Most of you know that my family has been going through a tough time lately, but I know we’re not alone. Many people here today are going through difficult, confusing, painful times. It’s been heartening for us, as a church family, to spend time talking to one another about the struggles we’ve been having, and quite interesting that many people seem to be running towards the same place in scripture when they need comfort. A few people have told me how much Psalm 23 has been comforting them lately, and really, throughout their lives.
Please open up to Psalm 23 and let’s read it together:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
You can see why this is such a powerful and meaningful psalm. It’s because it takes the situation out of our hands and places it in God’s. It’s an admission that we’re not in control, we’re not strong, we’re not smart, we’re not wolves or bears or tigers – we’re sheep and we need to be taken care of.
When we read Psalm 23, we admit all that, and then give it over to God. God lays us down, God restores us, God leads us. God protects us, God comforts us, God conquers, God anoints and heals and serves us.
When do realize our need for the shepherd most though? In the green pastures by the still waters? No. That’s when we end up wandering off, thinking the world is easy.
It is in the Valley of Shadow of Death and the Presence of our Enemies that we really lean into God, when we clutch Him harder, when we realize that we are only sheep – and as our view of God grows, as our nearness to the shepherd grows, the darkness and the enemies no longer seem as big or as dangerous, because the Shepherd is there with us.
Difficult times cause us to think about where we find our comfort and hope, don’t they? I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort and hope lately. Where do I find comfort? What brings me hope? And the truths of my answers have been tested. I might say that I trust the Shepherd, that I believe in prayer, that His Word is my light and guide, that Jesus is my hope – but it’s not until I’m walking in the shadows, surrounded by enemies, that the truth of my heart is revealed.
Where we Turn
When the shadows fall, the enemies surround, the world turns against us, nothing works out, and everything goes out of whack – our relationships, our health, our work – it is natural for us to look for comfort. We want something that will make us feel better. We want something that will calm us down when we are frenzied and anxious, or energize us when we are down and depressed. We want something to repair our soul when it feels bruised and beaten, to take away the pain that we feel in our minds and bodies.
But, more often than not, it is not to our Shepherd that we turn first, is it? Instead, there are many other places we go for comfort. We turn to money, possessions, riches, luxury, financial security. We figure that if we have enough money or stuff, then we’ll feel better. If we get the nicer phone, nicer car, nicer tv, nicer food, nicer vacation, nicer tools, nicer house, that we will feel better. And that’s what ads sell us – buy this and feel better about yourself, your relationships, your future, your past, your present. We think that if we get enough piles of money then nothing can hurt us. Banks try to sell us that. Financial security equals comfort.
Or we turn to exercise and medicine. We work on our bodies, eat right, exercise, drink lots of water, take vitamins, go to the doctor to get pills to balance our hormones and body chemicals, thinking that if we can be super healthy and perfectly juiced, then we will no longer have fears or pain. We will be strong enough to fight off sickness and enemies, we will be beautiful and therefore popular, we will be able to run away from danger or save people we love, and most of all, we will live forever. Pursuing bodily health isn’t bad, but the motives behind it aren’t always good – sometimes it’s driven by fear and the desire for more comfort than it can provide.
Some people turn to stubbornness and control. Psalm 2:1-3 says,
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’”
They think that controlling all aspects of their life, and everyone else’s, will bring them comfort. All they need is the perfect plan, the perfect calendar, the perfect to do list, and for everyone to simply do everything they are told, and then everyone will be happy. If we write enough laws and rules everyone will be content. If we buckle down hard enough, dig in our heels hard enough, grit our teeth hard enough, then we can take control of our world and bend it to our wills, and then we will all find peace. It’s a lie we tell ourselves all the time.
Some turn to other people as their source of comfort. They believe that politicians, scientists, religious gurus, celebrities, their spouse, their kids, their friends, or their community group is going to save them. Those people are all they talk about, and their entire hope is in them and their plans. And when they inevitably fall, it’s utterly devastating – but instead of learning from their mistake, they simply find another flawed human being to put their hopes in. These people, no matter how bright they are, aren’t solid foundations, but are as Jude 12-13 says,
“These are hidden reefs… shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.”
Others turn to worldly pleasure, distractions, entertainment, food, pornography, drunkenness, and drugs. Life is hard, everything is out of control, our emotions are a mess, our thinking isn’t helping, and there is no way to fix any of it – so why bother? Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Our culture is built on this concept and it’s destroying the foundations of our society. We are literally entertaining and distracting ourselves to death. Pharmaceutical companies sell pills that have nothing to do with health, but simply treat bad feelings. Stores have more entertainment food than actual food. While teens die of fentanyl overdoses and the media declares an opioid crisis, the Canadian government legalizes marijuana so that more people can get high. Our culture is obsessed with non-marital, no-commitment, purely animalistic sex – even though sexually transmitted diseases are growing in record numbers. And they’ve created phone apps to assist their hook-up culture to be more efficient. And the government has made sure that there are no laws against abortion so that no one accidentally has a baby and a family as a consequence.
Our modern, Canadian, culture is built on the concept of “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” and it’s destroying our bodies and our souls.
Our Only Comfort
The first two questions of The Heidelberg Catechism address this very issue – the issue of comfort. They are a summary of the rest of the catechism and start with the most important question: “What is your only comfort in life and death?” Christian, what do you turn to when you face the valley of the shadow of death, when you surrounded by enemies? Christian, what do you hold as the source of your greatest hope, knowing everything else is going to let you down, your celebrities, your chemicals, your doctor, your exercise, your body, your friends, your riches, your security, is all going to fall apart – so what is the one comfort, the one thing that won’t fall apart in this world or the next? What comfort will give you an anchor through all the storms of this life and never leave you, even after you die? What thought, what truth, can you build the entire foundation of your life on that will never shift, shake or move?
“That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
Though this is not a quote from the Bible, each line is very biblical, and you can see some of the verses in the footnotes I provided on your handout. It breaks down into four great comforts.
I Am Not My Own
Perhaps the worst feeling we can have is loneliness. We can go through a lot of difficult things if we know that someone has our back. We can face injustice and fear, insurmountable odds, and terrible dangers, if we know someone is on our side. But when we feel alone, our strength fades quickly. A Christian’s first comfort is that we are not our own, but belong to someone – to Jesus.
1 Corinthians 6:19-10 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”
Titus 2:13-14 says, “…our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession…”
The word “redeemed” means “to be bought back”. We were slaves to sin, slaves to Satan, captured and enslaved by death, and Jesus loved us so much that He bought us from our slave owners at a great price. He traded Himself for us so that we could be His.
A Christians’ comfort comes from the knowledge that we are not our own, we are not alone, Jesus bought us because He wants us to be with Him. God is not against us, God is for us, because we belong to Him. So He does for us what we would do if we bought something precious. We would clean it up, protect it, cherish it, display it so others can see it, and use it as a way to show off.
That’s what Jesus does with us. He takes our spiritually dead body out of the muck of sin, restores us to life, cleans us up, gives us new clothes, new armour, and then helps us to become something that He uses to show His glory off. When people look at us they think, “Wow, that person is so different! They know Jesus and look at them! Jesus must really be someone special!”
Payment for Sin
Our second comfort comes in that our sins are perfectly and totally forgiven. Not some, not most, not just the past ones – all of our sins forever were placed on Jesus as He hung on the cross and took the wrath of God against them. 1 John 2:1-2 says,
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Propitiation means “the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift”. To do wrong, to break the law, means to incur judgement and wrath. The only thing that appeases the wrath of God our Judge against for the wrong we’ve done is punishment and death. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death”. Jesus offered Himself to pay that wage so we wouldn’t have to. He substituted Himself for us. He assumed our obligations and all the wrath God had against sin was poured out on Him instead of us. And therefore all our sins are dealt with. Martin Luther called it “The Great Exchange”.
Therefore, when we think that God is punishing us is wrong. To believe we need more punishment is to take away from what Jesus did on the cross. To try to punish others for their wrong is to say that Jesus didn’t suffer enough. To think that God is holding our sins against us is to say that God didn’t accept Jesus’ sacrifice. To try to impress God with good works or religion is to say that what Jesus did in His life and on the cross wasn’t good enough.
One of our greatest comforts, especially when Satan is telling us that God hates us, that He’ll never restore us, that He has had enough of us, is to remember that our sins are fully paid for by Jesus – all of them – and we have been set free. There is no longer anything separating us from God, and nothing we must do in order to make ourselves worthy of it, and anyone who says differently is a liar. All that must be done is to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf. He has done everything necessary for our salvation and there is nothing standing between you and God’s forgiveness except yourself, your pride, and your false notions.
Our third comfort comes in that we are protected, or preserved.
2 Thessalonians 3:3 says, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.”
And Romans 8:28, when talking about the trials of life says, “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Psalm 18 begins, “I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”
So, we are not our own, we were bought with a price by the blood of Jesus, and therefore He is the one who preserves and protects us. He is God and that means that everything that happens, whether we think it’s good or bad or otherwise, happens because He allows it to happen – and there is nothing that anyone can do that is beyond His control.
We read stories like Joseph being sold into slavery and put in prison, or Daniel being set up by his enemies and thrown into a lion’s den, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to bow to an idol and then thrown into a fiery furnace, all the difficulty and pain Paul faced on his missionary journeys, and of course all the sorrow and rejection Jesus faced – and we are reminded that even though things get very difficult, everything happened for a reason and brought fruit for God’s people to bring God more glory.
God has the power to preserve us from any danger that will come – the power to get us through any trial that we are currently facing – and the power to turn even the worst parts of our lives into victories for Him. There are so many stories of people who go through hard times or have been in really bad places, but realize after they turn to God and start to trust Him, that He used it all for so much good. There is great comfort knowing that everything that happens to us will be used by God to help us grow stronger, more faithful, to grow His Kingdom, and to bring Him glory. No valley, no matter how dark – no enemy, no matter how strong – will not be overcome, turned into light, and used by God if we trust Him with it.
