the lives of others.

REVIEW:

  1. How we get saved.

NEW:

  1. How unsaved folk act.

We’ve been saved from these behaviors.  AT ONE TIME WE TOO WERE…Paul contrasted the believer’s “BC” (“Before Christ”) personality with his “WC” (“With Christ”) personality after being saved.  Sometimes we need to restore our perspective by taking a look backward to see how far we’ve come.

The vice of foolishness (3).  In the Bible, a fool is someone who displays their ungodliness in antisocial, unwise, and self-destructive behavior.  Rejecting God, such people lack the Holy Spirit who gives wisdom we need to discern good and evil and the motive to choose the good.  In Ephesians 4:18 we see the cause of foolishness: They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them to the hardening of their hearts.

Disobedience (3) is a vice.  Being under the influence of their sin nature, such a person disobeys God’s will for them.  Disobedience is sin.  Sin is open rebellion against God; the penalty is death.

While the other eight vices listed here might be concealed for a time, disobedience is impossible to hide very long.  People can be overtly – even defiantly – disobedient, proud of themselves or covertly disobedient, covering it up by making excuses for their misbehavior.

Being thoroughly DECEIVED (3) about the truth of God is a vice.  Only believers have the Holy Spirit and the wisdom he provides. Without the Spirit, a person cannot truly understand the word of God or do His will.  This is the IGNORANCE of which we read in Ephesians  4:18.

It is a vice to be ENSLAVED BY ALL KINDS OF PASSIONS AND PLEASURES (3).  Without the Spirit to reform their thoughts and affections, a person is bound to be attracted to things that stimulate them, but are bad for them.  For example, worldly things are never satisfying; they merely increase our appetite for something new.  (See Romans 1.)  This is ironic, because we naturally think being able to do whatever you want is freedom.  The truth is, it is slavery to one’s own PASSIONS and PLEASURES and to those who sell them.  It’s like an addict enslaved to his addiction.

MALICE (3) is one of the more obvious vices.  This word centers on the emotions that motivate people to do evil.  It reveals a soul that has no empathy or sympathy; no consideration of the effect of their actions on others.

ENVY (3) can also be translated as “jealousy.”  It is the vice of valuing things more highly than people.

WARPED (11) can also translated as “perverted.”  This vice is being exercised when a person is a twister of words and misuses their influence to bend others to their will to do evil. Thus, the word WARPED is a condemnation of their character and thinking.

The word SINFUL (11) sounds like a combination of all vices wrapped together.  It describes the orientation of a disobedient and disrespectful life wasted SINFUL decisions, defying God.

Not content to be evil alone, SINFUL people seek to influence others to join them.  Evil naturally seeks to replicate itself (“misery loves company), but is more intentional in the DIVISIVE PERSON mentioned in verse ten.

Such purveyors of vice are SELF-CONDEMNED (11).  Attitudes are manifest in actions and eventually even the most carefully-crafted façade will fall.  Evil actions betray an evil heart.  However, a DIVISIVE PERSON may be so convincing they’ve fooled themselves.  Sincerity is a virtue until a person is sincerely wrong.  This is another reason for the occasional rebuke; the person may not see the error and danger of their ways.

This passage condemns stubbornness and close-mindedness that is unwilling to even consider that they may be wrong or need to change.  The ninth vice is important to our understanding of the justice of God.  In His judgment, God condemns people who are already SELF-CONDEMNED.  Given freedom to choose, they are responsible for their own condemnation by the choices they made.

The passage describes two effects of evil behaviors.  There are surely others, but these are given to aid our discernment.

The first is BEING HATED AND HATING ONE ANOTHER (3).  The phrase BEING HATED is translated from the Greek word stugetoi, which sounds a lot like our English word “stooge,” but there’s no known connection between the two.  This word refers to a person so degraded by evil that others can’t bear to be around them.

The phrase HATING ONE ANOTHER indicates an aspect of sin nature; while people still enslaved to it may congregate and even cooperate, that only happens when their self-interests happen to coincide.  Even then, they distrust and dislike one another.  True relationships are impossible for such people.

