How have you been this week? I know asking that right now is weird. I’m standing alone in a room full of empty pews, addressing myself to an iPhone strapped to a camera – you’re sitting at home in front of a laptop or tablet or tv watching this. You can’t respond and I can’t hear you.
But still – I ask the question: “How have you been this week?” Take a minute to think about it. If I were in the same room as you, what would you say? Would you smile and tell me how wonderfully you’ve been doing, recounting a story from this week of how you’ve seen blessing? Would you give me a quick “I’m fine.” and then ask how I am? Would you sigh and say it’s been a little difficult, but then quickly change the subject in hopes I don’t pry further?
So, how have you been?
I’ll be honest with you; this has been a really tough week for me. Now, I know that some of you have told me that you don’t want to hear stuff like this on a Sunday morning. Some of you have told me that I’m not supposed to talk about having a rough week, that I’m supposed to keep things positive and upbeat on Sunday mornings, that me sharing my more difficult feelings makes you uncomfortable – and you think it makes everyone else uncomfortable – and you warn me that if I don’t stay positive and upbeat, that people won’t listen to the sermons, people will stop coming to church, and that you, yourself, will stop – because – as you’ve told me – when you come to church you want to hear “things that inspire you”, that give you a “positive worship experience”, that make you “feel better when you leave”.
Well, I might not be able to do that today, because, honestly – I had a really rough week. I was emotionally depressed, spiritually dry, mentally wiped-out, and physically exhausted. Most of the days this week I felt like a worthless pile of junk and everything I did took 10-times the effort it should have. It was, by almost all accounts, a bad week.
I had a Psalm 6 type week. Turn there if you want. It begins,
“O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD—how long?
Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.”
It was a rough week. How was your week? Honestly, how was it?
From my limited perspective, I felt like a lot of people turned an emotional corner this week and were down in the dumps. We’ve been doing this social isolation thing for a while now, and it’s not really good for us. But what makes it worse is the constant stream of news and policies and updates that keep coming all the time. I don’t know about you, but it sometimes feels like we’re all locked in our rooms on a boat being bashed by an unpredictable storm. Our room doesn’t have a window, the wind and waves keep changing direction, and the command crew – the people in charge – seem to have a lot more confidence than they have skill at sailing.
And I think that the emotional toll of being stuck in our little windowless cabins is catching up to more and more people. I know it caught up to me this week.
The Danger of Echo Chambers
I guess one advantage of doing this as a livestream over social media, isn’t that you can just turn me off, right? If you’re one of the people that just can’t handle hearing lament, you can just search up whatever message or song or speaker you want.
What a dangerous temptation that is. To just turn off people and messages that don’t tell you what you want to hear the way you want to hear it. To be able to ignore voices in your life that don’t tell you what you think you want to hear.
While I love how amazing it is to be able to google whatever we want and YouTube up some of the greatest Christian speakers in the world at any time – it is also very spiritually dangerous. Sure, we can learn about a topic of interest, but it can also cause us to live in an echo chamber. This sort of technology allows us to disconnect ourselves from the reality around us, the people nearest to us, the church family around us, to exit our own context and only hear what we want to hear, from the people we want to hear it from, in the style we prefer best. It’s a wonderful gift – but it’s also dangerous too. It’s dangerous to think we are the ones best able to decide what we need. It’s arrogant, self-deceiving, and only serves to make the blind-spots in our lives more pronounced.
And when we live in that echo chamber, one of the temptations that comes along with it is to lie when we are asked “How have you been?” In the first, you lie to yourself – in the second, you lie to others. But that lie usually comes from the same place. Fear.
Consider: When I or someone else asks you, “How have you been?” some of you are and become immediately flooded with fear, and to deal with that fear, you lie. And I’m not just talking about when we’re at church. This happens in marriage. It happens between parents and children. It happens at work and among your friends. Many people, maybe most people, live in fear of honestly answering the question “How have you been?”
Be honest. How many of you have someone in your life that you can tell anything – literally anything to – and you know for certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they will not only listen to you but that there is a zero percent chance they will ever use it against you? Not many of us have that sort of person in our life. Many of you don’t have that even among members of your family. Not with your spouse, parents, or even friends. Some of you see professional counsellors – and pay good money to talk to them – but you still lie to them.
