Greed

Forbidden Fruit: Why We Keep Changing What We Believe About Who God Is and What He Has Said

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16 - Forbidden Fruit

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about how important it is for us to realize that we don’t have the right, or the need, to make up things about who God is or what God wants, because He has already told us everything we need to know. All through scripture, we are taught that God didn’t leave us to try to figure out most things on our own, but instead chose to tell people what He wanted and then required us to obey.

And more than that, whenever people did start making things up, changing ideas about His will or His person, they were condemned and punished. Think about it.

God created the universe, designed the earth, populated it with everything necessary for an enjoyable and fruitful life, and then put Adam and Even in the middle of a garden. They were in perfect relationship with God and each other. They had meaningful work and a mission to carry out: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” God was the King of all, and had made Adam and Eve rulers of the earth. They had “dominion” over everything, and God had dominion over them.  Everything was “very good” until Adam and Eve decided to believe false things about God and go against how God said they should live. (Genesis 1:28-31)

Satan’s argument started, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?’”. Of course not, and he knew it, but this opened up a dialogue with Eve based on challenging what God had revealed about how they should live. Eve answered, “…God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Already we see Eve giving God’s word a little alteration. God didn’t say that they couldn’t touch it. Either she or Adam had added that little bit to God’s instructions.

Now that the dialogue was open, and God’s Word was getting more pliable as the conversation went on, Satan continued with, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He implies that God is holding out on them, that He can’t be trusted, that there is something better that God doesn’t want them to have, that His current revelation wasn’t good enough, and all they had to do was go outside of what God had revealed to them and they’d find something better than God wanted to give them. “God lied, Eve. He’s keeping you from the good stuff.”

Good for Food

The story continues, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen 3:6)

We see that both Adam and Eve were standing there, and both were complicit in this sin – but where did the temptation come from? It came from wanting to know more than God had revealed to them, and disobeying what God had told them to do.

In a very real sense, Adam and Eve had looked at the one, true religion – or way of relating to God – that God had designed and said:

“It’s not enough. It doesn’t meet my needs. It doesn’t give me what I want. It doesn’t explain enough. It doesn’t feel the way I want it to feel. So let’s invent our own version of this religion. One where we are still in the Garden, still able to walk with God in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8), but doesn’t have all the restrictions that this one does. After all, God is a God of love, right? Therefore, I’m sure it will be fine if we bend what He says. He wouldn’t just kill us, would he? There’s no death in this world! I could never worship a God who would kill someone just for eating a piece of fruit. I’ll invent my own version of God that is more open to other people’s opinions and isn’t so restrictive. Our god will be one that allows people to worship in a way that feels right to them. And if they want to worship God by getting to know Him better through eating that fruit, then they should be allowed! Let us throw off the shackles of the old rules, and embrace a new way of knowing God!”

Sound familiar? This is the world’s way of connecting to God. They come to a god of their own design, on their own terms. That thinking goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

In their own human wisdom they looked at the tree and thought, “Wow, that looks tasty, and safe, and not poisonous at all. Why would God prevent us from eating a tree that was “good for food”? God invented food, and God invented trees, and this tree looks “good for food”, so God must be ok with it, right? That’s called self-justification, or self-deception. If it looks good, feels good, tastes good, and makes sense to us, then it must be ok, right?

We do this all the time, even with Christianity: I like this song, so it must be a good worship song that God likes too. I like this church, so it must be one that God likes too. I felt a tingle during that worship service, so that means the Holy Spirit was there. I don’t like those verses in the Bible, so God must not like them either. Those people are the kind of people I like, so they must be closer to God. Worshipping at home feels better than organized religion, so God must be ok with me rejecting the church and inventing my own version of Christianity. I like how this preacher sounds, so I’ll listen to him. This book agrees with me and tells me what I want to here, so it must be right.

It’s all very tempting, isn’t it? It all looks “good for food”, and tastes right to us, so we believe it must be good. God had declared the whole world “very good”, and had declared that one tree bad. But Eve’s eyes looked upon it and declared it “good”. Self-deception.

A Delight to the Eyes

Eve also saw that the tree was a “delight to the eyes”. Notice how quickly she went from, “God said that tree will kill us if we touch it” to “my, what a delightful tree that I definitely want to touch and eat from.” What happened? James 1:14-15 describes it best,

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

Something inside of her, and Adam, had changed. The tree was exactly the same tree as it was before she had started listening to the serpent, but her perception of it had changed. It now contained something she wanted, and in order to make it okay with herself, she altered her perception of it.

“Well, that tree’s not so bad. It’s actually a pretty tree. It’s quite delightful, actually. It’s a beautiful tree with beautiful fruit and it would be a shame for me not to take one. God provided this beautiful tree. He invented it. He makes all things beautiful, so why shouldn’t I take it? It’s not wrong to appreciate something that’s beautiful, is it. If God had wanted me to stay away, then He should have made the tree ugly and the fruit disgusting. It’s actually God’s fault that I’m even near this tree. He made it so nice. He made it make me feel good. He’s the one who is at fault here. Why say something is wrong, but make something so delightful?”

Remind you of anything?

We do this all the time with various sins – whether it’s addiction to drugs and alcohol, pornography and lust, money and possessions, gluttony, wrathful anger, or almost anything else. God tells us it’s wrong, and our conscience follows up in agreement. But then we find ourselves thinking it over in our mind and trying to justify how great it will be, and how it’s actually a good idea, and how it’s someone else’s fault that we’re doing it anyway. It’s the same every time.

