Consumerism

From Pride to Addiction to Greed: How Sin Creates Addicts and Consumers

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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.

Quick Review

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.

What is a “Good Church”? (Part 4 – Spirit-Led Evangelism)

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This is the last sermon of our mini-series-within-a-series where we’re answering the question “What is a Good Church?”. This series is inside of the “Burning Questions” series which came about after I asked you all to submit some questions that you’ve had that I could answer. I hope that this series has been helpful to you, because it’s been enjoyable for me to write and deliver.

We’ve already talked about the danger of Christian Consumerism where we decide what a “good church” is by human standards and moved into discussion what God defines as a “good church” from the Bible. A lot of this discussion has come from Acts 2:42-47 which is the story of the birth of the first church. In that passage we read about the four important things that God expects from His church, that being: Discipleship, Fellowship, Worship and Evangelism. We’ve already covered the first three, and we’re coming into the last one today.

The Four Categories Everywhere

I hope, as you’ve been your Bible at home, that you’ve noticed these four categories blossomed out beyond Acts into the rest of the scriptures, because you see them everywhere. These four areas are very important for us to be able to identify the wins and losses of the people in the Bible. When we read of something going right, or something going wrong – and I hope I’m not overgeneralizing here – that I’m pretty sure it will be in one of those areas.

When there is a breakdown in one of those areas, it invariable leads to the loss of relationship with God, loss of blessing, and destruction of the people. And it’s not just in the New Testament church, this has been true throughout the history of God’s people.

Right from the beginning, even Adam and Eve had all four categories. They heard the voice of God telling them what to do and not do – that’s discipleship: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over it… eat the food from the plans, but don’t eat of that one tree.” To me, that’s discipleship.

There was Fellowship in the Garden too as God looked and saw that “it was not good for man to be alone” and created a mate suitable for him.

There was, no doubt, Worship in the Garden, as we see God walking and talking with His people. Evangelism is a little more difficult to find, since there are only two people, but we can certainly imagine these two talking with one another about God, caring for each other, tending to the Garden and the animals… and subduing the earth in His Name.

And then it goes sideways, right? Where’s the breakdown? Genesis 3 at the Fall of Man. There is a Discipleship breakdown as the serpent starts to challenge Eve’s knowledge of God’s word and says “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”

We see a breakdown in Fellowship and Evangelism (the sharing of God’s word) as Adam standing right there as Eve is about to fall – and says NOTHING, refusing to protect Eve and keep her accountable to God’s word. No warning of the coming wrath, no reminder of the good news of God’s presence. Nothing. Adam stood next to her totally silent. And then later we see a total breakdown as everyone blames everyone else for it all going wrong.

We see a breakdown in Worship as Eve chooses to place herself over God, wants to be as wise as God, and does the thing God forbid her to do. Then worship further breaks down as the man and woman now feel shame and try to flee from God, hiding in the bushes, not wanting to talk to God anymore.

That pattern, I believe, can be found throughout scripture. These four words are the model for our relationship with God personally – as in one-on-one with Him – corporately as a church, and, I would argue, the proper design for all human interaction. If we can get these four areas right – Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship and Spirit-Led Evangelism, then we’re doing pretty good, and I believe God will be pleased.

The Great Commission

As I said, today we’re talking about the final of the four: Spirit-Led Evangelism. Please open up to Matthew 28:18-20, a section of scripture usually called “The Great Commission”. Here we see Jesus passing on the torch to his disciples before He ascends to Heaven to start the next phase of His ministry.

Some context here first:

Jesus has already been crucified and has risen from the dead. He has been seen by hundreds of people and the Roman Guards that were guarding His tomb have already been paid off to say that Jesus body was stolen as they slept.

Jesus has already met with some disciples on the Road to Emmaus and explained the meaning of His life and death to them, according to the scriptures. He has already appeared to the disciples, who were locked away in a room, bewildered at the death of their rabbi and friend, and terrified of the Jewish authorities. And He has looked into the eyes and spoken to Thomas who said, “Unless I see the imprint of the nails in His hands and press my finger into the mark of the nails and my hand into His side, I refuse to believe.” (John 20:25) Moments later that same man would see Jesus and call Him, “My Lord and My God!”.

Jesus has already held the first men’s breakfast, cooking for his disciples, and restoring Peter to the rest of the disciples, forgiving Him his betrayal, and telling Him to “Feed his sheep”. (John 21:1-24)

All of this was happening over a few weeks. Near the end of those weeks, Jesus told his remaining eleven disciples (minus Judas who killed himself instead of seeking God’s forgiveness) to go to a mountaintop in Galilee where He would meet them later. It is very likely that there were more than just the eleven with Jesus that day, and that perhaps even as many as 500 people were there, which is why it says “some doubted.” . (1 Cor 15:6)

Let’s read it together:

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

The Four Categories in The Great Commission

Notice again, that we see all four of our categories in this passage. Jesus says to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe His commandments. That’s obviously discipleship.

We also see worship in there as it says that they “worshipped him”, but also implicitly as Jesus reminds them that “All authority in heaving and on earth” is HIS. Those words are meant to bring comfort, but also to remind them that He’s not just their friend, He’s their LORD.

We certainly see Fellowship there as Jesus has asked them all to come to that mountain together (He doesn’t meet with them one-on-one). He tells them to go make disciples of all nations, at least implying that this is mean to be done together, and with multiple people-groups in mind. And He reminds them “I am with you always.” They will also have fellowship with Jesus.

And, of course, we see evangelism as they are told to “go”, and “make”, and “baptize”, and “teach”, disciples throughout the world. All four are in there, all four are necessary, and all four are expected. And without the first three – Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship – we have no hope of having Spirit-Led Evangelism that causes us to share God’s love with others and for the Lord to add to our number those who are being saved.