Why? Because you are too afraid to even attempt that sort of relationship. You have already decided in your heart, with no one around, in the silence of your mind, that there are some things that are just no-go-zones for any conversation.
There’s a thought that rumbles through your head, a temptation that is always at hand – but no one will ever know – no one. Do you do that? Do you have scary, or disturbing, or violent, or intensely sad thought, that you have decided in advance that no one will ever know about? Not your spouse, your friend, your mentor, your pastor, not even God? Thoughts you won’t even give voice to in your secret prayer place, not in your journal or even allow to form as a full thought in your mind, because you don’t know what will happen if you do?
What are you afraid of? You are afraid that if you do let that thought out – you’ll collapse. You spend so much time ignoring the difficult things inside you that you are basically a façade. Or, you’re afraid that if you actually tell someone what’s really going on in your life, how you really feel, what you’ve really been doing with your time, the sorts of thoughts that pervade your mind whenever the TV stops or as you lie in your bed before falling to sleep – that they will hate you, reject you, judge you, get angry with you, call you faithless, give some trite answer, compete with you, or even punish you. And that’s the last thing you want. You don’t feel good, and you figure the last thing you need is to tell someone what’s going on and have them make you feel worse.
What a terrible thing it is to have these two temptations dominating your life. On one hand you have yourself as master with no room for anyone else’s teaching, opinions, direction, guidance, or conviction – which leaves you alone, stuck in the muck and mire, unable to grow beyond yourself. And on the other hand, whenever someone tries to break through that armour, to dip their hand into the muck to help you, to take a peek behind your well-manufactured curtain, to shed light in your dark places, you are suddenly full of fear and end up lying to them – which only reinforces the wall between you and the truth. That’s fear and it’s keeping you trapped in a cycle of misery.
Before any conversation is ever had – whether it’s your spouse, parent, friend, pastor, counsellor, or God – you’ve already pre-decided that the person will hurt you – or at least that there’s a chance they might hurt you so it’s not worth the risk. All they’re going to do is dredge up things a bunch of things you don’t want to deal with, give you zero answers, and then pat you on the back, tell you “it’ll be ok” and then leave – so you put up another layer of brick between you and them, you and the world, you and God. Then because that interaction caused discomfort, because you were forced just by the words “How are you doing?” to look at the lockbox full of scary stuff you keep in your heart, you run back to the people and voices that you like to hear, that reinforce what you already think, believe, that makes you feel how you want to feel. Your self-deception reinforced by your echo chamber.
Manipulated by Agreement
Can you see the danger in that?
It’s a risk, isn’t it? Telling the truth, sharing your feelings, opening your heart to someone else and letting them see what’s really going on in there is a terrible risk, isn’t it? Sitting through a sermon or talk, or reading a book, or sitting with a person, that forces you to examine yourself, your beliefs, your preconceptions, your worldview, is dangerous and uncomfortable. That’s why a lot of people avoid it. And when you avoid it – you open yourself up to all kinds of dangers. For example, tribalism.
I’m going to describe something and I want you to consider if you have ever experienced this or watched someone else go through this.
It begins on a successful social media site. You’re not feeling very good about yourself, you don’t like something about yourself, and you want some distraction, something to make you feel better – so you log in to see what’s going on.
The first things you see make you feel more miserable because it’s just a stream of people that are smarter, better looking, more successful, more clever, more popular, more talented, with cleaner homes, nicer stuff, happier relationships, and greener grass than you. And you think, “Wow, that’s not me. Now I feel bad. But wait… I have an idea. I’ll find people like me – same age, same thoughts, same interests, same problems. People who like what I like, who don’t care about what I don’t care about, who have the same quality of life as me…” And when you find this group you feel better. “Ah… my people.”, you think. And it’s nice.
But then, in a short period of time, the posts go from championing how great you and “your people” are to talking about how bad the “other people” are.
You joined the “I like green grass” group, and half the posts are about how lazy and stupid people are who don’t have green grass. Or you joined the “I don’t care about my grass” group and half the posts are about how pretentious the green grass people are, how bad their marriages are, how broke they must be…
You joined the “diet and exercise” group, and half the posts are mocking overweight people and people who don’t know how to use gym equipment. Or, you joined the “body positive” group and half the posts are about how shallow and stupid people who go to the gym are.