But we also do this with our relationship with God. The One, True God, and all His revelations aren’t “delighting” us enough. Instead, God has us living through a time of trial, discipline, suffering, or even just plain boredom. God’s not being entertaining enough, He refuses to remove pain and discomfort, or distract us with pleasures, so we go off to find something that will. And those things are delightful. But God’s Word says that we need to be careful with them, to not idolize them, or to avoid them altogether… so what do we do?

A lot of people simply change or dismiss God’s Word. They don’t like what God has revealed, so they re-write part of the Bible, declare it irrelevant, or simply remove that part from the Book. Or, they go find – or even write – another book that will tell them that they want to hear. It happens all the time. God’s revealed truth isn’t delightful enough, so they go to Oprah’s book list and buy something there that will tell them what they want to hear.

God’s not giving them what they want, so they go read “The Secret” which tells them that there is no God, but instead there’s a universal energy force that they can manipulate to attract things to them that they like. They don’t like that Jesus said He’s the only way to be saved, and that Christians sometimes suffer, so they find a new age guru like Deepak Chopra who says that happiness isn’t found in any kind of god, but found inside ourselves through introspection and meditation. They don’t like that people go to hell, so they go read Rob Bell who says that everyone gets to go to heaven.

These books seem “good for food” and are a “delight to their eyes”, but they are a trap. They go against what God has revealed and lead us to temptation and sin.

Make One Wise

As Eve stood back and looked at the tree, her perception changing, her heart deceiving itself so she could take and eat, she came up with one more reason that it was a good idea. It would “make one wise”. Notice this wasn’t just a physical attraction anymore. And see how the poison of the temptation sinks deeper into the soul.

It started out merely looking “good for food”, it continued to become a “delight to the eyes”, but here we see that it wasn’t just tasty and pretty – it would give her something that God wouldn’t or couldn’t: special wisdom; knowledge God didn’t want her to have.

The implication here is that God had withheld something from her and Adam that she felt she needed to be complete. Yes, God had kept her in the dark about something, but it was to protect her. As it stood she only knew good – this tree would give her the knowledge of evil. But now she desperately wanted to know and all she had to do was reach out her hand and take a bit to see what God was withholding from her.

She felt God had refused an experience to her, but this would fill that gap and make her a more whole person. She had a curiosity that needed to be fulfilled, but God wasn’t giving her an answer. God’s revelation wasn’t enough for her. She needed wisdom and experience that was outside of what God had planned for her and Adam.

One commentary I have says that the fruit “appeared to her as a means for spiritual advancement.”[i] This tree was no longer just one of the many trees in the Garden, it was now, for her, the best tree in the Garden; there was more to be gained from this tree and its fruit than anything else the Lord God had provided.[ii]

Patterned Through Scripture

We see this pattern all the way through scripture, and it continues today. God tells us what He’s like, what He wants, and what He wants from humanity. We listen and follow for a little while, but then come up with our own ideas of what God’s like, what God wants, and what He wants from us – and then we forget about God and go after we like and want. We aren’t satisfied with what He has revealed so we invent something that sounds better to us.

Consider the story of Nabad and Abihu found in Leviticus 10. God had just spent a whole lot of time declaring exactly how He wants things to go when it comes to worshipping Him and offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle. He went into incredible detail, and after Aaron, Moses and the priests had followed every instruction, God showed up in power and consumed their offering, showing they did it right

But at the beginning of Leviticus 10 it says this:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.”

What happened there was that they hadn’t followed what God had said about how to worship Him. This was a huge deal because this was the very infancy of the Jewish religion, the very beginning of learning how God wants to be worshipped. They needed to know how seriously God takes His Worship and His Word and what the penalty was for disobeying. It wasn’t just about getting the religion right, but showing that when they disobey God’s Word, they are sinning, and that sin leads to death.

To disobey God’s Word leads to the corruption of the individual soul, and if you are leader, the corruption of others. Some people think that they took the fire from the wrong place, burnt a different kind of incense, or even showed up drunk. Whatever the case, God demonstrated in no uncertain terms that He doesn’t mess around when it comes to disobeying what He says to do.

God wants His people to be holy as He is holy, and that means holding to the highest standards of conduct (Lev 19:2; Matthew 5:48). All through the Old Testament Law God reminds His people that they aren’t merely to obey the Law because it is right and good, but because they are His representatives to the world and are a reflection of Him.

Just as Adam and Eve were created to bear the image of God, so Israel would bear God’s image, and so do Christians today. All humanity bears God’s image, but we, God’s people, are meant to be the ones who do it best.

In the New Testament, we see that God hasn’t changed how He deals with humanity since the Garden of Eden. He created Adam and Eve to be His image bearers, gave them a place to meet Him in worship, gave them what they needed to be fruitful forever, and a mission to spread that message to the whole world, but they chose to reject Him and His Word, and it caused their destruction. Then He raised up the people of Israel to be His chose people, gave them the Temple as a place to worship, told them how to be fruitful forever, and told them to spread that message to the whole world, and they rejected Him and His Word, and it caused their destruction.

Today God is doing the same thing. After Jesus came to be the final sacrifice under the old system, He changed how things would look, but didn’t change God’s plan. Look at 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” That’s no different than the story of Nabad and Abihu, is it? And it’s not much different than the message given to Adam and Eve, or Israel: “This land is holy and you are holy. I will walk with you here if you follow my word and don’t eat of the tree. But if you sin, you will destroy God’s temple and will also be destroyed.”