Three Makes Four

Let me explain what I mean by turning back to our key-text in Acts 2:42-47. Let’s read it again and I want you to notice something important on the way through – look how the evangelism, outreach, faith-sharing, happens.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

What you don’t see in this description is any sort of evangelistic endeavours. There is no missionary sending, no tent-meetings, no four spiritual laws, no wordless book, no formal evangelistic endeavours.

Does that mean that no one did missionary work? Of course not! Paul was the primary missionary to the Gentiles and Peter was the primary missionary to the Jews. And all of the disciples took their turns going out into the world, spreading the message of Jesus Christ to new places that had never heard of Him. All Christians and Christian churches must participate in local and global missions.

But my message today isn’t about the world’s need for more missionaries – which it has. It’s not about personal evangelism – which is important. Our question today is “What is a Good Church?”

This is where my descriptor of Spirit-Led Evangelism comes from. When we obey the commands of Jesus Christ in the areas of Discipleship, Fellowship and Worship, then Evangelism will occur. When we are listening to the Holy Spirit because we are filling our lives with His Word, His People and His Presence, then the natural outflow will be that we will grow His Kingdom. If we are being disciple by our church and are able to have an answer for the hope that is within us, are in loving fellowship with the people in our church; caring for one another’s needs and holding each other accountable to the word of God, and are inspired to Worship God every day, all day, in all things, in Spirit and in Truth  — then how can we not “have favour” with people, and see “the Lord add daily those who are being saved.”

Being a “good church”, when it comes to Evangelism, doesn’t mean we have fun events and make excuses for people to come through our doors. What it means is that when we get the other three areas right –the message of the Gospel, our love for the lost, the words that come from the Holy Spirit, the changing of hearts, the miraculous timing – starts to happen. That’s where revival comes from.

How Does Revival Happen?

We can’t make revival happen in our community or in our church. I can’t preach us into a spiritual revival. Revival comes when the people in the church revaluate their spiritual conditions and start to get serious about Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, and Inspired Worship.

As long as we are avoiding discipleship by neglecting to read our bibles, avoiding prayer, not participating in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, avoiding personal and corporate study, and making church attendance optional depending on how we feel, we will never see revival in our own hearts, or in our church or community.

As long as we are avoiding fellowship by ignoring people in our midst, not forgiving people in our church, allowing bitterness to fester in our hearts, refusing to meet each other’s needs – or even find out one another’s needs, and leaving care and visitation ministry to only a few people, gossiping behind people’s backs, accusing people of false things, and sowing division among the brothers in the church, we will never see revival. For as long as our hearts, our family’s hearts, our church’s hearts are full of anything other than love for God, His people, widows, orphans and strangers, we cannot see revival.

As long as we are avoiding Worship by refusing to sing, refusing to pray, refusing to kneel before God, refusing to acknowledge God as King, refusing to obey Him by giving of our time and talents, refusing to give sacrificially, refusing to call Him Lord, refusing to put down the sins that have entangled us, we will not see revival. As long as we are making our own paths, and telling God to get lost until Sunday, treating Him as a Santa Clause in the sky who only exists to bring you comfort and ease, we cannot see revival in this church.

Psalm 50

I was very convicted by Psalm 50 this week as I examined my own heart.

The whole first part of the Psalm reminds us that God doesn’t need our worship. He desires it, but He doesn’t need it. He is almighty and perfect without requiring any help from us. In verse 12 He says,

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.”

And then in verse 14 God turns to His people and says what He desires:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

He doesn’t want our religious obedience. He says earlier, “I have no need…” of anything we can bring. What He wants from us is to acknowledge our dependence on Him by thanking Him in worship, living by our commitment to Him, and calling out to Him in prayer.

Now read in verse 16:

“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?”

That hit me hard this week. What right do I have to read His Bible, recite His word, or tell anyone of the promises of Salvation? What right do I have to ask for revival? What right do I have to stand up here and tell you anything?

I have no right, because I am wicked and fall utterly short in all these areas. You’ll see the four again here Discipleship, Worship, Fellowship and Evangelism. All are there, and I fall desperately short, which very well could be a big reason we aren’t seeing revival here in this community. I invite you to examine yourself using this scripture. Have you been wicked? Do you expect to have God’s blessing? What right do you have?

He says,

“For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.”

How many times has God said the same thing to you over and over and over? How many times have you heard the Spirit of God convicting you of that sin, or prompting you to do something – but you cast His words behind you like they mean nothing.

Do you appreciate God’s discipline and thank Him for making you more like His Son, or do you hate His discipline and get angry when hard times come because you think you are owed an easy life? How often have you cast God’s word behind you, walked away, didn’t read it, left His Word sitting on the shelf for days and days and days, never giving it a second thought?

What RIGHT do we have to come before Him if, when we do, we dismiss whatever He has to say?

Next He says,

“If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers.”

Do you admire those who steal, sneak and bend the rules, even in little ways? What have you stolen? Are you living completely within the boundaries of Canadian Law and God’s moral law? Have you used the words “everyone else is doing it” to justify yourself as a thief?

Keeping company with adulterers doesn’t require actually committing adultery – or being married for that matter. How is your thought life? Do you keep company with adulterers as you dwell on your own lustful thoughts? What do your browser history look like? What about your texts? Any posters on the walls, pictures on your phone, or on your hard drive of people you’re not married to? Do you get a sexual thrill from the books you read, or the movies and tv shows you watch? Any emotional connections to people you’re not married to? All of these things are examples of keeping company with adulterers.

What RIGHT do we have to come before Him if we continuously crush our own spirits, ignore our consciences and eat the garbage this world offers and call it good?

Next he says,

“You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.”

