Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Little Sins: Drunkenness

Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands... Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks,
Isaiah 5:11-12, 22
Though the prophet Isaiah pronounces woe over those who drink too much wine*, our culture almost glorifies it. Our children and teens are raised watching movies that present drunken parties as the height of fun. Much of the most popular music of today centers around themes related to drinking and partying at clubs. So who is right? Why does the Bible pronounce woe on something that seems as harmless as drinking too much alcohol?
If you look at what the Bible as a whole has to say about getting drunk, it becomes clear that God pronounces woe on those who drink too much because alcohol is a hard task master. When you look at stories like that of Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38), or Noah and his sons (Genesis 9:20-27), or even the fall of Elah king of Israel (I Kings 16:8-10), it becomes clear that falling into the trap of drinking too much alcohol can cause great destruction in our lives. But certainly our culture doesn't have to read stories from the Bible to know this. Our world is replete with examples. My own extended family has a history of alcoholism including both those who were verbally and physically abusive when drunk and those who mixed drinking and driving.

These families members of mine were not bad people, they simply fell victim to the destruction that alcohol can bring. Anyone of us, including myself can be bested by alcohol. This is why Proverbs warns us so frequently about drinking in excess. It tells us that the wise man is not taken in by liquor's many charms (Proverbs 20:1). It tells us that drunkenness leads to poverty, strife, sorrow, needless bruises, and bloodshot eyes (Proverbs 23:20-21 and 23:29-35). This isn't God's best for your life. God wants so much more for you, and alcohol has the power to steal it all away from you. There is a good chance, given my family history, that if I ever began drinking alcohol I would become addicted to it and lose control.

For that reason, and because I have an adolescent brother and other teens at my church who I hope look up to me, I have chosen not to drink at all. The potential positives that could come from me drinking in moderation are so very few and the potential negatives so very great, that it simply is not worth it. I urge you to give alcohol a wide berth in your life. Perhaps Ephesians 5:18 says it best, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery [excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures]. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." Those of us who are in Christ have been set free from sin, so don't allow yourself to be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). And those of you who have yet to surrender to Christ will never find what you are looking for at the bottom of a bottle. So again I urge you...find fulfillment in Christ, not in alcohol.
For further reading...
* In case you were wondering the Bible does not come right out and teach that drinking alcohol at all is a sin. In fact, it clear from Scripture that Jesus and other laudable Bible characters drank wine. Although it has often been asserted that this wine was not fermented like ours is today, I know of no textual or historical evidence to back this up. Perhaps the fermentation process was different, but it was still fermented. However, as has been demonstrated the Bible clear teaches that getting drunk is a sin, and one that has disastrous consequences. Thus, for the reasons outlined above, I encourage all Christians to consider abstaining from alcohol altogether.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Little Sins: Slander and Gossip

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
James 3:5-12

Do you know what the word "devil" means? Most Christians do not. We tend to think of "devil" as the proper name for Satan, but it is not. In fact, neither is Satan. Satan is a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament to refer to the Devil and it means "adversary." The New Testament refers to him by the Greek word "devil" which means "false accuser or slanderer."* Simply put then, the Devil is our adversary who falsely accuses and slanders us (see Job1:1-2:6 & Revelation 12:10).

It is little wonder then that our Heavenly Father is not pleased when His children do the Devil's job for him. When we attack, slander, and falsely accuse one another in the church, He is not pleased. We are commanded to love on another. In fact, we are to be known by our remarkable love for one another. So gossip and slander have no place in the lives of God's children. Why kindle such a raging fire in the church? As the above passage indicates, blessing and cursing should not proceed from the same mouth.

However, I have found that, at times, it can be difficult to determine exactly what constitutes gossip. Some have suggested that we simply not talk about other people at all. However, this leaves us either talking about ourselves all the time or with nothing to talk about. Thankfully, there is a better way. I once heard a sermon from Alistair Begg in which he defined gossip as "the unhelpful repeating of stories about the wrongs and offences of others."** This is a simple enough rule. Don't repeat your brother's lowest moments. Don't attempt to make him look bad. Proverbs 17:9 says, "Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." Choose to cover over the offenses of your brother's and sister's in Christ. Forgive! Don't create division by repeating the matter over and over again. As a child of God you should bless and encourage your siblings in the faith, not revile and persecute them. 

For further reading...
*The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
** "Saying No to Slander" preached on October 21, 2007. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Little Sins: Potty Mouth

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:33-37

Last week we started looking at the so-called little sins that we as Christians like to let slide in our lives. These are the "minor" weaknesses we indulge even as we console ourselves with the thought, "I'm not perfect, but at least I'm not doing that!" The problem with this is that God hasn't called us to be a little bit better than those around us. He has called us to imitate His perfection; and He makes a big deal about all sins, even the ones we like to think are minor.

It isn't that rare for me to have teenagers ask me a question like "Why is cussing wrong?" The simple truth is that curse words are in many ways just societal constructs. Let me explain. Think of a curse word and see if you can think of another word or phrase that means exactly the same thing but is not considered cursing. It is pretty easy to do. There are acceptable substitute phrases for almost every curse word you know. For example, why is it acceptable to say poop or crap but sh*t is considered a curse word? Because our society says it is. Now Christians can turn our nose up at this and try to be counter-cultural but if we do it is Christ's name that suffers. Christians are ambassadors for Christ (II Corinthians 5:20). We represent Him and we are called to be all things to all people on His behalf so that by all means we might win as many as possible for the gospel (I Corinthians 9:19-23).