Except now, the temple isn’t made of stone, it’s made of flesh. God’s temple is the people of His church – but He has the same standards and gives the same warning to us.

God’s Plan of Salvation

Listen to what is written among the final words in the final chapter of the final book of the Bible, because it shows how God’s message has been consistent from the start:

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)

The whole Bible is an invitation to be saved through Jesus Christ. The healing water is free for everyone. All who are thirsty for grace, peace, forgiveness, and life, the payment has been made for you by the blood of Jesus. And the Spirit of God and the Bride of Christ, the Church, extends the invitation to all to “Come!”

But, when you “come”, you must come God’s way. Don’t change God’s Word. Don’t invent new ways of coming. When Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

 How Can We Know the Difference?

This is the crux of the problem that Paul is trying to address in the opening chapters of 1st Corinthians. This church had their beliefs all messed up and had imported all kinds of foreign, wrong, teachings about God and His will for their lives, and Paul was warning them that the path they had chosen didn’t bring more life, but death. They had fallen for the same demonic deception that Eve had.

They had looked at the teachings from other religions, philosophers, and things that just felt right to them, and saw they were “good for food”, “a delight to the eyes” and “was to be desired to make one wise”, and had taken a big old bite. Their pursuit of wisdom and knowledge had lead them to destruction because it had lead them away from the revelation of God.

But the question comes, how can we know the difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God? If all these things look good, feel good, and seem like wisdom, then how can we be sure which one is of God and which one is not? How do we keep from being deceived?

The Bible gives the answer in the passage we’ve been studying.

“…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-16)

Jesus Christ, it said before in 1:30, is the “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” If we want to know the mind of God, we must be connected to Jesus. A “natural person” is someone who is trying to figure out God, the Universe, Eternity  and Life, using their human wisdom and human strength, driven by their bodily appetites, their carnal knowledge, thinking the way an animal would, preferring the things that bring them the most pleasure. They will naturally go towards things that look “good for food”, and “delight the eyes”, and will be deceived by their own appetites.

But in contrast, a “spiritual person” – meaning one who has given their heart, soul, mind and strength over to Jesus to be redeemed, sanctified, renewed and made righteous – is listening to God’s voice, God’s Spirit, God’s Word, and God’s truth – and will see things differently.

Conclusion

Therefore I close with two encouragements. To those who are Christians here today, don’t succumb to the temptation to seek things outside of God’s Will and God’s Word, no matter how “good” and “delightful” they seem to you.

Instead, seek the “mind of Christ” by seeking the counsel of the Spirt of God and the Word of God. Read the living Word of God, the Bible, every day, praying as the Lord taught you, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done…. lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9-13) As you do so, your natural self will wither and you will be able to “understand” the things that “are spiritually discerned”. Then you will be able to teach others.

I encourage you to go and pray the words of Psalm 51,

“God… you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart…. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.”

To those who are not Christians today, or who are not seeking the mind of Christ – those who are racked with doubt, fear, shame, anger, lust, and who’s faith is either dead or dying – those who have invented their own God, their own religion, and have rejected what God has revealed – I implore you to “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” (Isa 55:6) for “…now is the favorable time… now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2) It profits you nothing to invent your own god and your own religion. Come to God as He has said you must come: humbly and on His terms.

[i] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Lewis, T., & Gosman, A. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Genesis (p. 230).

[ii] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: (p. 12). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Woe to the Self Secure: You are Not as Safe as You Think

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Parable of the Rich Fool

Let’s begin today by reading “The Parable of the Rich Fool”:

“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ And he told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-34)

This section opens up with someone in the crowd yelling out to Jesus to tell his brother to give him his share of his father’s inheritance. Maybe he’s been ripped off, maybe he’s being greedy – we don’t know. But Jesus’ answer has nothing to do with the inheritance, but instead – as usual – gets to the real problem in verse 15. He says:“Take care, and be on your guard against all

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

As usual, Jesus flies past the presenting problem and gets to the heart of the issue, which was covetousness. Covetousness is simply a desire to have something for yourself that is currently possessed by someone else – so they won’t have it anymore. It could be something they own, their social status, their financial position, their wife or husband, or anything else that they have and you don’t. You want it so badly that you wish you had it and they didn’t.

Jesus goes past the presenting problem – the issue with the inheritance – straight to the actual problem: this person is breaking the 10th Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Covet”. His problem wasn’t the lack of inheritance. He had a sin problem which showed a heart problem: He wanted something that someone else had and it was causing trouble for him and everyone else around him. His family was fractured, his relationships were strained, and he was in a state of anger and jealously because he wanted what his brother had. Think of it this way: it had gotten so bad that he was willing to run up to Jesus, interrupt Him right in the middle of His talk, and shout out “TELL MY BROTHER TO DIVIDE THE INHERITANCE WITH ME!” There’s more going on there than a simple dispute over a will – there’s some massive personal, relational, and spiritual problems in that statement.

Tying Them Together

So let’s tie this together. First we have a man running up with the presenting problem of an inheritance squabble, which Jesus quickly diagnoses as a spiritual problem with covetousness. Then Jesus tells the story of a wealthy farmer who reaped a great crop and decided to use the proceeds to buy himself a comfortable, hedonistic life. In that story, Jesus has God Himself confront this man and call him a “Fool”! Why was he foolish?