It doesn’t matter what group you join. Seniors are pit against teens, teens against seniors. Moms against professional women. Men against women. Sports fans against book readers.
Then come the posts about how no one understands except the people in your echo chamber. No one except you and them knows where to get the good stuff. No one except you and they know the truth. No one except you and they knows what’s funny or smart or accurate. And anyone who isn’t following what your tribe is following, saying what they’re saying, doing what they’re doing… isn’t just wrong… their evil.
It’s not just “pro us”, it’s “anti-them”. You’re good they’re bad. You’re smart they’re dumb. Your appetites are good and right and anyone who says differently is wrong and bad. Your opinions are good and right and everyone else is stupid and wrong.
Then comes the pressure from within the group to not only conform further – and to hate the other guys more – but to believe that every other opinion outside that group is not only wrong but dangerous.
Introverts can’t learn anything from extroverts. Baptists can’t learn anything from Pentecostals. Homeschoolers can’t learn anything from formal education. Christians can’t learn anything from evolutionists. Everyone else is bad and wrong and evil except us – and if you even think of listening any other group, you run the risk of your own people turning on you.
Congratulations, you just joined a cult. Does it sound like I’m exaggerating? Maybe a bit, but that’s how cults work. It’s also how social media echo chambers and tribalism works.
Those echo chambers – which can be found all sorts of places – from who you follow on Instagram, to your favourite e-mail chain, to the TV shows, podcasts and videos you subscribe to – have the danger of reinforcing the barriers between you and what you actually need to hear, what you actually need to experience, what you actually need to feel, what you actually need to share, what you actually need to experience.
Truth Sets You Free
I want you to turn with me to James 1:19-26. This passage speaks a lot about self-deception and the danger of avoiding the truth by surrounding yourself with voices that only tell you what you want to hear.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
This passage is speaking to the one that God is trying to break through to, who needs to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, needs to humble themselves to the voice of God, but can’t because they are so constantly deceiving themselves. It’s about breaking down those self-imposed walls that keep us from experiencing what God wants us to experience, from hearing what God wants us to hear.
These are words that I need to hear as much as you do.
It begins in verse 19 telling you to close your mouth and open your ears. To stop letting your emotions drive your decisions, but to just listen.
When someone asks, “How have you been?” our emotions flare-up. Fear, anger, sadness, whatever – and that emotion says, “Shut it down. Lie. If you don’t there will be trouble.” This passage says that listening to that emotion, acting on that emotion, is not going to produce what God wants. What will… engaging in that moment with what God is doing. Stop, listen to what the other person is saying, is asking, is wanting from you, is trying to do for you… and then speak slowly and carefully and honestly.
In your relationship with others, maybe that means you need to not throw out the “I’m fine” so fast without actually listening. Sometimes that person is offering an olive branch. They’re trying to comfort you, to get to know you, to show you love – but you are so used to letting the emotions rule and speaking quickly that you don’t even see how sincere they are. Slowing down and listening to what they’re saying will help. “What do you mean? Do you really want to know? Are you serious? Do you want me to share with you? I’ve got a lot going on… do you really want to know?”
This goes for your relationship with God too. It means that you don’t just jump into the bible verse, prayer book, prayer list, or whatever. Stop. Listen. Wait. Be slow to speak. “God, do you want to say something? Do you really want to listen to me? I know you see what’s going on inside – will you help me get it out? I’m not sure I can… can you give me the words? Let me hear what you want to say about what’s going on inside me.”
Next, in verse 21 we see the importance of repentance. It says, “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls”. In other words, God has already planted a seed in you… but your filthiness and wickedness, your sin… has made it so that the seed won’t grow. You are dry, your soil is polluted, and you need purity. First, you wait, listening to God – then God always follows it up with, “Ok, now repent. See your sin. Acknowledge your sin. Hate your sin. Give your sin to Jesus. Let Jesus die for that sin. Accept forgiveness.” As long as you continue in your sin, you will never be able to hear what God wants to say, because the sin won’t let the implanted seed of God’s word grow!
