Have you ever heard of “Anosmia”? It’s a fancy word describing the inability to smell and thousands of Canadians have this problem. I read a little about it this week and it’s actually a much more serious problem then one would think because our nose is something that keeps us safe. Why do we sniff leftovers or milk when it has been in the fridge for too long? Because our nose is our first line of defence to keep us from getting sick. If it smells bad, then we don’t eat it. Instead, we reject the food and throw it away. People with anosmia can’t smell when their food is bad, or if there’s a gas leak from their stove, or if their house is on fire!
Losing the ability to smell is a huge issue because it’s one way that we can spot dangers in the world and keep ourselves safe. Everyone agrees with this, right? I’m especially thinking of the bad food one. We open the fridge, spot some old guacamole and wonder if it’s any good. Guacamole always looks a little funky, so it’s hard to tell by sight. So we smell it. If it smells good, then get the chips – if not, toss it out. We don’t feel bad about tossing it out because it is dangerous and could make us sick.
Hang on to that principle and open up to Psalm 15.
“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”
A few years ago I preached through this psalm over a series of 9 weeks and parked on one phrase in there that needed some explanation. Most people can get behind the rest of the psalm, but usually have a problem with one part. Can you guess which one?
I’ll give you a hint. People have no problem agreeing that God’s people are supposed to do what is right and speak truth. They have no issue with saying God’s people shouldn’t slander others or do evil against their neighbours and friends. They agree that believers should fear the Lord, admit their wrongs, and use their money wisely and generously. What part do people usually have a problem with? “Despising (or rejecting) vile people”.
The concept of believers rejecting or despising someone doesn’t sit well with some people. Most popular images of Jesus argue that He was all about love, acceptance, peace, and openness – that He would never reject or “despise” anyone, and would never call anyone “vile”. This simply isn’t true. While it may be true that Jesus didn’t call anyone “vile”, He did have some other choice words for them. He called some “blind” others “fools”. He called the scribes and Pharisees “whitewashed tombs”, “serpents”, “vipers”, “hypocrites”, “unmarked graves”, “children of hell”, and “murderers” (Matthew 23, Luke 11).
Jesus is the most loving, compassionate, long-suffering, friend that sinners could ever know – but He has no qualms about calling out sinners when He sees them. The most reviled sinners found themselves drawn to Jesus, compelled by his amazing grace, where they found forgiveness and acceptance. But no such softness was found when Jesus saw unrepentant sin and hard hearts. He called it out.
In the same way, Christians are supposed to recognize sin when we see it, recognize a hard, unrepentant heart, and reject the sin along with the sinner. We need to be able to detest what is “vile” for three important reasons. First, so that we, the community, and the unrepentant believer recognizes the seriousness of sin. Second, to compel the sinner to repent. Third, to protect the church from the effects of that sin. We’ve talked about these before.
We talked in the last couple weeks about the importance of recognizing the danger of sin and not tolerating or trivializing it, but instead confronting it. Last week we talked about who we are to judge, that being only our fellow Christians – and by what standards, that being the Bible. Certainly, the Holy Spirit helps us by working within us like a Geiger counter or radar detector that makes us sense when there is sin, but we always, always make sure we check our judgements with what the Bible says.
Going back to the food example: We open the fridge and spot some cheese. It’s covered in blue mold, we press it with our finger and it’s soft and funky, and when we give it the sniff test and it smells TERRIBLE. We immediately feel sick to our stomachs and cry out, “WHO LEFT THIS DISGUISTING CHEESE IN THE FRIDGE! HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN HERE? ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL US?!? I’M THROWING IT OUT! GROSS!” All of our senses are telling us that the cheese is bad for us, but then someone comes running around the corner saying, “No! Don’t throw that out! I just paid some good money for that cheese! It’s called Stilton and it’s delicious! The stinkier the better!”
You see, just because your senses say it’s no good, doesn’t mean it actually isn’t. That’s why we check with the Bible before we make a determination. It’s our standard for faith and life.
But what if something doesn’t pass the sniff test and doesn’t line up with the Bible? Then what ought we to do? How do we balance Jesus’ commands to love our neighbour as ourselves, love our brothers and sisters, bear with their faults, while at the same time “rejecting the vile” and as our passage in 1st Corinthians 5 which we are studying says, “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:13)?
We talked about Step One last week, which was to look inward and evaluate our own sin, motives, and relationship with God, so that we are humbled and prepared, but what comes next?
Turn with me to Matthew 18 and let’s explore there what needs to be done to get this right. This is a very practical model given by Jesus to help us understand how to deal with sin among His people. This isn’t the only place where we can learn about this, but I think it’s the clearest for most situations we will find ourselves in.
Step Two: One on One (Confront & Support)
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
When we confront sin, it is to be confronted one on one first. The only exception is when you are confronting a Pastor or Elder in the church – in that case, you skip to the step two where you must bring witnesses. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 says, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This isn’t about special treatment – far from it considering the major impact it would have – it’s about giving public figures protection from accusations based on how people feel about them, rather than actual sins.
But when it comes to personal confrontation, it’s always one on one first. Now, some people look for the loophole here and say, “Well, if the sin isn’t directly against me, then I don’t have to deal with it.” I’m sure you’ve thought that, right? To you I reference Galatians 6:1-2:
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
In other words, another Christian’s sin is your business. The big idea here is that we are members of the family and we have the right and the responsibility to pull each other away from harm, and to take care of each other. Go to the person privately, quietly, gently, lovingly, patiently, and say, “I’ve been noticing something in your life that is sin. I seen myself or heard from this person (yes, name that person so it’s not gossip) that you have been struggling with this sin.” For example, “I’ve heard that you are angry with someone, that you are harbouring unforgiveness, that you are addicted to something, that there’s something that is separating you from God. I’m here to ask you about it, tell you what God says, and I’m here to help.”
See, we don’t just jump strait to handing them over to Satan. This goes two ways – confrontation and support. Confront the sin gently, and then say, “How can I help you?” Confront, then support. Supporting them could be as simple as telling them how to make it right, and then they go do it and then hold them accountable by making sure they did it. “You took that thing and shouldn’t have. Go give it back. I’ll wait here until you have given it back.”
Or, if it’s something that could take a while like if they struggle with lust, anger, unforgiveness, addiction, foul language, it could mean meeting with them regularly until they get right with it. Sometimes the issue is beyond our ability and we need to help them get into a treatment or counselling program and then talk to them about how that’s going. Whatever it is, we are to lovingly and gently confront sin in our brothers and sisters, support them as they try to get it right, and win them back to God because we love them.
Step Three: Bring Friends
What if that doesn’t work? Jesus says in verse 16,
“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”
If that person doesn’t listen, they blow you off, they deny it, they tell you to get lost, that it’s none of your business, that they can handle it, that you can’t judge them… you don’t get to just walk away and say, “Oh well, I tried.” Instead, you get one or two other believers who love that person and want the best for them, who have witnessed and understand the problem and ask them to get involved. This isn’t to embarrass them or bully them, but to show them how serious the sin is. This also shows them that their sin isn’t a secret – that people know about it.
The people you bring isn’t meant to be a pastor or an elder, but friends. This also isn’t your posse. Get a group of Christian friends that they will listen to and invite them over, or invite yourself over. And when you are all together, the group tries again.
If you are someone being asked to be part of this group, after praying about it, I recommend that you do so. If you know about this situation, the person’s struggle, and you haven’t had the courage to confront them – but someone else has and they invite you to come and help – go and help!
After that meeting, you go back to what we talked about with loving support.
Step Four: Call the Elders
But what if bringing the group doesn’t work? This is where we get the elders and the church involved. Verse 17,
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
Even when they’ve told you to get lost, and then told some of their friends to get lost, we still don’t let it go. We still haven’t “handed them over to Satan” or “rejected the vile”. We are still working together as a church to combat this sin, break the hold it has on our brother or sister, and the next step is to get the church leadership involved.
God takes sin very seriously and we want to show this person just how serious it is. Bring yourself and the witnesses to the pastor and the elders of the church. (If you come by yourself, and I don’t know about the problem, chances are I’m going to ask for some witnesses anyway!) Once you are together, we can come up with a plan on how to lovingly confront this person. Sometimes that means the pastor and elders take care of it themselves, other times they need to enlist your help. Be open, be humble, and be ready to help.
Step Five: Lovingly Avoid
And then comes the last step, “…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
“…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
This is where the church “turns them over to Satan.” This is not a happy time, but a sad one. If this person is still unrepentant after all of this, then they are not acting like a believer, which means their soul is in jeopardy. Therefore, since they are not acting like a Christian we don’t treat them like one. In fact, if they keep claiming to be a believer and yet stay in their sin after all of this, we are told not to even associate with them. That’s what it means in 1 Corinthians 5:11 when it says “not even to eat with such a one”.
Now, in case you think I’m prooftexting here, I want you to know that despising and rejecting the person who has rejected God is all over the scriptures. Here’s just a few from the New Testament:
“If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
Now, why do we get to this step?
Reject, Protect, Restore
What most people don’t understand is that this fourth step is actually a process. We don’t just “Reject” – but we also protect and restore. Let me explain.
When a church is faced with an unrepentant Christian who is more committed to their sin than to Jesus, we are commanded by God to reject them. The believers within the church keep their integrity intact by doing what Psalm 15 says – “despising the vile person”. In other words, reject the one who has rejected God. When someone calls themselves a believer and is in flagrant, unrepentant sin – we don’t associate with them because they are a danger to themselves and others. We purposefully make the believer feel badly about themselves and their sin by giving them a taste of life as an unrepentant sinner again. They want to live like a demon so we let them experience a taste of hell. When we hang around with them and pretend nothing is wrong, ignore their sin, we are in some ways saying that we agree with their sin or that their sin is no big deal. We therefore become complicit with their sin – just like the church in Corinth.
The second reason for rejecting them is to protect the integrity of the church and the person who is in sin. We protect our church’s integrity by showing the world that this person doesn’t represent us and by removing the object of temptation from within our midst. When we keep them around us we are in danger of being tempted to sin with them! We protect ourselves from their bad influence and protect them from feeling like their sin is ok. Removing them from membership and refusing to meet with them socially is a measure of protection.