Both the covetous man and the Rich Fool had the same spiritual problem: greed. Their priorities were out of whack and it was causing them to miss the big picture. They though that life consisted of “the abundance of possessions”, which was foolish. What good would that inheritance or bigger barn do them when they came face to face with God!

That abundance of possessions wouldn’t be a blessing to them, but would actually be used as a testimony against them because it was a symbol of their disconnect from God. The bigger their pile grew, the less they needed to trust God. The more they accumulated, the greedier they became. And finally, as greed took over their heart, they would declare, “Everything is mine and I can do with it as I wish! I choose not to share! I will use it all for my own pleasure!”

And so Jesus warns, through His teaching and His story, that everyone listening needs to be careful about how they view the things of this world. Jesus seems to say, “Don’t be like this fool who interrupted my teaching time, or the fool in the story. Instead of worrying so much about the things you can accumulate during your short time on this planet, make sure you are right with God, so that your eternity is secure!”

The Root of the Problem

If you’re following along in your Bible, there’s probably a chapter division after verse 20 – as though the next section is separate from the one we just read. In my Bible there’s a big space and then the next part is titled “Do Not Be Anxious” and seems to be starting a whole new thought. But I want you to notice the first word that Jesus says next. What is it?

“Therefore”! That means that whatever came before – the interruption by the person with the inheritance problem and the “Parable of the Rich Fool” – are directly tied to that which is going to come after. So let’s read that:

“And he said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:22-34)

Jesus says, “Therefore”, and digs deep into the root of the problem. Why was the covetous man so desirous of his inheritance? Why was the Rich Fool so focused on keeping all that wealth for himself and not using it to bless others as God intended? Jesus gives the answer over and over: Anxiety – another word for worry, or simply, fear.

He uses the word “anxious” over and over, then in vs. 29 He uses the word “worry”, and then in 32, he changes it to “fear”. Jesus ties anxiety, worry and fear, directly to the problems of greed and covetousness. Why did the man want his inheritance and the Rich Fool build bigger barns? They was worried they wouldn’t have enough.

The man’s anxiety over money, caused him to be covetous of his brother who had more, and that anxiety drove him to argue with his brother and make a public scene in front of Jesus and His followers.

Woe to the Self Secure

Now, turn with me to Habakkuk 2:9-11 and let’s get into the second of our Woes to the Chaldeans. Listen to how similar this woe sounds to what Jesus has just been talking about.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.”

The first woe, which we talked about last week, was against Chaldea’s greed. This second woe is against their sense of Self-Security.

Let’s take this apart a bit and see how it ties into what Jesus has been saying:

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house…” That could be restated: Woe to him who gathers an “abundance of possessions” without regard toward being “rich towards God”. Evil gain is merely possessions that are gained in a way that God doesn’t authorize.

The next part is “to set his nest on high”. The word “to” tells us the reason that they went after their “evil gain” was to take their “nest” (or their home or nation) and “set it on high” where they would be “safe from the reach of harm.”

Do you want to learn something neat?

The Greek word for “worry” that Jesus uses in Luke 12 is the word METEORIZOMAI, the root of which is where we get our word “meteor”. It’s a compound word from META meaning “beyond” and AER which means… “air” – Meteor: “Beyond the air”. It simply means something “lifted high in the air” or simply “a thing high up”.

Jesus says, “do not worry”, and the word picture is that of a person who feels they are high up in the air, holding on to nothing, no ground to stand on, freefalling.

What phrase does Habakkuk use to describe what the Chaldeans are trying to do “set their nest on high”, which could be literally translated “place their nest in the heavens”.

In their pride they wanted to get their nest, their home, their nation, as high as possible – set it in the heavens, where it would be above everyone and safe forever. But the consequences were dire.

These people were driven by not only greed, but anxiety, worry and fear. They wanted to pile up their abundance of possessions so they could be safe. Their anxiety and desire for self-security drove them outside of their borders to take, by force, the wealth of other nations – so they could be safe, high up in the air, beyond anyone’s reach.

But remember what a woe is! It is a pronouncement of judgement and warning against a self-satisfied person who doesn’t realize their dangerous condition. They think they’re doing just fine, and yet their fate has been sealed. Habakkuk pronounces woe to them because “you have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life.”

In their worry and desperation for self-sufficiency and security, they – like the man who wanted his inheritance – have actually hurt themselves. Instead of gaining more security, they are in a free-fall of worry and are cutting themselves off from other people. Their covetous and greedy hearts told them not to trust God’s provision or be a good neighbour who builds security through friendship and cooperation. No instead, they told God to get lost and then coveted, pillaged, robbed and overthrew their neighbours, driving away anyone who would be their friends, because they felt they would be safer that way. They weren’t secure in the heavens above everyone – they were in a free-fall of anxiety: their life securely affixed to nothing but air.

The man that addressed Jesus had, almost without a doubt, ruined his relationship with his brother, family, and his friends and neighbours too. As covetousness and greed took over his heart, his relationship with God declined, and all he could think about was getting his money. Then, to seal the deal, Satan played the fear card: “What if you don’t get your fair share? What if you don’t have enough? What if something happens? Where’s your security, your nest egg? What’s going to keep you safe? You could starve! You could be out in the street, cold and naked! You need to get that inheritance!”