The second is more damning: THESE ARE UNPROFITABLE AND USELESS (9).   Contrary to the benefits of virtues described in verse eight, these vices are worthless and harmful.  It helps to remember that righteous behavior and true belief is good for us, body and soul.  God calls us to Him because He is the ultimate good.  It’s also good to recognize that biblically, enlightened self-interest (i.e., a desire to earn heavenly rewards) is a legitimate motive if other reasons to do good temporarily fail to move us.

We are saved in order to do good works.

In summing up the list of vices, the Zondervan Bible Commentary wrote, “But man’s depravity proves no obstacle to God.”  (P. 1524.)  That is the good news this morning.  While it is painful and bewildering that people WANT to act this way, we can be encouraged to know that the worst evil people can do is no challenge at all to God’s will to make good arise and triumph.  We must trust God and join Him in bringing about the most loving outcome in every situation.

St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”

Whenever we read lists of sins in the Bible, it may be our natural inclination to think of “Old So-and-so” instead of self.  That is definitely not our first step.

Remember the example of Jesus’ disciples at the last supper.  When Jesus announced there was a betrayer among them, all of them asked, “Lord, is it I?”  Eleven of them knew they had no plans to betray Jesus and yet they asked the question.

That’s humility, folks.  It’s resisting our natural urge to resort to defensiveness and allowing God to shine the light of the word into the parts of our lives that we prefer to keep shrouded in darkness.

Let us ask, “Is it I, Lord?”

PREVIEW:

  1. How saved folk act.

You’ve Got to Try a Little Kindness

(Please read  Ephesians 4:29-5:2 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Imitating God requires getting rid of vice, replacing it with virtue.

“Try a Little Kindness” is a song written by Curt Sapaugh and Bobby Austin, first recorded by American country music singer Glen Campbell. It was the title track on Campbell’s 16th album, released in 1970.  The song was hit on three different music charts: it peaked at number two for one week on the country charts.  “Try a Little Kindness” went to number one for one week on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart as well as peaking at number twenty-three on the Billboard Hot 100.

Try A Little Kindness                    By Glen Campbell

If you see your brother standing by the road With a heavy load from the seeds he’s sowed And if you see your sister falling by the way Just stop and say, you’re going the wrong way

You got to try a little kindness Yes show a little kindness Just shine your light for everyone to see And if you try a little kindness Then you’ll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Don’t walk around the down and out Lend a helping hand instead of doubt And the kindness that you show every day Will help someone along their way

You got to try a little kindness Yes show a little kindness Just shine your light for everyone to see And if you try a little kindness Then you’ll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

– – – –

You got to try a little kindness Yes show a little kindness Just shine your light for everyone to see And if you try a little kindness Then you’ll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Songwriters: BOBBY AUSTIN, CURT SAPAUGH

© EMI Music Publishing                 For non-commercial use only.            Data from: LyricFind

Kindness is our Fruit of the Spirit for the month of May.  It is a very difficult subject on which to find a Bible text as it is a virtue that is never discussed on its own.  In the New Testament especially, kindness is always listed with other virtues.

That fact got me to thinking.  It never appears alone.  Perhaps one reason that explains this is that you can’t really demonstrate kindness alone.  It is a virtue that requires at least one other person in order to operate.  Yes, you can be kind to yourself – and you should – but it doesn’t carry quite the same weight, does it?  Kindness is a relational virtue.

Here’s your homework assignment this week: forget about “random acts of kindness.”  Do “intentional acts of kindness!”  Do at least one act of kindness for every day this week.  Do one good deed for a family member, neighbor, stranger, old person, child, church member, and at work or where you shop.  Be sensitive to their situation, aim to meet a need, and do it in the name of Jesus!

  1. Imitating God is our chief goal in life (5:1-2).

We must imitate God because we are His children.  We imitate God in holiness and in living a life of LOVE.  Holiness and love is the core of our life together.  In 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; and 1 Peter 2:21, Paul wrote about following his example as he followed the example of Jesus Christ.  We don’t follow a program, we imitate a person.