What they need to see is that their behaviour is not acceptable to anyone who calls themselves a Christian, and they are not allowed to be a part of the church. Being rejected by their fellow believers because of their behaviour should cause them to grieve. It gives them a chance to look at their life, to realize that if they are going to claim that Jesus is the Lord of their life but not act like it, then they are a hypocrite. You could also say that this is a way to protect them from self-delusion.
When we refuse to meet with them it also makes it so that we cannot enable them to sin. Think of it this way: If a fellow believer is going out of town so they can sin, and you say that you are happy to pick them up, babysit, watch their house, or whatever – you are enabling their sin. If they give you something to hang on to for a while so they don’t get in trouble, you’re helping them sin. If they want to borrow some money because they have spent all of theirs on sin – no, they can’t have any. Even if that means they can’t pay their rent or their bills, because you will not enable them to sin. We protect our integrity, our church’s integrity, Jesus’ reputation, and even show love to the sinner by our refusing to do these sorts of things for them.
Which leads us to the third reason to reject the person, and the ultimate reason for Church discipline: this sets up the conditions by which we will be able to restore this person back to the fellowship. By God’s grace, when they get a taste of life outside the will of God, outside the people of God, and live as pawns of Satan for a while, they will see their sin and want to be restored back to Jesus.
This is ultimately what this is all about. Not kicking the person out, but doing everything we can to save them from the sin that is entangling them and restoring them back to spiritual health.
Conclusion: This is Hard but Important
I realize that this is hard! Often, the practical working out of these sorts of commands from God is hard. There are some practical questions too: What if we see them in the grocery store? How long do we do this for? If this is all about lovingly restoring them to the fellowship of the church faith in Jesus, then how do we do it? Unfortunately, there is no way to answer every question.
Some people will lean towards “we have to keep showing them love” and keep talking to them in a friendly way while remaining firm on their need for repentance. Other people will lean towards, “I need to avoid this person because they will suck me into their sin” and will avoid them altogether. Still other people will be more confrontational and only talk to the person when they are willing to talk about repentance, reconciliation and fixing their issue.
I don’t think any one of those is necessarily wrong, nor do I think any of them is totally right, nor will any of us will do them perfectly. What is certain is our need for spiritual sensitivity and an abiding desire to do the will of God. I think all of this needs much prayer, study, and godly wisdom. If we are listening to the Holy Spirit, reading His word, and seeking His glory, then I believe God can use us to help those around us grow closer to Him and protect them from sin.
This is something that very few churches do well, and it’s one reason why there are so many problems among groups of believers. They refuse to practice church discipline, they allow sin to fester, and they will not reject those who have rejected God. This is something we have to get right because it is commanded by God, and lets us be a healthy, Christ honouring church.
This is tough stuff and none of us are good at it. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve done it too harshly or have avoided it or been too soft. But that doesn’t excuse us from trying to get this right. It’s too important to ignore. Sin is too dangerous.
If it’s not done well, under the power of God and the instruction of the Word, then the church will be in danger of being overcome by sin. If we do this full of holier-than-thou pride it will be very damaging. The loaf will be ruined with the yeast of sin. But if we pursue Godly Church Discipline out of love and a desire to see sinners restored to the fellowship and to the faith, then it is an act of worship that God will bless.
Let’s keep seeing soft, repentant hearts towards, but always be willing to do the hard things that He asks us to do. If you know a brother or sister caught in sin, then pray for them, and courageously commit that you will help them see the danger of their sin and repent from it so they can get back to church, back in prayer, back to serving God, back in worship, and back in a loving relationship with Jesus.
We’ve been slowly working our way through 1st Corinthians and after a Christmas break and the January series on depression, it’s time to get back into our study by turning to 1st Corinthians 5.
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”
Would You Rather?
People love playing the “What’s worse?” or “Would you rather?” game. There’ are websites and apps dedicated to them! Would you rather inhale a bug while riding your bike or find a hair in your food at a restaurant? What’s worse: having bird poop land on your head or stepping barefoot in dog poo? Would you rather be almost blind or almost deaf? What’s worse” running out of gas or getting a flat tire?
For good or for ill, people are comparative by nature. We love comparing things. We turn everything into competitions to see who is stronger, faster, can eat more, or anything else. We have competitions for best air guitar, extreme ironing, and ugliest dog. In Japan they have baby crying contests. In the US they have the International Cherry Pit Spitting Championship (the record on that is 28.51m or 93 ft 6.5 in, by the way. That’s the long distance across a basketball court!)
People do this with sin too. If someone is caught doing something they shouldn’t, one popular defence is to say that whatever they were doing wasn’t as bad as something they could have done or that someone else did. “Allan, did you steal a cookie from the cookie jar?” “Yes, but at least I didn’t eat all of them! Yes, but I didn’t rob a bank! Yes, but yesterday I stole two, so this is actually way better.” The idea is to minimize, or trivialize the sin by comparing it to something. We make it seem less important, less significant, than it really is, by holding it up to something we think is worse.
What it shows is a misunderstanding of the seriousness of sin. It’s not just a cookie from the cookie jar, is it? It’s theft. It breaks the 8th Commandment. It shows a lack of respect for parental authority. It shows that there is something wrong with the heart. It sets a bad example for those around and lowers the standards for everyone.
To which the detractors cry, “This is the slippery slope fallacy! Stealing a cookie doesn’t mean that they’ll be robbing banks soon! It won’t bring about the fall of western civilization! It’s just a cookie!” To which Christians, theologians, and God replies: “There is no such thing as a small sin.”
No Small Sins
When we look at sin we tend to trivialize it. When God looks at sin He sees something much more serious. Jesus demonstrated this during His Sermon on the Mount. Turn with me to Matthew 5 and see what Jesus does here.
Look at verse 21. First Jesus talks about anger, something that we don’t spend too much time thinking is that big of a deal. We assume that carrying around anger and bitterness towards people is no big deal as long as we don’t get out of control. We think that yelling at someone in the car who cut us off in traffic is no big deal. Jesus says,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
It’s so serious that Jesus says next,
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
In other words, your anger towards your brother needs to be dealt with before you even walk through the doors of the church, before you do your devos, before you say your prayers, before you tithe. If you have anger against someone, even if you think you’ve got it under control you are in spiritual danger and God is not going to accept your prayers or offering!
Move to verse 27. Next Jesus says,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
That’s twice that Jesus has talked about the danger of hell.
Men think, “Oh, it’s no big deal to hang that poster, play that video game, watch that show, visit that site, or check out those girls at the mall. I’m faithful in marriage, would never cheat, and it’s not like I went looking for it. It’s just there. I’m just here to buy shoes. I watch it for the plot. I play because it’s fun.”
Women think, “It’s no big deal to read those stories or watch those movies and fantasize about being with someone else. It’s no big deal to think about my old boyfriends or coworkers. No big deal to just scan through a few posts on Facebook. No big deal to wonder about what it would be like to be with them. No big deal to get my motor running with a little fantasy.”
We think it’s all in our heads, secret, and that everyone does it so it’s no big deal. Does this passage make it look like God thinks it’s no big deal? Jesus isn’t adding anything to what God has already said – He’s merely explaining it properly.
And yes, this is hyperbole – or overstatement for effect – but His point is to emphasize how dangerous sin is and how important it is that we maintain control over the purity of our thought life. “Even things of great value should be given up if they are leading a person to sin.” (ESV Study Bible) Why? Because sin is super dangerous! It is ultra-destructive.
This is just like “what’s worse” or “would you rather”. What’s worse? Giving up your internet connection, not going to the mall, deleting Facebook, breaking off that friendship, changing jobs, missing that show or deleting that game – or corrupting your conscience, losing God’s blessing, and living in a state of perpetual, spiritual sickness? Would you rather have the fruits of sin or the fruits of the Spirit?
This is the danger of minimizing sin. It’s eating away our soul like cancer, hurting our family, infecting our children, polluting our worship, corrupting our community – and we treat it like it’s no big deal.
This is what the Corinthians were doing. Paul begins with a startling statement about what is happening in the church: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” (5:1) He was sleeping with his step-mother, perhaps even as an adulterous affair. Certainly the Old Testament condemned this, but it was so evil that not even the pagans around them had laws against it. And if you remember the sexual history of Corinth, that is really saying something.
They knew it was wrong but were unwilling to admit it or do anything about it. They knew it was a sin, but didn’t see it as a problem. What’s worse, they thought, to tell this guy to stop sinning and breaking God’s laws or to allow it to continue? They felt that telling him would have been worse.
Look at 5:2, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?”
The church was so accepting of sin that they were not only being tolerant of sin in their midst, but actually being arrogant about it. Where they should have seen the danger of the sin, mourning that it had taken hold of one of the families in their church, in sorrow for the disgrace it would bring to the name of Jesus, they were actually proud of it! “Look how tolerant, loving, caring, accepting we are!”
Their perspective of sin had gotten terribly out of whack. They remind me of the people Paul was talking about in Romans 1:32 where he says, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” In that case he was talking about unbelieving, out of control, pagans – but it also described the Corinthian church. They knew it was sin, practiced it, and then went as far as to give approval to those who were doing it.
What does the Bible say ought to have been done? “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” Keep in mind that this person is a self-professed Christian! How should they treat this brother? This man doesn’t know how dangerous his sin is so they should “…deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”. This means that the church should stop getting between him and the consequences of his sin. If he wants to live like a demon, then let him experience hell! Why? So his heart breaks when he sees how damaging his sin is. So long as the people around him are tolerating the sin, making excuses, and accepting it, there is no way they will repent. He needed to see the full consequences of his actions.
Sometimes we need this too. Sometimes we need God to let us see what happens when we don’t take sin seriously. Sometimes God lets the shoe fall. We hurt our marriage, families, friends, church, community, or reputation. We turn from God, live with sin, keep it secret, or have a bunch of people make excuses for you: “It’s just your personality. It’s no big deal. You deserved it. We all understand.” and we start to think we’re getting away with it – that there’s no consequences to the sin.
We’re still going to church. We’re still singing the songs, meeting with our friends, enjoying our life, going to work, living our life – and so we get used to having that sin in our lives. No one calls us on our anger or bitterness problem, so we never deal with it. No one calls us on letching over the young women, so we think no one cares. No one calls us on our foul language, addictions, or out of control spending, so we think it’s no problem.