What is your relationship like with others? Your own family? Your brothers and sisters in Christ? I know there are people sitting here today who have given their mouth free rein for evil this week, have framed deceit and lied about others, and spoke slander against their brother. And I know that there are those who have listened to that gossip and slander and ate it up like sugar-cubes.

What right do you have to ask God to fill this church with people, to use you as an agent of the Gospel, when you turn around and stab people in the back, show hatred for your own family and people within your own church? Why would He do that?

Look what God says next in verse 21:

“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!”

Maybe for you there hasn’t been a sign from God telling you to repent and get right with Him. There has been no thunder and lighting, no writing on the wall, no curses of sickness and death that has forced you to re-evaluate your life, so you’re go along thinking that this is all ok. We haven’t been struck down, the church closed, and the building wiped out, so we think that it’s all ok. God’s just like us! He doesn’t care about these sins. God doesn’t care about what we say, what we do! We ought not think that God is like us.

If you have not repented of your sins, today is the day. Time is short. For us as a body of believers, I believe that if we are to have a time of revival here in this church, then we need to listen to the charges of God against the individuals in this church – starting with me and including every individual here. Let us not forget who God is and His hatred of sin.

We have been warned.

Hope in Repentance

But, thank God, the Psalm doesn’t end there. It ends like this:

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”

This is a call to repentance. This is a call to get our priorities straight. This has very little to do with growing our church in numbers, and everything to do with deepening our church spiritually. If we want to see revival in our hearts, our homes, our church and our community, then we must repent of our sins, and fall on the sacrifice that has been given for us? And who is that? Jesus Christ.

We are the sinners, but Jesus is the sacrifice! I’ve been saying, “What gives you the right?” to come before God? Nothing. Nothing except the name Jesus Christ.

  • Jesus says He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6)
  • 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins” which means He’s the one who took God’s wrath.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:5-6 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…”

The only thing that gives us the right to come before God is if we are willing to place all of our sin on Jesus shoulders and accept that He died for them on our behalf. Then, and only then, do we have the right to come before Him.

That’s what John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” When we receive forgiveness in His Name, and believe in Him, then we become children of God. The Bible tells us that in Christ we are adopted as sons and daughters, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8). That’s what gives us the right to come before Him.

Yes, we are wicked and sinful, but we have been given the opportunity to walk away from the Spirit of this World and Sin and live by the Spirit of God instead. This doesn’t just happen once and then we’re done – we must do this every day. We must continuously fall down before God in thanksgiving for our salvation, killing the sin within us, and living as His people.

Conclusion

Allow me to conclude with this: It is my deep desire to see this church grow – but not merely in number. I want us to be a good church by God’s standards. I want us to grow deeply as we make Biblical Disciples, have Loving Fellowship and Inspired Worship, and then see God add to our numbers as we Evangelize our community and this world.

But this isn’t a job for only me. Every single person who is listening to me right now has a responsibility to listen to the Spirit of God within them and repent of their sin. Let’s not be like all the other nominal, weak, powerless, fruitless, cowardly, sick, worldly, churches that surround us. Let us turn and follow God, and let us live together as a good, Godly, Christ honouring church. That starts with you and me – in our homes, by ourselves, on our knees before God – praying, repenting, reading and meditating on His word. That’s where we start.

What is “A Good Church”? Part 2 (Burning Questions Series)

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Burning Questions 6 - A Good Church 2

Last week I spoke what amounted to an extended introduction about answering the question, “What is ‘A Good Church’?” (We also did a Carnivore Theology episode on it!) We talked a lot about the huge variety of options and opinions that we have access to in our churches, and how that can give us a sort of consumer mentality when it comes to deciding what a “good church” is.

Our conclusion was to change the question from “What do I (or culture, or other people) think is a ‘good church’?” to “What does God think is a ‘good church’?” That little change, which seems obvious, makes all the difference. It takes the decision out of our hands, and removes our feelings from the equation, allowing us to evaluate our church (or any other church) from God’s perspective and by His standards.

I told you that I did some digging into scripture and came up with four universal characteristics – that is characteristics that can be used to evaluate any church, at any time in history, any place in the world – of a “good church”, by God’s standards. Those four things again are, Discipleship, Fellowship, Worship and Outreach.

I briefly explored these four areas from Acts 2:42-47, but what I want to do today is dig a little deeper into these four areas so that we can all, hopefully, understand what God expects from our church – or any church.

Why is This Important?

You might be wondering why this is important to talk about. That goes back to what I was talking about last week when it comes to “consumer Christianity”. People make two important mistakes when it comes to planting, choosing, serving or ministering in their church.

Mistake 1: Using Human Standards for God’s Church

Mistake number one is to define a “good church” by human standards. How the services make them feel, how many people attend, whether the ministries fit their lifestyle and interests, the quality of the musicians, or how interesting the preaching is. These are all human – not biblical – qualifications and cause people a lot of grief and trouble when they are made too high a priority.

Consider that if you evaluate a church by human standards, then it could be teaching you falsehood and heresy, and you’d still “like it”. It could be closed off to the world and not serving anyone, but because you feel “loved”, you would call it a “good church”. It could be accepting of any manner of sin and error, but since it is full and people like it, we might think that it has God’s blessing.

As an example of what I mean, look at Revelation 2:1-5. This is Jesus writing a letter to the leading church in the area. This was a big, important church. They had lots of people, great teachers, and a missionary seminary that sent out lots of people. Look what Jesus says to them:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”

By our human standards we would call that a good church. They work hard, “toil”, and endure persecution for Jesus name. They have good teachers who work church discipline and get rid of false apostles. They support one another in crisis and bear up under persecution. That sounds like a good church, right? Strong teaching, supportive people, and tireless missions. But look what Jesus says next:

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

Jesus was about to shut down this church because they had lots their love. They were so busy, busy, busy with ministries that they had abandoned the worship of God, their love for Jesus, and possible, their love for one another. This church was a machine, cranking out missionaries who knew their bibles and could defend the word of God… but they also acted like machines – without love, without humble repentance and thanksgiving to Jesus for their salvation. All head, no heart.

