What IS Real

Please read 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and 18-20 in your favorite Bible.  Me, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on September 20 of this year; just over a month ago.  In its wake, Maria left the island of 3.4 million people without clean water and electricity.

Nine days after the hurricane, a storm of another sort arose on Twitter.  President Donald Trump responded to criticism for the federal response, twice faulting San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

I will not weigh in on the tweet shots fired across the ocean between these leaders.  Frankly, that would dignify an exchange that should never have taken place.  But there are two things to be learned.

First, we are reminded that even people who share the same goals can disagree.  The important thing is that the right to disagree does not endow anyone with the right to be disagreeable.  Let’s be honest: whether we are communicating in person or by any other means, respect and honesty are essential, not negotiable.  This is especially true in the church, which is supposedly populated by people who are committed to a higher standard of love and relationships.

Second – without taking sides – I like what Mayor Cruz wrote: “I have only one goal and it is saving lives, and I will do and I will say whatever needs to be said or done to be able to do that.”

Here’s what I like about that quote: she called for a restoration of perspective.  Part of what we must do to keep the number one thing number one is to push aside pettiness and personalities to pull together toward God’s perfect will.

Paul wrote this letter to a divided church.  They were feuding about several things, some of which were very petty and one of which was a dispute over personalities.  The people were dividing into camps over who their favorite preacher was – Paul or Apollos.  It concerned Paul enough that this was the first issue he tackled in this letter.  We’re going to take four Sundays to carefully study this passage and learn what God reveals to us about real church life, how we are to conduct real relationships.

  1. Realistic Identity = Who are we

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

Worldliness is a sign of immaturity (1-4).  Paul referred to the recipients of this letter as INFANTS IN CHRIST.  They survived (but did not thrive) by “feeding” on spiritual MILK.  They were not ready for SOLID FOOD.

MILK is a metaphor of basic beliefs about salvation.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” When you are feeding an INFANT, MILK is the logical choice of foods; it is the introductory food.

SOLID FOOD is a metaphor of deeper biblical truths.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do now that I am saved?”  If you are feeding someone more mature than an INFANT, you begin to switch out MILK with SOLID FOOD.

To put it another way, Paul wrote, “You weren’t ready before and you haven’t matured enough since then.”  The problem is not the cuisine per se, but the fact that the choice of cuisine was dictated by their immaturity.  This is the situation Paul was talking about when he wrote to his associate, Timothy; For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

This letter is addressed to a church, but we see the same predilection toward subtle selfishness in our culture: look at the “experts” in media, the popular voices.  They advocate self-satisfaction, self-centeredness, and self-help.  But this is also manifest in the Church when people prefer sermons and Bible studies they can safely ignore, servings of short and soft and non-challenging pap.

Paul offered three signs of immaturity as examples.  This particular set often results in divisions in the church.

– JEALOUSY is competitiveness where cooperation ought to exist.

– QUARRELING is taking a simple difference of opinion to a more emotional level.  A quarrel can only happen between people who insist on “winning,” though there are no winners.

– ACTING LIKE MERE HUMANS, too willing to split into parties and/or to idolize leaders.  (Paul and Apollos served the Corinthian church together (18:1-28).  They did not encourage this party spirit in the church.  Some church folk pushed that agenda and chose up sides.

Even sincere and maturing Christians still struggle with their human nature.  The Corinthian church folk who politicized their pastors were not operating in the Holy Spirit.  Instead, they were guided by sinful and self-centered desires.  They were “Functional Atheists;” believers in word not in deed.

What the NIV translates as WORLDLY is literally “fleshly.”  It is sin, the opposite of a life that is heavenly and spiritual.  Real life is lived with God in focus, following His way.

Paul called these people his BROTHERS AND SISTERS, so his aim is not cutting them out of the church, but ordering them to grow up and not just grow old.  He wanted to talk to them about deeper matters of faith, but they were frozen at a level of immaturity; they weren’t growing.  Getting frozen at a level of immaturity is a common problem because we get lazy or resist change or prefer our secret sins.  Refusing to grow betrays that our human nature is in charge, not the Holy Spirit.

An aspect of worldliness is being wise in your own eyes, not in God’s (18-20.)  DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES is a key insight into sinful nature: it is an act of self-deception before it is deceiving others.  “Wise in your own eyes” is a biblical phrase that condemns the sin of pride; in this case, pride in your big brain.

– Proverbs 26:12 = Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.

– Isaiah 5:21 = Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE refers to the humanistic cultural norms of our current time and place.  The paradox is that all of us have to become FOOLS in the eyes of the world in order to become WISE in God’s eyes.