That’s not how Christians are to love one another. That’s not how we are to address sin in the church. Christians have a higher sensitivity to sin, a better perspective of it, a higher standard for ourselves, because are all-too aware of how damaging it is. It’s not just a little anger problem, a little private lust, a little spending issue, a little language problem – it’s a cancer to your soul. It’s a wedge that can be hammered into your relationships with your family, friends and church. A Christian sees sin for how dangerous it really is.
Paul says, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” (5:6)
If you are an expert on anything it comes with a blessing and a curse. On one hand you can do something amazing that few people can – on the other hand, you are cursed with the ability to see shoddy work.
If you know how to paint or decorate or design or build, then walking into most people’s houses takes real effort because all you see is mistakes. Runs here, sags there, unmatched colours, poor architecture.
If you are an expert cook or wine taster or coffee then you are blessed, but it also means that most people’s food and coffee tastes bad.
If you are an expert in journalism, history or politics then watching a movie or the news is agonizing because of all the inaccuracies and outright errors.
If you are an expert on exercise or nutrition then seeing what people put into their bodies almost bring you physical pain because of how terrible it is.
And that’s true for all of you who have special training, whatever it is. Your special knowledge gives you a different perspective on the world around you – and it’s not always good.
For a Christian, our understanding of sin makes us realize something other people don’t understand. We don’t see it as a white lie, a little vice, a necessary evil, an excusable moment – we see a virus, cancer, death.
You may have heard of a woman named Joy Milne who has a very special ability. She can smell when someone has Parkinson’s Disease, which is a very difficult disease to diagnose. She first noticed it in her husband as she sensed his smell changing and then he was diagnosed. Scientists were intrigued so they did an experiment where 12 people, six with Parkinson’s and six without, wore shirts all day and then brought them in to be bagged. Joy then smelled each shirt and was right 12 out of 12 times. The actual story goes that they thought she was wrong about one of them, but then eight months later that person was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Christians are like that. When we finally see our sin, hate our sin, repent of our sin, ask God’s forgiveness of our sin because Jesus died on the cross for our sin, we are given the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of us. And one of His gifts is to make us more sensitive to sin.
As you mature as a Christian you may notice this phenomena in your life. Someone says something, does something, or you go somewhere and there’s some radar that goes off inside of you. Red flags fly, the Geiger counter starts to click, and you know something is hinkey.
Things that didn’t bother you before now seem uncomfortable. Things you used to let go, you now want to deal with. Places that were fun are no longer fun. It’s remarkable. That’s God fixing your broken conscience. That’s the presence of Jesus in you.
As we mature that sensitivity grows, but it also goes away as we practice sinning. The more we accept sin, turn our back to it, blind ourselves to it, accept it, tolerate it, fear it, and allow it to occur, the more we “sear our conscience” (1 Tim 4:2). Our heart gets harder instead of softer, less sensitive, less able to tell right and wrong. That’s what was happening to the Corinthians. They wouldn’t call sin sin, and had lost their ability to see it. Had they lost their salvation, no? But they were still in great spiritual danger. Their church had cancer.
They let the disease of sin grow up in their midst. They allowed the little bit of leaven into their bread, and it infected the whole lump.
I used to work for a pulp mill and one of my jobs was to clear out a section where they had broken down a building. My job was to take everything in the pile, go through it, stick it in a truck, and drive it to where it could be better used. At one point I came across a big bunch of round circles. So I started busting them apart and putting them in garbage bags. A few days later someone came by and saw me doing it and yelled “WHOA! STOP! What are you doing?! Do you know what those are?!” The obvious answer was “no”. They were asbestos gaskets. Every gasket I broke was full of compressed asbestos which made a nice little cloud for me to breathe in.
Asbestos, for those who don’t know, is not to be breathed. The little fibres get inside your lung, get stuck, scar your tissue, and then leads to cancer and all kinds of other breathing problems.
One minute I was happily busting little circles, and the next I was sitting in the mill office filling out paperwork just in case I die of asbestosis someday.
What stopped me? Someone saw what I was doing and knew more than me. He knew those little circles were dangerous, not to be broken, not to be breathed, to be treated carefully by an expert, not by an untrained, idiot, summer student. He knew the danger and he stopped me right there.
That’s what the church is supposed to do with Christians who are sinning. That’s what we’re supposed to do with our fellow brothers and sisters. We are supposed to see the danger and deal with it – patiently, gently, truthfully, scripturally, courageously.
We’ll talk about that more about how to do that next week, but for now that’s where we are going to leave it.
So I ask you: How seriously do you take sin? The sin in your own life, in your family, and in your church? I’m not talking about the country and the world right now – I mean inside you, your closest relationships, and your church. Do you take it as seriously as God does, as Jesus does, as you should? Or do you tolerate it, make excuses for it, trivialize it, allow the cancer to grow and fester, allow your loved ones to play with the asbestos.
I’d like you to pray about that this week.
We’ve been talking for the past few weeks about Mental Illness and Depression, something that is all too common in our community. We’ve talked about what Depression is, what causes it, and a bit of what it’s like to live with it. Last week we talked about the stigma of depression and how hard it is to be honest with people – even in the church – about what you are going through.
But if there’s one thing I want to make clear today it’s that Jesus knows what you are going through. A couple weeks ago I said that it’s possible that Jesus Himself faced true depression and I want to take a little time today to explain how important that truth is.
In Hebrews 4:14-16 we read this:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Many people who are going through a time of suffering and pain have a hard time praying. They feel like their prayers bounce off the ceiling, that there’s no way that God can understand what they are going through, and if He does, that He doesn’t care. Those are natural feelings that the Bible spends a lot of time arguing against.
The argument in this passage is that when we are in a “time of need”, what we really need is to “receive mercy and find grace to help”. No one would argue that. When we go through hard times, that’s what we want – mercy, grace and help. But where are we encouraged to turn to? “The throne of grace.” What is that? God’s throne. Before that throne stands a High Priest, a mediator, a go-between, between us broken, human sinners and the Perfectly Holy Creator of the Universe.
This is a big deal. We can’t come to God on our own because our sin prevents us. If we saw God, we’d die. We need someone who can talk to God, and who God will listen to. Who is that? Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life, never sinned, and therefore can stand in the presence of God. And so He has promised to be our mediator, our facilitator, between us and God.
But there’s still a problem. How can Jesus know what we’re going through? He’s Jesus, after all! He’s God’s Son, a perfect person from two thousand years ago. How can He relate to what we’re going through? It was the same with the Old Testament priests. They lived a totally different life than the average person, so how could they pray for anyone? They don’t know what we’re going through!
Scripture says, “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The teaching here is that Jesus actually knows exactly what we’re going through, has faced that same problem, that same temptation, that same situation, and yet navigated it perfectly. He literally knows how we feel, what thoughts are racing through our heads, and what it’s like to live surrounded by sin while living in this failing, human flesh. He gets it. He knows what it’s like to face what we are facing.
And to illustrate that today, I would like you to turn with me to Luke 4:1-13.
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
Before we get into taking this passage apart, I want to talk briefly about the nature of temptation.
If you’ve ever worked with addictions then you’ve probably heard of the acronym H.A.L.T., standing for Hungry, Angry, Lonely & Tired, and is a tool meant to help people recognize when they are at their most vulnerable so they won’t relapse. The Christmas Season is a major problem time for a lot of people with addictions, and is similarly a peak-time for spiritual troubles and temptations.
The first letter stands for Hungry. If you’re pinching pennies but are used to spending, or trying to stop the habits of sugar or alcohol by dieting, then you are going to feel hungry. It’s not just food though. It’s about something within you being drawn towards something. You have a craving, a hunger.
The next letter stands for Angry. If you’ve had some bad experiences over the holidays, or you’re back at work and people around you are grumpy, or you’ve been putting things off and need to catch up and it’s not going well, then you could be feeling angry. When we get angry we are more likely to go to our vices to gain control.
The L stands for Lonely. Maybe you had some wonderful times with your family over the holidays but now they’re gone and you feel lonely. Feeling alone can drive us to do foolish, dangerous things just to distract us from our loneliness.
The next letter stands for Tired. The dark and cold, the freezing rain, shoveling, and all Christmas shopping, planning and preparation, the long hours of partying, and then having to get back to work, can leave a person pretty tired.
And that’s just post-holiday stuff. Many of us have other stresses and issues in our lives that have been going on for a longer time and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of relief in sight. Plus some have pre-existing mental and physical conditions that leave you open to feeling miserable even on good days. There are lots of times that we feel extra hungry, angry, lonely and tired.
When those triggers occur, and it all starts to pile on, we tend to be much more open to falling for temptation. These times are when Satan really likes to turn up the heat. It is during Jesus’ weakest time, during His 40 day fast in the desert, that Satan piled on the temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Do lions take on the biggest and strongest prey? No. They pick off the weak ones because they are easier. As Jesus said to His friends, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)
Turn there with me to James 1:14-15 and let’s talk a little about what temptation is and how it leads to sin. It says this: “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.”
Breaking this down simply, we read three important things. First, temptation has to do with “enticement” and “desire”. I enjoy fishing and it is absolutely true that you cannot catch all fish with the same bait. Some like worms, some like spoons and spinners, others want it to float at the top of the water or sink to the bottom. You change the bait depending on the fish you want to catch.
Similarly, though temptation is universal (1 Cor 10:13) different people have different desires. Not everyone is tempted towards the same things. When stress or fear or longing or hunger or anger or loneliness – or whatever trigger – comes, we all turn to different things for comfort. Christians are taught to turn to Jesus, and most believers do, but we also often find ourselves turning to other things as well – either instead of or along with, Jesus.
Some turn to material things, using shopping as their comforter, while others turn to alcohol or drugs, coffee, food or sugar. Some turn to wrath, yelling and controlling behaviour as they shout out their injustices and try to take control from God, while others push people away, putting on the headphones, wallowing in their mood, growing more fearful or bitter. Some turn to books, movies or video games, distracting themselves with entertainment, while others turn to pornography and sex for instant distraction and gratification. Some turn to gossip and slander, knocking others down so they can feel better, while others prefer lying about their emotions by pushing the bad feelings down and pretending everything is ok.