And the fourth comfort we see in question one is our assurance.
2 Corinthians 1:20-22 says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him [that is Jesus]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
Since our salvation is not something we can buy or get by good deeds, it is therefore not something we can lose. Since Jesus establishes it, it is firmly established and unable to move. On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30) on the cross and is called the “Amen” in Rev 3:14. Here we see that our salvation is an “Amen” too, an “it is so”, a total completion. We are anointed, sealed, and guaranteed, not by our own actions or our own strength – but by the Spirit of God. There is no way we can lose our salvation, no way God will turn His back on us, no one that can ever take it from us, and nothing we can do to remove ourselves from His hand. I recommend you read Romans 8 for more about this.
This is where our eternal comfort lies – in that Jesus loves us, died for us, protects and preserves us, uses everything to help us, and will never, ever, ever leave us, even unto death.
Nothing we try, and no one else, can or will give us that kind of comfort. There is no amount of money that gives us that kind of hope, no chemical that gives that kind of joy, no human being that gives us that kind of promise, which is why Christians turn to Jesus. He is the only and best comfort in life and in death.
Guilt, Grace and Gratitude
And now look at question 2: “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” How do I get access to this type of assurance, this hope, this comfort? The answer is a summary of the rest of the catechism. Some have broken it up into 3 simple words that you need to know: Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. What must I know?
“First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.”
This is what we’re going to be talking about for the next year or so. First, we must understand our guilt. The Bible says that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) If we think we are going the right way, we’ll never ask for directions. If we think we’re healthy, we’ll never ask for a doctor. We will not ask for forgiveness unless we know we are guilty. We need to realize how deep our sin problem really is.
Once we confess ourselves a miserable sinner, we then need to know how to be delivered from those sins. The simple answer, as I’ve been saying, is to confess your sins to Jesus and to believe that He died for your sins and rose again to prove He has conquered them. There’s a lot to know about that – and we’ll cover it in the coming months – but that simple truth is where everything starts. Will you admit that you are a sinner and trust that Jesus did everything to pay for your sins so that the wrath of God against you could be appeased?
And third, once we have realized our guilt and accepted forgiveness, the natural thing to do is to give thanks. Such an awesome truth should change our lives. Every kindness we receive deserves gratitude, right? Someone does something nice, we feel like we want to say thank you and do something nice back. If we go to the doctor, we pay for his services. So, even though we’ll never be able to pay Jesus back, how much more should our lives be changed by the knowledge of our salvation. We were headed to an eternity in Hell, now we are invited to an eternity with God. Our response should be a godly life of thanksgiving that honours Him, right?
This is what we’ll be talking about over the next while – the problem of sin, the solution to the problem in Jesus, and how our lives should change as a result.
“‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
(1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
I want you to think back to the context of these verses, to those to whom they were originally written – the Christian church in Corinth. We sometimes think that the Bible is too old to be applicable to modern life, but we are so wrong! Recall the reputation of the city they were in and realize how similar it is to our current context.
Corinth was one of the bigger, more important cities of its day and was full to the brim with trade, politics, money, and religion. It was someone mixed modern inner-city life and the worst parts of the internet together. It was urban, materialistic, and overcrowded with every sort of person from every walk of life – intellectual elites, religious fanatics, celebrities, government workers, hard-core businessmen and poor, uneducated street people. It was the capital of the province, a port with hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world and one of the most influential commercial and manufacturing centers in the world. It was incredibly similar to Ottawa or downtown Toronto.
Everyone in town was committed to some form of religion and most were represented by the many places of worship around the city. They had temples like Ottawa has Tim Hortons. But the temples weren’t churches like you and I think of. They were like a mix of night clubs, museums, live concerts and brothels.
Sailors, tradesmen and people of all kinds would come to Corinth for business and then go to “worship” at one of these temples – the most famous of which was the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation. She was literally the goddess of erotica and to worship at her temple was to see pornography come to life. Thousands of girls were kept there as sacred sex workers who would parade themselves before crowds of men so they could choose among them, pay their way (or not), and have sex as an act of worship. One ancient writer (Herodotus) wrote that every female in the city had to take their turn in the temple, whether they wanted to or not. In the centre of town was the Temple of Apollo which glorified sex too. Not with women, but with men and boys.
Today, if you want to see something pornographic, profane, illegal, or disgusting, you can lock yourself in a dark room and find it on the internet. If you want to live it out, then you have to risk making illicit connections online, but in Corinth it was simply all around you. The city was a monument to the fulfilment of any kind of appetite you might have, no matter how immoral. If you wanted the thrill of murdering someone, you could buy a slave. If you desired financial gain or political power, you had every opportunity. There was almost no kind of sexual perversion you could not try, legally. No matter what turned you on, sex, drugs, cults, war, politics, everything – it was there.
It was to this town that the Apostle Paul journeyed to and planted a church in. He felt such a strong connection to the people of this city that he spent a year and a half there – an uncharacteristically long time.
God was absolutely at work among the Corinthians. People were giving up their old, pagan, addicted, messed-up lives and turning to Jesus for cleansing and forgiveness. The utter selfishness and individuality of their former lives was overtaken by a love for each other and a desire to serve. They no longer feared the petty, ever-changing gods, or tried to manipulate them with rituals, but now had a relationship with the One, True God who they knew loved them so much that He was willing to send His Son Jesus to save them. They had become a Christian church. Paul spent months teaching them from the scriptures, preaching and teaching inside and outside the church, and defending the Christians before the government and other opposing groups. Then, before he moved on, he appointed and trained elders to carry on the work of ministry there.
After he left, cracks started to form in the leadership and among the believers. False teachers came in and taught false gospels. Unsaved people from the local temples, working for Satan, started to gain influence in the church and sow discord among the people and tempt them towards their old lives.
Paul obviously didn’t have email, but even while he was hundreds of miles away in Ephesus he was starting to get reports of some of the things going on in Corinth and it was quite unsettling. He wrote them a letter, which we don’t have, addressing some of these concerns, but it clearly didn’t work. Shortly after they received the first letter a couple contingents of people came from Corinth to track down the Apostle, tell him what was happening, and ask some very specific questions. He couldn’t leave the Ephesian church at the time so he wrote a second letter addressing the issues and answering the questions.
We’ve been through part of this letter already, which we call 1st Corinthians, and we are coming up to Chapter 7 which starts the “now concerning” part, where Paul directly answers the Corinthian questions, but before this, he addresses some of the biggest issues he’s heard about through the grapevine.
Things like them not getting along, accepting sexual immorality, rejecting the authority of the Apostles, listening to false teachers, self-deception, sinful living, and changing the word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to fit better with their culture – all things we are still very much dealing with today.
Out of Control Appetites
In our passage today we see the Apostle Paul addressing some of the root issues of what is causing the church such trouble – and if I had to pick one phrase to summarize it, it would be “Out of Control Appetites”.
Do you see the quotes around the first parts of verses 12 and 13? These are the excuses that the Corinthians were giving for their behaviour. They had strong appetites, fed and encouraged by their local culture, and instead of following the Apostles’ teaching, God’s Word, or the conviction of the Holy Spirit within them, they were trying to justify and excuse their behaviour.
We do the same thing. We have strong desires within us, natural and learned appetites that are constantly with us, nagging our mind and trying to steer our lives. Many of these appetites are biological. We have needs: air, food, water, shelter, sleep, and going to the bathroom, and when we don’t have access those things our bodies cry out for them, even causing us physical pain, until we give them what they want. Some of these appetites are not needs, per say (as in we wouldn’t die without them), but they are very strong. We have a natural appetite, or desire for safety, health, love, family, and sexual intimacy. And these appetites go further into our feelings. We want to feel confident, respected, meaningful, moral, accepted, and to know the truth.
None of these needs is wrong. God has designed us, from the very beginning, to have these needs – and they were designed to be perfectly fulfilled by being in relationship with Him and each other.
But when sin came into the world at the fall it corrupted everything, including our appetites. Now, instead of wanting enough food to survive and enjoy, we turn gluttonous, eating so much we make our bodies sick. We take sugar cane and beets, strip them of their “food” and turn them into pure sugar, and then pour that into things we swirl with caffeine, alcohol, and hyped up fats and salts.
Instead of sleeping enough to rest from our work, we now run away from work and our out of control appetite turns us into sluggards who sleep more than we should, inventing more and more devices to remove work and allow for rest.
We have a desire for safety, but now we create borders, barbed-wire fences, and bombs to keep danger away. Our insane pursuit of safety fills us with prejudice and turns us into racists. We become helicopter parents who won’t let our kids out of our site and spend staggering amounts of money on insurance and things to make us feel safe.
We want love, family, and acceptance, but our sin and selfishness cause us to reject and hurt those who are closest to us, creating family splits, divorce, fatherlessness, and runaways. Our out of control appetite to feel accepted causes us to turn from those who were supposed to care for us and seek the acceptance of others. We join gangs, cults, and clubs, giving away huge parts of ourselves in order to feel accepted by someone.
And this same thing has happened with sexual intimacy. God created the beauty of sex to be most fully enjoyed between a man and women in the committed bonds of marriage. Anything outside of this is, by God’s definition, harmful. But the appetite within us is strong, and, like in ancient Corinth, our culture has made us believe that the fulfillment of this appetite is the most important thing in the world, making it available everywhere. They have placed sexual experience at the same level as breathing air or drinking water.
And so, as this appetite grows within us, we seek to quench it. God invites us to turn our appetite over to Him and to seek fulfillment His way, but that requires sacrifice, self-control, mutual respect, the giving of oneself, and patience. But the appetite grows and everyone else tells us to listen to it.
To do this is like to try to go on a diet while living at an all-you-can-eat buffet. We exist live in a buffet of sexual options – from the prostitutes on the streets to the movies we watch, the mall we shop in to the games we play, the ads on TV and websites to the popular books we are told to read, the enticement to sin sexually is literally everywhere. And the appetite grows. It’s like taking little bites of sugar everywhere we go – even without wanting to.