However, Scripture speaks less about curse words specifically and more about the type of speech that comes out of our mouths generally. Why is God so concerned about what we say? Because our words reveal the condition of our hearts. Matthew 12:34 says, "The mouth speaks what the heart is full of," and then goes on to say that "everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken." When your speech is laced with profanity and rough joking and belittling comments, then the condition of your heart is apparent not only to God but also to those around whom you are supposed to be serving as Christ's ambassador. This week I encourage you to make Psalm 19:14 your prayer, "May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."

For further reading...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Little Sins: Lying Lips

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.
Proverbs 12:22

We have a bad tendency of thinking that some sins are small. "They don't really hurt anyone, so they don't matter as much. These are just minor character flaws," we tell ourselves. We even justify our actions by arguing, "We can't be perfect on this side of heaven anyway." The problem is that Scripture often makes a big deal out of our "small" sins. What is more, Scripture tells us to pursue the perfection of our Father in our everyday lives (Matthew 5:48). Over the next few weeks we will be looking at some of these so called "small" sins. We will see what God has to say about them, and we will see some Bible characters that incurred some pretty major consequences for these sins. Today we talk about lying. 

The truth is that God hates lies (even the little white kind). They may seem harmless to us, but the reason God hates them really ought to be obvious. They are contrary to His very nature. John 17:17 says that the words that God speaks are truth. In fact, the Holy Spirit is even called the "Spirit of truth." (John 15:26). God speaks truth. He reveals truth. He enlightens the mind so that it can understand and receive truth. Lies conceal the truth. This is not the work of the Father but of the enemy. The Devil is the "father of lies" (John 8:44). Lies are his native tongue, so when we lie we are reflecting Satan's character, not the Father's.

Even more telling is how this basic character difference works itself out in our Father's and the enemy's strategies for capturing the hearts of this world. II Corinthians 4:4 tells us that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they would be unable to see the truth of the gospel. Revelation 12:9 says that Satan "leads the whole world astray." But God "reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light" (Job 12:22). In fact, "God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5). So the image we get from these verses is that Satan is attacking our world with darkness and deception, hiding the truth of the gospel behind a thick veil of half-truths and outright lies. Our God responds to this strategy not with the sword or a legion of angels, but by beating back the darkness with the light of the truth of the gospel of glory in Jesus Christ. This is God's work. This was Jesus' work. He is "the light of the world" who sets people free from the darkness forever (John 8:12). And we know that the darkness "has not overcome" Jesus' light (John 1:5). So you can imagine His frustration when His children, whom He has set free from the darkness of deception, willingly choose to return to it for their own benefit. When we do this we are willingly reflecting the nature of the Devil and have joined with him to spread confusion and deception. We literally find ourselves opposite of God in the great cosmic battle for the hearts of mankind, and our God does not take it lightly. 

For further reading...
  • Acts 5:1-11- Read the story of a couple who decided to try to lie to God.
  • Genesis 12- Read about how Abram's weak new faith in God and his half-truth nearly caused a catastrophe.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

God's Way

This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be blotted out nor destroyed from before me.”
Isaiah 48:17-19

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Psalm 119:11-16

Did you know that the longest chapter in the Bible is essentially a love song written about God's commandments and decrees? In Psalm 119 the psalmist goes on and on about how perfect God's commands are. How he loves to study them and meditate on them and how they bring him life. The Bible regularly extols the virtues of God's commands. It speaks of them as a precious treasure given to Israel to show them how to live the blessed life. We don't speak about God's commands like this anymore. It's easy for us to look back at the Old Testament commands and think they are outdated, out of step with today. 

This is made easier by the fact that not all of these commands apply to the New Testament church. We are allowed to trim the edges of our beards (Leviticus 19:27) and wear clothes made of a mixture of cloth types (Leviticus 19:19). In the Old Testament, God was creating an earthly kingdom. He was setting aside a nation as His own, and this physical people required absolute holiness from the rest of the world. God dwelt among His people literally. His literal presence rested on the tabernacle. So sin had to be dwelt with swiftly and severely, lest His holy presence strike out at the whole people or worse, lest His presence be removed from the people altogether. In the New Testament God begins a new work with Jesus. No longer is He creating an earthly kingdom, instead, He begins creating a spiritual kingdom. It can be hard to determine which laws in the Old Testament are specifically related to the program of nation building, which God is no longer doing and thus no longer apply to us. The New Testament helps us out by repeating a bunch of the most important laws that do still apply. plus, God makes clear shifts in His dealing with man to help us understand as well. In the New Testament God deals with sin not with stoning after stoning but with a single crucifixion. All of this can lead us to think that the Old Testament law, and even rules in general, aren't important. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So the type of behavior that pleased Him in the Old Testament, pleases Him still today. God has set our world up a certain way. Sin brings death, obedience brings life and peace. God's commands are the path of life. When we choose to ignore them, we do so at our own peril. While it is most certainly true that being good won't earn God's favor or your way into heaven, it is equally true that God has told us that those who keep His commands bring peace and blessing into their lives. Obeying Him is "what is best for you" and "the way you should go." So how do you look at God's commands? Are they a worrisome chore or a precious treasure intended to bring blessing and life to you?

For further reading...

  • Read all of Psalm 119. It's an acrostic poem with a stanza for each of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet.