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?
God Hates Sin
God hates sin. Were it not for His abundant love for humanity and amazing grace, humanity would have been utterly destroyed a long time ago. God created two people and put them in the perfect environment, gave them everything they needed, and let them know only good – it wasn’t enough for them and they decided they wanted to know evil to. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they were telling God that they didn’t just want to live in a world where they only knew His presence and good things – they wanted to know evil too. Remember, it was the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). And then, in knowing evil, they brought about their own destruction.
Since that day, we have seen an abundance of grace given to us, despite our love for evil. The whole world became corrupt – thinking only evil thoughts all the time – and instead of destroying everyone in the flood, God chose to save Noah and his family. And within three verses of God’s Rainbow Promise to never flood the earth again, the puddles have only just dried from the flood, Noah passes out naked and drunk and his son stands there gawking and mocking.
And it keeps going downhill from there. God says go forth and multiply, man creates Tower of Babel and refuses. God wants to save the world through Jesus, so He reveals himself to Abram – an unbelieving, pagan who, though believing God at the beginning keeps showing himself to be an untrusting fool. Then you’ve got Hagar and Ishmael, the great cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Esau selling his birthright, Jacob the liar, and Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery… and that’s just Genesis! Each time we see men sin against each other and God, we see God’s amazing hand of grace. He has the right to wipe us out, but relents because of His love.
But make no mistake: God HATES sin. Sin is the source of evil in this world. It is sin that tears apart our lives, families, and nations. Sin causes people to starve to death. Sin makes Christians hypocrites. Sin sends people to hell. God hates sin because it is totally incompatible with His nature – He is Holy, Righteous and Perfect. – and God hates sin because it separates us from Him. He hates sin because God loves us!
In the Bible God describes sin using some extreme language: “Wounds, bruises and putrefying sores” (Isa 1:6), an impossibly “heavy burden” (Ps 38:4), a contaminating stain (2 Cor 7:1), an unpayable debt (Matt 18:21-35), and walking in utter darkness (1 Jn 1:6; Rom 1:21)…” This is not the condition He wants His children living in!
The presence of sin causes him to feel both deep sorrow and fierce anger. He loves us, but He absolutely hates sin. Listen to Hosea 11:8-9, at the intense emotions God feels because of the sins of His people: “My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror.”
He could though, and one day He will. He’s fierce in his anger, ready to bring terror, but relents because He loves his people. He will be patient for a little longer, and give them yet another chance to repent. But make no mistake: God hates sin. We see this all over scripture, and we’ll see it as we look at Habakkuk today.
Over the next couple weeks we are going to look at the “Woes to the Chaldeans” and it is an intense section of scripture, full of incredibly hard language and pointed threats. It’s a reminder of how much God hates sin – and of the amazing grace of God.
Remember the context. Habakkuk has asked God why there is so much suffering, injustice, violence and sin in his nation. God has answered that He sees it and plans to deal with it by sending the Chaldeans (later called the Babylonians) to wipe out the nation and drag everyone off into captivity. Habakkuk’s follow-up question is to ask God why He would use a greater evil to punish a lesser one. Why would he use the evil, pagan Babylonians to punish the lesser wrongs of His own people, Israel?
God’s answer is that He is a God of justice, and no one will be getting away with anything. He’s allowing the Babylonians to act as a rod of discipline to His children so they will stop doing evil and come back to Him. And then next, we read that the Babylonians won’t get away with their evil either. They too will receive God’s wrath against their sin.
Habakkuk’s complaint was the God wasn’t doing anything about the wrong in this world. And God’s answer was a vision that would show Habakkuk, and us, the truth about how God deals with sin. There will be a day of reckoning for all humanity and no one will get away with any wrong they have done – not Israel, not the Babylonians, not you, not me. One day, perfect justice will be brought against all sin.
Sin From the Inside Out
Before we get into the woes, however, I want to look at verses 4-5, because they show us the root of the sins that God outlines in the five woes to the Chaldeans. This is an MRI or an XRay of the souls of this pagan nation, and shows us what makes them tick. On the outside we see their violence and conquering, but here God gives us insight into what’s making them tick, what’s happening in their hearts – and it shows what happens in our hearts too.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”
This is, basically, a summary of what we’re about to read in the woes, but it also shows how the Chaldeans (who here are addressed with the singular “he”) spiraled into such deplorable actions. It’s a map of their slide into hell. What we see here is pride fueled by drunkenness which leads to an unrelenting appetite for more sin, which leads to violence against others and then temping others to commit more sin. (Romans 1 shows this spiral too.)
What I want you to be looking for as we study this introduction to the woes is how this pattern shows up in your own life. In what ways does the downward spiral of the Chaldeans play out in your own heart?
Sin Starts with Pride
Their spiral of sin starts with the declaration: “Behold, his soul is puffed up.” Sin starts with pride. If you know the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, then you know that he was an egomaniac – we’re talking pride at a mentally disturbed level. This was a man who erected a nearly 30 meter tall, golden image of himself and decreed that everyone, everywhere – on penalty of death – must bow down and worship it whenever his theme music played. God eventually brought Nebuchadnezzar down to earth by humiliating him (read about it in Daniel 4-5: it’s amazing), but pride wasn’t just the King’s problem, it was rampant throughout the nation. He merely typified it.
The whole nation’s soul was puffed up and not upright within them. This was the first and greatest problem, and the fountain from which all the other sins came. Pride places us not only above others but above God. It makes us believe we are own rulers and closes our ears so we will not listen to anyone or anything else – even the Creator. Our way is law.
When 1 John 2:16 summarizes worldly sin, it gives three categories: “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and [the] pride of life.” This section shows how abundant these three are in the life of this pagan nation, but also convicts us today and our own country. It all stems from pride.
This is where our sin starts too – pride. We all know the well-worn proverb, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) but how many of us really listen to it? Did you know that word “fall” could also be translated “stumble” or “slide”? Pride comes before the slide. It’s not that we have pride and then crash into the wall… it’s that our pride starts the stumble, the trip, the slide out of control that sends our life into the wall.
- “I know what I’m doing!”
- “I’m the exception to the rule.”
- “I’m strong enough without any help.”
- “I don’t need to pray about that, I’ll take care of it.”
- “It doesn’t matter what the law of the land says, I’m smarter than that.”
- “It doesn’t matter what scripture says, I’m doing it my way.”
- “It doesn’t matter what my parents, my spouse, my elders say – I’m the boss of me and no one can tell me what to do!”
- “It’s my car, my house, my land, my toy, my computer, my tablet, my gun, my tool, my money, my time, and I can do whatever I want with it!”
- Lack of prayer and lack of Bible reading is also pride – it means we think we can live without the voice of God.
- Lack of accountability to the other believers is also pride – it means we think we can take on this world alone.
- Lack of humility in worship is pride.
- Thinking we’re right all the time, refusing to forgive, making decisions without consulting the people that care about us – that’s all pride, pride, pride. It’s the sign of a puffed up soul.
Pride is the engine that starts the slide into the wall of destruction. But it’s just the start – it gets way worse from here.
Pride Leads to Addiction
If pride was the engine, then verse 5 says wine was the fuel. The Babylonians were famous for their drunkenness. It was eventually the cause of their downfall – it was during a drunken party that they decided to raise a toast to their idols while drinking from the gold and silver vessels they had stolen from God’s Temple. And it was during another drunken party that the Persians were able to cross the Euphrates and conquer Babylon – because they were all too drunk to notice or do anything (Herodotus, 1:190-91).
It actually became practice to use getting drunk as a way to make national decisions! They would drink, make decisions, and then evaluate those decisions the next day during their hangover. They would drink to have fun, drink to make decisions, drink to go to war, and then drink in the end of their empire: Israel, Assyria, Babylon and Rome fell while the leaders and people were drunk.
We’re no better today are we? People still get drunk, high and do stupid things. Addiction is constantly ruining lives today. Over and over in scripture, we are warned to avoid drunkenness and addiction, but it’s still a huge part of our society. How many are people are trapped in addictions that lead to the destruction of their bodies, relationships, families, communities, churches, and nations?
Drunkenness is a natural outflow of pride. If we are the masters of our own bodies, the one who makes the best decisions for us, and the world revolves around us, then it stands to reason that we can do whatever we want. And what do we want most? Freedom from pain and the experience of pleasure. What’s the quickest and easiest way for us to kill pain and experience pleasure? To find something that dumps dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins into our brain. Those chemicals in our brain are designed by God to make us feel good. They are a gift. They increase pleasure, minimize pain, and strengthen human relationships and flourishing.
The best way to do this is through a healthy diet, regular exercise, building loving, committed relationships and developing a close connection to our Creator, but that’s all way to hard. The easy way to do it is to take a drink, pop a pill, eat some fat, sugar and salt, light a joint, go shopping and rack up the credit cards, or more often today – go look at pornography and masturbate. It’s quick, easy, and guaranteed to give you the dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin rush you so badly want. For a moment, pain goes away and pleasure washes over your brain.
And who’s to stop you? You are the king or queen of your own body. You are the boss. No one can tell you what to do! The world owes you pleasure. The world exists for your sake. If you are hurting, then you deserve to do whatever you want.
When pride is the engine, addiction becomes the fuel it uses to keep going.
But it says “wine is a traitor”! Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” Whatever your favourite method of getting your pleasure chemicals is – alcohol, drugs, porn, sex, shopping, work, or food – it’s a traitor and a mocker.
We know this, don’t we? It promises one thing but delivers another, and then sits back and laughs at you.
- It tells you “just this once”, and then leads you into captivity.
- It tells you, “this will make you feel better”, and then turns you into a fool.
- It says, “I’m here to make you feel good”, and then destroys your body, heart and soul.
- It says, “This will bring you power and control”, and then proceeds to weaken and control you.
- It says, “I can take away your pain”, and then returns more suffering than you ever had before.
This is another reason that God hates sin. It destroys us. He is jealous for us and wants to be our Lord, God and Saviour because He knows that whenever we are left to ourselves, we turn to things that destroy us. He wants to be our King, not for His sake, as though it makes Him feel big and important, but for our own sake! It is only when we come under His Lordship that we finally realize that we have no business leading our own way, because our pride only leads to our destruction! His rules, laws, and ways, are there so we can know life abundantly – and not be trapped in the downward spiral of prideful, sinful destruction.
Addiction Leads to Greed
But there’s one more step down this slide into hell. If pride is the engine, and addiction the fuel, then greed is the product. Pride and addiction creates a void in our souls that can never be filled. Pride makes us think they we are our own gods, addiction fuels our decision making, and the machine we keep feeding only produces an appetite for more and more and more. These people were never content, always thirsting for more – and they were willing to take it at anyone’s expense. That’s what sin does – it seeks to rob us and everyone around us of everything. It says, “His greed was a wide as Sheol, like death he never has enough.”
They had access to their many vices in Babylon (or Chaldea), but it wasn’t enough. As with all self-centred addicts, their problems didn’t just stay inside their own mind and body but spilled out over everyone else. Their addictive behaviour wasn’t content with only one form, it needed to grow. Now, without anyone to stop them, their addictions grew and spread: They wanted more wine, more wealth, more comfort, more land, more prestige, more gold, more power – and they wouldn’t stop.
Their addiction made them as hungry as hell and turned them into an agent of death for all those around them – and no one was going to stop them. They became a gaping maw that only knew how to consume. They were never full, always wanting more, ruining everything they touched, consuming everything and everyone. They became consumers, as hungry as the grave. (Pause and consider for a moment.)