Paul quoted a couple Scriptures to prove that paradox.  God knows our hearts better than we do, so even self-deception won’t fool Him at all.

– Job 5:13 (v. 19) shows that God is not fooled; He recognizes which people who claim to be wise are merely being crafty.

– Psalm 94:11 (v. 20) warns that the plots of worldly wise people end in futility.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

The immediate application is delivered in v. 21: SO THEN, NO MORE BOASTING ABOUT HUMAN LEADERS!  Paul’s pastoral concern was for the end of all divisions in that church, starting with the division over which pastor was “true leader” of the church.

Nobody comes to church spoiling for a fight.  Mostly, we come to avoid fights.  We come to get away from the world and its deep divisions, wars and violence.  It is our sincere hope that church will be the kind of place the Bible describes, a refuge from the strife caused by ungodliness.

And that is what it is until someone brings worldly (read “ungodly”) attitudes inside.  I don’t believe we are hopeless in the face of such people.  God wants unity and He wants all of us to safeguard the unity the Holy Spirit creates in our midst.

If we won’t sacrifice self on the altar, if we won’t swallow our pride and more than a few of our words to keep the peace in order to enjoy that peace, we must do it for the rest of the world.  The world outside these walls hungers for a light, an example to follow, a guide to lead them out of the sorrows and isolation that sin creates.

If we won’t do it for ourselves or the world, let’s do it for Jesus.  He surrendered His life on the cross to make the idea church a possibility.  Why should we hesitate to do what He asks of us?

Here’s how it works.  We stick up for each other and we stick together.  We make peace a priority over rights and will and all forms of self-interest.  Then watch life become more real than ever.

Coming up – parts two to four of this series of messages:

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

2. Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

a. We begin with a good foundation (10-15).

b. We can be faithful builders (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

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Working on Your People Skills

  (Please read Colossians 4:2-6.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMENT:

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

Paul uses 3 words to describe a lively prayer ministry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spotlighted one of Paul’s needs: freedom.

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

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

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

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

Notice it says BE WISE – what’s that?

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

– Be SENSITIVE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* “We are doing our part.”

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

* “He won’t answer the phone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s in Your Wallet?”

(Please read Jeremiah 9:23-26.)

Samuel L. Jackson want’s to know, “What’s in Your Wallet?”  You can tell a lot about a person by what’s in their wallet, but what’s in their hearts is what really counts.  What’s needed in our hearts is the humility to forsake self-sufficiency and instead embrace dependence on God.

MESSAGE: Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

CONTEXT: The previous 21 verses of the chapter have been spent in pronouncing woe upon Jerusalem, similar to what we heard Jesus doing a couple weeks ago.  So this set of four verses sounds a little out of place, but t point is that in desperate days we’ve an even greater need to rely on God.

COMMENT:

  1. Do not rely on any worldly thing (23, 25-26).

Why we should not rely on worldly things.

– They will not ward off trouble or tragedy.

– Trusting in worldly things is a subtle idolatry.

– It pleases God if we rely on Him & trust Him.

– The problem with all forms of worldly self-sufficiency is that they can blind us to our need for God.  In that blindness, we fail to seek God & are thereby not saved.

– The world honors its scholars, athletes, warriors, and wealthy, but their assets will not save them.

Jeremiah gives four examples of worldly things that have been proven untrustworthy.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (v. 23).  Man’s wisdom is not God’s wisdom – not even close (see Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:67; 9:10).  We have a tendency to self-deception and can be deceived by others – only God is always true.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (v. 23).  Neither physical might nor any other form of worldly power will have the spiritual and moral strength that God’s righteousness endows. Worldly STRENGTH will fail us.

Do not rely on your RICHES (v. 23).  Jesus told us that only treasure kept in heaven is safe from thievery and decay – all kinds of loss (see Matthew 6:19-21).       Jesus pointed out how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 19:23-24).

Do not rely on your religious credentials (vs. 25-26).  In the Old Testament, circumcision was the ultimate religion credential.  It was the physical sign that distinguished men of God from everyone else.

But Jeremiah dismissed any notion of privilege based on circumcision: “I WILL PUNISH THOSE WHO ARE CIRCUMCISED ONLY IN THE FLESH.”  While it is stated in the Old Testament, the people often missed the fact that keeping the Law was not about the letter of the Law as much as it was changing the heart.  So being circumcised only in THE FLESH was a way of describing the kind of hypocrisy that can occur with people who observe only the letter of the Law.  The Apostle Paul dealt with this same issue in Romans 2:25-29 and also observed that true circumcision is a matter of the heart, done by the Holy Spirit. This is a recurring them in Jeremiah:

– 4:4 calls Judah to circumcise their hearts.