As a Christian, we know we have been delivered from sin and we hate the effects of it. The Word of God teaches against it. Our Christian elders and friends give warning. And the Holy Spirit inside of us is warning our conscience. But with the inundation of options all around us, the internet at home and in our pockets, and everyone in our culture cheering us on to express ourselves, live out our freedom, and trust our appetites to guide us to happiness.
And so we relent. Canada has completely relented to the idea that our appetites will guide us to happiness, and we have a completely messed up culture as a result. Did you know that biggest website in the world streamed 92 billion videos totally 4.6 billion hours of porn – just in 2016? Almost every adolescent boy and girl today has been exposed to explicit pornographic content – and this isn’t naked pictures – we’re talking about high definition and stylized videos of incest, violence and rape, of which 88% of porn videos include. Most have no blockers on their home or devices. And over a third of people my age and younger watch porn to educate themselves so they can mimic it with their partners. Pornography use is rampant at every age, not just young adults. This isn’t merely a male issue. A third of young women (25 and under) and a quarter of older women go looking at least once per month.
Two new things that are being reported recently as a result of continued porn use is what they are calling “sexual anorexia” which is basically a total loss of desire for romantic-sexual interactions with other people, and “porn-induced erectile dysfunction” meaning that even when with a partner they simply can’t get aroused by a real-live girl anymore. Porn use increases the chance of cheating on your spouse by 300%.
The slide of the out of control sexual appetite doesn’t have an end. There is never going to be enough because, like a potent drug, it causes major chemical dependency in the brain. And the appetite for sexual sin only gets darker and more evil. It doesn’t just stay at romantic novels or underwear models, but grows stronger until normal sex isn’t enough – then strange sex isn’t enough – then violent, abusive sex isn’t enough – and then merely watching isn’t enough, you want to act out what you have been watching.
And it barely even twinges the conscience anymore because you have now rewired your brain to consider the perverse, dangerous, and violent images you have been watching to be “normal”. Girls no longer know what modesty, love and romance looks or feels like. Boys have no idea how to respect, woo or patiently love just one girl. Now they believe in the fantasy world that pornography has fed them – and they want to live it out. Maybe you have done the same in your own life as you try to fit the person you are attracted to into a pornographic fantasy, or grow disappointed as the real person doesn’t perform like the person on screen. The real person is way less interesting than the fantasy. That’s an insanely confused version of sex designed by Satan to destroy you.
But this isn’t just about the epidemic of pornography and what we do when we are alone, but all that this out of control sexual appetite creates in our minds, hearts, families, churches and societies. It destroys intimacy and closeness. Friendship is ruined because everything is about sex. Superficiality and total selfishness is rampant. People don’t give themselves to each other, they use each other. Sexual sin is a massive force for harm.
What happens when you take the individual consequences of an out of control sexual appetite and multiply it by the size of a church, a city, a country, or the world? Not just you seeking out selfish ways to use people for your own appetites, but also those around you, and far beyond.
Pornography users have a lot of misinformation that gives them an excuse to come back. For example: It’s free so I don’t pay for it, so I’m not contributing to the bad parts. That’s not true. These sites get money for every click, whether you buy or not. That’s why it’s free. There are dozens of ways to make money of people that come to your website and around. Yes, you are generating income for these companies, allowing them to stay in business.
Another thing people say is that these women are well paid and look like they are enjoying it. The women are some of the most beautiful in the world – they could do anything — no one is making them do this. In truth, many of the women in pornography come from abusive homes and were often sexually abused as children. Some of them are victims of human trafficking who have been told to look good or they will be hurt or killed. Some got into the business after being recruited in their first year of college with the promise of lots of money and a thrilling lifestyle, but many tell the story of how no matter what they did the company wanted them to do more and more grotesque things. They had spent the money already and needed more, so they quell the shame and pain inside them with alcohol and drugs. Especially when people on their campus or family members see their pictures and videos. Some have committed suicide because of the shame and fear they have felt.
When they do want out, they can’t put any of this onto a resume so it has gaps and their professional reputation is shot. Whatever their career was – teacher, nurse, scientist – is ruined because of pornography. So they only have one place to turn – the porn industry. This industry promotes only the youngest women, so as they get older the only way to stay employed is to do more and more disgusting things, perpetuating the shame and fear and trapping them in the industry further. And then they are sent out to do interviews and trade fairs to tell everyone how happy they are. And that’s not even covering the massive psychological and spiritual damage done. Every time someone reads, clicks, or watches, they perpetuating this abusive industry.
But the damage of an out of control sexual appetite doesn’t end with the individual. Then we get the societal consequences like the spread of sexually transmitted diseases which over 70 percent of sexually active Canadians have. There’s the evil of sex trafficking, which is the kidnaping and sale of people for the purposes of prostituting them, and it is growing, funded and supported by the multi-billion dollar porn industry. We see the sexualisation of younger and younger people and the rise of child exploitation, pornography, and child sex rings. And of course we have the holocaust of the millions of abortions in North America lone which have nothing to do with the health of the child or the mother, but simply are the result of people who want the pleasure of sex without the consequences or responsibility of parenthood. Rape culture, divorce, fatherlessness… and I could go on.
Consider that when an industry or company is connected to terrible things like child-labour or environmental destruction most people freak out and refuse to buy from that store or support that industry. Why not this one? Because it’s an out of control appetite that the world supports without question. Just this week they tried to fly the Walk for Life flag down at Ottawa city hall and it was pulled down within hours. Just FYI, the Mayor had the LGBT Pride flag fly for the entirety of the Sochi Olympics. Why the difference? Different appetites.
The Gospel is the Answer
Verse 12 gives their first excuses, “All things are lawful for me…” they say. Here we see them throwing Paul’s words back in his face. He had come and taught them that people are not saved by religion, nor obedience to a set of laws, but are instead set free from having to follow a bunch of rules by the grace of God.
Every other religion said you have to do certain things to appease the gods. Give money, make war, pray for hours, reach ecstasies, gives sacrifices, spill your own blood, do good deeds, even horrible things like burn children to death. Only these things would make the gods do what you want them to do.
But the God of the Bible says we can never do enough to impress or please Him. There will never be enough good deeds to outweigh our sins. Instead, God sent Jesus to live a perfect life, doing exactly what God wanted, so He could take God’s wrath against sin in exchange for anyone who would believe in him. This freed us from the bonds of man-made religious laws that only served to manipulate us and make us feel either guilty or prideful.
And so they say to Paul, “But you said that since we’re Christians we don’t have to obey any laws! We can do whatever we want! We have freedom in Christ! You said God accepts us as we are and will never reject us no matter how much we mess up! And you said that we don’t need to follow any of the Jewish Laws either because we are under the new covenant. So we’re doing that!”
And Paul says, “Yes, you are free in Christ, but not everything is helpful. Yes, you are free in Christ, but these you are doing aren’t bringing you more freedom – they are dominating you. You are no longer free when you do these things, you are making yourself a slave again. ” You see that?
The Emptiness Trap
When we turn away from God’s design for our lives we will feel empty. That emptiness will create an appetite that will eventually become all consuming. We will gorge ourselves on all manner of things trying to fill that emptiness, to satisfy that appetite that can only be satisfied by being in a right relationship with God and others.
This is the trap. We feel God’s way is too constricting, too hard. Satan offers to satiate that appetite an easier way – through violence, gluttony, sexual sin, stealing – and it works for a moment, but what happens is that appetite grows. And as a Christian, after we have succumbed to temptation, we realize we have grieved the Holy Spirit, ruined our reputation, lost our reward, invited God’s discipline, made innocent people suffer for our selfishness, tainted our ministry and testimony, left a stumbling stone for those who would follow us… and that shame can either cause us to fall before God and ask for forgiveness and restoration – which He will give… or will drive us away from God, separating us from Him further, and our church, and our friends, and His Word, and His voice… causing our appetites to grow and grow because now we feel truly terrible.
Which, again, either causes us to turn to God or, in many cases, cause us to not want to feel anything. When we feel empty we’re willing to try anything – and when that doesn’t work we try hard not to feel anything. So we self-medicate, fall into destructive behaviours, and our life falls apart.
Maybe you’re not all the way down this road, but I promise, this is where unconfessed, unforgiven sin leads. To a destroyed, corrupt, hard, and calloused heart that refuses to feel.
The remedy is the Gospel. The Bible says we need to realize that we were not designed merely to fill our appetites. “‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” Our body, our lives, are not given to us merely to pursue our own pleasures, but for God. Colossians 1:16 says that all things were created through Jesus and for Jesus, and that includes us. We will only find true fulfillment, joy, and peace when we realize that they are not found by us though this world – but in Him.
Verses 15-18 talk about the invisible, emotional and spiritual dangers of sexual sin, but we’ve covered a lot of that already.
The way we escape these out of control appetites is in verses 19-20 which say, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
This is the gospel condensed. We gave our bodies to sin and became salves to sin, but Jesus bought us back at a great price. We celebrate it every month at communion – that He gave His body and shed His blood in exchange for ours. He saves us to Himself. He makes us born again so we can live forever. He cleans us up so we can be temples of His Holy Spirit. But this was at the price of His life, freely given for all who would believe.
Our response to that amazing grace is threefold:
First, we need to acknowledge our sin and the danger of it. Sin isn’t fun or funny. It isn’t little. It creates spiritual death, no matter how small we think it is, and it’s destructive power is incredible. So we acknowledge that we are sinners, that we hate sin, repent from it, and ask God’s forgiveness of it by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Second, we accept that forgiveness and believe that we have been cleaned. It’s not because of any feeling we have or a tingle in our spine, but because of the agreement that God made with us because of the covenant of the blood of Jesus. If you repent and believe, you will be saved. If you ask forgiveness in His name, you will be forgiven. And from that point on we live as Christians. The Holy Spirit takes residence in our hearts and speaks to us in words that cannot be expressed.