Next, verses 22-25 speak of ridding yourself of your self-deception. You stop and listen, asking God to speak. God says, “Repent from your sin.”. Then, immediately, fear rises up. “Ok… I’m going to confess some of them – but there’s some stuff in the basement I’m not bringing up.”
These verses say, “You’re not fooling God, you’re only deceiving yourself! God already knows what’s in the basement! You’re the one who denies what they really look like. You’re the one who sees their deepest sins reflected back by the scriptures and then choose to pretend like they don’t exist. God already knows! So He invites you to tell the truth, live in the truth, and to persevere through that truth.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this. It happens in mere moments, microseconds even. God, either in your spirit or through another person says, “How are you doing? Let’s talk. I need to do some heart-work in you”. You want to speak quickly and lie. But this time you don’t. You listen, accept their love and desire to help, and are ready to speak.
But then, before your mouth opens, you realize what you are about to say. It’s not going to be “nice”. It’s going to be “real” and that scares you. What does God say in that moment? “It’s ok. Tell me. We’ll get rid of the garbage together. Just tell me all of it. Share it all. Let me see everything. Then I can make that seed grow.”
But you’re so used to pretending that it’s almost habit to make yourself forget. You want to say how you’re doing, and you’re ready to repent, but you’re afraid and you want to turn away and pretend the conversation isn’t even happening. Shut it down. Walk away.
What does God say? “Look in the mirror. I see you and I want you to know that I see you too — and I want you to see what I see. This is the only way you’re going to be free. I need you to look at my word, listen to my Spirit, and have the courage to say outloud the things that you are too afraid to admit — and then see that I love you. Tell me the sins I already know you commit. Tell me the terrible thoughts I already know you have. Tell me about the fear I already know that dwells within you. I can handle it because I already see it. But I need you to see it, you to acknowledge it, you to drag it into the light, and give it to me so that I can finally let you be free of it. Don’t just say you want my help – actually accept it. I’m standing right here. I see everything. Just be honest.”
This can happen in prayer – or it can happen when you’re talking to a fellow Christian. Remember, James 5:16 says,
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
The healing comes by Christians confessing and praying together.
Finally, look at verse 26. I think this is written to the religious hypocrites who think that they need to pretend for the sake of looking like a good Christian, or to not bring shame to Jesus, or because it might make them or the church look bad. I think it says here, in effect, “The religion that makes you pretend to be good and deny reality is fake – real religion is the one that tells the truth to God, others, and themselves – regardless of how it makes them look.” Because if you lie with your tongue and lie to your own heart – God says your religion is worthless.
What’s my conclusion today? Well, this little series here is about “Building Faith in Difficult Times” and I think the foundation of that is going to be honesty with yourself and with others.
This week, I was not “fine”. I was sad, tired, and made some bad decisions. It does me absolutely no good to hide that from you. Likewise, it doesn’t do any of you any good to hide what’s really going on inside you from God or the people that love you.
Am I saying you should dump your emotional truck on the next cashier who asks you “How are you doing today?” No. What I am saying is that the only way you are going to be able to grow into an emotionally and spiritually strong person, with a robust faith that can withstand difficult times like these – is to be honest with yourself and with others, even if it is risky.
Will everyone react perfectly? No.
But the benefit of living an honest and open life far outweighs the dangers of living in an echo chamber of self-denial and dishonesty.
So, what I want you to do this week is to commit twofold:
First, tell God what’s really going on inside you. Use words you’ve never used before. Say the things you’ve been refusing to say, that you’ve been pretending aren’t inside you, that you are too afraid to voice to even God. Dump it all on Jesus – and then accept that not only can He handle it, but that He still loves you, still forgives you, and will never leave you.
Second, after you’ve talked to God, I want you to commit to finding and telling one person who you trust, someone who you already have a relationship with, what’s really going on in your heart. Whether it’s your sibling, your parent, your Christian friend, your spouse, or your counsellor – tell yourself that, in obedience to God, you are going to confess all the horrible stuff, the scary stuff, the dangerous stuff, the stuff that you never wanted to voice, but that bounces around like a ping-pong ball in your head.