In their addiction fueled pride they believed that the world now existed to fulfill their desires. Their souls were thirsty for something of substance, their hearts devoid of anything real, but they didn’t turn to that which was good, pure and right – instead they tried to fill it with anything and everything the world had to offer – even at the expense of their souls and all of humanity.
This is the nature of sin. It makes big promises, but never fulfills. It only makes us more greedy. We never, ever walk away from sin satisfied.
We fanaticize about shouting someone down and making them feel like garbage, and then when we do, we don’t feel better for long – but we keep thinking that if we shout down enough people, then we’ll finally be in charge and feel better.
We roll around in our minds the fantasy of committing adultery, playing with it, reveling in the idea of it, and then when we follow through, that few moments of pleasure lead to a lifetime of pain.
We can’t wait until we can fill our bellies with sugar, our veins with chemicals, and when we do… we feel sick and guilty. Sin never fulfills, because it can’t.
No matter what the sin is – lust, addiction, anger, greed, laziness, wrath, greed – when we act on it, it never satisfies our deepest needs. It just causes us to slide further down and consume something and someone else. If you think about this, then you know it’s true.
Your sin always leads to more and deeper sin. You never stay at the same level of sinful action. Once leads to twice, and the void inside gets bigger (nots smaller) and leads to doing it more often and in worse ways. You eat more, yell more, accumulate more, find more levels of perversion… consuming all you can until you’ve consumed everything around you – your conscience, your marriage, your family, your friends, your community – then, like Nebuchadnezzar, you decide to move outside your borders so you can consume others. It’s a never ending cycle that only builds a greater appetite.
In Matthew 6, Jesus spends a lot of time talking about the dangers of pursuing the things of this world instead of the things of God. When He said:
- “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…”
- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
- “You cannot serve God and money…”
- “…do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
He wasn’t giving us pious platitudes – He was warning us about a dangerous condition within the human heart – that every time we start trying to find joy, comfort, love, peace, meaning and hope in creation rather than Creator, we end up driving ourselves crazy and slipping into destruction.
John Calvin put it this way: “Man’s nature… is a perpetual factory of idols.”
I hope you know this and have seen it in yourself. Whenever you try to replace God with something in this world – even a good thing like food, wine, or sex – it turns traitorous on you and sticks a knife in your back. It’s universal. And no one, not even Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the whole world, could stop it. Can you see now why God hates sin so much?
How To Get Out From Under
So how do we get out from under the terrible weights of pride, addiction and greed?
First, admit you sin. Just admit it. You are a sinner who loves to sin. Don’t let your foolish pride make you believe that you are above sinning or that all that you do is right. Admit you’re a sinner.
- “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
- “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
If you want the grace of God, you have to stop being so prideful.
Second, admit that you are utterly incapable of dealing with and conquering your own sin. You don’t need more willpower. You don’t need a special tool. You don’t need another book. You don’t need some kind of special knowledge. You need someone stronger than you – you need the Holy Spirit of God. The only way to have access to the Holy Spirit is through Jesus Christ. You must admit to Him you are a sinner and that you need Him to save you. Accept that He took the punishment for your sin on the cross and has invited you to accept Him as Lord and Saviour of your life.
When you have done that, He will grant to you the Holy Spirit, and it is He who will do the hard work in you. Take a look at what Galatians 5 says about the battle between sin and the Spirit and our desperate need for the Spirit’s help.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:16-21)
I know you see yourself in one of those works of the flesh. I know you see your greatest temptation struggle in there. How do you get rid of it? Ask for forgiveness and then ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. The next verse says,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Gal 5:22-25)
Do you need more patience, more gentleness, more self-control? You need to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then you need to listen His words by reading scripture and stay alert for when He speaks to you. Learn what He desires from you by reading His word, and then listen for his voice to convicts you, correct you, train you, help you, educate you, encourage you, and strengthen you. His voice is still available today for those who want it.
And third, if you want to be free from your sin, you need to hate it. Let me give a final warning, and it’s something that convicted me very deeply this week. It comes from Psalm 66:18, but I want to read the context to you. Open to Psalm 66:16-19:
“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.”
This is written to believers – “all you who fear God” – and contains a promise and a warning. The promise is that God will hear our prayers and He will do something on your behalf. The warning is found in verse 18:
“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
This promise is written all over the Bible. I told you that the way out from under sin is to turn it over to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and by accessing the power of the Holy Spirit. That all comes through prayer – talking to God. Nothing happens until we talk to God in prayer. That’s how God built the system.
As long as we are “cherishing” sin, God doesn’t listen. No forgiveness, no healing, no renewal, no miracles, no nothing. If we cherish sin, God’s ears are shut. To cherish sin means to enjoy it, approve of it, make excuses for it, love it, hold it close, make it important, protect it, make it special, keep it secret and safe.
The only way to kill the sins within us is to hate them – to hate them like God hates them. Only then will we want to be rid of them! Learn to hate pornography, hate drugs, hate greed, hate unrighteous anger, hate greed, hate laziness, hate gluttony. As long as we cherish our sin, we show that we do not hate it, and we will never be rid of it. Cherishing it means we want it more than God, more than forgiveness, more than blessing, more than peace… even though it’s killing us.
Your sin is affecting your conscience, your heart, your home, your relationship with God and with others. Don’t cherish your sin – instead confess it to God, accept His forgiveness through Jesus, and live His way.
Listener Questions (Omnipotence, Calvinism, Nudity, Backsliders & More) (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 60)
The guys wander into the mail-room and answer some listener questions:
– Can God create a rock so large he can’t lift it?
– Is Carnivore Theology overrun by Calvinists?
– What does the Bible say about nudity?
– How can a Christian remain calm while watching fellow believers slip deeper into the world?
– Grace or love?
Behind the Scenes Video:
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!
5. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)
Our “live and let live”/”everyone has their own truth” culture isn’t very good at calling out or confronting sin, but scripture is clear that Christians are supposed to be holding one another accountable to God’s Word. So, what should a believer do when we see a friend caught in sin?
Behind the Scenes Video:
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!
5. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)
How Do I Deal with Discouragement? (Reading the Beatitudes Forwards, Backwards & Inside-Out) (Burning Questions Series #3)
This World is Getting Worse (And There’s Nothing We Can Do About It)
Last week we said that this world is not our home. Has anyone felt that they just want to get off this planet and be with Jesus this week? To reach our final destination:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
We all have times like that, don’t we? When we are suffering, discouraged or in pain – or watching someone we love that is suffering, discouraged or in pain – it is a constant reminder to believers that we aren’t where we are supposed to be. Hebrews 13:14 echoes what we talked about last week with Augustine’s two cities: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
That’s one of the feelings that happens when hard times come, isn’t it? We feel that way, don’t we? Our feelings of “This isn’t right! It’s not supposed to be like this!” are actually fairly accurate. You’re right – it’s not. The original intention of this place we call “Earth” was that we would be happy, productive, free and walk in the presence of God. But because of the effects of sin, we are not happy, productive, free and connected to God. No, instead we are unhappy, work much harder than we should have to, are bound to temptation and destruction, and there is a veil between us and God.
That’s the bad news – but it’s true. And there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no technology we can build, no pill we can take, no food we can eat, no politician we can elect, no doctor we can see, no scientist we can fund, that will be able to make this world all better. Sure, God has put some amazing people on this earth who have done some amazing things to help bring peace, healing, humour, comfort, and wonder to more and more people – but they’re all just a stop gap. For every medical breakthrough, there are a thousand more diseases. For every scientific innovation, there are a million unanswered questions. For every great politician, there is a despotic dictator. For every comedian there is are a hundred naysayers. For every Mother Theresa there is a terrorist or suicide bomber. For every family willing to pursue adoption, there are hundreds more who would rather kill the baby instead.
I’m not saying this because I’m a pessimist – I’m saying this because it’s true. Those outside of these walls, who believe in the “triumph of the human spirit” or “the amazing potential of mankind” are only fooling themselves into believing that there is a bright day in the future where we will have conquered death, disease, famine, plague, and natural disasters. It’s a pipe dream. This world, for all its joy and wonder, is a terribly messed up place – and there is nothing we can do about it.
The Question of Discouragement
And so, today’s question become extremely pertinent: “How do I keep from getting discouraged when I continually fail in certain areas of my life?” I appreciate that question, but I want to expand it a little further to simply asking the question: “How do I keep from getting discouraged?” Whether it’s personal failure that we bring upon ourselves or a natural disaster that happens to us, I believe the response is fairly similar, so that’s what I want to address today.
Turn with me first to Psalm 37:1-9 we can find a very practical list of ways to react when we become discouraged. Let’s read the whole thing together and then, over the next couple weeks, we’ll take it apart into five different parts.
As a quick intro, this Psalm is written as a sort of proverb set to music. It’s chock full of practical truth about how things are supposed to work. They are in alphabetical order (in the Hebrew language) and each build upon one another. One writer in the 16th century said, “They hang together not unlike many precious stones or pearls, which are strong on one string in one necklace.” (Amyrald):
“Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.”
So the five steps we see there are “Fret not”, “Trust in the Lord”, “Commit your way to the Lord”, “Be still before the Lord.”, and “Refrain from anger.” We’re going to talk about the first one today.
1. Fret Not Yourself (Take Control of Your Thinking)
The first thing that the Psalmist tells us to do when we come face to face with evil – which for him are evildoers, but it could just as easily be the evils of temptation, sickness, struggle, tragedy, heartache – is to “Fret not yourself because of evildoers…” This has everything to do with preparing our mindset before the tragedy comes – or steeling ourselves against it when it arrives.
For the Psalmist, the problem is “evildoers”. He says, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” In other words, he’s looking at wicked people doing wrong things, and yet they are still prosperous. This theme happens a lot in the psalms as the good guy bemoans the fact that he’s being good and suffering, and yet the bad guys are all having a great time. It bothers him greatly, so here we see him talking to himself and also talking to others about it. He’s taking control of his out-of-control thinking.
This is the first thing we have to do for ourselves too when evil comes upon us. This is the first step in the battle against discouragement – to take control of our thought life. This is actually found quite a lot in scripture.
- Psalm 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
- 2 Corinthians 10:5 says we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ”.
- 1 Peter 1:13 says, “…prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
- Last we read Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”
- (Also Romans 12:2, Mark 7:20, Philippians 4:8)
This is a practical action, a step of obedience, that we are given to do in scripture, given to us to combat the temptation to become discouraged. These are active commands, something we are supposed to do. It doesn’t just happen – it’s something which we must choose to participate in.
As an exercise in how to do this, to take control of our thoughts, turn with me to Matthew 5 and let’s read one of the most famous passages in scripture, called the Beatitudes. These are a great source of encouragement, and a great place to find right-thinking about the difficult times that we face in our lives.
Reading the Beatitudes Forwards, Backwards & Inside-Out
But I want to do something a little different today – I want to read them forwards, and then backwards, and then inside out.
Starting at verse 3, forwards we read
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Now let’s read that backward: “The Kingdom of Heaven is for people who are poor in spirit. It is the poor in spirit that are blessed.”
Now let’s read it inside-out: “Wretched are those who believe they are spiritually self-sufficient, for theirs is the kingdom of Hell.”
That puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it? What is a sure path to discouragement? To believe we are spiritually and emotionally strong enough, in and of ourselves, to deal with what this world has to offer. How can we feel wretched? By trying to attain the Kingdom of Heaven by our own strength.
To gain the blessing of the Kingdom of Heaven, we must realize that we cannot, ever, be strong enough to deal with the weight of the world on our own. Sin is too big, the troubles of this world are too big, and our personal problems are too much for us. We are designed to need God, need Jesus, and need other believers. Once we realize that and seek out other sources of strength outside ourselves, we will begin to see blessing and understand “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.