And third, we glorify God in our body. In other words, we no longer live for ourselves, but trust that Jesus’ way is better. He is our Saviour and our Lord. When He says something is good, it is good. When He says something is dangerous, we avoid it. When He says go, we go. When He says stop, we stop. Jesus redeemed us, bought us back from death and Hell, so our bodies are no longer ours. They are His. And He can do with them as He pleases.
It is to this we appeal when we are tempted, when we face sin, and when our appetites get out of control.
We pray: “Jesus, this is sin and I know you hate it, and therefore I do too, and I want to avoid it. I accept that this has no more place in my life because I am yours. Help me to flee temptation as you taught me to pray. And Jesus, my body is yours. My mind, heart, and soul too. Do with them as You will. You gave me these appetites, so help me fulfil them your way, so you get the glory and I can experience more of you.”
Does the Bible allow the use of Marijuana or Cannabis? What about medicinal and fiber use?
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
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Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about how important it is for us to realize that we don’t have the right, or the need, to make up things about who God is or what God wants, because He has already told us everything we need to know. All through scripture, we are taught that God didn’t leave us to try to figure out most things on our own, but instead chose to tell people what He wanted and then required us to obey.
And more than that, whenever people did start making things up, changing ideas about His will or His person, they were condemned and punished. Think about it.
God created the universe, designed the earth, populated it with everything necessary for an enjoyable and fruitful life, and then put Adam and Even in the middle of a garden. They were in perfect relationship with God and each other. They had meaningful work and a mission to carry out: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” God was the King of all, and had made Adam and Eve rulers of the earth. They had “dominion” over everything, and God had dominion over them. Everything was “very good” until Adam and Eve decided to believe false things about God and go against how God said they should live. (Genesis 1:28-31)
Satan’s argument started, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?’”. Of course not, and he knew it, but this opened up a dialogue with Eve based on challenging what God had revealed about how they should live. Eve answered, “…God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Already we see Eve giving God’s word a little alteration. God didn’t say that they couldn’t touch it. Either she or Adam had added that little bit to God’s instructions.
Now that the dialogue was open, and God’s Word was getting more pliable as the conversation went on, Satan continued with, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He implies that God is holding out on them, that He can’t be trusted, that there is something better that God doesn’t want them to have, that His current revelation wasn’t good enough, and all they had to do was go outside of what God had revealed to them and they’d find something better than God wanted to give them. “God lied, Eve. He’s keeping you from the good stuff.”
Good for Food
The story continues, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen 3:6)
We see that both Adam and Eve were standing there, and both were complicit in this sin – but where did the temptation come from? It came from wanting to know more than God had revealed to them, and disobeying what God had told them to do.
In a very real sense, Adam and Eve had looked at the one, true religion – or way of relating to God – that God had designed and said:
“It’s not enough. It doesn’t meet my needs. It doesn’t give me what I want. It doesn’t explain enough. It doesn’t feel the way I want it to feel. So let’s invent our own version of this religion. One where we are still in the Garden, still able to walk with God in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8), but doesn’t have all the restrictions that this one does. After all, God is a God of love, right? Therefore, I’m sure it will be fine if we bend what He says. He wouldn’t just kill us, would he? There’s no death in this world! I could never worship a God who would kill someone just for eating a piece of fruit. I’ll invent my own version of God that is more open to other people’s opinions and isn’t so restrictive. Our god will be one that allows people to worship in a way that feels right to them. And if they want to worship God by getting to know Him better through eating that fruit, then they should be allowed! Let us throw off the shackles of the old rules, and embrace a new way of knowing God!”
Sound familiar? This is the world’s way of connecting to God. They come to a god of their own design, on their own terms. That thinking goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
In their own human wisdom they looked at the tree and thought, “Wow, that looks tasty, and safe, and not poisonous at all. Why would God prevent us from eating a tree that was “good for food”? God invented food, and God invented trees, and this tree looks “good for food”, so God must be ok with it, right? That’s called self-justification, or self-deception. If it looks good, feels good, tastes good, and makes sense to us, then it must be ok, right?
We do this all the time, even with Christianity: I like this song, so it must be a good worship song that God likes too. I like this church, so it must be one that God likes too. I felt a tingle during that worship service, so that means the Holy Spirit was there. I don’t like those verses in the Bible, so God must not like them either. Those people are the kind of people I like, so they must be closer to God. Worshipping at home feels better than organized religion, so God must be ok with me rejecting the church and inventing my own version of Christianity. I like how this preacher sounds, so I’ll listen to him. This book agrees with me and tells me what I want to here, so it must be right.
It’s all very tempting, isn’t it? It all looks “good for food”, and tastes right to us, so we believe it must be good. God had declared the whole world “very good”, and had declared that one tree bad. But Eve’s eyes looked upon it and declared it “good”. Self-deception.
A Delight to the Eyes
Eve also saw that the tree was a “delight to the eyes”. Notice how quickly she went from, “God said that tree will kill us if we touch it” to “my, what a delightful tree that I definitely want to touch and eat from.” What happened? James 1:14-15 describes it best,
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Something inside of her, and Adam, had changed. The tree was exactly the same tree as it was before she had started listening to the serpent, but her perception of it had changed. It now contained something she wanted, and in order to make it okay with herself, she altered her perception of it.
“Well, that tree’s not so bad. It’s actually a pretty tree. It’s quite delightful, actually. It’s a beautiful tree with beautiful fruit and it would be a shame for me not to take one. God provided this beautiful tree. He invented it. He makes all things beautiful, so why shouldn’t I take it? It’s not wrong to appreciate something that’s beautiful, is it. If God had wanted me to stay away, then He should have made the tree ugly and the fruit disgusting. It’s actually God’s fault that I’m even near this tree. He made it so nice. He made it make me feel good. He’s the one who is at fault here. Why say something is wrong, but make something so delightful?”
Remind you of anything?
We do this all the time with various sins – whether it’s addiction to drugs and alcohol, pornography and lust, money and possessions, gluttony, wrathful anger, or almost anything else. God tells us it’s wrong, and our conscience follows up in agreement. But then we find ourselves thinking it over in our mind and trying to justify how great it will be, and how it’s actually a good idea, and how it’s someone else’s fault that we’re doing it anyway. It’s the same every time.
But we also do this with our relationship with God. The One, True God, and all His revelations aren’t “delighting” us enough. Instead, God has us living through a time of trial, discipline, suffering, or even just plain boredom. God’s not being entertaining enough, He refuses to remove pain and discomfort, or distract us with pleasures, so we go off to find something that will. And those things are delightful. But God’s Word says that we need to be careful with them, to not idolize them, or to avoid them altogether… so what do we do?
A lot of people simply change or dismiss God’s Word. They don’t like what God has revealed, so they re-write part of the Bible, declare it irrelevant, or simply remove that part from the Book. Or, they go find – or even write – another book that will tell them that they want to hear. It happens all the time. God’s revealed truth isn’t delightful enough, so they go to Oprah’s book list and buy something there that will tell them what they want to hear.
God’s not giving them what they want, so they go read “The Secret” which tells them that there is no God, but instead there’s a universal energy force that they can manipulate to attract things to them that they like. They don’t like that Jesus said He’s the only way to be saved, and that Christians sometimes suffer, so they find a new age guru like Deepak Chopra who says that happiness isn’t found in any kind of god, but found inside ourselves through introspection and meditation. They don’t like that people go to hell, so they go read Rob Bell who says that everyone gets to go to heaven.
These books seem “good for food” and are a “delight to their eyes”, but they are a trap. They go against what God has revealed and lead us to temptation and sin.
Make One Wise
As Eve stood back and looked at the tree, her perception changing, her heart deceiving itself so she could take and eat, she came up with one more reason that it was a good idea. It would “make one wise”. Notice this wasn’t just a physical attraction anymore. And see how the poison of the temptation sinks deeper into the soul.
It started out merely looking “good for food”, it continued to become a “delight to the eyes”, but here we see that it wasn’t just tasty and pretty – it would give her something that God wouldn’t or couldn’t: special wisdom; knowledge God didn’t want her to have.
The implication here is that God had withheld something from her and Adam that she felt she needed to be complete. Yes, God had kept her in the dark about something, but it was to protect her. As it stood she only knew good – this tree would give her the knowledge of evil. But now she desperately wanted to know and all she had to do was reach out her hand and take a bit to see what God was withholding from her.
She felt God had refused an experience to her, but this would fill that gap and make her a more whole person. She had a curiosity that needed to be fulfilled, but God wasn’t giving her an answer. God’s revelation wasn’t enough for her. She needed wisdom and experience that was outside of what God had planned for her and Adam.
One commentary I have says that the fruit “appeared to her as a means for spiritual advancement.”[i] This tree was no longer just one of the many trees in the Garden, it was now, for her, the best tree in the Garden; there was more to be gained from this tree and its fruit than anything else the Lord God had provided.[ii]
Patterned Through Scripture
We see this pattern all the way through scripture, and it continues today. God tells us what He’s like, what He wants, and what He wants from humanity. We listen and follow for a little while, but then come up with our own ideas of what God’s like, what God wants, and what He wants from us – and then we forget about God and go after we like and want. We aren’t satisfied with what He has revealed so we invent something that sounds better to us.
Consider the story of Nabad and Abihu found in Leviticus 10. God had just spent a whole lot of time declaring exactly how He wants things to go when it comes to worshipping Him and offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle. He went into incredible detail, and after Aaron, Moses and the priests had followed every instruction, God showed up in power and consumed their offering, showing they did it right
But at the beginning of Leviticus 10 it says this:
“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.”
What happened there was that they hadn’t followed what God had said about how to worship Him. This was a huge deal because this was the very infancy of the Jewish religion, the very beginning of learning how God wants to be worshipped. They needed to know how seriously God takes His Worship and His Word and what the penalty was for disobeying. It wasn’t just about getting the religion right, but showing that when they disobey God’s Word, they are sinning, and that sin leads to death.