– 6:10 condemns “uncircumcised ears” that fail to listen to the LORD’s commands.

The only thing all the nations listed in v. 25 have in common is that they are going to be punished by the LORD.  (It’s easy to dismiss others as irreligious, but to truly seek God is not.)  So, in spite of the spiritual advantages God gave them, in spite of all the grace He had shown them, His people continued to trust in their worldly wisdom, strength, and riches instead of God.  Ironically, this is when God’s gifts become perverted into idols.  What He gives to empower godliness can sometimes become substitutes for Him.  When we worship the gifts and not the Giver, we sin.

As an alternative to worldly priorities, God wants us to value the following – this order:

– Dependence on God.

– Interdependence on each other.

– Independence and self-support.

In our culture we often have these backwards, don’t we?

  1. Rely on the Lord alone (24).

The LORD is the only one worth boasting about.  Our highest good is relationship with God.  Understanding Him is an intellectual experience.  Knowing Him is a spiritual, emotional, and moral experience.  From this primary relationship flows true wisdom, power, wealth, and religious relevance.

The life of faith is a matter of knowing what delights Him and DOING IT.  This is one way to demonstrate a real faith-relationship with God.  Jeremiah offers three virtues that characterize a life in which God delights:

– KINDNESS.  This Hebrew word is hard to translate into English.  It refers to an inner attitude good will to people whether it’s expected or deserved.  “Steadfast love” is an alternative translation.  It is the kind of love God has shown to us, the example He has set and we are to follow.  This is GRACE – the single most important way to demonstrate love.

– JUSTICE.  This is a far-reaching term; it describes a society where good people are protected from evil people so that they are free to continue to do good.  One of the sins condemned by the prophets is the oppression of the poor.  God rejects all forms of injustice as a violation of His will.  Those who are blessed in worldly things need to be careful to use their wealth to lift up those not as endowed in worldly things.  For examples, see how Hosea 5:4; 6:3; 8:2 called the people to know God and His justice.  See Micah 6:8 and 7:18 to find activities that please God.

– RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Similar to justice, this term describes a culture in which doing the right thing is the predominant, normal, expected behavior.  As with all God’s standards, the bar of behavior is set at its highest.  “Righteousness” involves doing the right thing at the right time in the right way.  God sets His standards impossibly high to force us to rely on Him.

– We rely on His forgiveness when we fail.

– We rely on His Spirit to succeed.

– All of our life experiences are supposed to direct our attention to Him and deepen our relationship with Him.

Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (23).

THE PROBLEM: People who are intellectually self-sufficient insist on forms of evidence they can verify with their five senses.  Whether well-educated or not, they take God’s gift of intelligence and turn it into an idol.  They proudly believe they’ve got it all figured out.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for intellectual self-sufficiency begins with 1CT 3:18-20 = DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES.  IF ANY ONE OF YOU THINKS HE IS WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE, HE SHOULD BECOME A “FOOL” SO THAT HE MAY BECOME WISE.  FOR THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD IS FOOLISHNESS IN GOD’S SIGHT.  AS IT IS WRITTEN: “HE CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS” AND AGAIN, “THE LORD KNOWS THAT THE THOUGHTS OF THE WISE ARE FUTILE.”

The remedy continues by a reliance on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This individual grows in faith by trusting the subjective, intuitive guidance of the Spirit and experiences divine wisdom as they respond immediately.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (23).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency represents all the resources that an individual has WITHIN themselves.  This power may take the form of their physical, political, economical, egotistical, or circumstantial power.  They exert their will over others based on the prideful notion they have the right to do so.  “Might makes right” leads to sin.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for strength self-sufficiency  starts with PSS 20:7-8 = SOME TRUST IN CHARIOTS AND SOME IN HORSES, BUT WE TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD OUR GOD.  THEY ARE BROUGHT TO THEIR KNEES AND FALL, BUT WE RISE UP AND STAND FIRM.

The remedy deepens as the individual pays more attention to the Giver than the gifts.  They need to do the hard work of being more responsive and less reliant on their own plans.  They need to purposely seek ways to worship God and serve people that are outside their usual powers.

Do not rely on your RICHES (23).

THE PROBLEM: Money is not the problem; it’s the LOVE OF MONEY.  RICHES represents all the resources we have OUTSIDE of self.  These are the things we own that we think we’ve earned or somehow deserve.  They can easily become a point of pride and an idol.  Money is one example.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for this kind of self-sufficiency starts with LKE 12:13-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool.  In this parable, Jesus tells of a man blessed with wealth whose sole concern is making more wealth.  “BUT GOD SAID TO HIM, ‘YOU FOOL!  THIS VERY NIGHT YOUR LIFE WILL BE DEMANDED FROM YOU.  THEN WHO WILL GET WHAT YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR YOURSELF?”