Whenever we feel like we can handle it, that we don’t need God or our Christian family – we need to take that thought captive and realize it for what it is – a demonic temptation toward the pride of thinking we are sufficient, and a ploy to get us alone so we can be attacked more easily. Don’t fall for it.
Mourning & Denial
Forwards, verse 4 reads, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Backwards that reads: “To feel the comforting of God, one must feel sorrow.”
Inside-out that reads, “Wretched are those who deny the tragedy of sinfulness, for they will be troubled.”
Discouragement comes to those who are unwilling to admit that they are sinners that do evil for which they will accountable for. If you walk around believing that nothing is your fault, everything bad is someone else’s responsibility, that you never make mistakes, and that if everyone would just listen to you then life would be better – then you are setting yourself up for a world of troubles.
However, when we allow ourselves to mourn, grieve, and accept the fact that sin is real in this world, and in our own hearts – that our personal sin is a contributing factor to the suffering of this world – then we can finally come to the place where we will turn to God for comfort. As long as we are living in denial that anything can go wrong, or that anything is our fault, then we will never accept the comfort of God.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m so discouraged because things keep going wrong around me, and I’ve got nothing to do with it! Everyone around me is always wrong. I’m surrounded by incompetence. I deserve better!”? That’s a person who refuses to mourn for their sin and will never feel the comfort of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It’s only when we admit we are sinners, that we are guilty of sin and responsible for our actions, and that we need forgiveness – when we mourn our sin – that we will be met by the amazing grace of Jesus.
We must take this thought captive – that we are faultless – and come to God for forgiveness.
Another side to this, more obviously is that in order for us to feel the need for God’s presence, we must feel His absence. Sometimes God will put us through times of grief, that drive us to mourning, so that we will understand what life without Him is like.
Take this thought captive as well – when we think that God is punishing us through suffering, remember that He already punished Jesus and that that which we are mourning is meant to drive us to God, not away.
Meekness & Self-Centeredness
Verse 5, when we read it forwards says: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Reading it backwards we see: “The ones who will gain the most, are the ones who are willing to give up what they think they deserve.”
Reading it inside-out we read: “Wretched are the self-centred, for they shall be empty.”
This is kind of the opposite of the first one. The first reminder was that we shouldn’t be alone but this is the flip-side. Sometimes when discouragement, troubles and disaster comes, it’s really easy to get self-centred. Everyone wants to know what’s going on with you, you are the centre of attention, they’re reading your posts on Facebook, you’re getting phone calls, visits, emails, nice cards, flowers, casseroles. It’s easy to start to get used to it and think you deserve all that you are getting – that the universe revolves around you. Ironically, the attention we sometimes get when we are in the midst of suffering, can puff up our pride.
Have you ever met a “drama queen”? This is a person who is in the habit of creating and responding to situations in an overtly overdramatic, melodramatic, exaggerated way. Something goes a little wrong – they forget to pay their credit card on time, their favourite tv show is cancelled, they have a fender bender, someone gives them a negative comment – and the curtain rises and the performance starts!
Their lip quivers, the tears roll, the vague Facebook posts start flowing, “People are so rude! I’ve never been treated so rudely as I was today! Who do people think they are?”
They call you up and start with “You’ll never believe what happened to me today!” And then start to tell you of the many, horrible things that occurred that day. The only issue is that they ALWAYS have problems and all of them are huge! Everything is about them, all the time. The world revolves around them and their problems. They don’t know what to do with themselves if they’re not the center of attention and getting pity from as many people as possible!
The word “meek” means someone who is “gentle and humble”. So long as we have the world revolving around us – there is no way that we can inherit it from the One whom it truly does revolve around. (Tweet this quote) Put it this way – when we are using our sufferings to draw attention to ourselves and puff up our pride, we are wasting our sufferings, because we they are meant to draw us to our knees, build our humility, and cause us to be more dependant on God.
The other side of this is that we end up forgetting that other people have problems too. Sometimes our problems make us blind to others. A meek, gentle, humble person who is going through a hard time – is still concerned for others. It is the meek who God promises will inherit the earth, because even in their suffering, they are still thinking about how they can love others.
So, we must take captive the thought that our suffering is a way to gain attention for ourselves and forget about others. When we dwell, only on our own sufferings and refuse to help, serve, and pray for others, or draw closer to God, we are on the path of spiritual destruction. We are wasting the suffering, and can’t help but end up feeling discouraged.
Wretched are the Uncommitted
Let’s do one more Beatitude. Skip down to verse 11.
Forwards it reads: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Backwards that reads: “They persecuted all the prophets in the Bible, all the ones who believed in me before you. Because of your relationship with Me, they are going to falsely accuse you, speak evil of you, persecute you, and hate you. The only way you will be able to rejoice and be glad in these times is if you remember that your blessing and reward is in heaven, not here on earth.”
Inside-out that reads: “Wretched are the uncommitted, who drop their relationship with Jesus when it becomes inconvenient, and who think the Christian life is an easy ride, for their destination is Hell.”
Again, as I said, this is about right thinking. A friend of mine reminded me this week that all of the apocalyptic, end times, Revelation parts of the Bible are there to remind us about our ultimate goal—to experience the presence of God in Heaven.
Scripture reminds us that people are going to hate us, Satan will attack us, our bodies will fail us, the nations will be at war, the very ground beneath us will shake and break up – and it is all a reminder to us that we are not home.
Last week I reminded you that we are “aliens and sojourners” in this world. Even this environment around us is toxic. Our home is in heaven, but we’re not there yet. This life is merely a fraction of all eternity, and even though it feels all-encompassing now, the suffering we will endure only a moment in time.
If our Treasure is truly in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), where moths and vermin cannot destroy it, and where thieves cannot break in and steal it, then – and only then – can we rejoice in our sufferings. Why?
Because suffering causes us to press closer to God, depend more on Him, long for His presence, weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, share in the suffering of others, see the poverty of our spirit and desire the Kingdom of Heaven, hunger for righteousness instead of worldliness, show mercy because we have received it, and because it is a way for God to clear our minds of all the fluff and nonsense of this world.
As Romans 5:3-5 says:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
But even more than all that, when we think rightly of our sufferings, we realize that we are being made more like Jesus, who suffered more than all of us, so we might be free from suffering forever.
Don’t waste your suffering. Don’t allow it to discourage your faith – instead, allow it to push you into the arms of God, so you might know the hope that comes from God’s love poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately we’re going to have to pick up the other steps of Psalm 37 next week, because we’re not going to have time today. I think it’s really important that we cover this first part of “taking every thought captive” or “fretting not” because it is so critically important that, when suffering and discouragement comes, that we begin with right thinking about it. That’s the most critical first step.
So we’ll end there for now, but until we come back next week, I encourage you to read the rest of the Beatitudes forwards, backwards and inside-out (to practice right thinking) and meditate on Psalm 37:1-9 (for practical ways to combat discouragement).
I recently sent this to a struggling friend and was convicted to share it on the blog in hope of helping others. These are practical ways that I’ve learned to combat the temptation to view pornography. Hopefully they will help you too.
1. Have Consistent Daily Devotions – If you’re reading God’s Word and talking to Him every day (putting on “the whole armor of God“) then you are a billion times more likely to have the strength to fight temptation. The more you love God, then more you’ll hate sin. The brighter God shines, the darker sin looks. (Here’s a method if you’re looking for one.)
2. Get an Accountability Partner – Find a Christian brother or sister of the same gender, whom you see often, and confide in them about your struggle. Ask them to pray for you and give them permission to regularly ask you about porn (“Have you looked at pornography lately?”). Once you drag your sin into the light, the shame and fear associated with it will dissipate. Satan wants you to be alone and afraid, but James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
3. Use Effective Porn Blocking – I’m really good at using computers so finding a way to block porn was a tough one — but I figured it out. The best/easiest way I’ve found to do it is to use OpenDNS on your router. It’s super easy to setup and has the advantage of blocking all kinds of pop-ups and other weird internet stuff. Once you’ve set that up, and this is important, give your router and OpenDNS password to your accountability partner. Make it impossible to remember (or have them enter it in) and then you can’t access it or change it. And since it’s based in your router, “Incognito Mode” doesn’t work. (And if you know your way around a router, do this to prevent it from being circumvented by local DNS changes.)
4. Enable/Force Google Safe Search – This is important because enabling Google Safe Search will help keep you from stumbling across images and sites that get your motor running. (If you know your way around a router then do this too as it will force every device connected to the router to use Google Safe Search.)
5. Remove Web Browsing From Portable Devices – This one might be painful, but trust me, you’ll get over it. If you have an Apple device, then use “Restrictions” to disable Safari and give the password to your Accountability Partner. Most of the stuff you want to do uses an app anyway, right? (Sorry, I don’t know how to do this on an Android or Blackberry device.)
6. Learn to Hate Porn – You cannot kill a sin that you do not hate. One of the reasons people keep falling for porn is that they think it’s their own private problem and doesn’t affect anyone else. That’s a damnable lie. Here’s some things to read so you can learn to hate pornography: “Porn Fuels the Rape Culture“. “Pornography and Human Trafficking” (also here). “19 Year Old Commits Suicide After Shooting First Porn Scene“. Porn Destroys People, Families and Communities. Also check out Porn Harms.
7. Remember You’re Forgiven – If you hate your sin and ask Jesus for forgiveness, He will absolutely forgive you. He loves you so much that He took your punishment for that very sin. Yes, sexual sin is bad, but Jesus was crucified to pay for that sin too. Remember 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Take some time to read Romans 8 to really understand the depth of forgiveness. When you fall, Jesus will forgive you.
8. Remember Temptation Isn’t Sin – Satan wants you to believe that you must sin. He wants you to think that depravity is part of you and you can’t get away from it. He wants you to think that since you’re tempted too look at porn then you aren’t a real Christian. And if you’re not a Christian, then you don’t have access to the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit. He wants you to think you’re alone and that you have no choice but to give in. Remember, even Jesus was tempted! Temptation isn’t sin. You are a child of God and a new creation and you do not have to sin. That’s why you’re fighting against it! You have the strength, in Jesus, to fight temptation.
Jesus & Parables
When Jesus was speaking to crowds, instead of wowing them with His intellectual power or overwhelming them with theological lectures, He often spoke in little word pictures that captured people’s attention and forced them to use their imaginations to think through big ideas. We call them parables. There may be other smaller points woven into the story — and Jesus’ parables often have wonderful details that have be discovered and discussed for generations – but in each parable there is almost always just one big idea.
He used these parables to both hide the truth and to reveal it. When the crowds would gather to listen to Him, Jesus would tell a story that, for the person who was open to the voice of God and wanted to learn, would be easily understood and readily applied – it would open their eyes to see a new vision of God and His Kingdom. But the person with the hard heart, who was only there for selfish reasons or to see the spectacle, or who was being careless in their listening, the stories were hard to understand… or if they did understand, the conviction they would feel wouldn’t bring them to repentance and a new love for God, but instead, guilt and anger and a desire to shut Jesus up would build in their hearts, adding a few more bricks in the wall between them and God.
It is my hope that today, as we open up and read one of Jesus’ parables, that our hearts would be open, pliable and ready to hear what God wants to say to us.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
Please open up to Mark 4:30-32, the Parable of the Mustard Seed.:
“And he said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’”
So, what’s the big idea of this parable? Well, let’s remember our context and draw it out. Jesus is talking a lot about seeds and soil in this chapter.