Imitating Christ requires we make sacrifices as He did.  Jesus GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR US.  Here’s the thing: nobody took Jesus’ life.  He could have been saved, but He gave His life for us.  He is our example in extreme sacrifice.  This is the same language Paul uses later in chapter five (v. 25) when he urged, HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH AND GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER.

In 5:1-2, Jesus’ death on the cross is described as A FRAGRANT OFFERING AND SACRIFICE.  A FRAGRANT OFFERING is used frequently in the Old Testament to describe burnt offerings that were sacrificed on the altar as an act of obedience to God.  The rising smoke was seen as rising to heaven, a symbol of the sacrifice’s being acceptable and pleasing to God.  The word SACRIFICE speaks to the effect of Jesus’ death; it provided for our salvation.  We are forgiven because He suffered the penalty for our sins.

Paul elaborates throughout Ephesians the two movements necessary to live a life pleasing to God: to step away from sin and to step toward God.  We’ll briefly examine the examples given in our text.  These are not exhaustive lists, but representative of vices and virtues that are particularly expressed in relationships.

  1. Step one: get rid of vice (4:29-31).

UNWHOLESOME TALK in v. 29 could also be translated as “filthy language.”  The word UNWHOLESOME was used in ancient Greek literature to refer to rotten wood, diseased lungs, spoiled fish, withered flowers, and overripe fruit.  Jesus used the word to refer to the kind of fruit a BAD TREE bears in Matthew 7:17-18; Luke 6:43 and for fish that should be thrown away in Matthew 13:48.  This is speech so rotten it should make a godly person gag.  (Not just obscenity, but all speech that hurts people.)

Especially in the Gospels, grieving the Holy Spirit (v. 30) is a serious offense.  This is because God is jealous for His people and disappointed when we choose evil.  The consistent practice of vice betrays the character of someone not really devoted to Christ.  All of these vices are sins; acts of disobedience that separate us from God.  After all He’s done for us, we should be motivated to do things that please God (virtues) and avoid the things that grieve Him (vices).  The idea of grieving the Holy Spirit also appears in Isaiah 63:9-10 (see also Psalm 78:40).

BITTERNESS (v. 31) is differentiated from RAGE and ANGER as a prolonged ungodly anger.  It is a refusal to forgive and forget.  It is a negativity that overtakes a person’s spirit over time, having mushroomed from a single event.

The RAGE mentioned in v. 31 is a more instantaneous ungodly anger.  A tantrum is an example of RAGE.  It is temporary anger, flashing into existence, then burning out.  RAGE causes us to say and do things that we would not even consider doing in more temperate moments.

ANGER (v. 31) is more of an umbrella term, taking in both BITTERNESS and RAGE.  It refers to a flaw in character, the tendency to negativity and to overreact to perceived slights.  Such a person is said to go around with a “chip on their shoulder.”

BRAWLING (v. 31) would certain encompass all physical acts of anger.  More broadly, it might be someone who is insensitive to the feelings of others and to the relational cost of their angry words and deeds.  It the kind of person who would – to borrow an old cigarette slogan – “rather fight than switch.”

SLANDER (v. 31) takes in every word employed to hurt someone else’s reputation or feeling (or both).  The truth or falsehood of one’s words are not the primary determinant of their virtue or vice; the motive of the speaker is.

Finally EVERY FORM OF MALICE is also condemned as vice in verse 31.  MALICE identifies every behavior that flows from a mean spirit.  Notice that EVERY FORM a malicious motive takes is condemned.  This phrase alone ought to undercut the majority of misbehaviors we see, even among churched folk.

  1. Step two: get more virtue (4:29, 30, 32 + 5:2).

The edifying talk set forth in v. 29 could be translated as “uplifting conversation.”  These are good words, the kind that help others see God in us.  Our speech gives away what’s really in our hearts.  Choosing words that prompt spiritual maturity obviously requires care, knowledge and sensitivity to our hearers.  Timely, well-spoken words that flow from our knowledge of Scripture and the Holy Spirit are what we need for building each other up.