We all have these desires within us, and these desires make up our temptations. They are, in a very real sense, our ‘functional saviours’ that replace Jesus as our “go to” for protection, comfort, help, and hope. They don’t work, and often make things worse, but we still go to them.
So that’s the first part, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire”. Here’s the thing: These desires aren’t always sinful. Technically, deep down, those desires are universal and given by God to be best fulfilled in Jesus. We don’t want alcohol, food, bitterness, video games or porn –we want to feel safer, happier, comforted, but those sins are a quick fix.
Which brings us to the second part. Next it says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin…”. Having desires isn’t sin. Sin is part of a process. When the desire stops being for the good God has for us and moves to formulating the plan of how to get what God wants us to have without Him, we sin. When plan to and then turn to someone or something other than God – where it is a fantasy in our heads or a chemical in our veins – we are sinning and causing ourselves spiritual damage.
Here’s how it works: Something happens and we are hit with the desire for love, comfort, protection, safety, fulfilment – and then God offers us Himself as the answer. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) And we say “No, that takes too long, that’s not how we want to do it, you’re not doing it my way.” And we turn away from Him and come up with a plan for how to get our desire fulfilled without Him. That is sin.
And as it says at the end of the verse, “…and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” When we turn away from the Author of Life and try to find what we want outside of Him and His plan, we are walking the path of death, which is why we feel worse after we have done it. Sure, sinning works for a moment, but when our head clears, and we can hear our God-given conscience again, we feel guilt, shame, fear, dread…. which awakens a desire for peace, comfort, safety, which leads to a new temptation – a new opportunity to turn back to God, or try again with our sin. And the cycle continues.
With that all in mind, let’s turn back to our passage in Luke about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and take it apart a bit so we can see how He really does know what it’s like to walk in our shoes – so to speak.
Sent By His Father
The first thing I want to notice is that Jesus was sent into a time of suffering and temptation by God the Father. If we back up the timeline a bit to what was happening just before the temptation in the wilderness we find ourselves at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. It says in Luke 3:21-22:
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
Fast forward to Luke 4:1-2 and we read:
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.”
After the wonderful, peaceful, riverside moment where the whole Trinity is present, full of loving, affirming words – Jesus was sent into one of the most difficult times of His life. The same story in Mark 1:12 says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” It’s the same word as when Jesus “drove out” the merchants in the temple (Mt 21:12), or when Jesus was forcibly driven out of his home town so they could throw Him off a cliff (Lk 4:29). This was God’s idea, and there was no choice in the matter. WHAM! Sudden suffering.
People with depression know this feeling, as do many of us who have been through difficult times. It comes out of nowhere, unprompted, and unasked for. One day you’re having a good day by the river, and the next you are starving alone in a wilderness, surrounded by darkness, dread, the snarling of wild animals (1:13), and non-stop evil voices. Jesus knows how that feels.
Jesus Was Weak
Next I want you to notice that Jesus was weak. He was in the desert wilderness alone for over a month. He ate nothing and was hungry. He had no special clothing to protect him on cold nights, and nothing to sleep on. The ground was hard, rocky and hilly, the sand blowing in his eyes. Hungry, lonely, tired… for sure. And not for one night, not for a week, but for over a month. And not just natural problems to battle, but also spiritual ones. The word “tempted” indicates that the temptation from Satan was continual, unceasing, night and day. The three temptations were just a final culmination, the last stabs, of Jesus’ terrible time.
Jesus knows what it is like to be weak.
Let’s turn our attention to the attacks. First, we see Satan attack Jesus’ identity and mission. The words of His Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”, may have seemed pretty far away after a few weeks in that demonic wilderness.
And so Satan attacks Jesus’ identity – who Jesus is. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Lk 4:3). Jesus, you are crazy to think you are the Son of God. You’re just a man. You’re not who you say you are. You’re not even who you think you are. You’re a fraud, a fake, a fool. Do something to prove to who you really are. Prove it. Do something to remind you of the good old days when you had everything. Do something so you can feel good, feel important, feel better, feel powerful…
Then the devil used his hunger against Him. God had sent Him there on a mission to combat Satan and Jesus would need all of His spiritual strength. One way humans concentrate on spiritual things is by fasting – removing the distraction of worldly things so we can concentrate on spiritual things. This is what Jesus was doing. Satan knows this and wants it to stop. He says: “Don’t you want something to eat? The road is long and hard and you are hungry. There’s no law against bread. Just this once, just for now, no one will see. Tell your spirit to be quiet and give in to your body’s cravings. It’ll help you. I promise. Since your body wants it, you have a craving, a desire, why not? It’s just a bit of bread. You have the ability to do it, you’re alone, I won’t tell anyone. Actually it’s really Your Father’s fault for putting you in this situation. You deserve bread. You wouldn’t be hungry if it wasn’t for Him and this messed up world. Use your power for yourself. Be selfish.”
Jesus knows what it is like to have your body work against you, to be hungry, to hear a thousand excuses as to why you should tell God to get lost and just give in to the thing that you know will fill the void for a moment.
Attacked His Mission
Next Satan attacks Jesus’ because He’s tired. He attacks His mission.:
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’” Aren’t you tired of this fight? Don’t you wish there was an easier way? Don’t you wish you could just give up? God’s way is too hard, it doesn’t make sense, it is just plain cruel. I’m giving you the easy way, the right way. Why suffer needlessly? I can give you what you want. You don’t have to do all the hard work, Jesus. You don’t have to spend years being attacked, misunderstood, mistreated, and suffering. You don’t have to wander lonely places, gather slow-witted followers just to have them turn on you and leave you to be arrested, falsely accused, and then murdered in the most brutal way humans have ever come up with. Why go through all that? I’ll give you the easy way out. I’ll give you everything you want, all the whole world, for free… just bend your knee a little. Just say that I win and I’ll make you a king under my command. Give up. Say it’s too much. Tell God His way is unfair, too hard, and bow to me.”
Jesus knows what it’s like to just want to quit, to be so exhausted you just want to take the easy way out. He knows what it’s like to wonder about the plan of God and to look at a hard life of discipline, and to have Satan offer an easier alternative.
Attacked His Theology
Next Satan attacks Jesus relationship with God. Verse 9:
“And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Satan can quote scripture better than anyone, and knows how to twist it. He can misinterpret God’s Word, spin it to his own ends, and seek to convince people that God has said something He has not and permits something he has forbidden. He is a liar, the father of lies, and lies are his native language (Jn 8:44). This is why we need to work so hard to interpret it correctly, because when we are weak, Satan will throw all kinds of half-truths, mixed up verses, and out of context scripture, to help convince us to do his will instead of God’s. He’ll even use well-meaning, but biblically illiterate Christians, to give you good-sounding advice.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be surrounded by liars who can quote religious language and Bible verses, but who are only trying to lead you away from God.
Attacked His Trust in God
Along with this came the temptation to stop trusting God. He says: “How can you trust a God who would put you through this, Jesus? Maybe He’s left you? Maybe you’re on your own. Look around. You are alone. And look at those people down there. Here you are, the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God, and they don’t even know who you are, and you know it’s only going to get worse. They don’t love you – and I don’t think God loves you either. How could He? He sent you to this miserable wilderness alone, with no food, no water, no help, no clothes, no nothing – so that you could take me on! No warning, no help, no nothing. That’s unfair.
I know how hard this is for you. I know how badly you want to quit, even now, and you haven’t even hardly gotten started yet! I’ve got years to hurt you, your family, your friends, your followers, and then I get to turn the whole world against you. I have years left to make your life hell.
It’s not my fault though. I’m just doing my job. It was God who put you here in your weakest state, and then invited me to come and attack you non-stop. He delivered you into my hands! What kind of Father does that? He doesn’t love you.
You know what you should do? You should do something to force Him to prove that He cares. You should do something drastic and dramatic that makes everyone take notice. You should make God prove He loves you, force Him to do something. Make Him fulfill His promises to you. You should try to kill yourself. You should jump off this building and make God catch you. Then everyone will know how much pain you are in. Then, if God really wants to save you, He’ll be forced to intervene or let you die and bring you to heaven – either way you win.”
Jesus knows what it’s like to think like this – and so do many people who go through depression. I’ve been down this road and thought these same things. It’s exhausting.
As much as it pains me to do it, we need to leave it there for this week. Next week I want to look at how Jesus dealt with these temptations, and how He faced the symptoms of depression.
But for this week, I want you to know one thing: Jesus knows how you feel and what it’s like to go through what you are going through. I may not know exactly what you are facing, but Jesus knows every detail, and has been there. He’s lost friends, been betrayed, been hurt, angry, broken, and in physical pain. He’s lived without money or a home, been attacked by enemies, prevented from sleep, and attacked by demonic forces.
My hope for you today is that knowing this will spur you to have new and deeper conversations with Jesus in prayer, knowing He can sympathize with you – that He loves you and has experienced your pain, and is experiencing it even now. He is not a far away God, but one who knows your very heart, and has been touched by it.
Pray to Him as a friend, as a brother, as a kindred spirit, a fellow sufferer, who offers you real help and real hope, because He’s been where you are, has achieved victory over it, and offers to teach you how.
We read a scripture last week from the Isaiah 8-9 and I want to take this week to revisit one of those verses. Open up to Isaiah 9:6-7 and let’s read it together again. Last time we emphasized verses 1-5, as we discussed God coming as the child Jesus, making Himself the answer to the troubles of this world, the light shining in the darkness, the Saviour for those who cannot save themselves. This time I want to look at another of the titles that Jesus is given. Let’s read it together:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
This passage is one of the most famous in the Bible for a lot of reasons, one being how specific it is in speaking of God coming as a child, but also because it is so jam-packed with descriptions of how God intended to save His people. I gave you some of the backstory last week, which I won’t rehash here, but it’s no wonder, in light of how terrible things had gotten for Israel and for the rest of humanity, that people have turned to these words for hope.
For centuries God’s people have turned to this passage, especially during the seasons of Christmas and Easter, because it reminds us that when things get difficult, we are not alone, God has a plan, our Saviour is real and present, God loves us, and we have hope because our Rescuer is greater than any of our trials.
Is God Distant?