If you recall, The Parable of the Sower (or the Parable of the Four Soils) is about the importance of the soil being ready to receive the seed, or the importance of realizing that the condition of our hearts will determine how we hear the voice of God. The Parable of the Growing Seed, which we looked at last week, is about the process of growing and all the time and stages that are required to get from seed to mature plant. The big idea there was that spiritual development requires patience.
Here, in the Parable of the Mustard Seed Jesus gives us a different picture. His focus isn’t on the planting of the seed, or the stages of the growth. Instead He uses a comparison. He holds up a tiny, little mustard seed which no one in the crowd can see… and then points to a huge mustard bush and says, “Do you realize that without this little tiny seed, you’d never have that giant plant?”
So what’s the big idea? Do not underestimate the power of small, seemingly insignificant things. Jesus is using hyperbole, or exaggeration here, and isn’t trying to be scientific. If Jesus was in Canada or the US, he might have used the Giant Sequoia tree as His example. A mustard seed is very, very small, and can grow to be very, very large by comparison – large enough to hold bird’s nests and for an adult to take shade under!
Too Little Too Slowly
This parable was important to the disciples because though they believed Jesus was the Messiah, they didn’t really understand what that meant. Back in Mark 1:14-15 we learn that Jesus’ message was “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” so we know that Jesus has been teaching about the coming Kingdom. They’ve already seen him perform miracles, healing lepers and paralytics and many others. They’ve seen Jesus come face to face with the Pharisees and call Himself by the title “Son of Man” and “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). They’ve seen great crowds follow Jesus, and heard demons cry out “You are the Son of God” before Jesus ordered them to be silent. And Jesus has appointed the twelve apostles, the core leadership group for His new Kingdom.
By all accounts, Jesus next steps should be to gather an army and march into Jerusalem, and then on to Rome and the rest of the world… but He’s not. In fact, He’s withdrawing from the crowds, shunning the spotlight, avoiding people who want to set Him up as king.
And so, the disciples were bewildered, discouraged and becoming impatient. They wanted a political kingdom on earth that would bring peace and prosperity soon – and they were starting to think that Jesus had something else in mind.
This series of parables about soil, seeds, plants and trees, is meant to remind and encourage them that though its beginnings may seem small, their parts seemingly insignificant, and the pace not as quickly as they would like – in the end, the Kingdom Jesus is setting up will be glorious and all encompassing, conquering evil and embracing all the peoples of the world.
He was encouraging his followers not to turn away simply because the beginning of their walk with Him was so meager and obscure. Perhaps they began to wonder how this Galilean carpenter, speaking mostly to a few fisherman, and gathering crowds whose size ebbed and flowed depending on Jesus’ popularity that day, would ever hit it big. When would the explosion of change come? When would Jesus finally make His move and set everything right?
Their impatience was growing, and so Jesus message to them is this: Don’t underestimate the small things.
An Insignificant Kingdom
We still struggle with this today, don’t we? We’re not much different than Jesus’ first disciples. In our own lives and our own spiritual development, we’re just as impatient – which we talked about last week. But it extends outwards too, doesn’t it? When we look at our church, or the statistics about how other churches in our country and across North America are doing, it’s sometimes hard to see the greatness and power of God’s Kingdom.
It doesn’t look the way the old “Onward Christian Soldiers” Hymn describes it: “Like a mighty army moves the church of God…”
We have a little better view when we get to speak to missionaries from around the world, but in our own little township, in Carleton Place, in Ontario and in Canada, it’s difficult to see God’s kingdom as anything but small, divided and powerless and .
Despite our age of rising and falling Christian superstars, most churches are small and getting smaller, full of normal people listening to obscure, struggling, stressed out pastors and ministry leaders who are just trying to do their best and seeing very little change. Pastoral burnout is now a common phrase in the circles that I run in.
Churches and pastors go on, week after week, year after year, waiting for revival, waiting for the kingdom to break out, trying new things, each new idea underperforming or not having the staying power to help for long, and they keep waiting for Jesus to send the spirit, to send a miracle, to come back, to… just do something… and He doesn’t.
We are very much like the disciples looking at Jesus and wondering what he’s doing, and why things take so long and seem so small. When will the big break out come? What must we do to see a huge revival?
We look at our ministries, our church, our own gifts and abilities, and all we see are a few grains of mustard seed – and it doesn’t look like much.
But we learned last week that inside of that seed, which is the voice of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is great power! It’s not about our efforts and our abilities, but about the power contained within the message of God.
And without a doubt, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest message the world could ever hear! It solves our deepest human needs and introduces us to the greatest Source of love, forgiveness and joy we could ever expect to meet. And yet, when we speak it to our spouse, to our family and friends, or to our coworkers, this amazing, life-changing, powerful, Spirit charged message isn’t received with joy, laughter, tears, and thanks – but usually with a wave of the hand, a mocking grunt and a request to keep that nonsense to ourselves.
We look at our testimony, and the Gospel, and we see only a tiny mustard seed – too small to help anyone. And yet, in obedience to God, and out of love for Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we drop that tiny little seed onto a huge, huge field of dirt and stones and birds and thorns… and it’s so small, that by the time it leaves our hands, we can’t see it anymore – it’s like we did nothing at all.
And we ask ourselves. What was the point of that? I don’t even know where, or if it landed anywhere it can grow! Why bother dropping it at all.
This parable is for us who long to see revival and spiritual growth in our nation, our church, our family and ourselves – but who don’t see it yet.
Here’s a little perspective for those of us who need a reminder about small beginnings:
The world started with two people, then it restarted with Noah’s small family of six. The nation of Israel began with a couple of barren senior citizens named Abram and Sarai. At many times during the history of Israel, there were was only a small remnant of believers who believed in God – everyone else had turned into pagans.
The life of the most significant person in human history, Jesus Christ, started in the tiny town of Bethlehem, born in a hewn out, rented cave and laid in a feeding trough. Jesus chose 12 men to start his church, and even among them there were only 3 that saw his whole ministry. And he took them three years just to go through boot-camp, and they all ran away in the end. And before Peter preached the sermon at Pentecost, every Christian in the entire world could fit into one room (Acts 1:12-15).
In all of Jesus life, including his flight to Egypt as a baby, He only got about 200 miles away from Bethlehem. Paul travelled a lot, but he never got further than 1000 miles from Jerusalem. And even with all of the seminaries, missionaries, and powerful movements of God, it has taken two thousand years for the message of the gospel to spread to every nation of the world. And as powerful and beautiful and life-changing as the gospel is, and with as many thousands of missionaries there are in this world, there are still many people groups who have never heard the name of Jesus.
In other words, the mustard seed Kingdom that Jesus planted isn’t done growing yet. Have patience, keep praying, stay obedient.
Let’s Talk About Mustard Seeds
I want to switch gears here and talk about a few applications that I want to pull out of this parable for us today. Each one is captured under our big idea of not underestimating the significance of small things. Just as we look at the mustard seed and we think, “This isn’t even big enough for a bird to eat, let alone to find shade and make a home in.”, we may look at some things in our life the and think they are no big deal – only a mustard seed – small, insignificant, nearly meaningless, and underestimate their value and impact in our lives.
But Jesus reminds us that though things start out small, they don’t always remain that way. We are told that these little things grow up. Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God growing up, spreading far and being fruitful for all time. But His message can be applied in many different areas of our life.
Let me give a few examples of things that start out small, but when they grow up, they can become big deals in our life.
1. Small Wastes of our Time and Attention
The first are the small ways we waste our time and attention. Throughout the Proverbs we are warned about not wasting our time and our energies on foolish and useless things. Proverbs 15:14, “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.” or verse 21, “Folly delights a man who lacks judgement…” I was really convicted about this this week.
Now, I’m not going to stand up here and say that every moment of every day needs to be dedicated to either work, prayer or Bible study, but we must all realize how insidious small wastes of our time and attention are.
Think of it. We say, “Just one movie or show – it’s only one evening, no big deal.” “Just one more game – no big deal.” “Just one more YouTube video.” “Just a quick check of Facebook.” “Just a quick read through this celebrity gossip magazine… just to see what’s going on.” “Just a quick look at the newspaper.” Just one. Just a bit. Just for a minute. Just for a little while. Just until it’s over.
I don’t know what your go-to time waster is (in full transparency, mine are YouTube, Netflix and Cracked.com), but each time we go to them it is a potential mustard seed that can grow into much more. For me, I really struggle with staying focused on things that matter and not getting sucked into pop-culture. It can steal our time away from our church, our family, our friends and from God. These little mustard seeds, which we allow to grow in our minds, slowly take over our attention spans, our thought life, our time, our energy, and our concentration. Perhaps you’ve caught yourself spending more time than appropriate thinking about things that are only fantasy, or have no basis in reality. Do you ever get caught up in something that has little value to you or anyone else?
This is something I struggle with all the time. So, this is a little heady, but let me read to you something that convicted me this week from a book called “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. It’s from a section entitled “Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection”. In other words, how can we find peace and have a passion for getting closer to Jesus and being better Christians? (Now, keep in mind, this was published about 600 years ago – but it is going to sound like it is written for today.):
“We should enjoy much peace if we did not concern ourselves with what others say and do, for these are no concern of ours. How can a man who meddles in affairs not his own, who seeks strange distractions, and who is little or seldom inwardly recollected, live long in peace?”
It sounds like he’s talking about wasting time watching tv, or on the internet or Facebook, doesn’t it?
“Blessed are the simple of heart for they shall enjoy peace in abundance. Why were some of the saints so perfect and so given to contemplation? Because they tried to mortify entirely in themselves all earthly desires, and thus they were able to attach themselves to God with all their heart and freely to concentrate their innermost thoughts. We are too occupied with our own whims and fancies, too taken up with passing things. Rarely do we completely conquer even one vice, and we are not inflamed with the desire to improve ourselves day by day; hence, we remain cold and indifferent.”
Have you ever felt that? Taken up with passing things, not spending any time trying to conquer vices, but distracting yourself from them instead? It leaves us cold and indifferent to God and to others, doesn’t it?
“If we mortified our bodies perfectly and allowed no distractions to enter our minds, we could appreciate divine things and experience something of heavenly contemplation.”
That question: “How can a man… who seeks strange distractions, and who is little or seldom inwardly recollected, live long in peace?” bugged me this week. Especially the phrase “seeks strange distractions”. That’s what I do. I seek out “strange distractions”. I get so caught up in novelty, and all the cotton candy that mass media is feeding into people’s minds. I struggle with it all the time. My mind is full of useless frivolity and I spend far too much time living in the world of fantasy. Maybe you know this struggle too.
And if I’m always wasting my time and attention on useless, fruitless, foolish, pointless, meaningless, worldly, temporary, nonsense – it’s no wonder that I don’t have a God-centred peace. If I live, constantly distracted, allowing my mind to be pulled in a thousand different directions and polluted by every “whim and fancy” that comes across my path – then I’m not likely to grow very deep in Christ, am I?
Therefore, my first encouragement is for each of us to be careful about the small wastes of your time and energy which, though they look like nothing but a little entertainment, can rob us of peace, joy and spiritual maturity.
2. The Seed of Sin
The second thing that grows up like a seed is sin. James 1:14-15 says,
“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.”
Our sins, the smallest and the greatest ones of our lives, all begin like insignificant seeds. That’s how Satan sells his temptations. He’d never walk up with a full mustard seed bush and say, “Hey, can I grow my big, evil plant right in the middle of your life?” Of course not! No, he says, “Hey, here’s this tiny, little, thing that brings you pleasure. You can barely notice it! No one will ever see it! And you can get rid of it so very easily. It’s just a tiny little thing. How much harm can this tiny, little seed do?”