But, ironically, as Habakkuk’s woe says, all of their hoarding of the abundance of possessions at the cost of the people around them didn’t bring them safety. In fact, he says, in doing so, “You have forfeited your life”. That’s the woe. They thought they were safe – but they weren’t. All of their security was merely an illusion.

And worse, in the same way as we read in Jesus story, their possessions actually worked against them to become the very thing that God uses as a testimony against them because it was a symbol of their disconnect from God. “For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.” It’s the same! The woe against the Chaldean’s self-security is the same message that Jesus gives in the Gospel of Luke: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions…. Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God…. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Anxiety Today

So, what does this mean for us today? It occurred to me this week that this series of messages on the Woes to the Chaldeans come at a very appropriate time of the Christian calendar. These woes revolve around pride, greed, addiction and covetousness – which are all summed up in Jesus’ warning about getting our hearts right in regards to wealth and possession – is coming during the season of Lent, the historical season where Christians purposefully remove worldly things from their life so they can concentrate on spiritual ones.

This problem with being possessed by our possessions is a common one. The church fathers knew that, which is why they created the season of Lent – a time of forty days of fasting before Easter – so we could takes some time to evaluate the things in our life that are pulling us away from God. Jesus talked more about wealth, money and possessions than anything else, because He knew that it was going to be a problem for us.

We just sang Amazing Grace a couple days ago at Jennifer’s memorial, and in that song it says, “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come…”. This world is full of “dangers, toils and snares” and it is so tempting for us to take our eyes off of God and start to believe that we need to build our own security. It’s easy to start to think that the best thing to do in this world is to accumulate an abundance of possessions, get what we can, and keep it to ourselves so that we will be secure. Sure, we’ll share a little of the extra – but not at the expense of our security. That’s just crazy talk! Lent forces us to re-evaluate our relationships with our wealth and possessions.

Go back to Jesus words in Luke 12 and see how he takes apart every single one of our anxieties over security.

Worried About “The Economy”

In verse 22 he addresses our anxiety about our basic needs, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Safety, food, and clothing. Jesus says, don’t spend so much effort worrying about this for two good reasons: First, because life is more than food and second, because God knows what you need.

We still get worried though right? And so we gather more money, more clothes, more retirement savings, seek more wage increases, more pension payments.

What’s the biggest concern when we’re voting in a new government? The economy: Let the government kill the babies, murder the sick, teach our kids to be sexual deviants, ignore the staggering suicide and addiction rates, kill the environment, attack marriage, and outlaw religion – All I care about is “How much money am I going to get and will I still have a job next year.”

Jesus implores us to realize that life is so much more than the economy!

Worried about “Death”

Next in 25 he addresses all the anxieties we give ourselves about trying to cheat death. “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” All of your fussing and complaining and fighting and worry – is that actually going to add an hour to your life? Do you know when and how you’re going to die? Nope! You could have an aneurysm right now and drop dead. You could be hit by a bus crossing the street. You have NO IDEA.

It doesn’t stop us from worrying though, does it? We need more vitamins, more diets, more fads, more trips to the doctor, the chiropractor, the naturopath, more locks on the doors, more security systems, more borders, more police, more military – anything so we can feel like we have taken control and can ward off the spectre of death for a little more time.

Anxiety destroys our soul! It drives us to do things that destroy our relationships with God and others. We turn into covetous people that want what others have because we think they are safer than us. Why should they have it and not us? Bitterness and jealousy set in. We become the Chaldeans who, instead of partnering with others in sacrificial friendships where we meet each other’s needs, we see others as competitors that need to be vanquished – or better, eliminated so we can take what they have. Have you ever hated someone simply because they had something you felt you needed or deserved? Have you ever wished someone to be gone, dead or fired so you can have what they possess? That’s anxiety and greed driving you to sin.

The Real Problem is Faithlessness

But Jesus goes even deeper. The man showed up with an inheritance problem and Jesus answered him by pointing out his covetousness – and then turns to the crowd and goes one step deeper. The real issue isn’t covetousness. It’s not even anxiety. The real issue is faith.

Coupled with His statements about anxiety is a question of faith. Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious about life, food or clothing” and then says, “Consider the ravens… consider the lilies… of how much more value are you than the birds… or grass?” That’s a question.

Do you believe that God finds you more valuable than a bird or a flower?

If the answer is “No, God cares more about birds and flowers than He does me.”, then you’d better get to work making your nest and getting it full of stuff. You’d better make big piles of fertilizer so you can have lots to eat, because God won’t do it for you!

But, if the answer is, “Yes, God cares way more about me than the birds.”, then I guess you’d better show it by living His way. The birds just do what they’re told and God arranges the world to care for them. The flowers simply open their leaves and accept God’s rain and sun as He deems fit to give it to them. Do you believe that God can do the same for you? Do you believe that God is caring enough to give you what you need, when you need it? That’s a faith question. Your anxiety dissipates as your faith in God’s care for you grows. If God doesn’t care about you, then you’re in trouble. If God does care, then you need not fear.

Jesus says in verse 32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That’s pretty great. Jesus calls them – and us – His “little flock” and then reminds us that God’s plan isn’t just to help us with living in this world, but plans to give us the entirety of His Kingdom to enjoy! Does that not remind you of Psalm 23?

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want… He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul…. [He] prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. [He] anoints my head with oil…” It’s His house in which I will dwell forever.

I guess the question is: Are you part of Jesus “little flock”, and if so, do you trust the Shepherd?