The remedy continues when we take a spiritual view of things; increasingly seeing the world as God does.  For example, “Savers” need to stop relying on money in the bank for their sense of security.  It’s better to trust in God than in the FDIC.  On the other hand, “Spenders” need to stop relying on material things to bring them joy.  Give less time to your toys and more time to your relationship with God and the people around you!

Do not rely on your religious credentials (25-26).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency is based on the notion that religious acts can earn salvation or authority.  You’ve heard people suppose they’re good enough to get into heaven.  You’ve heard people recite their good works in church and/or community.  Each are equally false.  True good works begin with a heart of love for god and people and have no such strings attached.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy starts with having the attitude shown by Isaiah when he encountered the glory of God in the temple.  He said, “WOE TO ME!  I AM RUINED!  FOR I AM A MAN OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND I LIVE AMONG A PEOPLE OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND MY EYES HAVE SEEN THE KING, THE LORD ALMIGHTY,” (ISH 6:6).  The Lord, in response, cleansed the prophet of his sins, preparing him for divine service.

The remedy deepens when our focus is on the Lord and not on ourselves and when our motive is love and heavenly riches, not worldly gain.  We practice the three virtues characterize a life in which God delights: KINDNESS, JUSTICE, and RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Solomon – a Man for the Ages?

Solomon: His Story

          Let’s start at the beginning. He was the second son of King David and Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 12:24).  The first son of their union died (see 2 Samuel 12:15-18). The name Solomon is derived from the word “shalom,” which means peace or welfare.  Solomon’s lesser-known name was Jedidiah.  Because Solomon was born to David’s favorite wife, he was likely David’s favorite son.  In any event, Solomon’s reign began before David’s death in 967 BC and lasted 40 years.

          Solomon is remembered for having lots of wives and concubines, but he was also the mastermind behind impressive building projects. He built God’s house first.  It took seven years to complete because David had set aside the materials beforehand (see 1 Kings 6-7). He built his own house second.  It took thirteen years to complete (see 1 Kings 7-14).

          He is also famous for his unparalleled wealth. During Solomon’s reign Israel enjoyed an era of security and prosperity that it has not known before or since.  (See 1 Kings 10:14-29.) Solomon built wealth by several means.

  • By entering into trade agreements with neighboring kingdoms (see 1 Kings 9+10).
  • With the help of the Phoenecians, he built Israel’s first and only fleet of merchant marine ships.  (Otherwise, Israelites hated and feared the sea, using it as a symbol of evil.)
  • Also for the first time in Israel’s history, Solomon organized a “standing” or professional army and outfitted them with the latest military technology: chariots (see 1 Kings 10:26).
  • He controlled all the important trade routes in the region, including the “Way of the Sea” and the “King’s Highway.”  Solomon charged tariffs for the use of these routes (see 1 Kings 10:15).
  • He received “tribute” from conquered kingdoms (see 1 Kings 4:21).
  • Unfortunately, part of the burden fell directly on the shoulders of Solomon’s people in the form excessive taxation and forced labor – more on that later.

          History remembers Solomon’s peerless wisdom. 1 Kings 3:4-15 tells us how Solomon came by his extraordinary wisdom – God gave it to him at his request.  (God offered him anything – what would you ask for?) 1 Kings also details some of the ways that Solomon put his wisdom to use, including the writing of 3000 proverbs and 1005 praise songs!  (Of course, if you’re the king, they’re going to print everything you write!)

          The most familiar illustrations of Solomon’s wisdom are his decision regarding a child custody case disputed by two prostitutes (see 1 Kings 3:16-28).  And there is the impression he made on the Queen of Sheba (see 1 Kings 10:1-13 and Luke 11:31).

 

Solomon: His Sins

          Solomon was guilty of ruthless ambition. After taking power, Solomon solidified his grasp on the throne by murdering his step-brother Adonijah (see 1 Kings 2:13-15). Worse, some of these murders were actually suggested by King David (see 1 Kings 2:1-18).

          While this does not sound at all politically correct, a big problem was his foreign-born (pagan) wives. David was not the first man in history to blame his wife for his troubles – nor the last – but he certainly had more room to spread the blame than the average guy!  1 Kings 11:3 says plainly, HE HAD 700 WIVES OF ROYAL BIRTH AND 300 CONCUBINES, AND HIS WIVES LEAD HIM ASTRAY. At that time, marriage was a means of diplomacy.  Even though he had an army, Solomon’s foreign policy was largely accomplished by diplomatic means.  To be precise, the problem was not exactly that his wives foreign or that they brought their foreign gods with them.  The problem was that Solomon also indulged in their worship, even building shrines to their false gods (see 1 Kings 11:7-8).