Whether it’s gossip and slander, lust and pornography, anger and bitterness, fear, lack of contentment, jealousy, disobedience, stealing, lying… it all begins in our mind as a little seed of desire, and that little seed, when it is allowed to germinate in our souls, grows into a plant that starts to become a problem, and then, “when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Maybe you’ve asked yourself: How did it get this far? Why am I so angry? Why am I so bitter? Why can’t I stop cussing or hurting people or lying or cheating? Why do I have these sinful, sexual thoughts all the time? How did I dig myself down so deep into this hole? Why do I keep spending even when I have no money? Why am I obsessed about that topic? Why am I always comparing myself to others? Why am I always upset, afraid, and discontent?
It’s because you bought the lie that Satan told you about the mustard seed. You thought your secret, little sin would be no big deal. Just a little corner of your mind that no one would ever see and which you would always have under control. But that seed grew. And it got thirsty. And it started to ask for more. And instead of repenting to God, asking Jesus for help, and turning to the power of the Holy Spirit, you fed it. And it grew. And now it wants more, and it’s getting out of control. You feel guilty all the time. Your attitude is affected. You are hurting others even without meaning to. You’ve tried to get it under control, and for a little while you can, but it’s not too long you find yourself doing it again – and again.
Sin starts as a seed. What you need to do is call the Gardener. God needs to rip that weed right out of you. You need to realize that it’s sin and start to hate it. You need to repent of your sin – meaning that you don’t want it anymore, you want to quit, admit you can’t handle it anymore, that you’ve sinned against God and others, and that you need Jesus Christ to forgive you and take the penalty for that sin. Jesus promises He will forgive you, and that all the condemnation you feel for that sin can be placed on His shoulders, and you can be free. It’s his gift to you, bought by His blood.
And then you need to give permission to the Holy Spirit to clean up your mind and your soul. To through and kill the whole plant, right down to the root. It’ll take time, and require a lot of prayer, patience, obedience and diligence, but God promises to help you every step of the way.
And then… when Satan comes with his little mustard seed again… and the alarm bells from the Holy Spirit start going off in your mind… don’t let it in. Stop it while it’s small.
3. Small Talk
Never underestimate the impact that your words (or someone else’s words) can have on a life. We may think that it’s no big deal for our kids to play with, or for us to hang around, that person. We know that it’s not a good idea, but we don’t want to avoid them or say anything, or drop the friendship, because we’re being “nice” – but every sentence they speak is full of seeds, and some of them are falling on you and your kids. Words are powerful.
This works both positively and negatively. And we may not think that our few little conversations can have much impact on someone – but as we spread our little seeds, let’s remember the power that they have. Whether it’s the cashier at the store or a little talk with someone here at church, a text, a card or a note, those little seeds have the potential to grow some big fruit.
However, in the same way, a little dig, an eye roll, a sigh, a little gossip, a backhanded comment, or a scoffing remark can be the seed that Satan uses to grow in the mind of a person to choke out their joy. We’ve all had the times where we’ve been destroyed by a few words or a cutting glance.
4. Small Acts
In the same way as sin is like seeds, so are our acts of obedience to God. Each little act of obedience, whether we want to do it or not, can be used by God to grow into something substantial.
We may not feel like what God is asking us to do is all that important, but think of the small bird that sits on the branch, which makes the pine cone fall, which moves the pebble on the ground that that bumps into another pebble, that rolls down the hill, and gathers some speed, and knocks larger rocks around, and begins the avalanche that changes the face of a mountain. Perhaps God is calling you simply to sit on the branch… because He wants to move the mountain.
I’m sure there are many more mustard seeds we could talk about, but let’s close for today and thank God that He has decided to grow His Kingdom slowly, steadily, with strength and stamina, and let is join Him in having respect for the small things.
Let’s start with a couple of short stories:
I remember, a while back, going to a fancy restaurant on my parent’s 25th anniversary. We had a great meal, and my brother had bought a bottle of Dom Pérignon, which was pretty good too. After the appetizer we were served a small bowl of orange sorbet. I thought, “Wow! An appetizer dessert! That’s a good idea! I love this restaurant!” My mom told me that the reason they served it was not for dessert, but because a citrus based sorbet would cleanse the palate so I could properly taste the main entrée.
Another short story: A while back, my wife and I were shopping for perfume. We went to the store together to try a bunch of different scents and see what we would like. They took the sampler, sprayed it on a little piece of paper, and then we would smell the paper… and we did this a whole bunch of times. By the 10th little piece of smelly paper we were both getting a headache, and everything was starting to smell the same anyway.
The problem was something that is apparently called “Nasal Fatigue”. Our brains and bodies were overcome by too many scents and it was hard to discern what was good and what was not so good. Then I saw a small container of coffee beans on the counter. I remembered reading somewhere that coffee beans are good at cleansing the palate between smells. So I took a deep breath of the coffee beans, and gave my wife the container. And sure enough, it worked. I could smell again.
A Calloused Heart
Why am I telling you this? Because within these two short stories is an important lesson. If we don’t take the time to cleanse our senses with a purifying agent, they get dulled and everything starts to taste and smell the same. They get overloaded with stimuli and lose the ability to discern the subtle differences in our environments. Left unchecked it could become dangerous because we wouldn’t know the difference between good and spoiled foods, good air to breath and bad air. We need to keep our senses sharp.
I think the same thing can happen in our spirits. We are inundated with stimuli all the time. Between our online life, the TV, books, magazines, newspapers, friends, coworkers, teachers, preachers, sportscasters, billboards, and every other voice and attention grabber around us, I believe it’s easy to get overloaded and lose our ability to discern things in a godly way.
Things that used to be considered to be sin, become normal, even celebrated. Things that used to make us flinch and recoil, don’t affect us anymore. News that should rend our hearts and bring us to tears has no effect, or worse, becomes a joke. Our relationships become more distant as virtual things become our preference. Our ability to trust falls away as we listen to voices that tell us to distrust everything. Our greed and pride grows by inches, and lust becomes common place. A callous grows over our heart.
Consider the “normal things” you’ve seen this week… things you might not even notice anymore. Television commercials and programs continually sexualize younger and younger men and women. You watch your favourite comedy show and ¾ of the characters are sleeping around and having sex outside of marriage. You watch your favourite action or drama and you tune-out the foul language, get used to witnessing murders, find yourself cheering for the corrupt police officer, and hope that the married character will leave their spouse so they can finally be with their “soul mate”. If you hear these kinds of sins enough times, they start to become normal… and excusable. That husband is a jerk… she belongs with the other guy.
Consider how many times you’ve been told how much “you deserve” this week. You deserve fast, excellent service, great taste, multiple choices, a great body, happiness, success and the car / house of your dreams. If you hear that you are the centre of the universe enough times, you start to believe it.
Consider how many things you’ve been told to be afraid of. They start the news by telling you that there are at least 4 horrible things happening right now, and they will tell you more soon. With dramatic music and graphics, and a clever title like “The end of everything you’ve ever known…” they explain about 10% of the problem. Then they squeeze in some “experts” that were available today who tell you how bad it’s going to get. Then they tell you that they will “bring you more as the story develops” – or they might completely drop the story and never mention it again if it turns out to be nothing.
Then, because they need you to keep watching, the next segment starts to tell you why you need to be afraid of your veterinarian, how the global economy is collapsing, why you should never by hot-dogs, and how your toothbrush could be killing you. It doesn’t matter if it’s all misinformation and half-cooked stories because you’re watching. And — if you’re told enough times that you need to live in fear, then you’re going to start believing it.
Spiritual Palate Cleansing
What we need is a spiritual palate cleansing. We need to have some way to reset our hearts, minds and spirits so that we can tell the difference between right and wrong, distinguish wisdom from foolishness, and be able to see, hear, and experience things as they really are.
During my devotionals this week I came across a book by Andrew Comiskey called “Naked Surrender” where he talks about this very thing. He says,
“I believe that we are living in a time of unprecedented… idolatry. The moral ozone layer has burned off. … We used to flinch…. We stopped flinching. Idols sear our skin, and we no longer feel it. Desensitized by all manner of evil…. Idols empower all the wrong things; they awaken lust and deaden conscience. We then act badly, in ways that rob us of clarity and virtue and leave us unfit for real relationships.”
Our damaged palate, our desensitized soul, our callous hearts, have deep effects on our lives, our families, our church, and our relationship with God.
Our Spiritual House
Why am I making this a big deal? Because I believe this is a big deal to Jesus. Turn to 1 Peter 2:1-9. You’re going to notice a similar theme to what we talked about during the Christian Integrity series, but I want to take it from a different angle.
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
Once again we are talking about what makes up our spiritual house. And in this scripture we are reminded that Jesus is the capstone, or the foundation stone, the One on whom we are built. He is precious to us, necessary. If He moves, we all move. And, as we said before, He cares very much, and takes an active role, in how we are built. Peter says we “are being built up as a spiritual house”. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 we are called “God’s Building”. In Hebrews 3:6 we are called “God’s House.”
Let’s keep reading from verse 7:
“So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Unbelievers stumble over Jesus, the cornerstone. Instead of building their lives on Him, they see it as a hindrance. Maybe you’ve felt this too. Before you were saved you saw a relationship with Jesus as a hindrance – something that would get in the way of your life. Too many rules, too much baggage, not enough freedom. So you avoided Jesus and Christianity because you saw “the cornerstone” as a “rock of offence”.
This is what we are like before we are saved – and it’s what we do when we sin. People try to find a good, solid foundation to build their lives on, right? So they start digging down and searching for something solid. All at once they hit a huge, gigantic boulder under where they want to build! That’s Jesus. Some people see that and say, “Wow, that’s awesome. I’ve never found anything so stable, so secure, so helpful, so perfect in it’s ability to keep my house secure.”
But others look at it and instead of building on it, they try to dig it out. They resent its placement. They want their house over here, not over there. They don’t like the shape of it, and they want to form it in their own image, but it’s too strong. Having a stone like that as a foundation means they won’t get the life they want, so they try to chip away at it with bad doctrine and excuses. They get the large backhoes of world religions to try to dig it out, but they can’t move it. This huge foundational stone goes on and on and it forces them to either build there or leave it altogether. This stone, that should be their foundation, becomes a hated thing to them. But for those who have been chosen, who were destined to believe, that is the most precious stone in the world.
You are a Holy Place
Listen to Ephesians 2:19-21 as it echoes what Peter is saying:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
You see, this image is all over scripture. It’s corporate – we are God’s house – and it’s personal – you are God’s House. There are many ways to describe a believer, but one way scripture uses is to call us God’s Building, God’s Temple. The church corporately is God’s Temple. But also, each individual Christian is a Temple, built stone by stone, by the Holy Spirit as a special place for the person of God to indwells. That makes the soul of each believer a holy place, just like Mount Sinai when the bush was burning, or the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. You’re heart and mine – all believer’s hearts – are a holy tabernacle.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:16-17:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
God takes you, His temple, very seriously. If someone tries to corrupt His temple with false worship, with idolatry, with false doctrine, they will be destroyed. Anyone who takes on a believer will face the wrath of God. He loves His People, His Household, His Children, His Holy Place where He dwells. Within you.
Cleansing the Temple
Now, having established that we are the Temple of God, and I want to turn to how seriously God takes His temple — which is your body, your spirit, and this body of believers, let’s watch this.
This is the big idea that blew my mind this week. That I can get so plugged up with what the world gives me, things that I’m unquestionably shovelling into my life, that I lose the sensitivity to the voice of God, and the Holy Spirit inside me. I allow things into my mind and heart which pollute my relationship with God, and offend Him deeply. To the point where I don’t never know what’s right and wrong anymore. I can’t tell the difference between things that God finds offensive, and what pleases Him. I can’t tell an idol from the true God. I can’t understand His will, and I am indifferent to His presence and His word.