The phrase SEALED FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION (30) references a way ownership was indicated in the ancient world; by the placing of a wax seal indented with the mark of the owner, usually a signet ring.  The phrase FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION means that God will keep His people safe from the devil until the day that He redeems them, delivering them to their eternal home in heaven.

Notice that even though we are guilty of sin, we are not threatened with loss of salvation or loss of the Holy Spirit.  Because of His grace, our place is secure.  We should behave as grateful folk.

Kindness (v. 32) is our virtue of note.  Its meaning is so obvious it needs little definition from us.  Kindness is positivity, acceptance, optimism.  These behaviors are interpersonal and are the opposite of politics as usual!  Read Colossians 3:12-13 and you will see that Paul has virtually duplicated the teaching in both these passages.

Compassion (v. 32) is to tenderhearted, sensitive to others.  It literally means “healthy bowels,” but became figurative of deeply-held feelings.  To care enough about the feelings of others to be aware of them and considerate of them is a vital way to place emphasis on the other person.

FORGIVING…AS CHRIST FORGAVE YOU (32) is supposed to be standard behavior in the Church.  We have been forgiven by our Father and we owe forgiveness to one another; to His other children especially.  We are to model our forgiving nature after God’s.  In Jesus’ model prayer, we ask God to forgive us to the degree and in the same way we’ve forgiven others.

LOVE (5:2) is, of course, essential.  This is one of 15 references to LOVE in this letter.  It is one of the central virtues that makes all the others possible and is the fullest expression of God.  Love and holiness are the virtues that motivate us to follow God and join Him in doing good to one another.

“It was a bitterly cold evening in Northern Virginia many years ago. The old man’s beard was glazed by winter’s frost as he waited for a ride across the river. He heard a brigade of men on horses coming around the bend. He let the first one pass him without any effort to get his attention.             “Then another passed by, and another. Finally, the last rider neared and the old man caught the rider’s eye and said, ‘Sir, would you mind giving an old man a ride to the other side?’ The rider said, ‘Sure, thing. Hop aboard.’ Seeing the old man unable to lift his half frozen body onto the horse, the horseman dismounted and helped the old man onto the horse.             “The horseman not only took the old man across the river but to his destination which was just a few miles away. As they neared the man’s home the horseman was curious and he asked, ‘Sir, I noticed that you let several other riders pass by without making any effort to get a ride. Then I came up and you immediately asked me for a ride. I’m curious why on such a bitterly cold night that you would wait and ask the last rider. What if I had refused and left you there?’             “The old man replied, ‘I’ve been around these parts for some time. I reckon I know people pretty good. I looked into the eyes of the other riders and immediately saw there was no concern for my situation. It would have been useless even to ask them for a ride. But when I looked into your eyes, kindness and compassion were there. I knew that your gentle spirit would welcome the opportunity to help me in my time of need.’

“Those heart-warming comments touched the horseman. ‘I’m most grateful for what you have said,’ he told the old man. ‘May I never get too busy in my own affairs that I fail to respond to the needs of others with kindness and compassion.’ With that, Thomas Jefferson turned his horse around and made his way back to the White House.” (From a sermon by Jerry Cosper, Loving One Another, 5/23/2012. Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-compassion-81983.asp on 5/21/16.)

In his commentary on this passage in Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold summarized an important aspect of kindness in general and this passage in particular: the words we use.  The most immediate and frequent way we can show kindness to each other is by the words we choose.

Arnold wrote, “Paul places an overt emphasis on speech ethics in this passage.  This is consistent with his emphasis on living in unity with which he began the chapter: ‘making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (4:3).  Consequently, he urges believers to dispense with such harmful practices as lying, inappropriate anger, filthy talk, yelling, and saying anything at all that could be hurtful to another person.”

(Arnold, Clinton E., Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. 10, p. 314.)