A Lot of Questions

Let me close with this: Woe to those who find their security in themselves, seeking evil gain for their house, trying to set their nest on high where they can be safe – because in doing so you have forfeited your life and your soul. If you believe that you can remove your anxiety through the abundance of your possessions, then you are in real trouble. God calls you a “fool”.

And so, my encouragement to you today, and the application for this sermon, is found in verse 33-34: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

No, this doesn’t mean that you need to sell everything you have. Jesus isn’t asking you to sell everything you have and live in a cardboard box. He’s telling you to hold what you have in loose hands, not tied to earthly things. He’s saying that we need to evaluate what we have to see if we are being greedy or covetous, or if we have our security in our possessions rather than God. What this means is that you need to evaluate your heart for the things in your life that are separating you from God.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I have that is simply there to give me a false sense of security?
  • What do I currently possess that I got using resources that God gave me to care for someone else? (Is someone hurting because I decided I wanted something else in my big barn?)
  • Do I know someone who is legitimately needy, but chose not to help because I was afraid that God wouldn’t provide enough for me if I did?
  • Does God have access to everything I have?
  • Where is my treasure?
  • Where is my heart?
  • Would I choose Jesus if it meant living in poverty?

A Woe to the Greedy & Warning about Debt

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Habakkuk 5 - Woe to the Greedy

Changing Sin

Confronting people’s sin isn’t very popular these days. More and more the world is handing out excuses rather than judgements and punishments. It’s not that I’m advocating for the return of the Salem Witch trials or the Spanish Inquisition, but I do believe that we have lost something incredibly important to human society when we are no longer able (or allowed) to call out evil and declare something a sin.

Even our movies have changed. It used to be that we knew the bad guy because he had the black hat and twirly mustache. He didn’t need much of a back-story – he was the bad guy. “Once upon a time there was a witch who hated everyone…” or “Once upon a time a young girl was sent to visit her grandmother’s house, but when she got there her grandmother was replaced by a wolf…” was plenty enough information for us to know that the witch and the wolf were bad guys.

Not anymore. Now the witch and the wolf have backstories that explain why they went bad. The witch was hurt by an untrustworthy boy she liked, and the wolf came from a broken home in a bad neighbourhood. Implicit in these backstories is that everyone has an excuse for why they do what they do – nothing is their fault. They are merely a product of a broken system. If they had grown up in a different place, with good education and the right meds, then they would be just fine.

Words and stories are very powerful things because they shape our worldview. And if we get rid of words like right and wrong, good and evil, sin and righteousness, then we end up rewriting our understanding of the greatest problem in this world and losing sight of what must be done to change it. If our greatest problem is sin, and the solution is Jesus, then we need to be able to declare that sin exists. But what happens when we stop using the word sin? How can we get to the solution, when we’ve changed what we think the problem is?

Consider the fact that we’ve all but lost the categories for sin today. Last week I read a passage from Galatians 5 which outlined a whole list of sins that God says we need to take seriously, because when we commit these sins we show that we are out of step with Him and are working against His Spirit. The passage went like this:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21)

Now that sounds bad when you use those words, right? “Not inheriting the Kingdom of God” is a big deal, right? This is a problem that needs solving! We need Jesus to fix this!

Well, let’s modernize them and see what happens.

  • First, let’s turn “sexual immorality, impurity and sensuality” into “expressing your feelings for someone in a natural way”, “a healthy expression of one’s inner desires”, “dating” and the ever-popular, “safe sex.” That way we can turn something like “adultery” into “a love affair” (that sounds nice, doesn’t it) or “finding my soul mate during a troubled marriage”.
  • Next let’s turn “idolatry” into “consumerism”, “a beautiful expression of culture.”  and “personal religious constructs”.
  • We’ll turn “sorcery” into “silly superstitions”, “using pharmaceuticals to improve life”, “being in touch with mother nature” or “living a naturalistic lifestyle”.
  • We’ll change “enmity”, “strife”, “jealousy”, “fits of anger” and “rivalries”, “dissensions” and “divisions” into “having a competitive spirit”, “wanting to be the best you can be”, “winning at all costs”, “survival of the fittest” or simply “being passionate about excellence”.
  • We’ll turn “envy” into “looking up to someone more successful than you”, “wanting to get what you deserve.”
  • And finally “drunkenness” and “orgies” can become “getting a little carried away at a fun party”.

Ok, so let’s summarize, and we’ll use the modern translation that we’ve just come up with:

“Now, the works of the flesh are… expressing your natural feelings for someone, sharing in the beauty of your culture, living a natural lifestyle, being passionate about excellence, looking up to people more successful than you, and having fun at parties… those who do such things (?) will not inherit the kingdom of God…”

Now, that sounds a little harsh doesn’t it? How can God be against people expressing our feelings, sharing beauty, living naturally, pursuing excellence, and having fun?! Do you see why words are important and how dangerous it is that we are living in a culture that won’t call sin sin?

Quick Review

What we’re about to study today is a passage known as the “Woe to the Chaldeans” and it’s all about calling out sin. We talked a bit about this last week, but I want you to remember the context. This intense section of scripture is full of hard language and threats, but is there for a reason. It’s pointing out how much God hates sin – which is what we talked about last week – but also how He intends to deal with it. Some people are going to be disciplined, others punished. No one will get away with anything.