To disobey God’s Word leads to the corruption of the individual soul, and if you are leader, the corruption of others. Some people think that they took the fire from the wrong place, burnt a different kind of incense, or even showed up drunk. Whatever the case, God demonstrated in no uncertain terms that He doesn’t mess around when it comes to disobeying what He says to do.
God wants His people to be holy as He is holy, and that means holding to the highest standards of conduct (Lev 19:2; Matthew 5:48). All through the Old Testament Law God reminds His people that they aren’t merely to obey the Law because it is right and good, but because they are His representatives to the world and are a reflection of Him.
Just as Adam and Eve were created to bear the image of God, so Israel would bear God’s image, and so do Christians today. All humanity bears God’s image, but we, God’s people, are meant to be the ones who do it best.
In the New Testament, we see that God hasn’t changed how He deals with humanity since the Garden of Eden. He created Adam and Eve to be His image bearers, gave them a place to meet Him in worship, gave them what they needed to be fruitful forever, and a mission to spread that message to the whole world, but they chose to reject Him and His Word, and it caused their destruction. Then He raised up the people of Israel to be His chose people, gave them the Temple as a place to worship, told them how to be fruitful forever, and told them to spread that message to the whole world, and they rejected Him and His Word, and it caused their destruction.
Today God is doing the same thing. After Jesus came to be the final sacrifice under the old system, He changed how things would look, but didn’t change God’s plan. Look at 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” That’s no different than the story of Nabad and Abihu, is it? And it’s not much different than the message given to Adam and Eve, or Israel: “This land is holy and you are holy. I will walk with you here if you follow my word and don’t eat of the tree. But if you sin, you will destroy God’s temple and will also be destroyed.”
Except now, the temple isn’t made of stone, it’s made of flesh. God’s temple is the people of His church – but He has the same standards and gives the same warning to us.
God’s Plan of Salvation
Listen to what is written among the final words in the final chapter of the final book of the Bible, because it shows how God’s message has been consistent from the start:
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
The whole Bible is an invitation to be saved through Jesus Christ. The healing water is free for everyone. All who are thirsty for grace, peace, forgiveness, and life, the payment has been made for you by the blood of Jesus. And the Spirit of God and the Bride of Christ, the Church, extends the invitation to all to “Come!”
But, when you “come”, you must come God’s way. Don’t change God’s Word. Don’t invent new ways of coming. When Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
How Can We Know the Difference?
This is the crux of the problem that Paul is trying to address in the opening chapters of 1st Corinthians. This church had their beliefs all messed up and had imported all kinds of foreign, wrong, teachings about God and His will for their lives, and Paul was warning them that the path they had chosen didn’t bring more life, but death. They had fallen for the same demonic deception that Eve had.
They had looked at the teachings from other religions, philosophers, and things that just felt right to them, and saw they were “good for food”, “a delight to the eyes” and “was to be desired to make one wise”, and had taken a big old bite. Their pursuit of wisdom and knowledge had lead them to destruction because it had lead them away from the revelation of God.
But the question comes, how can we know the difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God? If all these things look good, feel good, and seem like wisdom, then how can we be sure which one is of God and which one is not? How do we keep from being deceived?
The Bible gives the answer in the passage we’ve been studying.
“…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-16)
Jesus Christ, it said before in 1:30, is the “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” If we want to know the mind of God, we must be connected to Jesus. A “natural person” is someone who is trying to figure out God, the Universe, Eternity and Life, using their human wisdom and human strength, driven by their bodily appetites, their carnal knowledge, thinking the way an animal would, preferring the things that bring them the most pleasure. They will naturally go towards things that look “good for food”, and “delight the eyes”, and will be deceived by their own appetites.
But in contrast, a “spiritual person” – meaning one who has given their heart, soul, mind and strength over to Jesus to be redeemed, sanctified, renewed and made righteous – is listening to God’s voice, God’s Spirit, God’s Word, and God’s truth – and will see things differently.
Therefore I close with two encouragements. To those who are Christians here today, don’t succumb to the temptation to seek things outside of God’s Will and God’s Word, no matter how “good” and “delightful” they seem to you.
Instead, seek the “mind of Christ” by seeking the counsel of the Spirt of God and the Word of God. Read the living Word of God, the Bible, every day, praying as the Lord taught you, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done…. lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9-13) As you do so, your natural self will wither and you will be able to “understand” the things that “are spiritually discerned”. Then you will be able to teach others.
I encourage you to go and pray the words of Psalm 51,
“God… you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart…. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.”
To those who are not Christians today, or who are not seeking the mind of Christ – those who are racked with doubt, fear, shame, anger, lust, and who’s faith is either dead or dying – those who have invented their own God, their own religion, and have rejected what God has revealed – I implore you to “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” (Isa 55:6) for “…now is the favorable time… now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2) It profits you nothing to invent your own god and your own religion. Come to God as He has said you must come: humbly and on His terms.
[i] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Lewis, T., & Gosman, A. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Genesis (p. 230).
[ii] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: (p. 12). Peabody: Hendrickson.
God Hates Sin
God hates sin. Were it not for His abundant love for humanity and amazing grace, humanity would have been utterly destroyed a long time ago. God created two people and put them in the perfect environment, gave them everything they needed, and let them know only good – it wasn’t enough for them and they decided they wanted to know evil to. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they were telling God that they didn’t just want to live in a world where they only knew His presence and good things – they wanted to know evil too. Remember, it was the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). And then, in knowing evil, they brought about their own destruction.
Since that day, we have seen an abundance of grace given to us, despite our love for evil. The whole world became corrupt – thinking only evil thoughts all the time – and instead of destroying everyone in the flood, God chose to save Noah and his family. And within three verses of God’s Rainbow Promise to never flood the earth again, the puddles have only just dried from the flood, Noah passes out naked and drunk and his son stands there gawking and mocking.
And it keeps going downhill from there. God says go forth and multiply, man creates Tower of Babel and refuses. God wants to save the world through Jesus, so He reveals himself to Abram – an unbelieving, pagan who, though believing God at the beginning keeps showing himself to be an untrusting fool. Then you’ve got Hagar and Ishmael, the great cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Esau selling his birthright, Jacob the liar, and Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery… and that’s just Genesis! Each time we see men sin against each other and God, we see God’s amazing hand of grace. He has the right to wipe us out, but relents because of His love.
But make no mistake: God HATES sin. Sin is the source of evil in this world. It is sin that tears apart our lives, families, and nations. Sin causes people to starve to death. Sin makes Christians hypocrites. Sin sends people to hell. God hates sin because it is totally incompatible with His nature – He is Holy, Righteous and Perfect. – and God hates sin because it separates us from Him. He hates sin because God loves us!
In the Bible God describes sin using some extreme language: “Wounds, bruises and putrefying sores” (Isa 1:6), an impossibly “heavy burden” (Ps 38:4), a contaminating stain (2 Cor 7:1), an unpayable debt (Matt 18:21-35), and walking in utter darkness (1 Jn 1:6; Rom 1:21)…” This is not the condition He wants His children living in!
The presence of sin causes him to feel both deep sorrow and fierce anger. He loves us, but He absolutely hates sin. Listen to Hosea 11:8-9, at the intense emotions God feels because of the sins of His people: “My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror.”
He could though, and one day He will. He’s fierce in his anger, ready to bring terror, but relents because He loves his people. He will be patient for a little longer, and give them yet another chance to repent. But make no mistake: God hates sin. We see this all over scripture, and we’ll see it as we look at Habakkuk today.
Over the next couple weeks we are going to look at the “Woes to the Chaldeans” and it is an intense section of scripture, full of incredibly hard language and pointed threats. It’s a reminder of how much God hates sin – and of the amazing grace of God.
Remember the context. Habakkuk has asked God why there is so much suffering, injustice, violence and sin in his nation. God has answered that He sees it and plans to deal with it by sending the Chaldeans (later called the Babylonians) to wipe out the nation and drag everyone off into captivity. Habakkuk’s follow-up question is to ask God why He would use a greater evil to punish a lesser one. Why would he use the evil, pagan Babylonians to punish the lesser wrongs of His own people, Israel?
God’s answer is that He is a God of justice, and no one will be getting away with anything. He’s allowing the Babylonians to act as a rod of discipline to His children so they will stop doing evil and come back to Him. And then next, we read that the Babylonians won’t get away with their evil either. They too will receive God’s wrath against their sin.
Habakkuk’s complaint was the God wasn’t doing anything about the wrong in this world. And God’s answer was a vision that would show Habakkuk, and us, the truth about how God deals with sin. There will be a day of reckoning for all humanity and no one will get away with any wrong they have done – not Israel, not the Babylonians, not you, not me. One day, perfect justice will be brought against all sin.
Sin From the Inside Out
Before we get into the woes, however, I want to look at verses 4-5, because they show us the root of the sins that God outlines in the five woes to the Chaldeans. This is an MRI or an XRay of the souls of this pagan nation, and shows us what makes them tick. On the outside we see their violence and conquering, but here God gives us insight into what’s making them tick, what’s happening in their hearts – and it shows what happens in our hearts too.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”
This is, basically, a summary of what we’re about to read in the woes, but it also shows how the Chaldeans (who here are addressed with the singular “he”) spiraled into such deplorable actions. It’s a map of their slide into hell. What we see here is pride fueled by drunkenness which leads to an unrelenting appetite for more sin, which leads to violence against others and then temping others to commit more sin. (Romans 1 shows this spiral too.)
What I want you to be looking for as we study this introduction to the woes is how this pattern shows up in your own life. In what ways does the downward spiral of the Chaldeans play out in your own heart?
Sin Starts with Pride
Their spiral of sin starts with the declaration: “Behold, his soul is puffed up.” Sin starts with pride. If you know the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, then you know that he was an egomaniac – we’re talking pride at a mentally disturbed level. This was a man who erected a nearly 30 meter tall, golden image of himself and decreed that everyone, everywhere – on penalty of death – must bow down and worship it whenever his theme music played. God eventually brought Nebuchadnezzar down to earth by humiliating him (read about it in Daniel 4-5: it’s amazing), but pride wasn’t just the King’s problem, it was rampant throughout the nation. He merely typified it.