Using our four terms, we would say they were amazing at “Discipleship”, and “Outreach”, but they woefully lacked in the “Worship” and “Fellowship” department – and it was about to cost them their connection to God. Jesus would “remove their lampstand”, meaning they would lose their status as a “church of Jesus Christ” and would be treated just like unbelievers.

Do you see the danger of using human standards and feelings to evaluate a “good church?” We end up accepting huge errors and practicing disobedience – to the point where God is very unhappy – because we are using our standards instead of His.

Mistake 2: Crafting a Church in Our Image

Mistake number two is to try to craft the church into our own image. If we decide that we know what a “good church” looks like, outside of biblical standards, then we are likely to try to create a church in our image, rather than in the image of Jesus.

We get this a lot from church planters and believers who get frustrated that their denomination or church isn’t doing what they want – so they decide to go start a new one that does it “right”. So they go plant a church, or decide to start a “home church”, or something that fits their own personality – not because God called them to, but because they want the church to be more like them.

We’re not talking about the Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox who were “protesting” against massive errors in church doctrine. Luther never even wanted to start a new church. He wanted to “Reform” the Catholic church to go back to what scripture says. And when they didn’t he was forced to start a new church. That’s not what we’re talking about. These people aren’t seeing biblical error, but are driven by their feelings and preferences.

They don’t like the music and preaching style, the community isn’t enough like them, the ministries don’t cater to their wants and needs, so they plant a church that fits their preferences. Instead of seeking to help their church become more like what God wants it to be, they try to make the church into what they want it to be – and when that doesn’t work, they plant their own church in their own image.

I hope you can see the danger in that, because I’ve seen that a lot too. Young guys who think they know better than all the old, dead guys, out planting churches in their own image. Believers wandering from church to church looking for one that has all the same idols they have, and when they can’t find it, giving up on church and choosing to quit the church so they can “worship at home” by themselves — something unheard of in the Bible.

It’s all just idols and pride mixed around with religious language and it leads to all manner of temptation and error.

Adding some Adjectives

We don’t want to fall into either of those errors, so let’s take a look at the four areas that God has given us to understand what a “good church” looks like to Him – and to help out, I’m going to add an adjective, or describing word, to each. What God desires from His church is “Biblical Discipleship”, “Loving Fellowship”, “Inspired Worship”, and “Spirit-Led Evangelism”.

Open up to Acts 2:42-47 and let’s talk about them individually.

Biblical Discipleship

We said last week that one of the key markers of the first church we read about in the New Testament is that (looking at verse 42) they “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching… the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” That is some very specific language to describe the very basics of what makes a church a church.

The historic definition of a church, held universally for almost 2000 years, is that a church has Four Marks: “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” We see this in the creeds, dating back all the way to the Nicene Creed from the year 381. This is the standard definition, and we see it in Acts 2. The words “one” and “catholic” are tied together. That doesn’t mean “the Roman Catholic Church, but comes from a Greek word simply meaning “universal”, or including everyone. There is one, universal church of Jesus Christ, seen everywhere in the world and beyond for all time – those who are still on earth and those who have gone into heaven. Jesus didn’t commission many churches to be built, but only one.

The church is also “holy”, meaning that it contains those who are full of the Holy Spirit, set apart by Jesus for salvation, and called to be saints (1 Cor 1:2, Rom 1:7). The church isn’t like any other organization, but is like Jesus – different, set apart, unique, holy.

The church is one, holy, universal and the word I want to emphasize right now is “apostolic”, meaning it is built on the apostolic pattern. Think of verses like Ephesians 2:19-20 which says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” or Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says to Peter after his declaration that Jesus is “the Christ the Son of the Living God”, “on this rock I will build my church”, meaning the apostolic declaration that Jesus is God and Saviour. Even in Revelation we read the description of the shining city, the New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, the dwelling place of all God’s people forever… “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:14)

In 1 Corinthians 3, when Paul was writing to the Corinthian church about them not fighting about their favourite preacher and teacher – “I follow Paul”, “I follow Apollos”, “I follow Peter” – he says,

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-11)

There is only one foundation, Jesus Christ, and that foundation is built upon by the teaching of the Apostles. And that teaching is found in scripture. A church cannot be a church of Jesus Christ if it is not built upon Jesus Christ as the foundation, and the teachings of the Apostles as found in scripture.

This was the problem during the Reformation. The Catholic Church was saying they were the only church – just as many do today. But is the Catholic church, or the Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons, or any other of these groups that claim to be Christians, actually a Christian church? No! Why? They do not qualify because they do not follow the teachings of the apostles in scripture. They’ve made things up and added or subtracted things from the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles about how to be saved and be the church. They disqualify themselves because they don’t follow the Bible.

So, at the very end of Matthew, after Jesus had risen from the dead, Jesus looks at His Apostles and gives them what we call The Great Commission. He says – and I want you to listen to all the Apostolic, Discipleship, Scriptural, Authoritative language here:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

That’s exactly what is happening in Acts 2. The Apostles have gone out and taught the scriptures and people have been convicted by the Holy Spirit and desire to be saved and baptized. Then God gets hold of their hearts and they start to become the Church. They are under the direct authority of the Apostles – who are still alive and have yet to write the New Testament yet – and the first thing it says they did was to “devote themselves to the apostles teaching… the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”

They obeyed the Apostles, they “broke bread” – which here means they obeyed Jesus’ command to participate in the Lord’s Supper, and said “the prayers”, which meant they practiced personal and corporate spiritual disciplines. In other words – they made biblical disciples.