The money changers and those selling the animals for sacrifice had become a common site in the temple. In fact, even after Christ cleansed the temple at the beginning of His ministry, they moved right back in and He did it again at the end. It had become normal and excusable! People needed to exchange their foreign money for local currency. People needed to buy animals for sacrifice locally, instead of bringing them from far away. This made sense. No one cared. No one made a fuss. Not the religious people, not those buying, certainly not those making a profit. Who cares?
The Cathedral of our Heart
Let me another part of Andrew Comiskey’s book that really struck home for me,
“One of my favorite passages involves Jesus cleansing the temple. Here [Jesus] is at his least tolerant and inclusive. Here his radical love rids God’s house of all within that does not manifest him. Jesus does not dialogue with these detractors—he whips both man and beast and drives them out, overturning tables and shouting: ‘Get out!’ He cares about what goes on in the temple because the temple represents God to others. It is, after all, the house of the Creator.
[Now listen to what he says next because it’s the point that we’re making here.]
“…I am God’s house. …My ‘cathedral’ is still vulnerable to housing… idols: … gods and goddesses that have power to defile the temple and cripple my capacity to love others well…. ”
I love that word He uses – “My ‘cathedral’.” When was the last time you thought of yourself as a cathedral built for the honour and glory of Jesus? When was the last time you looked into a mirror and saw a cathedral? A beautiful work of art full of halls and rooms and intricacies that only few have ever seen, intricately planned and uniquely made, infinitely precious and incredibly powerful, the home of many holy things. When was the last time you considered yourself to be a house of God?
That’s how God sees you. Jesus is within the walls of your heart. And I believe He is just as passionate today about the condition of your heart today as he was about the Temple then. I believe He is just as angry, ferocious and violent about the sin that is housed in our hearts, and all the corrupt things that distract us and keep us from Him.
We don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s just a tv show. It’s just one night. It’s just a joke. It’s my culture.
But Jesus sees them as very big deals. We embrace the sin, play with it, roll it around our tongue, caress it with our hands, gaze at it with our eyes and store in our minds… as though it’s no big thing. We keep it in a special place in our cathedral. And Jesus sees it and wants to destroy it because it is corrupting His Father’s Temple!
How I wish that I had the vision of sin that Christ has. I wish I could hate it as much as He does. But I’m steeped in it. I’m used to it. My palate is too clouded to discern the things of God very well. My heart is still to calloused, my eyes and ears too used to profanity, my mind so full of garbage it’s hard to distinguish the sacred from the worldly. Sure, I can see better than I used to, but I still don’t see it the way Christ does.
We excuse it. We talk to others and they say it’s no big deal, that it’s part of our personality, that everyone is doing it… and because because we haven’t been cleansing our palate with the pure Words and Spirit of God, it doesn’t even taste wrong to us … so we ingest more and more, and we grow sicker and sicker.
This is why a season of fasting, repentance and renewal is such a critical time in the life of a believer! This is why the church fathers created the season of Lent as a time to practice giving up lesser things and cleansing ourselves from worldly influence. It gives us a chance to evaluate how we are treating our body, mind, eyes, hands, feet. It makes us look twice at what we put into our mouth, what we read without thinking about it, what we touch every day. And we realize that it’s a very big deal to Jesus, because it may be profaning His temple.
Now let’s read 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Before we start, I want you to notice all the quotation marks in the first few verses, this is Paul quoting back to the Corinthians some of their favourite slogans and excuses for why they don’t need to worry about what they are doing with their bodies.
“‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other.”
In other words, the Corinthian church had separated their spiritual lives from their physical lives. They disconnected their bodies from their souls and figured that you could do whatever you want with your body and it wouldn’t affect your mind, heart and soul. Have you ever heard that? “It’s just physical?”
They said, “Since I’m saved by grace, and everything is God’s, I can do anything I want.” Paul says, “Sure, but not everything has benefit”. They said, “But I’m free from religion and my soul is secure forever and now I can enjoy all the pleasures of this world!” Paul says, “Yes, but don’t let it dominate you. Don’t let it become your god… your idol… your master.”
Then it goes deeper and more sinister. You’ve heard this before. They said, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”, or in other words, “if my body says it wants it, then it’s obviously what I need to do.”
“My body says, ‘Eat!’ and I need to eat, therefore I’ll eat what and when I want to. It’s just food.”
“My mind wants distraction because I’m tired of concentrating. So I can watch whatever I want. It’s just TV.”
“I’m angry and my body wants to hit something. It’s not my fault that’s how I’m built. I’m just a violent person. I’m just doing what comes naturally.”
“My body says has natural, sexual desires and wants release, therefore I’ll get it wherever I want however my body wants it. It’s not my fault if I have natural desires! It’s just sex.”
And Paul replies, “And yet both are from God, and God can destroy them if He wants to.” In other words, “God designed you with desires. You get hungry so you can feed yourself — but that doesn’t mean you should eat addicting garbage. And you have sexual desires too, but that doesn’t mean you can fulfill them however you want. He gave them as good things, but wants you to use them in a healthy way. He wants you to experience joy and love and pleasure and grow closer to your spouse. He created it. He designed it. He knows how it works. Don’t use it in a destructive, sinful, harmful way.
Continue in verse 13 and see how this ties into what we’ve been talking about with our bodies as Temples of God
“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Any kind of sin is incompatible with our unity in Christ – they all divide us from Him – but sexual sin is particularly evil. The word there is “PORNEIA” which includes all sexual activity conducted without your heterosexual marriage partner. That includes everything from adultery to masturbation. God brings out sexuality as special because sex has a uniquely spiritual component. You literally become “one” with the person. It’s not just physical. It’s not just a biological release – it’s a spiritual tying, and emotional connection. That’s why adultery – whether it’s with another person or in your mind though sexual imagery or sexual stories – is so damaging. It tears the soul – divides the oneness of the marriage.
And it profanes your body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
A Disgusting Sanctuary
Think of it this way. You would be very surprised if you came in next week and found pornographic posters hanging all over the sanctuary, right? You would be offended, distracted, and probably never come back. Then why do you hang them in the temple of your mind where Jesus dwells? It’s the same to Jesus.
You probably wouldn’t bring your favourite porn star, pin-up girl, or someone who you are in an adulterous relationship to church with you because you’d be ashamed how people would look at you… but you’ll take someone online, or in a book, or at work, or in an old memory, and fanaticize about them – which lets that person into your heart – which is the Temple in which Jesus dwells. What’s the difference?
You’d probably have a problem if you came into church one day and the walls looked like a truck-stop bathroom stall… full of dirty limericks, swear words, filthy pictures, and profanity. And yet you will readily accept much of that into your own heart, and into your own temple. You might have a problem if the decorations in here were tributes to dollar bills, bloody violence, and revenge… all surrounding a golden recorder full of all of the gossip and bitter slander you could ever want to hear…, but is that what the walls of your personal cathedral look like? When Jesus walks through the cathedral of your heart, what does He see?
When he comes to sit with you at the communion table in your heart, does He have to sit next to a pile of your money and favourite possessions? What is there to eat? Good, healthy spiritual food, or do you only offer him the same bitter root that you’ve been chewing on for such a long time? Is your personal cathedral dedicated to comfort? No rough edges, nothing to bother you, no annoying people, no annoying rules, and at the centre is a you on a pillow – and Jesus can come in as long as He’s quiet, doesn’t disturb anything, and only gives you things that make you more comfortable?
Perhaps, in the cathedral of your heart is a cross – the symbol of the Christian faith. What other symbols are beside it, competing for importance? Maybe the make of your car, or your favourite technology? Is there a sports-team logo next to the cross? You identify yourself, in the cathedral of your heart, as Christian – and what? Is there a place of worship next to the cross, where you spend your time, your money, your energy, and your attention. Jesus gets part of your worship, but the other idols demand a sacrifice too.
You’ve been to lots of people’s houses and they all have sayings on their walls, on the fridge, in their bedroom. So, as Jesus wanders the halls of the cathedral, what is written on the walls of your heart? The scripture you’ve memorized, the prayers you repeat, the lyrics to a worship song pictures of your family and friends, concerns for your community and the world … right beside the dirty jokes you’ve been reading on the internet and the lyrics to hundreds of songs that celebrate hate, money, alcohol and sex, and all of the harmful, lying, abusive self-talk that you are so used to speaking to yourself as you call yourself stupid, ugly, worthless, and hated. Not the words of God on the walls of your cathedral, but the words of Satan, and you read them over and over.
And in a special place, all on its own, is the ornate carving of your favourite four-letter-word? The one you use in your mind constantly, and which slips out when you feel stress.
Has Jesus found the room you have dedicated to memories of your old girl or boyfriends where you like to spend time when you feel rejected or lonely?
What inhabits the cathedral of your heart?
Maybe you’re feeling convicted right now and you need to talk to God about the mess in your heart. You need to ask forgiveness and ask Him to start clearing that stuff out. You’ve tried, but it only gets worse. You need to ask Jesus to do it, and start replacing all of that garbage with holy things.
What the Church is Made Of
Here’s something you’ve perhaps never thought about: Whatever makes up your cathedral, is what our church is made of. This church is not made of stone and wood. It’s not decorated with paint and pictures. Our church isn’t our music or preaching style, the size of the building, or a weekly event. If we think that any of these things are what bring glory to God, improve our worship, or draw people closer to him, we’re dead wrong.
Our church is built out of the hearts and minds of the people that attend it. We have built this church day by day, deed by deed, decision by decision, sin by sin, idol by idol, fight by fight, prayer by prayer, sacrifice by sacrifice, act of love by act of love, over the history of this church. This is what we are made of, what inspires our worship, what God judge us by, and determines our blessings or need for discipline.
What we see when we are here together and behaving ourselves for an hour on Sunday is only the tiniest part of what we would call “church”. The church God sees, and is really concerned with, is the cathedral of our hearts. He’s concerned about what we are doing in our minds as we sing the songs and listen to the sermon. He’s concerned about what we think when we see the people around us, or think of the one’s not here. He’s concerned with the things we do when we are alone in our room, what we do when we hear of a need, what we communicate in our phone calls and e-mails. That’s what makes up our church.
Our church is built seven days a week out of our private thoughts, our actions and inactions, our secret good deeds, our personal worship and devotion, our love for one another, our sacrifice for each other and God… and it’s built from our private sins, our personal idols, our prejudices, our hate and our hypocrisy. That determines whether we are living by the power of the Holy Spirit, or are grieving Him. That’s why we need to take care of each other.
Jesus Hates Hypocrites
Jesus had some incredibly harsh words for the Pharisees who looked good on the outside, were amazing in their religious obedience, were pillars of the community and great church goers — but were absolutely corrupt on the inside. He said,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence…. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25)
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me…” (Matthew 15:7-9)
There are so many scriptures against hypocrisy that it is truly overwhelming.
Looking at Your Cathedral
Let me close with this question: What does the cathedral of your heart look like? Listen to Jesus speaking into your heart about your faith. Listen to what the scripture says about having your insides match your outsides.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25)
Some of us need a palette cleansing today because we have so filled ourselves with compromise and sin that we no longer even know right from wrong. The only way to know the condition of your heart, and to purify your cathedral, is to cleanse your palette through repentance and confession, and seek purity. Look deep inside for that which is dividing your heart.
Or in the words of 2 Timothy 2:20-22, which speaks about cleaning up the cathedral of your heart:
“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
Last week I presented a problem: What do we do with hypocritical people who call themselves Christians, but continue to love their sin? This week I want to look at a biblical solution.