          In spite of all he owned, Solomon was still guilty of extravagance and greed.  1 Kings 10:14-23 provides an interesting accounting of Solomon’s legendary wealth.  Solomon lived like a modern man who maxed out his credit cards and left the bill to be paid by others.

 

Solomon: His Legacy

          What his own people thought of Solomon can be discerned by reading the biblical account of what happened after his death.  Though Solomon saw little opposition, the people strongly desired relief after his death and when Rehoboam threatened to intensify his father’s policies, a civil war ensued and Israel was broken in half (see 1 Kings 11-12).

          Other Bible personalities expressed their thoughts about Solomon.  Nehemiah referred to Solomon as an example of the peril of marrying foreign women.  Nehemiah 13:26-27 reads, “WAS IT NOT BECAUSE OF MARRIAGES LIKE THESE THAT SOLOMON, KING OF ISRAEL SINNED? AMONG THE MANY NATIONS THERE WAS NO KING LIKE HIM.  HE WAS LOVED BY HIS GOD AND GOD MADE HIM KING OVER ALL ISRAEL, BUT EVEN HE WAS LED INTO SIN BY FOREIGN WOMEN.”

          Jesus used him as an illustration of points He was making in His teaching.  On the subject of anxieties about worldly things, Jesus compared Solomon’s finery to flowers; “AND WHY DO YOU WORRY ABOUT CLOTHES? SEE HOW THE LILIES OF THE FIELD GROW.  THEY DO NOT LABOR OR SPIN.  YET I TELL YOU THAT NOT EVEN SOLOMON IN ALL HIS SPLENDOR WAS DRESSED LIKE ONE OF THESE (Matthew 6:28-29; Luke 12:27).” On the subject of wisdom, Jesus compared Solomon to Himself; “THE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH WILL RISE AT THE JUDGMENT WITH THIS GENERATION AND CONDEMN IT; FOR SHE CAME FROM THE ENDS OF THE EARTH TO LISTEN TO SOLOMON’S WISDOM, AND NOW ONE GREATER THAN SOLOMON IS HERE (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31).”

          Some statistical information may help make the point: the name “David” appears 930 times in the Bible, but “Solomon” appears just 253 times. For all his mistakes, David never led Israel into idolatry.

          Clearly, Solomon became something of a Bible byword for idolatry and excessive worldliness.

          What Solomon thought about his own life is revealed in the book of Ecclesiastes, which tradition says he authored. “Vanity” is the most oft-repeated word.  Here’s Solomon’s self-portrait in words; I DENIED MYSELF NOTHING MY EYES DESIRED: I REFUSED MY HEART NO PLEASURE.  MY HEART TOOK DELIGHT IN ALL MY WORK, AND THIS WAS THE REWARD FOR ALL MY LABOR.  YET WHEN I SURVEYED ALL THAT MY HANDS HAD DONE AND WHAT I HAD TOILED TO ACHIEVE, EVERYTHING WAS MEANINGLESS, A CHASING AFTER THE WIND; NOTHING WAS GAINED UNDER THE SUN.

          What God thought about Solomon can be similarly gleaned from biblical witness; the LORD rebuked Solomon, predicting that his kingdom would be divided (see 1 Kings 11:9-13). In the middle of that passage (verse 6), we read: SOLOMON DID EVIL IN THE EYES OF THE LORD; HE DID NOT FOLLOW THE LORD COMPLETELY, AS DAVID HIS FATHER HAD DONE.

 

          As with nearly all of the people described in the Bible, Solomon’s life was not an example of perfection.  Indeed, in spite of literally having it all, the biblical record clearly showed that Solomon failed to be faithful to the Lord.  In spite of the divine wisdom and wealth he’d been given, he foolishly frittered away his days in self-absorption.  His name became a biblical byword for the perils of paganism.  In fact, I believe the main reason the book of Ecclesiastes is in the Bible is to give us an inside look at the mind that engineered such a catastrophic failure and how he viewed life.  It’s a warning to not do likewise.

          Solomon’s life is a warning to believers of both genders, but especially to men who are convinced that sex, wealth, and/or power are the means of happiness.  This is the very same lie of which our culture attempts to convince us.  Solomon had all these things to obscene abundance and his verdict on it all was “vanity.”  Let us heed his negative example and not allow our attention to be possessed by these vain, superficial things, but instead devote ourselves to the deeper things of God.