That’s the first question we must ask ourselves when evaluating our church or any church: Is it making Biblical disciples? I don’t care how boring or entertaining the preaching is – is it biblical? I don’t care how many people come to Sunday School – or even if you are doing Sunday School – the question is, does this church teach people of all ages to fully obey the Jesus of the Bible? I don’t care how wonderful the music is – is it biblical music that draws people into prayer and devotion to the Jesus of the Bible?

I could talk about this all day, but we need to move on to the next one.

Loving Fellowship

In order to be a God-pleasing church, we don’t just need to follow the Bible, but we need to be in Loving Fellowship with one another. In the Acts 2 church we saw that they “had all things in common, attended the temple together, met in homes, and distributed to the needy among them.” This was a group that showed love and care for each other in practical ways. They lived out the 54 “one another’s” that we find in the New Testament (Rom 12:16; 1 Cor 1:10; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2; Col 3:16, etc.) and obey Jesus’ command from John 13:34-35 where He says,

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Not only does the church have to read, teach, know and love the Bible – they actually have to live out what it says! Jesus says “go, make disciples and teach” them the bible, but also teach them to “love one another.”

This is the most attractive thing that we have to offer one another and the hurting world beyond our doors. It isn’t our doctrine, but our love. God didn’t just “so love the world that he sent” down the Bible, but “He sent His only begotton Son” as an ultimate act of love. (Jn 3:16)

I have a hockey jersey at home with my favourite team and my favourite player’s name on it. When I walk into a room with it, there is no doubt which team and player I will be cheering for (or did before he retired) because it’s literally written on my front and back. But without the jersey on, no one can tell, right?

This is where we get confused. We think that a “good church” has a certain look. It has a pointy roof, wooden pews, blue hymn books, a centre aisle, and an organ. Or it has a big sign out front, a nice webpage, a gymnasium, screens on the wall and a coffee bar. Some say that it’s not a church unless there is a cross on top and inside. But is that what makes a church a church?

The Anglican Church in England is going through this right now. They have over a thousand churches that are dying or empty and they don’t know what to do with them. The country likes the beauty and heritage of these buildings and wants to “save the churches”, so they’ve made a plan to sell them and have them host community things like pubs, yoga classes, concerts, etc. They figure that if they can repurpose these buildings, then they will have saved the Anglican churches.

But they’re not saving the “churches” – they’re repurposing a pointy-topped building. The church is the people. A church is made up of Christians – whether they have a building with a cross on top and stained glass windows, or are meeting secretly in a basement in China, the church is the people.

Jesus says they will know we are His people, Christians, the Church, by “our love for one another.” So that’s our second question: Is this church characterized by having a Loving Fellowship?

That’s what our Deacon of Fellowship is trying to do. She’s not a hostess, nor is she an event planner. She’s not trying merely to attract people to an experience or give them something to do on a Saturday night. Her job is to invite the people of the church to do something where they can show love to one another. Maybe that’s a fun event or maybe that’s visiting a sick person. Maybe that’s a potluck after church or maybe it’s gathering funds and gifts to support someone in the church who is hurting. The Deacon of Fellowship is the “love coordinator”!

And we the church are meant to respond to what the God is asking us to do. We are to consistently, sacrificially, humbly, love one another. We are to put ourselves last so others can be first. We are to give our time, talents, and treasure for one another, “attending the church together, meeting in each other’s homes, and distributed to the needy among us.”

So when you evaluate your church or any church, make that your second question: “Is this church a Loving Fellowship?” Do these people show the love of Jesus to one another, or do they all merely attend the same church? That’s completely different!

Do they live in harmony together, accept one another, greet one another when they see each other, agree with one another so there might be no divisions, serve one another, are patient with one another, are kind and compassionate to one another, do they forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave them? Do they submit to one another, teach and admonish one another, spur one another on towards love and good deeds, offer hospitality to one another, and cloth themselves with humility towards one another? (Romans 12:16, 15:17, 16:16; 1 Cor 1:10; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2, 32, 5:21; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 5:11; Heb 10:24; James 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9, 5:5…)

Let’s Personalize It

I’ll stop there for today and we’ll come back to the other qualifications next week, but let me challenge you to personalize this. It’s much easier to evaluate others than it is to evaluate ourselves. So I’m going to ask you this week to take all those questions and personalize them. If you are a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church – as it is represented locally, here – then ask yourself:

Am I obeying God’s word when it comes to why I attend church? Am I obeying Jesus in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism? Do I honour the reading and teaching of His Word? Am I doing what I can to develop myself spiritually? Do I desire biblical teaching and correction, or merely entertainment?

And, Do I love the people in my church in practical, sacrificial ways, or do I not care about them one way or another? Am I part of a church clique or do I greet everyone the same way? Is there anyone that is hurting that I need to serve? How am I living out the Biblical One Anothers with the people around me? Is there anyone I need to forgive? Anyone I’m not bearing with? Am I showing hospitality to the people in my church?

These are the questions that God is asking of us, and by which we as Christians and we as a church will be judged.

What is a “Good Church”? (Carnivore Theology: Ep 52)

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A Good Church

Every Christian wants to attend a “good church”, but we all seem to have different ideas of what a “good church” looks like. The guys take on this question and give a biblical perspective.

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Love People, Use Things (Not the Other Way Around)

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Love People Use Things

What is Lent?

We are currently in the traditional season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and goes until Easter Sunday. Most Protestants, Baptists included, don’t really celebrate much of the liturgical calendar, but the Lenten season has been celebrated by many Christians around the world since the third century.

Evangelicals usually avoid it, though it’s making somewhat of a comeback these days, because it’s associated with the rituals of Catholicism and old-school Christianity. The idea is that since the protestant reformation, we have thrown off the shackles of mindless pharisaical religion and now live as modern worshippers of God who follow the Bible and not the rules of man. But I think that by ceasing the practice of many of these traditions we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater and have lost some very powerful tools of Christian discipleship.