The whole nation’s soul was puffed up and not upright within them. This was the first and greatest problem, and the fountain from which all the other sins came. Pride places us not only above others but above God. It makes us believe we are own rulers and closes our ears so we will not listen to anyone or anything else – even the Creator. Our way is law.
When 1 John 2:16 summarizes worldly sin, it gives three categories: “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and [the] pride of life.” This section shows how abundant these three are in the life of this pagan nation, but also convicts us today and our own country. It all stems from pride.
This is where our sin starts too – pride. We all know the well-worn proverb, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) but how many of us really listen to it? Did you know that word “fall” could also be translated “stumble” or “slide”? Pride comes before the slide. It’s not that we have pride and then crash into the wall… it’s that our pride starts the stumble, the trip, the slide out of control that sends our life into the wall.
- “I know what I’m doing!”
- “I’m the exception to the rule.”
- “I’m strong enough without any help.”
- “I don’t need to pray about that, I’ll take care of it.”
- “It doesn’t matter what the law of the land says, I’m smarter than that.”
- “It doesn’t matter what scripture says, I’m doing it my way.”
- “It doesn’t matter what my parents, my spouse, my elders say – I’m the boss of me and no one can tell me what to do!”
- “It’s my car, my house, my land, my toy, my computer, my tablet, my gun, my tool, my money, my time, and I can do whatever I want with it!”
- Lack of prayer and lack of Bible reading is also pride – it means we think we can live without the voice of God.
- Lack of accountability to the other believers is also pride – it means we think we can take on this world alone.
- Lack of humility in worship is pride.
- Thinking we’re right all the time, refusing to forgive, making decisions without consulting the people that care about us – that’s all pride, pride, pride. It’s the sign of a puffed up soul.
Pride is the engine that starts the slide into the wall of destruction. But it’s just the start – it gets way worse from here.
Pride Leads to Addiction
If pride was the engine, then verse 5 says wine was the fuel. The Babylonians were famous for their drunkenness. It was eventually the cause of their downfall – it was during a drunken party that they decided to raise a toast to their idols while drinking from the gold and silver vessels they had stolen from God’s Temple. And it was during another drunken party that the Persians were able to cross the Euphrates and conquer Babylon – because they were all too drunk to notice or do anything (Herodotus, 1:190-91).
It actually became practice to use getting drunk as a way to make national decisions! They would drink, make decisions, and then evaluate those decisions the next day during their hangover. They would drink to have fun, drink to make decisions, drink to go to war, and then drink in the end of their empire: Israel, Assyria, Babylon and Rome fell while the leaders and people were drunk.
We’re no better today are we? People still get drunk, high and do stupid things. Addiction is constantly ruining lives today. Over and over in scripture, we are warned to avoid drunkenness and addiction, but it’s still a huge part of our society. How many are people are trapped in addictions that lead to the destruction of their bodies, relationships, families, communities, churches, and nations?
Drunkenness is a natural outflow of pride. If we are the masters of our own bodies, the one who makes the best decisions for us, and the world revolves around us, then it stands to reason that we can do whatever we want. And what do we want most? Freedom from pain and the experience of pleasure. What’s the quickest and easiest way for us to kill pain and experience pleasure? To find something that dumps dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins into our brain. Those chemicals in our brain are designed by God to make us feel good. They are a gift. They increase pleasure, minimize pain, and strengthen human relationships and flourishing.
The best way to do this is through a healthy diet, regular exercise, building loving, committed relationships and developing a close connection to our Creator, but that’s all way to hard. The easy way to do it is to take a drink, pop a pill, eat some fat, sugar and salt, light a joint, go shopping and rack up the credit cards, or more often today – go look at pornography and masturbate. It’s quick, easy, and guaranteed to give you the dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin rush you so badly want. For a moment, pain goes away and pleasure washes over your brain.
And who’s to stop you? You are the king or queen of your own body. You are the boss. No one can tell you what to do! The world owes you pleasure. The world exists for your sake. If you are hurting, then you deserve to do whatever you want.
When pride is the engine, addiction becomes the fuel it uses to keep going.
But it says “wine is a traitor”! Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” Whatever your favourite method of getting your pleasure chemicals is – alcohol, drugs, porn, sex, shopping, work, or food – it’s a traitor and a mocker.
We know this, don’t we? It promises one thing but delivers another, and then sits back and laughs at you.
- It tells you “just this once”, and then leads you into captivity.
- It tells you, “this will make you feel better”, and then turns you into a fool.
- It says, “I’m here to make you feel good”, and then destroys your body, heart and soul.
- It says, “This will bring you power and control”, and then proceeds to weaken and control you.
- It says, “I can take away your pain”, and then returns more suffering than you ever had before.
This is another reason that God hates sin. It destroys us. He is jealous for us and wants to be our Lord, God and Saviour because He knows that whenever we are left to ourselves, we turn to things that destroy us. He wants to be our King, not for His sake, as though it makes Him feel big and important, but for our own sake! It is only when we come under His Lordship that we finally realize that we have no business leading our own way, because our pride only leads to our destruction! His rules, laws, and ways, are there so we can know life abundantly – and not be trapped in the downward spiral of prideful, sinful destruction.
Addiction Leads to Greed
But there’s one more step down this slide into hell. If pride is the engine, and addiction the fuel, then greed is the product. Pride and addiction creates a void in our souls that can never be filled. Pride makes us think they we are our own gods, addiction fuels our decision making, and the machine we keep feeding only produces an appetite for more and more and more. These people were never content, always thirsting for more – and they were willing to take it at anyone’s expense. That’s what sin does – it seeks to rob us and everyone around us of everything. It says, “His greed was a wide as Sheol, like death he never has enough.”
They had access to their many vices in Babylon (or Chaldea), but it wasn’t enough. As with all self-centred addicts, their problems didn’t just stay inside their own mind and body but spilled out over everyone else. Their addictive behaviour wasn’t content with only one form, it needed to grow. Now, without anyone to stop them, their addictions grew and spread: They wanted more wine, more wealth, more comfort, more land, more prestige, more gold, more power – and they wouldn’t stop.
Their addiction made them as hungry as hell and turned them into an agent of death for all those around them – and no one was going to stop them. They became a gaping maw that only knew how to consume. They were never full, always wanting more, ruining everything they touched, consuming everything and everyone. They became consumers, as hungry as the grave. (Pause and consider for a moment.)
In their addiction fueled pride they believed that the world now existed to fulfill their desires. Their souls were thirsty for something of substance, their hearts devoid of anything real, but they didn’t turn to that which was good, pure and right – instead they tried to fill it with anything and everything the world had to offer – even at the expense of their souls and all of humanity.
This is the nature of sin. It makes big promises, but never fulfills. It only makes us more greedy. We never, ever walk away from sin satisfied.
We fanaticize about shouting someone down and making them feel like garbage, and then when we do, we don’t feel better for long – but we keep thinking that if we shout down enough people, then we’ll finally be in charge and feel better.
We roll around in our minds the fantasy of committing adultery, playing with it, reveling in the idea of it, and then when we follow through, that few moments of pleasure lead to a lifetime of pain.
We can’t wait until we can fill our bellies with sugar, our veins with chemicals, and when we do… we feel sick and guilty. Sin never fulfills, because it can’t.
No matter what the sin is – lust, addiction, anger, greed, laziness, wrath, greed – when we act on it, it never satisfies our deepest needs. It just causes us to slide further down and consume something and someone else. If you think about this, then you know it’s true.
Your sin always leads to more and deeper sin. You never stay at the same level of sinful action. Once leads to twice, and the void inside gets bigger (nots smaller) and leads to doing it more often and in worse ways. You eat more, yell more, accumulate more, find more levels of perversion… consuming all you can until you’ve consumed everything around you – your conscience, your marriage, your family, your friends, your community – then, like Nebuchadnezzar, you decide to move outside your borders so you can consume others. It’s a never ending cycle that only builds a greater appetite.
In Matthew 6, Jesus spends a lot of time talking about the dangers of pursuing the things of this world instead of the things of God. When He said:
- “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…”
- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
- “You cannot serve God and money…”
- “…do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
He wasn’t giving us pious platitudes – He was warning us about a dangerous condition within the human heart – that every time we start trying to find joy, comfort, love, peace, meaning and hope in creation rather than Creator, we end up driving ourselves crazy and slipping into destruction.
John Calvin put it this way: “Man’s nature… is a perpetual factory of idols.”
I hope you know this and have seen it in yourself. Whenever you try to replace God with something in this world – even a good thing like food, wine, or sex – it turns traitorous on you and sticks a knife in your back. It’s universal. And no one, not even Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the whole world, could stop it. Can you see now why God hates sin so much?
How To Get Out From Under
So how do we get out from under the terrible weights of pride, addiction and greed?
First, admit you sin. Just admit it. You are a sinner who loves to sin. Don’t let your foolish pride make you believe that you are above sinning or that all that you do is right. Admit you’re a sinner.
- “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
- “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
If you want the grace of God, you have to stop being so prideful.
Second, admit that you are utterly incapable of dealing with and conquering your own sin. You don’t need more willpower. You don’t need a special tool. You don’t need another book. You don’t need some kind of special knowledge. You need someone stronger than you – you need the Holy Spirit of God. The only way to have access to the Holy Spirit is through Jesus Christ. You must admit to Him you are a sinner and that you need Him to save you. Accept that He took the punishment for your sin on the cross and has invited you to accept Him as Lord and Saviour of your life.