But our hope isn’t just for someday. One thing I’ve noticed is that even though some believers trust Jesus is their Saviour and that they are going to be with Him in Heaven, they think that right now, there’s not much that He’s doing for them.
They find comfort knowing that God is in charge, that Jesus loves them, that His Bible is full of really good stuff, and that sometimes He even answers prayer and performs miracles, but they figure that most of the time, when things aren’t going too badly in the day-to-day of normal life, that God isn’t really doing much.
Usually Christians frame their faith by believing the most amount of energy expended on the relationship comes from them. God sits in His Throne Room, Jesus Stands in the Heavenly Temple, the Holy Spirit dwells in us… but it is we who say our prayers, go to church, sing the songs, do good deeds, take communion, read the Bible, share our faith, ask and grant forgiveness, build churches, set boundaries, choose our jobs, go to work, eat food, raise our kids…. Sure, we do it by reading God’s word, and when we get stuck, we pray and God answers, but most of the time we see Him like a good friend; someone who is good to talk to, who cares about us, who we can call on for help, but who has their own house, their own problems, and a million other things to deal with – so as much as we know we can call on them anytime, we don’t want to overstep any boundaries, strain the friendship, or come across as needy.
I think a lot of people have felt this way. I know I have. It’s easy for me to see Jesus as King on High, Great Teacher, Creator of the Universe, Saviour of the Whole World… but it’s been hard to see Him as the ever-present “friend of sinners” “who sticks closer than a brother” (Luke 7:34; John 15:14; Prov 18:24; 7:4). What does that even mean and how does that work?
I’ve done some thinking and reading about it and one thing that helped me understand this better was this name in Isaiah 9:6, “Wonderful Counsellor”, so let’s take that apart a bit.
The first thing you should know is that people argue over where to put the comma. Some translations say “…his name shall be called wonderful, counsellor, mighty God…” and others say, “…his name shall be called wonderful counsellor, mighty God.” I don’t think it really matters a terrible amount, and I only bring this up to remind you why it’s important to thank God for all the amazing bible translators who put their time, effort, blood, sweat and tears into deciding on what to do with that comma. Whichever way it goes, both are appropriate titles for Jesus. He’s “Wonderful” in His own right and a “wonderful counsellor”.
Advocate & Advisor
That’s what I want to study a bit today. What makes Jesus a “wonderful counsellor”. To do that, let’s start by look at what the word “counsellor” and see what it means.
The main way that the word “Counsellor” is used in the Old Testament is to describe someone who gives advice and recommendations. You’d have the king, and he would be surrounded by advisers, elders, prophets, oracles, and friends who helped him remember the law of the land, gave him the relevant news about what was happening, what had been done throughout history, and give warning and guidance with decisions. King Solomon, renowned for his wisdom, gave counsel to his people and rulers of other nations.
Of course not only kings need counsellors, proverbs talks a lot about the importance of everyone having good counsellors in their life. (Prov 15:22; 27:9)
In the Bible, God is seen as the ultimate counsellor who gives direction to those wise enough to ask for it, and even frustrates the counsellors who oppose Him (Ps 33:10-11). Isaiah says, “This also comes from the LORD of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom.”
Jesus, in the New Testament is presented as a great counsellor and advocate for the people who came to Him for hope, healing, wisdom, and knowledge. It says He knew what was inside of men (John 2:25) and that in Him is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3). The Bible says another reason Jesus is such a good counsellor is because He’s felt our weakness and has faced the same temptations we face every day, but did it perfectly (Heb 4:15-16). Who better to turn to?!
Near the end of Jesus time on earth, before His crucifixion during the Last Supper, Jesus told His followers that He would be leaving them. Not just in death, but after rising He would leave again and send them a Counsellor that would be even better than He. The word that Jesus uses here is translated “Helper” in the ESV is from the Greek word PARACLETE, which can is also translated “helper, advocate, encourager, comforter and [our word today] counsellor” He says,
“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-15)
So, let’s put this all together. In the Old Testament God is the perfect counsellor who guides and gives wisdom to those who ask, and who inspires people to write the scriptures as the guide for faith and life. In the New Testament Jesus comes as the God-Man who experiences the worst of humanity, but navigates this world perfectly, making a way for us to be in perfect union with the Father. Jesus, though He could have, didn’t put Himself on the throne and rule like Solomon, taking one problem at a time, but instead did something better by ascending to Heaven and sending His Holy Spirit, who is God and knows God’s thoughts, to take residence in the hearts of believers so we have full access to Him at all times.
The Bible says that we are never alone and never need to lack wisdom, because we have access to our Advocate and Counsellor, the Spirit of God, at all times and in every place.
That’s the first important truth we need to grasp. All believers have access to not only the word of God, but the person of God, who will lead us, guide us, correct us, convict us, enable us and help us daily. This is what pastors usually emphasize. God is with you, Immanuel, all you need to do is ask, and He will give you what you need.
What You Don’t Have To Ask For
But I want to keep going on that, because a Wonderful Counsellor doesn’t just sit around in their room and wait for us to come to them. Most do. A friend will call up and see how you are doing, but usually respects your boundaries and doesn’t try to guide your life too much. A psychologist or psychiatrist may be very smart and helpful, but they usually stay in their office and don’t move into your house. That requires a Wonderful Counsellor and it’s something exclusive to Jesus. I want to show you a little bit about how this works.
There are things that your Wonderful Counsellor will do for you that you don’t even have to ask for. There are ways that He is involved in your life that you sometimes don’t see or realize, but are just as active and meaningful as when He answers prayers or works special miracles.
I want you to turn with me back to a section of scripture we talked about a few weeks ago which I haven’t been able to shake and I think gives us a very practical way of understanding how our Wonderful Counsellor works even when we don’t ask.
It’s in Hosea 2.
Now, we don’t have a lot of time left to take this apart, but as we read it I want you to remember that the story of Hosea and Gomer is the living illustration of God and His people. As Hosea’s wife left him to go and commit adultery with other men, so the people of God broke their covenant with Him and worshiped other gods.
This passage shows how God intends to do everything in His power to save His beloved people from the damage they are causing to themselves. The interconnections are incredible, and I wish we had time for them, but for now, what we see in chapter 2 is God telling Israel, through the prophet Hosea how He’s going to deal with their adultery. He has the right to divorce them and walk away, but instead, He has a plan – and it’s a remarkable plan. His plan is to use circumstance to turn her around. Notice that God says almost nothing until the very end. All of His counsel, his wisdom, will come without her asking and through events that will happen in her life. Let’s go through it together and I’ll point out a few things about how God counsels us without us ever asking.
God Allows Our Sin to Affect Us
“Plead with your mother, plead—for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband—that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully.”
What we see here is God letting the nation’s sins catch up with them. He’s not going to hold back the evil anymore, but let them have what they want. He doesn’t bring the warning himself though, but instead sends her illegitimate children to do it. The results of their sinful actions rise up against them and they will see what life is like when God pulls back His hand of protection. If they want to live like demons, then they can experience Hell. As they turned away from Him, so He would turn away for a time, to allow their sins catch up with them. This will force them to see that the life they have chosen only results in pain, that the gods they worship are false, and that when they walk away from God, evil follows. Even in this there is mercy as He says He could do far worse – take everything away – but he won’t.
Sometimes God does that to us. You and I can’t even begin to process how much He does to hold back the full results of our sin and the sin of this world! We lust in our hearts, steal from others, rip people off, murder them with hate, make our own selfish plans, and so much more – and without us seeing it or ever thanking Him, God actually keeps us from blowing up everything in our lives. But sometimes, our Wonderful Counsellor chooses not to stand between us and the full consequences of our actions and, for our own good simply lets our sin catch up with us so we can experience the results.
I saw a sign this week that said, “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and make bad decisions.” That’s very true, and our Good Father and Wonderful Counsellor spends a lot of time protecting us from our own bad decisions and the bad decisions of others. It’s called common grace. But sometimes, He lets our sinful hearts have what they want and it often feels terrible and produces great suffering.
God Takes Away Freedoms
“For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’ Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’” (vs 5-7)
The adulterous woman says, “I’m going to leave and go party with the bad guys. They’re great! They give me so much!” This is a people who not only believe they are getting away with their sin, but actually prefer it. They steal something or cheat someone and get away with it, and think it’s awesome. They have a sinful habit that the keep going back to, but no one knows and they feel good about it. They fill their minds with garbage, but still think they’re good parents and influences. They are filled with jealousy and hatred, but are able to put on the front where others think they’re super nice. It’s all working out.
What does God do? “hedge up her way with thorns” and “build a wall”. In verse 9 and throughout the passage it says things like , “I will take away my grain when it ripens and my new wine when it is ready.” You can’t party with the demons and give offerings to Baal if you don’t have any wine and grain. They see it as a famine, God sees it as an act of mercy. Sometimes God causes all our work to come up fruitless, no matter how hard we try, because He knows that the results of our labours will lead us away from Him and be used to harm ourselves and others.
Sometimes God takes things away so that we can’t access them anymore, because they are leading us to sin. We lose our job, the computer crashes, our car breaks down, we run out of money, no one will hire us, our health fails and we can’t go anywhere… and then we complain that God isn’t blessing us. I believe that scripture teaches that sometimes – not always but sometimes – this happens as an act of mercy that keeps us from sinning further! That tragedy blocks us from being able to go after and access our sin, and forces us to live without it.
Has that ever happened to you? Where bad circumstances made it so that you weren’t able to even get to your temptation or vice, and you had to live without it? That tough time was a mercy to teach you something! Maybe you’re a prideful, controlling, jerk, who got hurt and was forced to learn humility. That was a gift from your Wonderful Counsellor.
God Exposes Our Shame
“Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness. Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.”
As I’ve already said, there are times when our Wonderful Counsellor allows our sin to catch up with us and it brings suffering to us. And there are times when God takes away our freedoms to keep us from sin. But sometimes, the only way to deal with the darkness is to expose it to the light.
Here we see God causing sinners to feel deep shame and embarrassment by not only letting them get caught, but exposing their sin to a lot of people. A good Bible word would be “humiliation”. God humiliates them.