The protestant reformation was all about combatting false teachers who had moved away from the message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus and were telling people they had to do certain things (like go in pilgrimages, say certain prayers, do penance, and give the church money) before God would forgive them.

But the protestants didn’t just get rid of the false Roman Catholic teachers, they also demonized many of the teachings of the traditional church, including the church calendar. The thinking was that since the Roman Catholics came up with it, it must therefore be wrong. In my opinion that’s too closed minded. I believe we can get a lot of benefit by participating in some of these traditions. Though they were eventually corrupted and used to manipulate ignorant people, they began with good intentions. Christians were encouraged to remember and celebrate the life of Jesus throughout the year, celebrate the saints and martyrs that had come before, and practice many important spiritual disciplines.

Lent is a period of 46 days – 40 regular days and 6 Sundays – that the church fathers set aside as a time of reflection and preparation before the high-holy days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Instead of being like the world and avoiding feelings of sadness, lamenting, suffering and sacrifice, we choose to take a period of time to be more like Jesus and meditate, mourn, repent and fast.

Christians traditionally stopped eating certain foods and avoided celebrations so they could contemplate the meaning and significance of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus gave us on the cross. We choose to take a long time to think about why Jesus was crucified, what He went through, how much our personal salvation cost, what that means to us individually, to our family, and to our church.

It is a spiritual practice, a spiritual discipline, a spiritual exercise – something we are not very good, and is grossly undervalued these days. Lent is a time of prayer, meditation, fasting and repentance where we confront the sins in our life and try to put them to death. It’s a time to think less of ourselves and more about Jesus. It’s a time to give a special sacrifice of our time, energy, and efforts to God as an act of worship. It is a time to practice self-discipline and open ourselves to the amazing thing that God has done to save our souls.

We are Consumers

In the theme of thinking less of ourselves and more about God and others, I want to take some time today to address something that many of us struggle with – selfishness. If the season of Lent is about giving something up (like TV time, desserts, celebrations, internet) so that we can replace it with something better (a deeper relationship with God and a clean spirit), then the temptation to go along with that will be toward selfishly wanting to have it both – to have our cake and eat it too.

That’s what our society is all about, right? That’s the consistent temptation of where we live, isn’t it? Our society worships at the altar of consumerism. We are trained from very a young age that life is about accumulating pleasurable things and avoiding painful ones. We are born to go to school to get a job to get the money to buy the things that will make us happy. We find a person to live with that will make us happy and ward off pain. And if the job or the relationship brings pain, we get rid of it and get a new one.

Christianity doesn’t believe that. Christianity doesn’t agree with consumerism. Humans are not products, nor are the only valuable when they are contributing to society. Christians believe that all people, from their conception to death and at every stage in between – and even beyond death – have inherent dignity and worth. Every life is sacred and worthy of love and protection. Even the lives of our enemies are worth love and protection.

That’s what Jesus demonstrated to us when He died for us, His enemies. He came into the world that He created for goodness and perfection, but sinned, rebelled and destroyed itself in an attempt to usurp His position as God. But God made us His image bearers, and He loved us so much that He was willing to trade the life of His Son for us. Jesus was willing to trade His life for a bunch of disobedient, stubborn, gluttonous, vile, sinners who keep straying from His way, opposing His authority, abusing His goodness, twisting His privileges, and selfishly destroys His creation and continuously hurts the people around them.

But He came. He demonstrated the opposite of consumerism. He showed perfect unselfishness. He gave everything, received nothing, so we could have everything.

Nehemiah and the Wall

Nehemiah 5 describes a group of people that are just like us – people who have been saved from slavery to a foreign power, brought back to the promised land, but have to work with God every day to restore the ruins that were created by their own sin and rebellion. That’s the story of Nehemiah and the Israelites, but it’s also the story of every Christian.

The Jewish people had rebelled against God in every way possible and were disciplined by Him through being captured by their enemies (the Babylonians) and sent into 70 years of slavery. After that time, God brought them back to their land so they could start again. The land they returned to, especially the city of Jerusalem, was in ruins. The temple, homes, gates and defensive walls were all broken and burnt.

God raised up two important men, Ezra and Nehemiah to guide the people to rebuild their faith and their city. Ezra taught them the Bible and Nehemiah organized the rebuilding of the city. They faced many challenges from enemies outside the walls, but the work continued as people grew in faith and strength.

Then comes Chapter 5. If the story of Nehemiah is the story of the rebuilding of the people of God, then Nehemiah 5 shows what happens when Satan alters his attack against them from opposing them from the outside to tempting them from the inside.

Exploiting the Cracks

The wall, at this point, is a little more than half done, and the enemies outside the walls have been dealt with. Satan sees he’s not going to be able to shut down the city and the people by attacking them from outside the wall, so he changes his tactic to see if he can corrupt them from within.

“Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, ‘With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.’ There were also those who said, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.’ And there were those who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.’” (vs 1-5)

So there’s the switch. The troubles move from outside the camp to the inside – which is a common tactic of the Enemy. If he can’t rattle our church or our families by having people attack us, he’ll switch to having us hurt ourselves.

The walls were being built up so there would be no cracks in their defenses, but the cracks were showing in their relationships. It’s not that they weren’t there before, but now that the community was coming together, the city was being rebuilt, the spiritual reformation was occurring, Satan chose to use one of the existing problems toward his advantage – and that problem was selfishness.

This will always happen, and continues to happen today. When revival and Godly spiritual growth is about to happen to an individual or to a group, whatever cracks are there will be exploited. Whether it’s a church, a friendship, a marriage, or a leadership team, the sin will be exposed and the fractures will deepen.