And to those who are about to have this person open up to them – James 1:19–20, “…be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Shut up and listen. Don’t judge. Just listen. Don’t give advice. Just listen. Don’t try to solve the problem. Just listen. “I hear you. I love you. I’ll pray for you. I’m here for you.” That’s it.
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I asked you last week to start meditating on Psalm 15 and Colossians 3:1-17. The more I considered these passages, the more I realized that this is where we needed to go for the next while. We’re going to put our Mark Study on hold for a little while and park on Psalm 15. We’ve talked about it before, a couple years ago, but I want to revisit it – partly because of the response to last week’s sermon on Integrity, but mostly because I feel this is where God wants us to be. I think God wants us to learn about what He wants to see from us as individuals, families, and us as a church. It’s very practical, very simple to understand, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. What we will be studying requires a divine movement of God, a complete selling out of ourselves to Him, a commitment to Him as our Lord, Master and God.
I don’t know what lies ahead for you, for your family, or for our church. But I know this – God does. And I believe He has led me to concentrate on these three scriptures because to understand and obey them will prepare us for whatever is to come.
If we are living a life dependant on God, praying to Jesus, reading His word, and obeying Him in all areas of our life – if we have integrity – then no matter what comes at us, we will be ready – because He will be faithfully preparing us. But if we lack integrity – if we are only Christians on the surface, if we are lacking in prayer and Bible study, and if we are not obeying Him in all areas of our life – then we will live a weak life, unprepared for trouble, open to spiritual attack, falling to temptation, and full of sin and doubt.
If you recall last week, I’ve already said that this is not a list of ways to earn God’s love – I’m not preaching moralism here. It’s impossible to earn God’s love through right living. Ephesians 2:8 says,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
Martin Luther, when talking about the importance of having faith in salvation through the grace of God, and not in our own morality said this:
“All those who do not at all times trust God and . . . trust in his favor, grace and good-will, but seek his favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep the [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry, even if they were to do the works of all the other Commandments . . . combined.” (Martin Luther from “A Treaties on Good Works”)
Pastor and Teacher Tim Keller commented on Martin Luther’s statement this way:
“Luther says that if we obey God’s law without a belief that we are already accepted and loved in Christ, then in all our good deeds we are really looking to something more than Jesus to be the real source of our meaning and happiness. We may be trusting in our good parenting or moral uprightness or spiritual performance or acts of service to be our real and functional ‘saviors.’ If we aren’t already sure God loves us in Christ, we will be looking to something else for our foundational significance and self-worth. This is why Luther says we are committing idolatry if we don’t trust in Christ alone for our approval.”
For this whole series, we have to keep this in the forefront of our minds. God loves you and will save you because of your faith in His freely given grace. What we are looking at in Psalm 15 is a picture of what a life looks like after it has been turned over to God, what a family looks like when they are following Jesus, and what a church looks like when the people within it are obeying Him.
No More Right and Wrong
Psalm 15 is about the standards we hold as believers. I think we all want to know what God wants and expects of us. Whether you are a long-time believer, a new believer, a seeker, or someone on the outside, we all want to know what the expectations of being a Christian are. What does God want? What does the church want? What should I hold my Christian brothers and sisters accountable to?
There are a lot of churches today who refuse to talk about the standards of the Christian, and of the church. It’s a sensitive subject, and in this world today, it seems that anything that divides people into groups where one is doing something right, and the other is wrong, is somehow evil. People don’t like to talk about “right and wrong”, they like to talk about “differences.” I’m not wrong, I’m just different.”
Nothing is ever anyone’s fault, and therefore we cannot be expected to hold to any kind of standard! “It was my upbringing, my environment, peer pressure, or the anxiety, or the devil made me do it. I was drunk, I was angry, I was depressed, I was misled, I was just joking… it’s not my fault!”
Whatever wrong is done in the world today is explained away. We don’t even know how to apologize anymore. Now the “non-apology apology” is used. We saying things like “Mistakes were made.” In other words, “I admit there is a problem, but I’m not accepting responsibility for it. Anything bad that happened wasn’t anyone’s fault, these things just happen.”
Or how about, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Or the ever-popular, “I apologize if I offended anyone.” We take the problem and we blame-shift to the person we offended! It’s not my fault what I said offended you – it was your fault for being so sensitive!