Sin, by its nature, loves darkness, and so do sinners. This is why Jesus and the Bible talk so much about darkness and light. We read in Ephesians 5:11-13, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible…”
What’s the first line of our passage in Isaiah? “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
Problems, fears, temptations, and sin shrivel when they are exposed to the light, which is why Satan works overtime to make you afraid to share your temptations with others, make you feel like you are alone so you never share your struggles, make you believe there is no one you can trust, and gives you a thousand reasons why you should keep your troubles and sinful habits a secret. He ingrains hypocrisy into each one of us until wearing our mask feels more natural than not. He can’t take away a Christian’s salvation, He can’t turn a child of light back into a child of darkness, but He works overtime to convince them to keep as much of the darkness in them as possible – and then convinces them that they need to keep that darkness a secret.
But sometimes, as an act of mercy and divine discipline, God refuses to let us keep it in the dark. He forces it into the light. Someone catches us in the act. Someone hacks in and exposes our internet history and what sites we’ve signed up for. We get sick and someone goes through our personal belongings. We have a breakdown in public. Or as someone else tries to get free, they exposes our own dark secrets.
And we feel deep shame, regret, fear, and humiliation. That isn’t God punishing us. That’s our Wonderful Counsellor helping us to bring light into a dark place. Sometimes the only way to break through our fear and stubbornness and addiction is to drag us kicking and screaming into the light so everyone can see who we really are and what we’ve been hiding. As long as it’s a secret it has power over you, but once it comes to light, it loses its power and you can get help and healing. Jesus came to shine light into the darkness.
Handout / Small Group Questions:
Before we get into our discussion of 1 Corinthians 5 next week, it’s very important that we look back to the context.
Remember the Context
The Apostles Paul is writing to a church he had planted in the Greek city of Corinth about three years prior to writing this letter.
Corinth was one of the bigger, more important cities of its day and was full to the brim with trade, politics, money, and religion. When you think of Corinth, think of it as an amalgamation of a twenty-first century inner city like downtown Ottawa and all the worst parts of the internet come to life. It was overcrowded, materialistic, urban, and bursting with world class intellects, upper-class professionals, and poor, uneducated street people.
One big difference between inner city Ottawa and Corinth was that Corinth was incredibly religious. They had as many places of worship as Ottawa has coffee shops. Because it was such a strong commercial and political centre, they attracted people from everywhere, many who were only there for a few nights to do business and have fun. So they had temples to the gods of Egypt, Rome, Greece, and even a Jewish Synagogue.
Modern Canadian cities have a lot in common with ancient city of Corinth. They were modern, liberal, commercial, self-indulgent, and morally decadent – and they had one overriding obsession: sex. It was such a part of the culture that the term “Corinthian Girl” became shorthand for prostitute. If you met someone who was a sexually out of control, you would say they were “living like a Corinthian”. No other city came even close to having this kind of reputation. To walk down the streets of Corinth or worship in their temples was to experience the most explicitly pornographic parts of the internet come to life.
Paul planted a church there and pastored them for about a year and a half before leaving to plant churches in different cities. While he was gone, the corruption of the city started to creep in, and a whole lot of bad things started to happen in this church. Some of the Christians were worried, so they sent a delegation of people to find Paul (who was then in Ephesus) to tell him what was going on and get some help. Around the same time this official delegation found Paul, it seems that an unofficial group was sent on behalf of a person named “Chloe” (1 Cor 1:11) who had concerns of her own. On top of that, it seems that Paul was already getting news from other people who had been through Corinth, visited the church, and were telling him all manner of unsettling things.
Paul presumably prayed about the situation and realized he couldn’t go to Corinth right away so God inspired him to write a letter to them, but he doesn’t start with laying down accusations and correcting their behaviour. Instead, he starts by preaching the gospel to them again.
For us it’s kind of a weird reaction. Imagine you left on a missions trip somewhere and left the kids at home, only to start getting reports that your kids had invited the Hell’s Angels for dinner where they ate the family cat, your daughter had married your uncle, were filming adult movies in your bedroom, had joined a cult, and burnt down half the house. How do you think you would have started a letter to them? Would it start with , “To my kids who have been cleaned up by Jesus, saints of God, I give thanks to my God always for you!”
That’s how Paul started! Why? Because he knew that God’s plan for that church wasn’t merely to changing their behaviour, but to rescue their souls. The issue wasn’t just what they were doing wrong, but that the sin they had allowed to take over their hearts and their church was destroying them, which meant they had forgotten about Jesus.
Remember the Gospel
So the letter begins by reminding them that even though they are messing up, they are still saved, because Jesus loves them and they believe in Jesus. Their behaviour, though dangerous, deplorable and disappointing, hasn’t disqualified them from heaven. It is not they who have to hold on to Jesus, but Jesus who is holding on to them, even as they try to slither away.
He’s disappointed that there are such terrible divisions among them, but not only because it hurts them and reflects badly upon God, but because it demonstrates such a lack of understanding and appreciation for the grace and love that Jesus has shown them.
He says in 1:26-31:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
He doesn’t jump into correcting all of their theological errors and ways they have messed up their worship service, but instead begins by reminding of the true, pure, and powerful message of the gospel that they had experienced and believed.
He says in 2:2-5:
“I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
The main thrust of the first chapters is to bring them back to the love, grace, and power they had experienced when they first believed. He’s not calling them back to a proper doctrine or religious practice, but back to the One, true Saviour, Jesus Christ.
He reminds them that even though they were a totally messed up, sinful, wretched group of people who not only didn’t know Jesus, but couldn’t care less about Him, Paul was sent to them anyway so they might hear the message of salvation. But more than this… that God had worked a miracle in their hearts so they could actually hear the message in the first place.
In 2:14 he says:“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.” He’s reminding them from where they
“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.”
He’s reminding them from where they came, and forcing them to remember that it wasn’t they who had chosen to worship God, but Jesus who had chosen them to be saved.
Over and over he reminds them what they believed at first. He doesn’t start with accusation, but with the gospel.
If I could summarize the first part of the letter, I’d say it this way: “My dear children, I love you. I thank God for you. Why? Because I’ve seen God in you. You are a miracle. You, in the most messed up, pagan,
“My dear children, I love you. I thank God for you. Why? Because I’ve seen God in you. You are a miracle. You, in the most messed up, pagan, sinful city I’ve ever seen, are part of my spiritual family because of Jesus. He loved you when you were lost. He sent me to tell about forgiveness, and changed your hearts so you could hear Him. And He still loves you. Why have you forgotten this? Why did you change the message you received? Why have you mixed lies with the truth? Why are you seeking sinful pleasure instead of the joy of the Lord? Why are you fighting about who is greater, when you should know that we are all just wretches saved by Jesus? I love you guys, and Jesus loves you too. I had to leave you for a little while, but Jesus is still with you. I’m very disappointed God’s love has left you so quickly. But I’m going to come back to you and help you as soon as I can.” This is a love letter!
This is a love letter!
What the Gospel Isn’t
This is the most important thing we need to remember before we get into the next sections of the letter. From this point on Paul is going to be very specific about the kinds of sins that have messed up these people, but we cannot forget that it is all built upon the foundation of the Gospel.
This is something too many of us get terribly wrong. We jump straight to accusing sinners and trying to fix people’s behaviour without starting with the gospel. We see people doing things that go against the Bible and are disappointed, angry, frightened, or disgusted, and we immediately want them to stop their behaviour – as though that’s somehow going to fix their deepest issues, bring light to their heart and restore them to God.
We tell our children that swearing is bad, cheating is bad, gambling is bad, unkind words are bad, stealing is bad, premarital sex is bad – and we try to get them to stop.
We watch people in our nation doing bad things – murder, rape, fraud, theft, kidnapping, and all kinds of messed up sexual sin – and we want the police and government to get them to stop.
We watch the news about terrible things happening in the world – starvation, child labour, human trafficking, oppression of women, political corruption, evil dictators, nuclear armament, economic disaster – and we want the other nations to rise up and make it stop.
We look inside ourselves and see all kinds of things we want to change – bad thoughts, bad habits, anger issues, pride, anxiety, sadness – and we want someone to do something that will make it stop.
But is stopping bad things the whole of the gospel? When Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” did He simply mean that he’d make everyone stop doing bad things? No. Is the mission of the church to declare all the bad things that people do and tell them to stop doing them? Is the gift of the Holy Spirt inside of us simply there to be a warning beacon that tells us when we’re doing wrong? Is that the whole of the Gospel? Is that what a relationship with God is for?
No. Then why do we so often imply that it is?
Our usual Christian message is that you shouldn’t do bad things because God doesn’t like it when we do bad things. Only bad people do bad things and God doesn’t like bad people. Sinners are God’s enemies and you don’t want to be an enemy of God, do you? Therefore you should ask forgiveness of all the bad things you’ve done, stop doing bad things, and ask for God to help you never do anything bad ever again. So come to our church where we all work hard not to do or think bad things, make each other feel bad when we do or think bad things, and share the good news that Jesus helps us not do bad things.
If that’s the message we tell others, then it’s no wonder no one wants it. If that’s the message you believe, then it’s no wonder you have a hard time worshipping Jesus. If that’s the message you grew up with – to worry at all times about what you say, do, or think, because God doesn’t like it – then it’s no wonder you have a hard time praying to Him as your Loving Father? If that’s how you read the Bible – as a list of things you’re not allowed to do – then it’s no wonder that you avoid reading it. If all you see of your spiritual life is that there’s always another sin, another temptation, another habit, another dark spot on your heart – then you will always feel guilty and bad, never forgiven, saved, and free.
The Gospel is Joy
That’s not the gospel. That’s a sliver of the gospel that is presented by people who misunderstand it, and by the devil who wants you to resent God, hate the church, and feel terrible all the time.
The gospel is joy! Turn to John 1. When the Gospel of John introduces Jesus it says,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
Another translation says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (NLT) That’s the gospel. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12) No matter how dark things are, no matter how much sin there is, how bad we think it is, the darkness can never overcome Jesus. Keep reading in John 1:9:
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.… 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
The Law of Moses given to the Jews only had the power to condemn humanity because no one could follow the law perfectly. It showed us how far we are from God’s will, how badly sin had corrupted us. No one who heard even the 10 Commandments could walk away without knowing they stood condemned. The Law gave one solution to the problem of sin: death (Rom 6:23) Either the sinner dies and faces God’s wrath themselves, or God accepts the death of another as a substitute. Hebrews says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb 9:22) For a long time that substitute was an animal – a bull or goat – but that was never enough to satisfy God’s wrath, so more and more had to die. An animal’s blood couldn’t fully atone for the sins of a nation of humans, let alone the world!