This is all part of a series on Psalm 15 which talks about what it looks like to be a person of Christian Integrity. We can probably all easily agree that a person of integrity has the core traits that Psalm 15 describes. They are Truthful, Loving, Honouring, Trustworthy and Generous. But in verse 4, right before it talks about honouring “those who fear the Lord”, it says that a person of Christian integrity is someone “… in whose eyes a vile person is despised.”
That’s what we talked about last week. How do we understand what “a vile person” is? And we came up with a simple definition that said a vile person is someone who “claims to be a believer, but has clearly rejected God’s word.” That’s the biblical understanding of “a vile person.”
This week we are going to look at what we are supposed to do with a person who does that. How do we as a church respond, and how do we as individual believers respond.
We are looking at this through the lens of 1 Corinthians 5. We already went through verses 1-6 last week, and we are picking it up in verse 7 this week.
Cut Out Infectious Sin
So what are we supposed to do with an unrepentant person, who says they are a Christian, but who won’t let go of their sin? If a church is working properly, and helping one another to honour God, grow in faith, love Jesus, serve people… and avoid sin, then what are they supposed to do with a believer who won’t stop sinning? What do we do with the person who claims to be a Christian, but clearly lacks integrity?
Paul says that the church must protect its integrity and the people of the church by removing the bad influence – what he calls “yeast”. We are to cut out the infectious sin. Read from verse 7.
“Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.”
Notice again that we are not talking about non-Christians, or believers who have stumbled and sinned one or two times. We are not talking about conducting witch-hunts and tribunals where we go door to door nit-picking everything that we don’t like and judging people who aren’t like us. And we are certainly not talking about only allowing perfect people who never sin into the church. What we are talking about dealing with are Christians who have a rebellious and unrepentant heart – one who has heard the words of God and has rejected them.
Paul tells us to separate the bad apple from the bunch. Reject them. Remove them. Don’t let it take any more effect. Remove their voice from the group and don’t listen to them. Remove them from fellowship and don’t have close associations with them as you would a believer. Cut the yeast out of the church before it infects the whole loaf. And it will. If you let a person who is committed to sin free to roam the church, they will infect others.
Let’s use gossip as an example. If not confronted and dealt with through Church Discipline, gossip will affect the whole church and damage a lot of people. We all know the damage gossip can cause.
Laziness, or busyness for that matter, are also sinister and damaging if left unchallenged. If lazy people are allowed to be lazy, and too busy people are allowed to be too busy, then people within the group will use them as an excuse for them to live the same way.
Unforgiveness can spread as well. If we do not practice forgiveness with each other, unforgivness will become the norm. Avoiding the hard work of reconciliation will become standard procedure. Then the bitter root will grow in our midst and we will have a bitter church.
The same with cheapskates. If we admire and allow people to be sinfully frugal misers and skinflints who pride themselves for being a scrooge, then will help others become to become scrooges too. We need to confront them and tell them they are sinning.
- “I don’t have to deal with that… just look at so-and-so… they’re getting away with it.”
- “It’s ok for me to do it, so-and-so does it all the time.”
- “I don’t have to do that because so-and-so doesn’t have to.”
Keeping Our Integrity
Keep reading in verse 9, but let me note that sometimes people sometimes take this scripture to mean that they have to avoid everyone outside the church too. The thinking goes like this: “If we are supposed to avoid sinners inside the walls, then how much more should we avoid everyone outside!” It’s important to know that’s not what he’s saying. This is specifically talking about judging and dealing with people within the church. Listen here:
“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’”
Do you see that this is not about avoiding the world? Just as I said before, Christianity is not a cult that tells you to leave the world and only hang around like-minded believers. No, this is about dealing with problems among believers.
And his solution requires three things. Rejecting, Protecting and Restoring.
Rejecting, Protecting, Restoring
The first response that a church makes to an unrepentant Christian who is in sin is 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. We make the believer feel badly about themselves and their sin, by giving them a taste of life as an unrepentant sinner again. 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. We become complicit with their sin. And we are also in danger of being tempted to sin with them!
Now, we don’t arrive there all at once, and it’s not the first response, so we’re going to talk more about how we get to that point in a minute.
The second response 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. And we protect the person by isolating them from feeling like their sin is ok. As we talked about last week. Removing them from the church is a way to stop enabling and avoiding the sin. It’s harsh, but it’s 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 – but are now part of the world – it 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.
This also protects us, the church, and even that person – to some extent. When we step away, 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, and even show love to the sinner by refusing to be part of their sin.
The third response is to setting up the conditions by which we will be able to restore this person who is caught in sin 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 for a while in the arms of Satan, they will see their sin and want to be restored.
We’ll talk about that in a moment too.
Other Scriptures About Despising the Vile
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.
- “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” (Thessalonians 3:6)
- “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)
- “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…” (Titus 3:10)
I realize that this is hard! Even the practical working out of this teaching is hard. Are we allowed to pick up the phone if they call? 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, and to the faith, then how do we do it?
Unfortunately, there are no way to answer every question. Some people will lean towards “we have to keep showing them love” and talk to them in a friendly way – and still remain 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 wrong, and each can be supported biblically. What is needed is a spiritual sensitivity and an abiding desire to do the will of God. If we are listening to the Holy Spirit, reading His word, and seeking His glory, then I believe God can use us to help.
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.
The Matthew 18 Model
So, understanding that we need God’s love, discipline and presence to get this right, let’s go to the practical model for how to do this as taught by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. This is a scripture where Jesus teaches us how to deal with sin among His people.
This isn’t the only place where we can learn about this, but I believe it’s the clearest for most situations we will find ourselves in.
Step One: One on One (Confront & Support)
Let’s start in verse 15:
“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.”
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 bring in witnesses. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 says, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
This isn’t about special treatment – far from it considering the major impact it would have. It is about giving some protection from capricious 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 heard from this person that you have been struggling with this sin. I have heard that you are angry with this person, that you are harbouring unforgiveness, that you are addicted to this, that there’s something that is separating you from God. I’m here to confront you about it, but I’m also 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 carry your burden?” Confront, then support. Supporting them could be as simple as telling them how to make it right, and then they go do it, and you make sure they went and 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 until they get right with it. 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 – and for their own sake.
Step Two: Bring Friends
What if that doesn’t work? 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 them, 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 this is. This also shows them that their sin isn’t a secret – people know about it.
This isn’t the pastor, or the elder – these are friends. Get some Christian friends together and invite them over, or invite yourself over. This isn’t your posse, but theirs! It’s a group of people that they will listen to. And when they are together, the group will try again.
If you are 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!
Step Three: Call the Elders
Ok, what if that doesn’t work? 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”. We are still working together, as a church, to combat this sin, to break the hold it has on our brother or sister, and the next step is to go to the pastor or the elders.
God takes sin very seriously, and we want to show this person just how serious. Bring yourself and the witnesses to the pastor and the elders of the church. If you come by yourself, and the pastor (or elder) doesn’t know about the problem, then chances are he’s is 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 4: 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.”
This is where you “turn them over to Satan.” In other words, if this person is still unrepentant after all of this, then they are not acting like a believer, so 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, don’t associate with them. They need to go through the process of “Reject, Protect and Restore”. We love them by showing them how serious their sin is and that they are slipping away from a right relationship with God! “Hand them over to Satan” because that’s what team they’ve decided to play for now.
We keep praying for them – all the time. We pray that their hearts would soften and they would come back. When they are before us, just like any other person in the world that is bound to Satan, we share the gospel and try to win them to Christ. We try to convince them to listen to Jesus, give up their sin, come to Christ, ask forgiveness, get right with God… but we do not allow them to believe their sin is ok.
I know this is tough. And I know we are not good at it. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve done it wrong, or too harshly, or have avoided it, or been too soft. But we have to try to get this right. 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. The loaf will be ruined with the yeast of sin. This might sound harsh, and if done with pride, or arrogance, it can be very damaging. But if it is done out of love, and a desire to see the person restored to the fellowship and to the faith, then it is an act of love and worship.
One of my favourite preachers likes to say “hard words produce soft hearts, and soft words produce hard hearts.” We want soft hearts towards God, repentant hearts, and sometimes that requires hard words and strong actions. If this is a brother or sister, and we want them back at our church, back in prayer, back serving God, back in worship, back in a loving relationship with Jesus – then we always leave the door open for reconciliation, and we make sure we do it with firmness and love.
What we are talking about in this series is how to be a person of Christian Integrity. To do that we are examining what Psalm 15 says about what it means to look like a Christian. I don’t mean how to be superficial in our faith, nor is this a list of ways to impress God or earn salvation. What we are looking at is a picture of what a life looks like after salvation – after Jesus has been made our Lord. This is what a member of the God’s people, a member of the body of Christ, what a church looks like when they are walking with Him.
Psalm 15 starts with a question: “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” And what we see in the rest of the psalm are six descriptions of a functioning, obedient, growing Christian. The first was Integrity, which was the top of the house of our life, which is built on the foundation of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Our Integrity is held up by being Truthful, Loving, Honouring, Trustworthy and Generous. We’ve already looked at being Truthful and Loving, and this week we are looking at verse 4 where it talks about the other side of our relationships with Christians.
“In But Not Of”
This verse is a bit difficult. We just read in the previous verse that a Christian loves everyone around them. And it’s easy to understand that we are to “honour those who fear the Lord”, but how can we obey both of these verses? how can a believer despise and love people at the same time? It seems contradictory.
One easy way to solve the problem is to say that God wants us to despise people outside the church, but honour those inside it. We are to love the church, and hate the world. A lot of religions teach this, and even some Christian churches. Cults especially will take their followers and separate them from the world. They teach their people to read only the literature that they produce, that only their leaders are right (and everyone else is wrong and should be avoided), and that they should give up all their friends and non-believing relatives, and only be around people from their group. That’s not what this verse is saying.
Christians don’t believe that. We like to say that we are “in the world but not of the world”. What that means is that we teach that a believer shouldn’t be like the world, but that they should befriend, love and serve the people in the world. We teach that we need to be careful with what we read, and who we associate with, but also that all truth is God’s truth no matter where it comes from. And one of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith is that Jesus commanded us to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)
So what does Psalm 15 mean when it says that we are to despise a vile person?
This is where word studies are very helpful.
The word for “vile” is the Hebrew word MA’AS and it means “rejected, cast away or cast off”. It is most often used of God rejecting a people or an individual, or them rejecting God. Which means that word is most often used to describe God’s people – believers – Christians. And it’s used all over scripture.
It is often used to describe rejecting God’s word. He says in Leviticus 26:15-16 where He says,
“…if you spurn [MA’AS] my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache.”
Or in Proverbs 15:32 it says, “Whoever ignores instruction despises [MA’AS] himself…”. If you reject your teacher, then you are basically rejecting yourself.
It’s used of the Israelites when they reject God and tell Moses they want to go back to Egypt (Num 11:20) and when they look at the Samuel and ask for a King in place of God. They reject God and want a human King. (1 Sam 8:7) And again when the prophet Samuel is speaking to King Saul when he is rejected as king. He says, “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:23)
In the New Testament it’s the same. When Jesus is pronouncing judgement upon the unrepentant cities in Luke 10:13-16 He says,
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
“You’ve heard the word, you’ve met Jesus, you’ve seen miracles… and you have rejected the word of God. You have rejected His presence, His wisdom, His salvation and His grace. And by doing so, you’ve rejected God!”