To the church in Ephesus Paul gave the warning to watch their relationships because their enemy would exploit their weaknesses:

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:25-27)

He told them to watch themselves for lies, and be careful with their anger, because their words to each other would give an opportunity to the devil to create divisions within the church.

You’ve no doubt seen this in your own homes. A husband and wife decide to recommit their lives to Jesus and strengthen their marriage. Suddenly all manner of hell breaks loose on them from the outside – job issues, money issues, car issues, illness all come at them, but they stay together and remain strong. The next attack comes from within. Satan looks for the crack in the spiritual armour – and it’s often selfishness.

The man starts to believe he deserves more “free time” because he’s earned it and spends more time away from his wife and family… or he believes he deserves something new and shiny so he spends more time at work. The wife feels likes she deserves more help because she’s doing everything, all the time, for everyone… she’s the victim, she deserves more respect, more free time, more presents, more affection, and since she’s not getting it, she’ll go get it herself from something or someone else.

It’s the same for the individual. They recommit their lives to Christ and all hell breaks loose. And then the inward battle starts. Fatigue, pride, anger, fear start to become more present – thoughts that never occurred before start to bubble up. That’s the spiritual battle we face.

It’s the same in a church. We commit ourselves to one another, preach, teach and sing the Word of God faithfully, serve one another, and commit to staying here. We are attacked from the outside, and it doesn’t shut us down, but causes us to grow closer to God and one another. Then he attacks us from the inside.

Like a boxer exploiting his opponents cuts and bruises by hammering on them until they break open, the enemy starts to hammer on the sins he finds in the individuals in the body. And, very often, the sin he hammers on most is selfishness and pride.

Little things that were never a big deal before – like the format of the bulletin, the name of a ministry, where someone sits, the placement of furniture, the clothes someone wears, people being late – start cause more frustration. Critical thoughts abound. People forget that God is the great provider and start talking about nickels and dimes. Relationships get stressed out. Volunteers feel unappreciated, leaders disconnected, bitterness starts to grow. Worries about attendance and finances and too few committee members start to take over conversations – and people start to look for where to lay the to blame.

None of these are new problems, but it keeps the church from concentrating on their mission. As long as they are arguing and stressing about the temperature of the room, how much ink costs, the colour of the music leader’s socks, they aren’t thinking about building their relationship with God or others – and Satan’s happy.

The attacks are subtle. We  would so much rather have a frontal attack, but Satan knows that’s where your strongest – so he tempts us with pride, selfishness, laziness, fear, anger, lust, holding grudges, causing division, being overly critical, or giving in to distraction. We sense God calling us to go deeper, and at the same time the enemy is trying to set us up to be our own worst enemy.

I know I’ve been through this. I get more sensitive to what people say and see simple comments as attacks. “What did they mean by that!?” Innocent and helpful criticisms meant to help me do my job better throw me for a loop and I’m up all night wondering why that person doesn’t like me and if I’ll be fired at the next meeting. Satan takes my besetting pride and fear of man and presses on it until I’m half-crazed with worry and aren’t concentrating on anyone except myself and my own feelings.

When we commit ourselves to serving God, doing His will and living out his plan for our lives, we become a spiritual target. You may have been feeling that over the past while as you’ve been coming here – I know many of you have had the desire to connect deeper with God. But there is something nagging at you, trying to shut that down. It doesn’t want you do think spiritually, give up that sin, rebuild that relationship, or change your plans to line up more with God’s. The devil has ramped up his attacks and you’re feeling it.

All the little cracks get exploited and pounded on – and that’s exactly what was happening in Jerusalem. And the crack that Satan found and exploited was selfishness.

Exploiting the Poor

The Jewish brothers were taking advantage of the scarce resources and growing population and giving ample opportunity for the devil to have a field day with God’s people. The taxes were high because they had a foreign king and had to pay for the rebuilding of the city, so people had to borrow money against their homes and lands to pay their taxes. There was a famine in the land and people were on the edge of starving to death. So they would mortgage themselves to the hilt so they could by food for their families, but because of the drought, their crops weren’t paying off their debts.

But not everyone was poor. There were a group of successful Jewish businessmen and landowners who had left the exile in Babylon with a lot of money, and they were more than happy to lend it to those who didn’t have any – at a price.

The poor people, on the edge of starvation, were putting up their land, their homes, and their cattle – but it wasn’t enough. The only thing they had left was their children, and so they sold them to be slaves of the wealthy. And when that wasn’t enough, they sold themselves. They had to choose between starvation and slavery, and the wealthy men were snapping up houses, lands and slaves all over the place. Hostile takeovers, guaranteed forclosures, and the added bonus of free, slave labour.

Generosity Commanded

In the Law given to Israel by Moses, we learn that it was fine for a Jewish person to lend to another Jew, but God forbid charging interest and exploiting people. Deuteronomy 24:10-14 teaches how God wanted His people to lend money to each other:

“When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not go into his house to collect his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge. You shall restore to him the pledge as the sun sets, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you. And it shall be righteousness for you before the LORD your God. You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the LORD, and you be guilty of sin.”

Basically, God is making sure that wealthy people don’t exploit poorer ones. If a man is so poor that the only thing he has left is his last blanket, and you take it as a pledge for the money you’ve lent him… at least give it back at night so he can sleep on it! Don’t go stomping into someone’s house and take whatever you think they owe you – stand outside and wait respectfully. If someone is just barely eking out a living, give them pay at the end of the day – don’t make them wait for it – because they need it more than you do! God told people to work hard to pay off their debts, but also had a lot to say to the lenders.

And those laws were governed by love, not greed or selfishness. In fact, if a person was totally destitute, the rich person was supposed to simply give the money as a gift!

Loving People and Using Things

What it comes down to is Loving People and Using Things. The greatest definition of Selfishness I’ve ever heard is: Selfishness is loving things and using people. Christians are supposed to love people and use things… or even better, use things to love people… but selfishness means Loving Things and Using People.