But everyone who read the Old Testament Law and Prophets knew something greater was coming.
- When Adam and Eve sinned, God promised that one would come through Eve who would crush the serpent once and for all. (Gen 3:15).
- When God called old Abram and Sarai out of their pagan land to follow Him, He promised that from them would come one who would bless all the nations.
- When God delivered Israel from their slavery to Egypt, He had them spill the blood of a lamb so the death would pass over them – Jesus would be the final Passover lamb.
- Isaiah spoke of One who would bear the grief of sinners, carry their sorrows, be stricken and smitten by God, pierced for their transgressions, crushed for their iniquities, who would bring healing to others by the wounds afflicted to Him. One upon whom the Lord would lay upon the iniquity of all (Isa 53:1-6).
The light of man would come and face utter darkness, sin and death, take the full weight of God’s wrath, conquer sin once and for all, and offer Himself in exchange for others.
The Woman Caught in Adultery
Jesus didn’t shy away from us because we were sinners. He didn’t come and simply tell us to stop sinning, and that’s not the message we are to give to others. Certainly, He called for repentance, but that wasn’t his core mission. Let’s read John 8:1-11:
“Early in the morning he [Jesus] came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”
Herein we see how Jesus sees people who are in sexual sin. This isn’t about one woman who lived a long time ago. This is how Jesus sees adulterers, pornography makers and users, prostitutes, homosexuals, people who have sex outside of marriage, those with perverted hearts and minds, anyone who doesn’t line up with God’s perfect standards of human sexuality – which is everyone. This is how Jesus treats them. Remember, she didn’t come to him, but was dragged before Jesus. We see no repentance from her; only guilt, shame and fear.
Who could have thrown the first stone? Jesus. But He didn’t.
This isn’t the only place Jesus does something like this. He looks at the woman at the well, who has had a tonne of messed up relationships and shows her love and turns her into a missionary. He looks at Zacchaeus, a sinner and maybe the most hated man in town, and invites himself over for a party to meet his messed up friends.
In Luke 15:1-2 we can see the magnetic pull the love of Jesus had on sinners:
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
Hearing this Jesus then tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, sharing how much God loves pursuing sinners and how much He rejoices when they come back to Him!
Next week we are going to talk about sexual sin, which is a very big deal in scripture. It tears apart souls, marriages, families, cities and nations. Sexual sin has corrupted every part of our society. It is not too much of an overstatement to say that we live in modern day Corinth. And none of us are right with God in this. Every person who has hit puberty, and some who haven’t yet, are guilty of committing sexual sin.
But when you hear this, or when you are faced with it in your life or in the lives of others, I beg you to see it in the light of the Gospel. And when you feel the conviction of sin, or see sinners around out, know that Jesus doesn’t hate you or them. He’s not disappointed in you or angry with you. He isn’t surprised by what you’ve done, nor is he repulsed. That’s not the message of His gospel.
John 3:16-17 says,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
He looks at us who have committed sexual sins, or sins of any kind, and He does what He did for the woman caught in adultery. She stood there, caught in the act, blushing, terrified, perhaps barely holding her clothes around her, feeling more guilty and scared than she ever had in her whole life. There was no doubt she had sinned, no question of her guilt, there was no question of what the law said must happen – she must die – and no one in the entire world could make her innocent – except One.
The accusers surrounded Jesus, demanded her blood, her death, her public shame to be seen by all, and he silenced them by pointing out their sin, their hypocrisy, their own guilt and shame, until the only one that was left to accuse her was Jesus, the only one who had never sinned.
And He stood up and looked at her. She was alone before the God of the universe, the judge of all mankind who knew that she wasn’t just an adulterer, but knew every other sin she had ever committed too. He looked into her eyes, but saw not only the sin, he saw the woman, the girl, the baby God had formed in her mother’s womb. His heart, full of compassion and love for her, released her from her guilt, and told her to sin no more knowing fully well she would.
And God the Father took that sin, written on His divine ledger, the list of things that would be held against her after death, and he erased it – and then wrote it on the list of sins that would be held against Jesus, His Only Son. God the Father would punish Jesus the Son for her sin of adultery. He would take the accusations, shame, beatings, death, and divine wrath so she wouldn’t have to.
That’s why He could send her away without casting the stone. It would disobey God’s Law not to hold her to account. But, there was one way she wouldn’t have to die – if someone took that punishment for her. Payment must be made. Blood must be spilt. And He would spill His. That’s why He came. No to condemn sinners, but to save them.
That’s the gospel. That’s why we sing. That’s the joy. That’s our hope. That’s where we find peace. That’s the source of our love and forgiveness. That’s what we preach and teach and share, and what Paul was so concerned that the Corinthians would remember, because they had lost their joy, hope and love, because they had lost the gospel and got wrapped up in the world.
So I implore you, as we enter this next section of 1 Corinthians, do not forget that it is all said in the light of the loving forgiveness and amazing grace that comes from Jesus Christ to all sinners who would believe.
Handout / Small Group Questions:
Sin Ruins Everything
Culture presents to us a whole lot of options for things to do, but as Christians who want to do all things to the glory of God we often struggle to know what to do or not do, join or not join, buy or not buy, go or not go, befriend or avoid. In fact, it can become an all-encompassing problem for some believers as they try to enjoy the world that God has given them while avoiding the parts that are corrupted with sin.
And that’s the problem, right? This world is full of all sorts of awesome things, but it has also been corrupted by sin.
- God gave us healthy foods full of fat, sugar, and salt, and we stripped it of anything healthy and invented high fructose corn syrup, big macs, and potato chips.
- God gave us the gift of marriage and sexual intimacy, and we created rape culture, Tinder hook ups, divorce, high definition pornography and human trafficking.
- God gave us meaningful work and we invented slavery, workaholics, and corporate greed. God gave us a beautiful world to enjoy, and we invented industrial pollution, deforestation, fracking, landfills – and we’ve even sent so much stuff to space that space that it’s actually becoming a problem now.
Sin ruins everything.
- We want our kids to join a sports team, but then there’s price gouging, corruption, insanely competitive parents, and a life encompassing schedule.
- We want our kids to be educated, but public school boards have lost their minds, private schools are insanely expensive, and homeschooling is under attack.
- We want to get the internet for connecting with family, research, cat videos, and sports scores, but it’s an insane mess of gossip, misinformation, targeted advertising, and sexual sin.
And that’s not even addressing our inward struggle with sin and the demonic temptation that seems to be with us everywhere we go. Even if we were to sit by ourselves in a dark, empty room, we are capable of adulterous lust, unrighteous anger, pride, laziness, and more.
So, in this world full of sin, with flesh that wants to go wrong, how can we decide what a follower of Christ is supposed to do and not do?
A Million Options
This question is something we are presented with all the time.
- Do we celebrate birthdays or not?
- Do we have Santa Clause or not?
- Do we participate in Remembrance Day, or Earth Day, or Halloween?
- What school should I send my children to?
- Are there certain jobs that Christians can do, and others they shouldn’t?
- Can a Christian be a bartender, stock market broker, Hollywood actor or swimsuit model?
- What movies can we watch?
- Should we own a TV?
… it goes on, and on and on into every area of your life.
These questions can take over our lives and push us to despair. If we decide to err on the side of caution, we risk turning a passionate, growing, dynamic relationship with Jesus that flows into loving relationships with others, into a religious list of dos and don’ts.
You’ve probably met those Christians, right? They talk more about what they are against than about Jesus. Instead of focusing our lives on the wonderful gifts of worship, fellowship, discipleship and sharing the gospel with others, they end up paranoid that they are somehow messing up their lives, their faith, and everyone else’s lives every moment of every day. Or, if they think they’re doing a great job, they become prideful, self-righteous, religious Pharisees who think we are better than others.
“I don’t have a TV and I only listen to the Christian radio station, so that makes me a better Christian than you.”
“I’ve never had a beer, and I don’t go out dancing, so that makes me a better Christian than you.”
But there’s also the Christians who say, “I watch TV, drink beer, listen to rock music and still love Jesus, so that makes me better than you.”
It’s a big problem in the church because with all this mess the gospel of Jesus Christ rescuing poor souls from sin and hell by His amazing grace is almost totally lost.
And because of that, there are some who want to throw out the conversation altogether. You live how you want to live, I’ll live my own way, and we’ll just never speak to each other, ok? Let’s just split the church into people who do stuff and don’t do stuff, and then we can get on with the work of the church. After all, if having being saved by Jesus is really as simple as admitting we are sinners and believing Jesus died for our sins, then do we really need to worry so much about all of these other things? Actually, the answer is “yes, yes we do”. A lot of scripture is dedicated to teaching us to examine our lives, attitudes, and actions.
For example, Ephesians 5:15-17 says,
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
So how do we do that?
Problem, Illustration & Principle
As with most important questions, this one is addressed in scripture in a bunch of places. The most comprehensive places that I know of is in our book of 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. Let’s fast forward there and read how it shows the problem, gives an illustration, and then wraps it up with a general principle. This example is going to be about food, but don’t get hung up on that because the principle applies to all kinds of things we are faced with.
“’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’ If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
Let’s look at the first part together, and we’ll use the food example because it’s the one that scripture uses. This whole section here is talking about the problem that the early church faced with eating meat that was part of a pagan, religious service before it was sold. Was it ok to eat? And with who can we eat it? If a Christian is invited to community supper at a pagan temple, can they go? What if you go to a Christian’s house and they serve meat bought at a market where it was sacrificed to idols?
But this isn’t just about eating, the principle found within can be used for a lot of decisions. For the past couple chapters, Paul has been talking about how important it is that Christians live differently from the world and how we shouldn’t be putting ourselves into places where we can be tempted or fall into old habits. Right before the passage we’ve just read, he says in verse 21,
“You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”
In other words, you can’t play both sides. You can’t call yourself a Christian but live as though you don’t know Him. You can’t worship Him on one day and then worship something else the next. You can’t drink the communion that represents your acceptance of Jesus death for your sins and then go out and get drunk and stupid with non-believers.