When you have done that, He will grant to you the Holy Spirit, and it is He who will do the hard work in you. Take a look at what Galatians 5 says about the battle between sin and the Spirit and our desperate need for the Spirit’s help.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:16-21)
I know you see yourself in one of those works of the flesh. I know you see your greatest temptation struggle in there. How do you get rid of it? Ask for forgiveness and then ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. The next verse says,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Gal 5:22-25)
Do you need more patience, more gentleness, more self-control? You need to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then you need to listen His words by reading scripture and stay alert for when He speaks to you. Learn what He desires from you by reading His word, and then listen for his voice to convicts you, correct you, train you, help you, educate you, encourage you, and strengthen you. His voice is still available today for those who want it.
And third, if you want to be free from your sin, you need to hate it. Let me give a final warning, and it’s something that convicted me very deeply this week. It comes from Psalm 66:18, but I want to read the context to you. Open to Psalm 66:16-19:
“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.”
This is written to believers – “all you who fear God” – and contains a promise and a warning. The promise is that God will hear our prayers and He will do something on your behalf. The warning is found in verse 18:
“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
This promise is written all over the Bible. I told you that the way out from under sin is to turn it over to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and by accessing the power of the Holy Spirit. That all comes through prayer – talking to God. Nothing happens until we talk to God in prayer. That’s how God built the system.
As long as we are “cherishing” sin, God doesn’t listen. No forgiveness, no healing, no renewal, no miracles, no nothing. If we cherish sin, God’s ears are shut. To cherish sin means to enjoy it, approve of it, make excuses for it, love it, hold it close, make it important, protect it, make it special, keep it secret and safe.
The only way to kill the sins within us is to hate them – to hate them like God hates them. Only then will we want to be rid of them! Learn to hate pornography, hate drugs, hate greed, hate unrighteous anger, hate greed, hate laziness, hate gluttony. As long as we cherish our sin, we show that we do not hate it, and we will never be rid of it. Cherishing it means we want it more than God, more than forgiveness, more than blessing, more than peace… even though it’s killing us.
Your sin is affecting your conscience, your heart, your home, your relationship with God and with others. Don’t cherish your sin – instead confess it to God, accept His forgiveness through Jesus, and live His way.
Please open up to Habakkuk 2, and as you get there let me give you a quick reminder of what we’ve covered so far.
Habakkuk is a book that show us a conversation between God and one of his prophets about the incredibly sinful things he’s seeing around him. His whole nation was corrupt and He wanted to know what God was going to do about it.
Habakkuk’s first question was one that we’ve all asked, “Why are all these bad things happening to us and what are you going to do about it?” God’s answer was, “I see the bad that is happening and my plan to deal with it is to discipline my people by destroying their city and sending them into captivity.” Habakkuk then asks the follow up question, “Ok, God, I know that you are good and just and hate sin, so how can you use people as utterly sinful as the Chaldeans to punish Israel – which though sinful, isn’t nearly as bad as they are? It seems unfair that you would use a greater evil to correct a lesser one.”
Then, as we ended last week, Habakkuk closed his mouth and went to sit and wait for God’s answer. Today we catch up with the prophet, sitting in the watchtower, waiting for God explain how God uses evil to bring about good. But as happened last week, God’s answer wasn’t exactly direct.
Let’s open up to Habakkuk 2:2-4 and read the first part of God’s answer to Habakkuk. But once again, realize that God isn’t about to give a direct answer. No, instead He’s going to get to the heart of the issue instead.
“And the LORD answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
The Disparity Gospel
Habakkuk really strikes close to our hearts, doesn’t it? We all suffer. We all want to know the answer to Habakkuk’s questions, right? We’ve all wondered Why God would use destruction to build people up, why He would use physical or mental illness to bring about spiritual health, why God would crush someone before making them well, why God would ordain (or plan out in advance) that His people would suffer. Why is that the way the world works? Surely there must be a better way!
I titled this message “Life Sucks and Then You Die” to be a little provocative, but also because it’s sort of true. Life does suck a lot of times, doesn’t it? Suffering and evil isn’t something that we usually talk about out in the open, is it? I’m supposed to be up here giving you the good news, aren’t I? My kids often accuse me of being “Mr. Bad News” and tell me I spend way too long telling people how bad they are and how bad the world is and not enough time telling them the good news. They’re probably right, but I think it might be because God has set me up as a counterbalance to the prosperity gospel.
I think I might be preaching the Disparity Gospel. Not as in my job is to bring you to despair… Disparity means “lack of parity” or “lack of equality”, a “lack of fairness”. Where the prosperity gospel preachers say that God wants you to have your best life now and that if you follow him all your worldly dreams to come true, I preach the disparity gospel that reminds people that this world isn’t fair and has a lot of suffering and inequality in it. The wicked prosper, the righteous suffer. Good deeds are punished, and criminals run free. Healthy people suddenly drop dead, and people that abuse their bodies for years continue on. It’s not fair.
And as I read Habakkuk, I’m reminded how unfair, disjointed and frustrating life is. But that’s close to our hearts too, isn’t it? I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I stood up here and said that life is always great, that the life of a believer is always happy, and that Jesus wants you to have your best life now – because that’s just not true.
Yes, without question, God made this world a good place. James says that God is not the author of evil or temptation, and that every good thing in this world is a gift from above. God fills this world with light and hope. He is the glorious one who makes this life worth living. (James 1:13-17)
The book of Ecclesiastes, as hopeless and frustrated as the author is, continuously reminds us that the normalcy of life is still good. We work, we live, we play, we sing, we dance, we eat and drink, and we live under the brightness of the sun. There is a lot of good in this world, and we are right to rejoice in it.
It proves that the curse of sin that came through Adam and Eve is not complete. God has given us common grace and abundant love. Much of life is good and wonderful and even happy. But – not always. Sometimes life kicks you in the shins. The question is, during those times, how are we going to respond?
The Dangers of Avoiding Suffering: Some Examples
Part of studying Habakkuk is to realize that suffering is normal and it’s good for us to accept that and then bring our big questions about suffering and evil to God. Habakkuk is just asking a normal, human questions.
We all hate suffering, don’t we? I know, that’s a weird question to ask. No one likes suffering! No one wants to suffer. But let me make a quick point here before we dig into the scripture: That I think we’ve forgotten that suffering has an important role in this world. We are right to be joyful and happy during the good times – but I think we’ve forgotten that God’s good plans for us sometimes include times of suffering.
The society around us disagrees completely. In fact, they disagree so profoundly, that people are literally killing themselves in an attempt to completely eliminate suffering from their lives.
Let me give you an example: The New York Times published an article recently that said that the death rates of young white adults in the US is climbing. We have better and more access to medicine than any time in history, but now these young people are dying faster than they have since the 1970s. Why? Because of drug overdoses and suicides. Here’s a quote:
“Rising rates of overdose deaths and suicide appear to have erased the benefits from advances in medical treatment for most age groups of whites.”
In other words, the amount of people that are being saved by new medical technology from diseases are cancelled out by those who are dying from overdosing on drugs or committing suicide.
They want to avoid pain so much that they are literally killing themselves.
Or consider the rise of abortion and euthanasia (or doctor existing suicide) in Canada. Instead of caring for babies and the elderly, our most the vulnerable citizens, we have decided to get rid of them instead. The thinking is that if the existence of the baby causes any form of suffering to the mother – including physical, mental or financial – then it should be killed. We avoid suffering via murdering someone else.
And, if the “quality of life” of an elderly person isn’t up to their standards – in other words, if they are suffering in any way they feel is too much – whether that’s physical, emotional or financial – then they should be allowed to kill themselves to alleviate the suffering. Our society is fleeing suffering at all costs – even the cost of human lives.
Consider this: There’s also the growing epidemic of addiction to prescription pain killers. What do we do if we get a headache? Grab a pill. If our back hurts? Grab a pill. The thinking is that pain is always bad. We should always avoid pain. Even Christians are caught up in this. We avoid alcohol, smoking, even caffeine, because we see them as potentially addictive and dangerous – but then we go to the doctor and he gives us a jar of narcotics which we munch down with delight because it helps us avoid pain.
And of course, I have to mention the utter stupidity of the Government of Canada considering the legalization of marijuana. There are people in Canada who want to be allowed to take a drug that is known to alter their senses, deadens their brain, and affects their memories. I read a while ago that they’re even looking into perfecting a pill that works by eliminating bad memories from the brain altogether. Take the pill, wipe out the bad memory.
And this idea of fleeing suffering at all costs goes even further. We’re completely losing our ability to judge right and wrong anymore. We can’t tell anyone that their sin is hurting them and others, because we might offend them – and to cause anyone any kind of emotional pain, even if the motivation was to help someone, is becoming tantamount to a crime.
Do you know what you call someone who can’t feel pain? A leper. It’s a disease. We need pain in our bodies so we can know when something is wrong. Feeling pain is part of being healthy. When we can no longer feel pain, it’s a big problem. We bump into things, cut ourselves, even break a leg, and we won’t know it. We need pain in order to live in this world.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should go looking for suffering. Nor am I trying to say that all suffering is good. If someone is violently attacked, has a crime committed against them, becomes terribly ill, or is treated unjustly, even God feels pain for that person. He suffers with the suffering. I’m not saying that we should get rid of Tylenol and reject medical help when we go to the hospital. I’m certainly not saying that people who are in pain are closer to God, or worse, that we should cause ourselves pain so we can be closer to God. That’s a heresy called “asceticism”, and it’s addressed in scripture as being wrong.
No, what I’m saying is that we live in a society that will do anything to avoid any kind of pain, and that’s terribly unhealthy! And when we avoid pain at all costs, we miss out on the benefits that come from when God prescribes suffering as a treatment for our spiritual condition. We need to feel the pain so we can know that there’s something wrong with us.
When our first reaction to any kind of pain – physical, emotional or mental – is to turn immediately to anything that will remove that pain as quickly as possible, we do ourselves a disservice.