Christians love to sing “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound”, but in order to understand the first part, we need to understand the “that saved a wretch like me” part. In order to understand forgiveness we need to see what we’ve been forgiven for. In order to understand mercy, we need to see the wrath from which we were spared. In order to comprehend the amazing love of God for His people, and the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf, we have to come face to face with the depth of our sin and depravity, and the weight of judgement that faces each person that doesn’t know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. It’s awesome to talk about amazing grace, but it only makes sense in the light of knowing we are wretches first.

So, as we look at this, let’s keep the context in mind. Habakkuk, a priest in God’s temple, was living in a nation that was almost totally corrupt. Suffering, injustice, violence and sin were everywhere. His heart is breaking and he starts to pray, asking God why He’s not doing anything about it. God sends Habakkuk a vision that explains to him and us how he plans to deal with the sin of His people and, by extension, the sins of the world. God says his plan is to discipline his people by sending their enemy, the Chaldeans (later called the Babylonians), to wipe out Jerusalem and drag the people off into captivity for 70 years.

Habakkuk, a priest in God’s temple, was living in a nation that was almost totally corrupt. Suffering, injustice, violence and sin were everywhere. His heart is breaking and he starts to pray, asking God why He’s not doing anything about it. God sends Habakkuk a vision that explains to him and us how he plans to deal with the sin of His people and, by extension, the sins of the world. God says his plan is to discipline his people by sending their enemy, the Chaldeans (later called the Babylonians), to wipe out Jerusalem and drag the people off into captivity for 70 years.

Habakkuk asks a follow-up question, wondering how God could justify using a greater evil to punish a lesser one: “Why would he use the pagan Chaldeans to punish the lesser wrongs of Israel? Why should the Chaldeans get away with being evil when Israel won’t?”

God’s answer is that He is a God of justice and that no one will be getting away with anything! He’s going to use the Chaldeans as a rod of discipline against His children, and then make sure that the Chaldeans receive their judgement for their sin too. God isn’t slow to act, nor has He forgotten. He’s been patiently waiting for His people to repent, but they won’t. And while they’ve been rejecting Him and His prophets, He’s been preparing the world for a change of empires – the rise of the Babylonians – who though they don’t even believe in Him, God intends to use bring Himself glory and bring salvation to His people.

Last week we talked about the inner workings, the heart, of the Chaldeans – their pride, addiction and greed – and now this week we’re going to get in the specifics of God’s problem with them.

What I want to do over the next few weeks is look at the passage in context and then extrapolate out what those sins would look like today because God’s standards haven’t changed.

The big take-away from this sermon, I hope, is that God is very serious about sin, and we need to be serious about it too. And, perhaps the second take-away is that even when the world seems very dark, God isn’t being idle – He’s being patient – and He’s preparing the world for something even greater. Let’s turn to Habakkuk 2:6-20 and let’s read the passage together and then take it apart piece by piece.

“Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, ‘Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!’ Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

‘Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.

‘Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

‘Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

‘What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.’” (Habakkuk 2:6-20)

What are Woes

There are five woes and I want to look at each of them, but first, let’s answer the question: What is a “Woe”?

A “Woe” is a declaration of judgement for the miserable, deplorable condition of the one being addressed. It is not a good thing to receive a “woe”. Someone receiving a “woe” is most often living in a fantasy world, thinking they are doing well, when in fact they are utterly wretched and blind to the truth. They are self-satisfied, and don’t realize their spiritual condition, or the future that awaits them.

A “woe” is a pronouncement of judgement and a warning to someone who thinks they’re doing just fine, and they are found throughout scripture. In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounced woes on the Scribes and Pharisees who thought themselves to be so great and holy, but were in fact under the terrible judgement of God, destined for hell. It’s an expression of grief at the terrible condition of the sinner – people that are so utterly lost, they don’t even know it.

I want today’s message to serve as a sort of woe to each one of us, and perhaps to our friends and neighbours too. I hope that as we read this passage, we will have a realization of the depths of our sin problem and God’s hatred of it. We are far too comfortable with our sin, and it gets us into great trouble. We make excuses for it, play with it, think it no big deal, and start to think that God doesn’t care about it either. We desperately need the conviction of God and the knowledge of our sin, or we won’t come to Jesus. As long as we think ourselves righteous and good – perhaps only needing a little divine help here or there – we will not be on our face asking God for daily forgiveness and crying out in need for His love and presence.

I believe that desire starts with the acknowledgement that we are sinners and that there are serious consequences for our sins: for the believer and the unbeliever! Woe to any of us who do not listen to these words and not feel the weight of conviction on our souls and desire to come before God in repentance. If you can read these words and not feel some kind of conviction, then there is something wrong with your soul.

Ok, so let’s get into them:

The First Woe: Greed

“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!’”

The first woe is against this nation’s greed. We talked about this last week. Their pride, fueled by drunkenness led to addiction which gave birth to an unquenchable greed. Woe to the one who keeps hoarding things they cannot pay for. Notice that these things aren’t theirs!

The first woe is against this nation’s greed. We talked about this last week. Their pride, fueled by drunkenness led to addiction which gave birth to an unquenchable greed. Woe to the one who keeps hoarding things they cannot pay for. Notice that these things aren’t theirs!

This isn’t a woe against materialism, ownership, or having nice things. This woe is specifically against those who take things from others that aren’t theirs. They didn’t work for what they had, they took it from others. They weren’t spending their own money, they were spending other people’s money.

The term “loaded himself with pledges” is a figurative term meaning that these conquering Chaldeans (or Babylonians) weren’t the owners of what they had, but were merely borrowing it. They were extorting money from people, seizing their land by force, and using military might to make their victims into slaves. Woe to them, God says, because that loan is going to be paid back!