Warren Wiersby says in his commentary:

“When the Devil, or the enemy, fails in his attacks from the outside, he will begin or intensify his attack from within; and one of his favourite weapons is selfishness.”

We’re reminded in Ephesians 6:12:

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

And those spiritual powers spend a lot of time tempting people and messing with relationships among the people of a community of faith by playing upon their fear, greed and selfishness. Fear of losing something that they want, greed to get what they want their way, and selfishness to take it from others who need it more.

And that destroys our witness and our relationships. A few people end up rich and happy while others die away. Good deeds are replaced by a lust for good things. Godly spirituality is replaced with a religion that worships religious things. Worship of God is replaced by worship of control and security. The costly risks that God asks us to take are forgotten and pushed aside so we can keep our treasures on earth for as long as possible.

When selfishness takes hold of a soul, a community, a church, or a nation, Godly Spirituality and a relationship with Jesus cannot continue. Jesus said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

James echoed Him saying:

“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

And the Apostle Paul did the same saying:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

We must be very, very careful to Use Things and Love People – never to Love Money or Things and Use People. If we get that backwards we will give the devil a foothold in our souls, homes, work, ministry, and community. Jesus loved people and used things, so should we.

How To React to Selfishness

So what should we do? I believe that Nehemiah sets a good example for us, because his example is like Christ’s.

1. He Got Angry

First, we see in verse 6, he gets angry. “I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.” His first reaction to selfishness was to be action. Jesus did the same thing when he saw the selfishness of the money changers in the temple. This is a good, godly reaction to seeing people who are being exploited and abused by people who have means. We are right to get angry.

Selfishness is far too common among God’s people. It happened in Nehemiah’s time. It happened in Jesus’ time. And it happened again in Paul’s. He had to confront the Corinthian church because there were people that were starving in their church meetings while others were gorging themselves and getting drunk on the Lord’s Supper. (1 Cor 11:17-22) Selfishness among believers is a perennial problem that has to be continuously confronted by angry saints.

2. He Thought About It

Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin” and part of that is taking a minute to think about what you’re going to do. That’s exactly what Nehemiah does. In verse 7 it says, “I took counsel with myself…”. He wasn’t so tied up in the building of the walls that he didn’t have time to deal with the needs of his community. His job was to fix the rebuild the city, not mediate economic reform. But when he heard the outcry, saw the injustice, witnessed the greed, he took some time away from his work to think (and we can assume pray) about it to come up with a solution.

3. He Accused

The third thing Nehemiah did absolutely shows the heart of Jesus. Verse 7 again, “I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, ‘You are exacting interest, each from his brother.’”

He got them together and flat-out accused them. He pinned them to the wall. He showed godly passion and conviction, knew his Bible, and knew what was wrong, and accused them using Biblical words. He does it privately at first, not publically, so that they are not embarrassed, and so the emotional charge doesn’t deflate morale and harm people who aren’t directly affected.

We must learn this courage! This is all over scripture:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Jesus in Matthew 18:15)

“If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…” (Titus 3:10)

When we see sin and injustice, selfishness and ungodly behaviour, we have the responsibility to go to our brothers and sisters and accuse them.

4. He Taught Against It

After accusing the smaller group of nobles and officials who were part of the problem, it says at the end of verse 7 that Nehemiah “held a great assembly against them”. He gave a general warning to everyone involved in the sin. He privately accused the worst offenders to their face, and then, essentially preached a sermon to everyone else warning them of the same corruption.

Nehemiah was in a spiritual battle. He knew that Satan wouldn’t give up without a fight. He reminded all the people that God had freed them from Babylonian slavery, and how hypocritical it was for them to force these same people into slavery under themselves! He says, “Your selfishness – you’re using of people and loving things – is making us look like fools to the nations around us!”

Jesus said “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) and that works both ways. The world is watching us and is looking for any excuse to call us hypocrites. They will either see us loving one another and trusting God… or using one another and trusting ourselves. We destroy our witness if we are selfish individuals, selfish families, or a selfish church.

5. He Made Them Give it Back

The next thing Nehemiah does is to tell them to make it right.

“Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” (vs 11)

And to their credit they do. And Nehemiah goes even further.

“And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, ‘So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.’ And all the assembly said ‘Amen’ and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.” (vs 12-13)

Nehemiah knew how dangerous and insidious the sin of greed and selfishness is, and so he forces them to make a public confession and an oath. That’s how you heal a deep hurt. That’s how you show repentance. That’s how we honour God. We ask forgiveness, and then make it right. Turn selfishness to forgiveness and promise not to do it again – and ask God to help us keep our word.

This shows everyone around how serious we are about following God, dealing with sin, loving one another, and committing ourselves to living by His Word. And the assembly ends with an AMEN! God is worshipped, the hungry fed, relationships restored, debts managed, the rebuilding of the walls continues, and God is honoured. It was hard work, and very costly for some, but it was the only way they could expect to receive God’s blessing on their lives.

6. He Demonstrated Generosity

And the final thing Nehemiah does was to go above and beyond. Satan was trying to corrupt the people through selfishness, so His response was to be overwhelmingly generous. He poured cold water all over hell’s flames by not only doing what was right, but by doing even more.

“Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” (vs 14-19)

A faithful believer will set the example of how to do it best. He trusted God for provision and lived generously with others. That’s what good Christians do. He refused to give the devil a foothold in his city, his work, or his life. Satan tried to destroy the work through selfishness, he fight with generosity.

That’s my hope for us too. As we enter this season of Lent, my prayer is that we use it as a time to refocus our lives away from loving things to loving God and His people, from storing our treasures on earth to storing them in heaven. Not to be known as a philanthropist, but because it’s the good, godly, Christ-like thing to do.