God is absolutely clear that the issue isn’t just about the wine or food –but the intentions of the heart of the one sitting at the table. He says, eat whatever you want because it’s not about the food, it’s about what’s going on in your heart and in the hearts of those around you.
What Are My Intentions?
Therein lies the first question we must ask ourselves when deciding whether to do something or not: What is the intention of my heart? Our motives and intentions are incredibly important to God, whether we’re doing something good or bad.
- Proverbs 21:2 says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”
- Jesus says this in Matthew 6:1 about people who do good things just so they can be seen by others: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
- When Paul’s motives are questioned by the Galatians he says, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10)
- To those who do things out of spite Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit…”
- “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:1-4)
You see, the issue isn’t really the food or drink, or holiday, or school, or sport, or TV… The whole issue is intentions and motives: why we do what we do, say what we say, go where we go…
I like to use a phrase I came up with a few years ago here: “Own your why’”. I came up to remind myself to make sure my motives are pure. What I mean is that when I do something I need to make sure that I own up to my reasons for doing it. Eventually, I will have to answer to God for why I did it, so I had better have a good reason now. I need to be able to defend for why it was ok with God. I need to think through the consequences. I need to “own” why I did what I did, because it’s mine forever.
So, let’s use the example of Halloween, which is the most current example of a decision we all had to make. How do you answer this first question? What was the “Why?” behind what you did or didn’t do? Did you do it as an act of worship towards another god? Perhaps the god of your stomach who desires the sacrifice of candy? Maybe it is the god of personal attention, which is why you put so much emphasis on being seen that day? Perhaps you struggle with sexual sin and the reason you went out was to see the indecent costumes.
Or, if you stayed home, why did you do it? Did you avoid everyone simply so that you could get a rush of pride and self-glorification when you looked down on others and said, “We don’t do anything for Halloween because we don’t believe in that sort of thing!” Did you know you can be more sinful sitting at home as a religious Pharisee than as one who goes out?
Or, maybe you don’t have a problem either way. For you it’s no big deal. It doesn’t strike your conscience one-way or the other. In fact, for you, going out is a good way to get to know and have fun with your neighbors and friends, and perhaps even build new relationships. Paul says, “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” and that includes candy and fun costumes, so there’s no big deal!
The real, big deal is to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.
How Does it Affect the Conscience?
Turning back to our passage in 1 Corinthians, we next see Paul painting a picture of a common situation that would happen which has some parallels for us today. “If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” (vs 27) Lots of “ifs” there. If someone invites you, and if you decide to go, and if they serve you food that might have been sacrificed to idols… then just keep your mouth shut, eat it and enjoy it. This is what we like to call Christian Liberty. We are not like the Jews who were bound to hundreds of laws about what to eat, how to wash, when to pray, what to say, how far to walk, etc, etc. We are Christians, saved by grace, living in a world that is a gift from God and is full of wonderful things. The person who you are with is far more important than what is served. Knowing that says that there are lots of things we can do with no problem at all.
If someone invites you to a party, you don’t have to go, but you are certainly allowed. If you’ve checked your intentions and know you’re plan isn’t to go sin while you’re there, then go and enjoy your time. Now, if you know the whole focus of the party is to sin, then you likely shouldn’t be there because nothing good can happen. You can’t be a good witness to people there, and you’ll spend the whole time being tempted and frustrated. Can a Christian party? Sure! Jesus was widely known for going to parties with all kinds of people, and yet never sinned, so go ahead.
Now some of you older believers might think, “But what if someone sees me there! Won’t I be ruining my witness?! Won’t people think I’m a bad Christian if I’m at a party?” To that I remind you of what Jesus said in Luke 7:33-35,
“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
In other words, with some people you can’t win. If you abstain people will think you’re nuts, and if you go, others will think you’re a sinner. Jesus says, “wisdom is justified by all her children.” In other words, wise actions are only really seen after the results.
So, if someone invites you, and if you want to go (you don’t have to), and your intentions are clean, then go ahead and thank God for the time. But… let’s read verse 28.
For the Sake of Another
“But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it…” Ok, what’s going on here? Three things could be occurring:
- An unbeliever thinks that the Christian isn’t allowed to do something, and has put it in front of the Christian as a test of their faith to see if they will fall for it and sin along with them. This is the non-believer trying to publically embarrass or even corrupt the Christian by getting them to try something that could hurt their conscience.
- An unbeliever isn’t being devious, but their conscience is telling them that whatever it is might be morally questionable, but they’re not sure what your rules are. You go over there and they say, “I’m not sure if you’re allowed or not, but would you like… to play this game, watch this movie, drink this thing, go to this place, check out this website…” They are giving you a content warning, and it’s best avoid it rather than risk sinning or being a bad example.
- The person speaking is another Christian who isn’t as mature in the faith as you are, and still has a problem with such things. You know that it’s fine for you to do it, but your fellow Christian is freaking out a bit about it and doesn’t want to do it. Out of love for them, you need to back off and avoid it.
Paul qualifies why: “if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—” In other words, as Christians, we try not to go against someone else’s conscience. Conscience is a gift from God that gives us an internal gauge for what’s right and wrong. If someone’s conscience is twitching because of something, then don’t do it. We need to be careful to listen to our consciences, and we don’t want to teach anyone to stop listening to theirs.
If the unbeliever is feeling a conviction from God that whatever they are doing is a sin, then why on earth would we reinforce that it’s ok for them to do it? And if an immature brother or sister is just learning how to listen to God, then why would we ever teach them to ignore what their conscience is telling them?
Last week was the 499th anniversary of the kickoff of the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther posting his 95 Thesis on the Wittenberg door. He caused so much trouble that in 1521 he was brought before the Emperor and the Roman Catholic Church to recant his beliefs. He said this: “…my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
So there is our second question: How does it affect the consciences of those around me? As Christians we are allowed to do a lot of things because we are not bound by a bunch of religious rules and regulations. We don’t have to impress God by showing him how pious we are. But we must ask ourselves how our actions are affecting the spiritual journeys of those around us.
But… let me give you a word of encouragement. I know there are some believers who live a life of paranoia because of this question. They are always worried about everything they do – even when they’re not doing anything wrong. They invent all kinds of crazy scenarios about imaginary people they are harming.
- They can’t go bowling at 3pm on a Thursday when they have the day off because they’re worried that if someone sees them they’ll think they have skipped work… and then that person will think it’s ok to skip work… so they better stay home.
- They go out and have dinner and think about ordering wine or a dessert… but somewhere in the room there might someone who struggles with alcohol or overeating and their glass of wine or cheesecake might push them over the edge… so they only have a salad and drink water.
- An invitation comes to go somewhere, but they feel a burden for some person they’ve never even met who might possibly stumble if they go. They don’t actually know… but they always wonder if someone is watching them.
That, by definition, is paranoia.
Where does this come from? It comes from a misunderstanding of the Bible. To get clarity, let’s read Romans 14:14-17,
“…decide never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat [or drink, or watch, or buy, or drive, or own, or attend…], do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”. *[Added by me]
This isn’t telling you not to do anything, it’s saying that there’s nothing wrong with a whole lot of things. There are a lot of options in this world that are neither sinful nor wrong in and of themselves. But we need to know that some people do have a problem with some things. Therefore, because we consider the person more important than the thing we want to do, we love them by abstaining while around them. The key word in this passage is the word “put”.
We should never do something knowing it will cause another Christian to stumble. It is sin for us to flaunt our Christian liberties before those who are struggling. In doing so we become a tempter, like Satan. So out of love, we don’t do it because we know that someone’s walk with Jesus will be harmed.
But we shouldn’t invent imaginary people who might have a problem. We shouldn’t be bound by guilt, shame, and fear, right? And by the way — don’t let gossips and religious nit-picks ruin your Christian Liberty either. Just because brother or sister so-in-so is going to tattle on you, or is going to have a fit… that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Chances are that they aren’t going to cause you grief because you are causing them to stumble, but because they are petty people who want to hurt you, embarrass you, control you, and make you as miserable as they are by using a bunch of unnecessary guilt.
We can use the examples of Halloween, drinking a beer, taking a vacation, going to a movie, or posting on the internet. We must ask ourselves, “How does the way I’m going to do this affect the consciences of others? What do I know will happen — because I’ve already talked to them and have a relationship with them — not inventing a bunch of scenarios in my head involving people that may or may not exist – with the more spiritually immature brothers and sisters and unbelievers who are around me when I do this? Do I know if any of them will stumble in their walk with Jesus because of how I’m conducting myself? Remember, that could mean participating, or not participating. Maybe the issue is that you’re not going and it will cause people around you to stumble.
This is why we need to get to know people and do a lot of praying for wisdom about these kinds of things. We will be held accountable.
Is What I’m Doing Showing People Jesus and Giving Glory to God?
And our final question comes from the last part of our passage in 1 Corinthians 10,
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
There’s the bottom line.
Jesus said it like this in Matthew 5:13-16,
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Last question: Is what I’m doing showing people Jesus and giving glory to God? Can you say that of your action or inaction? I can’t answer that for you. What makes you as salty and as bright as possible?
God doesn’t want you to lose your saltiness because of a bunch of ungodly religious rules. And he also don’t want your lamp to be hidden under a basket of sin. Your faith should add flavour to the places you work, live, worship and play. People who see you should see the light of Jesus reflecting through you, wherever you are. Your decisions should be not be based on your own preferences, not what brings you the most pleasure, but what brings God glory.
God has given us this world and allows us to do many wonderful things. It and the people in it are a gift. We need to treat them that way while at the same time recognizing that there will be temptations. We must be sensitive and wise in our actions because that pleases God.
So, when you are faced with your next decision? What will you do? What does God desire of you in your context, at this time, among the people that you are with? Seek God, ask Him, listen to Him, and have peace in the knowledge that if you believe in Jesus today, then you are loved as a son or daughter, forgiven by the blood of our Saviour, and blessed to be a blessing to others.
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?
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.
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, are Restaurants, Cars, Home Improvement, and New Furniture. According to the CBC, 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.
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?