Suffering & Pain Serves Us
Let me give a few examples:
A friendship or a marriage goes through a rocky patch where there is a lot of arguing and painful conversations. One of the common reactions is to leave the relationship, get a divorce, and find someone else – and then repeat the problem with them. However, God’s will isn’t for us to evacuate when the difficult times come, but to draw closer to Him, and work through the pain to get to the other side where there is deeper love, more respect, a better friendship, and a higher level of understanding for each other. Leaving the pain of working through a difficult relationship time robs us of the joy that was mean tot come later when we worked through it. (I’m not talking about abuse situations!)
Or here’s another example of going through suffering so we can come out better on the other side: God gives us a passion to do something. Say it’s go to the mission field, switch careers, or quit our job and be a stay at home mom. We feel the tug in our heart, and believe it’s God’s will – but it’s going to be hard. It means financial struggles, a total life change, a whole bunch of uncertainty, and perhaps even some very difficult conversations with people who won’t understand. Our natural reaction is to try to avoid the pain – to dip our toe in, realize how hard it’s going to be, and then quit before we get started. Or start doing it, and then compromise our integrity or God’s plan to make it easier. Our refusal to go through the pain of that transition robs us of the blessing of fully obeying God and doing what He has called us to do.
One more example: Say we have a personality issue that we don’t see: we are impatient, or easily angered, or lazy, or lustful, or addicted to something. And God works it out in our life that that area of our life suddenly becomes a huge problem for us. Suddenly life starts to suck, everyone around us seems to be our enemy, and nothing is going right. Our first reaction is to dig into our addictions, avoid the pain, and blame everyone around us. But that’s not what God’s doing. No, He’s trying to show you that your impatience, or anger, or laziness, or lust, or addiction, is growing in you like a cancer, and that it’s going to take your life someday.
And so, like a healthy body, He sends a shot of pain into your life so you can register that something is wrong. And that pain is meant to force you to reevaluate things so you can see clearly and address the issue. It forces you to go to Doctor Jesus to see if He can do something about it. You wouldn’t have come to Jesus otherwise, right? You needed to feel that pain before you would come to Him so He could fix it.
That’s what I’m talking about sometimes God uses suffering to give us a new perspective on life and drive us to Him so we can receive the healing we need.
That’s what he was doing for His people during the Babylonian exile. They were a sick nation that didn’t even know how bad off they were. They were on the edge of spiritual death, and so God caused them pain so they could feel how bad off they were. That pain drove them to despair, but it also drove them to God.
“So He May Run”
In verse 2 God says to Habakkuk, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.”
Remember the context: God is sending the Chaldeans to wipe out the city and drag everyone into exile for 70 years. So here we see God doing something very kind for His people. He’s giving the people a chance to get out while they still can. Now, that sounds like He’s giving them a chance to avoid the suffering, but it’s not. What God is doing is telling them to accept the suffering that will come because they are leaving their homeland because God has decreed it. He’s giving them a chance to decrease their suffering through obedience to His word.
Like a skilled surgeon, He’s both inflicting a wound and doing pain management. He tells them to accept the pain of leaving their homes and accepting God’s discipline for their sin, but to leave the town now so they didn’t have to go through the horror of the siege.
God does the same for us now. He puts us into this wonderful world, but then tells us not to get caught up in the joys of it too much. He tells us about the effects of the curse of sin and how to be free from the curse. And then, He gives us the same choice He gave to the people who would listen to Habakkuk’s prophecy: accept the pain and suffering of this life, allowing it to change us into what God wants us to be, or refuse, pretended it’ll be fine, try to avoid the pain, eat, drink and be merry, and then feel the full weight of his wrath.
Either accept God’s plan to use suffering to drive you to Him now, or feel the full weight of greater suffering in hell later. Avoiding the pain of this life is not only physically dangerous, but also spiritually dangerous! If we refuse to allow the pain of guilt and conviction of sin, or the sadness, grief and anger that comes when we are affected by it, we deaden ourselves to the great revelation that God wants to show us! That temporary pain is meant to cause us to hate sin and want righteousness, hate immorality and want good, to flee evil and desire the presence of God. If we avoid feeling guilt, shame or grief, then we will not come to God for relief.
Evil Conquered and Enslaved
But here’s something else. God does something even better. Not only does he use the suffering to bring us to knowledge of sin and desire to be saved, but He actually makes all that suffering work for our good! Nothing is wasted in His economy. That’s why Paul says in Romans 5:3-5 that Christians…
“rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Read Romans 8:35-37:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
What does it mean to be “more than a conqueror”? It means that the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, and slaughtering we face all day long won’t just be eliminated – but will actually serve us. Jesus is the conquering king that not only kills the evil in this world and gets rid of our enemies, but actually turns the enemy into our servants! Total, utter, victory! All the schemes of the devil, all the suffering he tries to inflict, not only come to nothing – but end up working out for the good of God’s plan!
It’s a mind boggling thing to process, I know, but it’s amazingly true. Habakkuk asks, “God, how can you use a greater evil to punish a lesser one?” and the answer we read throughout scripture is that God is so utterly perfect that He can even suffering and evil as His servants to bring about goodness and righteousness. The Chaldeans evil will work for good.
Again, this is most perfectly seen in the cross of Christ as humanity committed the worst atrocity imaginable, viciously murdering the perfect Son of God. And yet God used that worst of all evils, and turned it into the greatest good, the greatest gift imaginable. Listen again to Isaiah 53:3-5:
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
So that’s my message for today, and something we all need to remember when suffering comes. So here’s the two things we talked about today:
First: Remember that suffering is an unavoidable part of this world – no matter how hard we try to run from it. Our instinct is to avoid pain at all costs, but that’s not only unhealthy, but doesn’t work for our good in the long term. If you are suffering today, or know someone that is suffering, I want you to remember that suffering is normal, it comes with this world, you are not alone, and it is only temporary. God desires to walk with you every step of the way.
Remember Psalm 23: God doesn’t just keep us in green pastures and still waters. It is in the Valley of the Shadow of Death that we learn that we need not fear evil, and know the comfort of the Good Shepherd. It is sitting at the table in the presence of our greatest enemies that we are covered with God’s blessed oil.
Second: Remember that God allowed this suffering for a purpose. If it’s something you brought on yourself, then it’s there to teach you something about yourself. If it’s something that happened to you, completely beyond your control, then it was given to you by God. I realize that takes a lot of faith and maturity, but it’s absolutely true.
Allow the pain of your suffering to force you to go to Doctor Jesus for help. Allow your suffering to drive you to God. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” That means that no matter how bad it feels now, the good that comes after will be exponentially better. Don’t waste your suffering by trying to deny it or avoid it.
If you go to God with your pain, He will do something with it. He’s going to use this terrible, frustrating, difficult time for His glory, your good, and the good of others. He promises to do that! Get into the watchtower and watch for what God will do through this time in your life. You are, right now, surrounded by people who can tell stories of how they have suffered in their life, and how God brought them through it, and how God used it for His glory and their good.
I recently sent this to a struggling friend and was convicted to share it on the blog in hope of helping others. These are practical ways that I’ve learned to combat the temptation to view pornography. Hopefully they will help you too.
1. Have Consistent Daily Devotions – If you’re reading God’s Word and talking to Him every day (putting on “the whole armor of God“) then you are a billion times more likely to have the strength to fight temptation. The more you love God, then more you’ll hate sin. The brighter God shines, the darker sin looks. (Here’s a method if you’re looking for one.)
2. Get an Accountability Partner – Find a Christian brother or sister of the same gender, whom you see often, and confide in them about your struggle. Ask them to pray for you and give them permission to regularly ask you about porn (“Have you looked at pornography lately?”). Once you drag your sin into the light, the shame and fear associated with it will dissipate. Satan wants you to be alone and afraid, but James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
3. Use Effective Porn Blocking – I’m really good at using computers so finding a way to block porn was a tough one — but I figured it out. The best/easiest way I’ve found to do it is to use OpenDNS on your router. It’s super easy to setup and has the advantage of blocking all kinds of pop-ups and other weird internet stuff. Once you’ve set that up, and this is important, give your router and OpenDNS password to your accountability partner. Make it impossible to remember (or have them enter it in) and then you can’t access it or change it. And since it’s based in your router, “Incognito Mode” doesn’t work. (And if you know your way around a router, do this to prevent it from being circumvented by local DNS changes.)
4. Enable/Force Google Safe Search – This is important because enabling Google Safe Search will help keep you from stumbling across images and sites that get your motor running. (If you know your way around a router then do this too as it will force every device connected to the router to use Google Safe Search.)
5. Remove Web Browsing From Portable Devices – This one might be painful, but trust me, you’ll get over it. If you have an Apple device, then use “Restrictions” to disable Safari and give the password to your Accountability Partner. Most of the stuff you want to do uses an app anyway, right? (Sorry, I don’t know how to do this on an Android or Blackberry device.)
6. Learn to Hate Porn – You cannot kill a sin that you do not hate. One of the reasons people keep falling for porn is that they think it’s their own private problem and doesn’t affect anyone else. That’s a damnable lie. Here’s some things to read so you can learn to hate pornography: “Porn Fuels the Rape Culture“. “Pornography and Human Trafficking” (also here). “19 Year Old Commits Suicide After Shooting First Porn Scene“. Porn Destroys People, Families and Communities. Also check out Porn Harms.
7. Remember You’re Forgiven – If you hate your sin and ask Jesus for forgiveness, He will absolutely forgive you. He loves you so much that He took your punishment for that very sin. Yes, sexual sin is bad, but Jesus was crucified to pay for that sin too. Remember 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Take some time to read Romans 8 to really understand the depth of forgiveness. When you fall, Jesus will forgive you.
8. Remember Temptation Isn’t Sin – Satan wants you to believe that you must sin. He wants you to think that depravity is part of you and you can’t get away from it. He wants you to think that since you’re tempted too look at porn then you aren’t a real Christian. And if you’re not a Christian, then you don’t have access to the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit. He wants you to think you’re alone and that you have no choice but to give in. Remember, even Jesus was tempted! Temptation isn’t sin. You are a child of God and a new creation and you do not have to sin. That’s why you’re fighting against it! You have the strength, in Jesus, to fight temptation.