In contrast, the word “honour” is a word that means “to be heavy or great, to glorify”. It’s used in the 5th Commandment which says “Honour your father and mother…” (Exo 20:12) It’s used in Proverbs 3:9-10 which says, “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
It’s word used by the worshippers of God to describe how we feel about Him, and a word used to describe how we feel about another person, in our hearts. When that person comes into the room, or you see them around town, their presence has great meaning. Their words have a weight to them when they speak to you. They are honoured, respected, treasured and esteemed. You give them the VIP treatment because they really are a Very Important Person to you.
The Company You Keep
So, if you put together all of what we’re learning here, I believe we could expand this passage to say that a person with Christian integrity is one “who rejects the person who claims to be a believer but has clearly rejected God’s word – and gives weight and respect those who obey and treat Him as Lord of their life.”
This passage isn’t about how we treat non-believers, but about our associations with people who claim to be Christians. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Bad company ruins good character” (1 Cor. 15:33). That’s a biblical phrase, but it was also a popular saying at the time, and remains true today. It was written to a group of people who were associating with false teachers who called themselves Christians but taught that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and neither would they – so there was no consequences for their actions. They essentially said that believers should just “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor 15:32)
If we are going to have integrity, then we must be careful of our relationships. If we associate with hypocrites who claim to be Christians, but don’t live like one, then we will be lumped in with them – and be tempted to become one. Scripture teaches us that we need to be good judges of how people who claim to be Christians are conducting themselves. We weigh their words and deeds, and then, if they show themselves to be saying one thing and doing another, we don’t let it slide, but take it very seriously and confront that sin. And if the person is un repentant, won’t change, is rejecting God, rejecting wisdom, rejecting teaching… we walk away.
Believers also honour and respect those who are walking their talk. We give weight to their words, we admire them, we set them up as Godly examples because they are showing us how to be like Jesus.
Now, the idea of rejecting people isn’t something that we normally talk about, especially after last week where we talk about the importance of not discriminating against people, but let’s take a look at what it says in the New Testament about this. This is a hard teaching, and I hope that you have soft hearts today to hear it.
Turn to 1 Corinthians 5 and let’s talk about Church Discipline and the importance of confronting sin in the church – or as Psalm 15:4 says it, “despising the vile person”.
The Corinthian Church had some serious problems, one of which was that they were not confronting the sin within their midst. People within the church were calling themselves Christians, going out into the city and calling themselves Christians, even believing that they were Christians, but were being bold in their sin – and no one in the church was calling them on it. In fact, some people were actually celebrating their sin!
Sinners, Enablers, & Avoiders
There were three different groups of people who are getting it all wrong, and who Paul was writing about.
First, you have the sinners who are doing something wrong according to the word and the will of God. Paul was writing to them to tell them to repent from their sin.
Second, you have a group of people who are the enablers, who are indulging and even encouraging the sinner. They are actually helping the person to sin by giving them a place to do it, by protecting them, or by patting them on the back for it. Paul writes to them to tell them to stop encouraging sin!
Third, you have the avoiders. This is a group of people who know that what the sinner is doing is wrong, know that the enabler is helping, but isn’t doing anything about it. And Paul is absolutely livid with these people – and the whole church.
Proud of His Sin
Let’s go through the whole chapter together to see what’s going on. Here’s verse 1-2:
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud!”
Paul is shocked here! “It’s actually reported…” In other words, “I’ve heard, from way over here in Ephesus, about the terrible things that are happening in the church in Corinth. People all over the world are talking about you! Your sin, and the pride you have in it is being reported everywhere. You’re not just allowing it to go on. You’re not just not dealing with it, You’re not choosing not to confront it. But you are actually CELEBRATING IT!”
There is a person who calls themselves a Christian, who is supposedly saved, serving in the church, maybe teaching Sunday school… and is in public, sexual immorality?!? And you’re ok with this? Even the pagans think that what he’s doing is gross! You and this man both know what scripture says, and is doing the opposite, you haven’t confronted him?”
This isn’t just something that was happening then. This happens today to. Churches and Christians joining in with the culture at large, going against the scriptures, reinterpreting the Bible, and celebrating sexual perversion. There are churches that refuse to say that Homosexuality is wrong. There are churches who watch their pastors and elders commit adultery and divorce their wives, but yet allow them to stay on as elders and teach in their pulpits. There are men’s groups that refuse to talk about sexual sin, internet pornography, and watching explicit TV shows, because every single person there is doing it and they don’t want to stop. There are women’s groups who pass around smutty novels designed to create lust in the heart, some even disguised as being for Christians. Even the idea of addressing sexual sin within the church is met with criticism because it’s seen as a private affair… not for public discussion.
Paul here is writing to confront exactly that. It needs to be dragged into the light because there are some people who are sinning, others who are enabling, and others who are avoiding. And they are all in sin.
But this isn’t just about sexual sin. This could just as easily read:
- “It is reported that there are selfish and greedy people among you who are not tithing properly (or at all) and no one is saying anything. There are people who are buying new toys ever week but who are not taking care of the poor among you.”
- “It is reported that there are idolaters among you who are allowing created things to take the place of the Creator in their lives. They spend more time, energy and money on their sports team, hobby, computer, car, game, or work than with their God, their family or their church.”
- “It is reported that you have slanderers, and gossips among you, and you’re too afraid to tell them to shut their mouths and repent! They are badmouthing people behind their back, spreading rumours and hurting reputations, and you’re not dealing with it!”
- “It’s reported that there are Christians among you who love food and drink more than they love God. They are literally consuming themselves into an early grave, and you’re watching them kill themselves.”
- “It is reported that there are people among you who are ripping others off. They’re illegally downloading and copying movies and music, they’re cheating on their taxes, they’re using loopholes to avoid paying for things, and others are being devious for their own gain. And you’re not dealing with it! In fact, you’re thrilled to have such a person around and you ask them to do the same for you!”
Let’s continue reading:
“Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”
Hold on there. This is important, and the reason why Paul and God are so concerned about this – and why their response is so serious as to go as far as to “handing this man over to Satan.” Why? Because it doesn’t take much to change the moral, cultural dynamics of a group. “A little yeast works through a whole batch.” One bad apple can literally spoil a barrel. Paul says, “If you let this go, it’s going to ruin the whole church. You are living like Jesus isn’t watching over you, like the teaching of the Bible doesn’t matter, like you’ve never heard my teaching! Let me tell you that when you are together – God is there, Jesus is there, and I’m there.”
Here’s a couple examples of how this creeps into the congregation:
- Someone recommends a movie and says, “Yeah, there’s a few bad scenes in it, but it’s otherwise pretty good.” A little yeast…
- Another person says, “If you go to this website you can download free movies.”
- Or “If you buy that product, you can use it once and return it… I do it all the time.”
- One person does figures out a way to cheat, to steal, to manipulate the system, and gets away with it… no one says anything to them… and then others take that as their cue to do the same.
We’ve all been there, we’ve all felt it. I’m certain we’ve all done it. You’ve heard the term “Mob Mentality”. It’s doesn’t just happen in big riots, or in stadiums. It happens in the church as well, and it shows just how insidious sin is. Sociologists who study Mob Mentality say that it’s not that the whole group all of a sudden go crazy all at once, but that once people see others around them are doing it (smashing windows, flipping over police cars, stealing tv’s), something s inside of them they feel as though they can get away with it too.
And it works both ways too. Mob Mentality is a close friend to Peer Pressure. People who are involved in societies or groups that have very high standards of behaviour, and who make examples of deviants, are less likely to do things that go against the group.
In other words, our human nature, if not kept in check, and during times of spiritual weakness, will drag us down to the lowest level around us. If that’s chaos, we join in the chaos. If it’s a high level of morality, then we tend not to fall as far.
God knows this. Paul knows this. Everyone knows this. That’s why we warn our kids to choose their friends wisely and stay away from the trouble makers. That’s why we tell them to come home at curfew. That’s why Paul says later that, “Bad company ruins good character”.
What I’ve done this week is presented the problem. Next week, Lord willing, I want to present the biblical solution. What can a gospel believing, Jesus loving, people loving, church do to care for the sinners in their midst? How do we keep the practices of the hypocrites and pretenders, what the bible calls “the vile”, (the people who call themselves Christians but refuse to live like it) from infecting everyone in the church?
We’re going to talk about three things next week. The first will be cutting out the yeast – dealing with the infection. Second will be Rejecting, Protecting and Restoring the person who is causing the problem. And third, we will get practical and read Matthew 18 where Jesus gave us the practical steps about how to deal with another believer who is caught in sin.
It is a good day when you give us a glimpse into ourselves
Sin is our greatest evil, but you are our greatest good
Each of us has cause to loathe ourselves,
to not seek self-honour,
because when we look at ourselves,
we realize that we are glorying in rubbish.
are worse because of our sins
– let us never have the false belief that our sins are small,
or that you are not angry with our sin.
Let us not take other good men,
families or churches as our examples,
holding them up as our idols,
and think that we are somehow good because we are like them
or better than them.
No man is as good as you want them to be.
None of us are consistent.
None follow rightly in the ways of your holiness
or feel as they should when they are afflicted.
God, help us know when something is evil
when we are tempted to think it is right and good.
Help us to know, that when something is lawful according to the government,
that it is still wrong when it comes from evil purpose –
like a desire for reputation, for wealth, for worldly things.
Guve us grace to recall our needs.
Help us to know your will in scripture.
We need wisdom to guide others,
and daily repentance
which we so often neglect.
We need to have the spirit of prayer.
Keep us from having words without love.
Give us zeal for your glory,
never seeking our own ends.
Give us joy in you
and your will,
and a deep love for others.
You have an abundant fountain of grace.
Help us to not come up short of our need and desire for it.
Help us to touch the eternal spring.
Help us draw your life giving water from above.
In Jesus Name we pray, Amen
(Inspired by “Self Knowledge” from Pg 122 of “The Valley of Vision”)
“Lord, you have been out dwelling place throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting,
you are God.” (Psalm 90:1-2)
Life and death are in your hands, Lord.
Thank you for your long-suffering patience,
because we know that when you become angry, people are consumed and terrified. Read the rest of this entry »
We’re starting a sub-series within our study of the Gospel of Mark where we are going to look a little more closely at the lives of the Apostles. As we go through these mini-biographies that I want you to do a few things:
First, I want you to find yourself in this group. Without a doubt one of the Apostles’ personalities will jump out at you and you’ll be able to see yourself in them. Look for the ones who were tempted like you are tempted, have the same weaknesses and strengths as you, and see what meeting Jesus and following Him did for them.
Second, I want you to notice how different these people are and embrace the understanding that God calls lots of kinds of people into His kingdom. The differences between you and the believers around you are created by God Himself, and it is through those differences that He can be most glorified by His Church.
Third, I want you to be thankful that you have been chosen by God, just as Jesus chose the disciples, and that you have a divine purpose for your life. You may stumble and fall, but God’s grace is always available to you and once you accept that grace and begin to walk in faith, you can discover that divine purpose.
Full disclosure: I was powerfully impacted and inspired by this sermon by J.D. Jones when writing this. You can read it here on Google Books.
Peter is not the First Pope
Let’s begin with the first name in the list, Simon Peter. In Mark 3:16 it says Jesus “appointed the twelve” and then begins the list of who the 12 Apostles are. Each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) there is a list of Apostles and Peter is always first, and Judas is always last. In each list it says that his name was “Simon” and then follows it by telling us that Jesus renamed him Peter.
We’ll get into the name change a little later, but I want to park here for a moment to mention that without question, Peter was the leader of the apostles – but he wasn’t the first pope.
The Catholic Church holds that Jesus made Peter the head of the Apostles, but there’s nowhere in scripture that He does that. Matthew 16:16-20 is one of the most controversially debated passages in all of scripture. Read the rest of this entry »