Truth Under Attack
Even the concept of truth is under attack today. In the same way that people don’t like to be held accountable for their actions, so they also don’t like the idea of absolute truth. Canadians especially love to say things like “Well, that’s true for you, but it’s not true for me. I have a different truth” We are allowed to say “This is true!”… but we are not allowed to say “Therefore that is false!”
Let me share with you some current philosophies that are challenging the concept of truth that you will definitely come up against, and which we must not fall into.
The first is Relativism, which says there is no such thing as absolute truth. They say, “all truth is relative” – it changes from person to person, situation to situation – which is a strange thing to say because saying “truth is relative” is an absolute statement and therefore wrong.
Relativists can look at people who have committed terrible acts of evil… like Nazis, terrorists, murderers… and instead of saying, “what they did was wrong”, we say, “Well… we don’t know what it was like to be them — it wasn’t their fault they were raised in that environment. It might have been right for them. And even if they did do wrong, they didn’t have a choice. And if they did have a choice, they only chose wrong because of difficult circumstances and outside influences. And even if they weren’t affected by outside influences, then they must have some kind of genetic predisposition to doing that bad thing – so really, they didn’t do anything wrong. They just have a different truth.”
Relativists look at people who believe in absolute truth and say that we are wrong to believe that… but if truth is relative, then aren’t we also right to believe it? So that’s just goofy.
The next is Scepticism. They doubt all truth. They may say that “the truth is out there”, but no one has found it yet. And they are suspicious of anyone who claims to know the truth. Agnostics are generally sceptics who say “you can’t know the truth”. But even that is a self-defeating statement because they essentially are saying that “the only truth you can know is the fact that you can’t know the truth.” Be careful of becoming a sceptic in regards to all truth. Skepticism quickly becomes an excuse to sin.
Yes, be wise in your view of life, check things out, and obey 1 Thessalonians 5:21 which says, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” But we must still believe that there is absolute truth.
The third philosophy that attacks truth is Pluralism, which we love in Canada. This isn’t the same as relativism, where truth changes from person to person, but that everyone is right all the time. All truths are equally valid. It sounds so wonderful. We don’t have to fight because no one is ever wrong! You’re right, I’m right, everyone is right. Everyone’s beliefs are equally true and therefore should be encouraged and defended. That’s ridiculous.
There is not a God and no god at the same time. That person is not both guilty and innocent. A woman is not pregnant and also not pregnant. The coin cannot be both heads and tails. These people usually use this in a religious sense saying that everyone is right… but they can’t bring themselves to use it in a personal sense.
They will absolutely agree that you people who believe God, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or nothing at all are all right – but all you have to do is steal their car, shoot their dog, and steal their money and they become an absolutist pretty quick. Just tell them that what you did was right because you believe it was right, and therefore it was ok. You believed that their car was really your car, and so it was ok. And that if they really believed that they had a new car, and their dog was alive, and had more money, then that would be true for them and it wouldn’t be a problem.
How I long for a place and a time where you can say categorically, “What you are doing is wrong! You chose to do wrong and you are going to be held accountable for your actions. You need to change your behaviour because what you are saying, doing, and thinking is wrong!” Not just so I can say it, but so that others can say it to me! “Allan, you’re wrong! And here’s why! This isn’t my opinion, this is what God says, and it’s His standard! It’s there to protect you and you need to change your path.”
That place is supposed to be the Church of Jesus Christ. That’s what scripture says! There is right and wrong. We are free to make choices, but God will hold us accountable to what they are. When we stand before Him, all of our excuses will melt away like wax, and we will be left alone with our choices.
The Judgment on Believers
2 Corinthians 5:10 says,
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
Christians and non-Christians will all be held accountable for their actions (Matt 25:31-32; Rom 4:10). For the believers who know the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, there will be reward for the obedience they have given to Jesus out of love for Him (Matt. 6:20; Luke 19:17, 19; 1 Cor. 3:12–15; 1 Tim. 6:19; 2 Jn 1:8; Rev. 22:12). For those who do not know Jesus, there will be eternal punishment.