What goes around comes around and all of the borrowing you’ve done is going to be taken back. A larger nation will take it from you and give it back – which is exactly what happened when the Persians conquered the Babylonians.

Their sin was greed. They wanted someone else to do the work for them so they could come and take it. They stole other nation’s homes, lands, cities, walls, cattle, money, and people. Instead of building, they plundered. Instead of working, they conquered.

Greed Today

The Chaldeans were doing this on a national level, but we do this on a personal level all the time. Consider the explosion of Credit Card debt we have today. According to a few news articles I read this week, consumer debt is at an all-time high. We might be in a recession, but that hasn’t stopped us from filling up our credit cards and getting new loans from the bank. And it’s not for food and shelter. The big costs, according to the Globe and Mail[1], are Restaurants, Cars, Home Improvement, and New Furniture. According to the CBC[2], the debt-to-income ratio for Canadian households is 163.3 percent. That means that for every dollar we earn, we owe $1.64 in debt. If that’s not greed, I don’t know what is. It’s the same thing!

The thievery and conquering of the Chaldean armies is phrased in the language of loans and pledges because they didn’t own any of it! It was merely borrowed from other nations, and ultimately borrowed from God. Their short-sighted thinking had them believing that this world was about the accumulation of good for pleasure, no matter how they got it. And their decision was to take what they wanted from others.

The Gospel Consequences of Greed

Our society runs on the back of this kind of greed. Credit cards, high-interest pay-day loans, tax fraud and evasion, and more, are crippling our society today – and the church. Let’s take a minute to consider the terrible consequences to living a lifestyle of greed, consumerism and debt. Being greedy and seeking to accumulate things you aren’t willing to work for has some huge consequences to your life, family and ministry.

Let me ask you a few questions:

Are you making decisions with your money, or is your debt making decision for you? Proverbs 22:7 says, “… the borrower is the slave of the lender.” What that means is that once you are in debt, you lose a lot of your ability to make decisions.

If God were to call you to give generously to help someone who needs your help today, could you? Or is your money tied up in paying off the debts you have after buying things you don’t need?

If God asked you to pick up stakes and serve Him somewhere else, could you? Or have the decisions you’ve made with your money got you pinned down and unable to be flexible with your future. You have to say, “No God, don’t ask me to do that, I just can’t.”

Do you feel the pull to volunteer more of your time or give more of your energies to your church or your community, but can’t because you need to spend more time at work?

Has it ever crossed your mind that you are doing your family a disservice by working so much – that you need to either pull back the hours, get a different job, or quit altogether – but you can’t because you have too many debts to pay? You feel the pull to be a better parent, grandparent, grandchild, uncle, aunt, brother or sister – and know that you need to make a change, but you can’t because you decided to buy something you didn’t really need.

You’ve made yourself a “slave to the lender”. Your greed has caused you to take something that wasn’t yours. You, like the Chaldeans, have used money that isn’t yours to accumulate things for yourself you weren’t intended to have. You didn’t work and save for them, but instead got someone else to do the work for you.

God is no longer making decisions in your life, and neither are you. The Bank is deciding how many hours you work. Master Card is deciding how great a priority your family is to you. The loan company is your master now, and they get to tell you where you can live and what you can do with your time.

Debt makes you a slave! God’s woe to the Chaldeans was that the ones that they have borrowed from would rise up and destroy them. They thought that their conquering and accumulation would bring them happiness, but all it did was create the opportunity for their enemies to destroy them. It made them gluttonous and weak. It’s the same thing today.

Satan loves it when God’s people are greedy and in debt. It paralyzes them. As long as they are spending their money on themselves and digging themselves into financial ruin, then they aren’t spending their money on acts of mercy, giving generously, sharing with others, or spreading the gospel. He loves it when we’re being greedy and in debt.

Conclusion

So that was the first of the five woes, and that’s all we’re going to cover today. Let me close with the words of Jesus regarding the importance of being faithful with our money. This is found in Luke 16:10-13 and comes after the parable of the dishonest manager. Jesus says:

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant 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.” (Luke 16:10-13)

Being greedy and living in constant debt isn’t just a money issue – it declares a spiritual truth. It shows God that He’s not our Master or our God, someone else is. It shows that our priorities are out of whack. It shows that we care more for the things in this world than the people in it.

As a church, we cry out to God to use us for His glory and ask Him why He won’t give us more and more opportunities to obey Him. Is it possible that His answer is, “I gave you a few little things to take care of – a little pile of money, a little house, a little family – and you used it dishonestly and unfaithfully. Why would I entrust you with true riches?

I gave you everything you needed, but you didn’t think it was enough, so you borrowed more from pagans and non-believers. You felt that they were better providers than Me. And now, because of your debt to them, you serve them… and cannot wholly serve me.”

I encourage you to pray about this. Are there any changes you need to make financially? Is there anything you need to take back to the store or sell because you couldn’t afford it? Do you need to ask God’s forgiveness for seeking things He didn’t want to give you? Have you been greedy? Are you being faithful with your finances?

 

[1] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/canadian-households-still-adding-debt-but-pace-slowing-equifax/article26366796/

[2] http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canadian-households-are-racking-up-more-debt-poll-suggests-1.3146766

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

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Habakkuk 4 - PRide Sin Addiction.PNG

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.