1 Corinthians 3:10-17 is a passage which talks about standards of judgement that will come on believers. I want to read this because I want to make the point of why this is so important for each of us. Listen to what he says,
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light [that is the day where we all stand before the judgment seat of Christ]. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
Christians will be judged. Paul uses the picture of someone building their life just as someone builds a house. It starts with the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ, it is then framed by our obedience, and then it is decorated by our good works. And this sermon series asks the questions, “What is our house supposed to look like? What is it supposed to be made of?”
What I want to do is tie 1 Corinthians 3 to Psalm 15. I believe that Psalm 15 gives us a picture of what the blueprints of a believer’s life, and by extension a church, looks like. I’m a simple, straightforward guy, and this is a simple, straightforward psalm. It asks a question, and then answers it clearly.
Please open up to Psalm 15 and let’s read it together. I’ll put it up on the screen and you’ll see that I’ve probably broken it down a little differently then you will see in your bible. Look at how David the Psalmist answers the question. He uses poetic couplets.
“1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart 3 and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman,
4 who despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
5 who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken.”
And so, what we’re going to do is use Psalm 15 as our outline, and then see how the same themes are found throughout scripture.
First, let’s look at the six areas that the psalm points out. Who may dwell on God’s holy hill? What is the house that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 3 made of? What are the core characteristics of a Christian and Church? They are Having Integrity, Speaking the Truth, Loving our Neighbours, Honouring other Believers, Keeping our Oaths, and Using our Money Well. In short, a Christian has Integrity – and shows that Integrity by being Truthful, Loving, Honouring, Trustworthy and Generous.
The first trait is, “He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous…” We’ve already talked about this one in the first sermon. We called it “integrity”. You can also call it a “good reputation”. It is the result of having all the others. It is the evidence, and the fruit of all the other traits. You can’t have a good reputation, or be a person of integrity, if you are not doing these other things.
So if salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of the house we are building, then Integrity would be the Roof. You can’t hold up the roof without the walls, and if the walls start to crack, then the roof won’t stay up. The roof is what everyone sees, it takes the most beating, protecting the rest. It is what is hit hardest by the elements. It if the roof starts to leak, then the whole house is in trouble. Protect your reputation. Protect your integrity. And we do that by being obedient to God in the next five areas.
Speak the Truth
So the first column that holds up our roof of integrity is “Speak the Truth”. “Who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue,” We understand the words “speak the truth”, but added to that is the phrase “has no slander”. How is that included in truthfulness?
The word “slander” here is the Hebrew word RAGAL and it means “to spy, to move your feet, to tread upon.” The word is a picture of someone who is sneaking around and stepping on people’s reputation by speaking about them maliciously behind their back.
This shows us the positive and negative sides, of truth. In a positive sense, you do speak the truth. And on the other hand, you don’t spread lies.
Both were laws in Israel. Speaking the Truth is commanded by the 9th Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness.” And the other is in Leviticus 19:16, “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.”
This is also all over the scriptures and they give reasons that are rooted in our faith. Look at Ephesians 4:25,
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body.”
Again, both are seen. Don’t lie, be truthful. Why? Because we are all connected. Lying doesn’t just harm your reputation, but the reputation of the whole church. It doesn’t just effect the one being slandered, it effects the entire body of believers.
In Colossians 3:9-10 Paul roots our reason for not lying in the fact that we are now being made into the image of God, and God is not a liar.
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
God doesn’t lie, so those who have His indwelling Spirit don’t lie. God doesn’t lie, so His kids don’t lie. God doesn’t lie, so the people who live by His word don’t lie. Jesus doesn’t lie, so His people don’t lie.
God Hates Lies and Slander
Listen to Proverbs 6:16-19 and see how serious this is to God,
“There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.”
God literally hates a lying tongue, false witnesses, and people who slander and spread strife. He hates it in the world, and He hates it even more among His people. Why? Because lies are the language of Satan.
When we lie to each other – whether that’s spreading lies on purpose or in ignorance, we are speaking the native language of the Devil.
The first thing Satan does in scripture is slander God and lie to Eve.
“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘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.”
In John 8:44 Jesus confronts a group of religious people and tells them that their lying and slander against Him is demonic and evil.
“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
When you lie, according to the words of Jesus, you speak like the devil. In Revelation 12:9 a Satan is called “The Deceiver”. Lying is literally satanic and it deeply offends God, and therefore should offend us.
Lying is a Demonic Act
If you lie you are not just committing a human act, but a spiritual one. When Jesus spoke of honesty, He was very serious about it. It’s a heart issue, a spiritual issue. In Matthew 15:18-20 Jesus teaches that whatever comes out of our mouth shows the condition of our heart. He says,
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”
Listen to the group that Liars are put into in Revelation 21:8, and what happens to them.
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”
Liars are condemned, and lying has no place among those who are saved.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 says that when the Antichrist comes one of the main things he will do is deceive people with tricks and lies.
“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.”
Lying is hugely serious! There are no “white lies”. A liar cannot have a good reputation, and cannot be a person of integrity. Everything they say is tainted, and they cannot spread the good news. They cannot be a good witness. They damage the reputation of every person they speak of and represent. They work with Satan to accomplish evil. God hates liars.
God Loves Truth
Proverbs 12:22 says,
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” Proverbs 16:13 says, “Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right.”
A Christian is someone who speaks the truth, all the time. Who never spreads stories about someone else. It is a hallmark of the Christian faith, a keystone of our reputation, a pillar holding up our integrity, and a way we worship and show love to God! In 1 Corinthians 13, which is called the “Love Chapter”, one descriptor of love is that it “rejoices with the truth.” We worship Jesus who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” To be truthful is to be loving. To be truthful is to be like Jesus.
When the Apostle John is writing to a church he founded he says,
“For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (1 John 1:3-4)
He says, “I told you the truth, you are keeping the truth, and it brings me joy to know that you are truthful people.”
Hebrews 6:17-18 says,
“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”
We can count on our salvation being assured because we know that God isn’t a liar.
What is Truth?
I hope I’ve made the case that lying and truth is a very big deal, and so I want to leave you with a few points to consider.
First, let’s answer the question, “What is Truth?”. I found a wonderful article on a wonderful website called “GotQuestions.org” that talked about truth, and I’m going to borrow some from it. It started with what truth is not.
- Truth is not simply whatever works. Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s the truth.
- Truth is not simply what is understandable. A group of people can get together and agree on a set of falsehoods and all tell the same false story.
- Truth is not what makes people feel good. Good news is not always true. Bad news can be true too.
- Truth is not what the majority says is true. Fifty one percent of a group can be wrong.
- Truth is not what is comprehensive. A lengthy, detailed presentation, can still have a false conclusion.
- Truth is not defined by what is intended. A good intention can still be wrong.
- Truth is not simply what is believed. A lie, even if believed by many people, is still a lie.
And then the article gives these three simple ways to define the truth.
- Truth is that which corresponds to reality. In other words, truth is what is “really real”.
- Truth is that which matches its object. For example, it might be absolutely true that one person needs 100 milligrams of medication to be helped, but someone else needs more or less. This is not the same as relative truth, but an example of how truth must match its object. It would be wrong and even dangerous for someone to say “I want 100 milligrams because my father had these symptoms and was cured by 100 milligrams of this medicine. If you don’t prescribe me 100 milligrams of the exact same thing, you are lying about the treatment of this disease.” Truth must match the object.
- Truth is simply telling it like it is. This is the simplest definition. It is the way things are, and any other viewpoint is wrong. Your opinion does not make it truth. Your perspective does not make it truth. Ask 10 people to describe the same event and you’ll get 10 different descriptions. Truth is what it is.
Truth Will Get You Intro Trouble
Finally, and let me close with this. Being truthful is critical, but telling the truth isn’t always easy and will sometimes get you into trouble. The most truthful person ever to live was Jesus Christ and He was hurt, rejected, slandered and murdered. If you blow the whistle because of a foul, you are going to get yelled at. If you answer honestly, some people will dislike you. You must stand for truth in obedience to God, in respect for Christ, in love for your fellow man, and because it is the right thing to do. God is intensely concerned that His people be truth tellers, at all times, and in all things.
So if you have lied, make it right. If you are in the habit of lying, get some help and some accountability. As Jesus said in John 8:31-32,
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
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