humility

Money, Power, And Church Elders (1 Peter 5:1-5)

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  A guy named Lord Acton is credited with saying, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  It’s part of a longer claim (and here’s the actual quote): “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority…”

Some recent brain research has given a window into why Acton may have been on to something.  From “Power Causes Brain Damage”:[1]

  • Subjects under the influence of power suffered noticeable changes in the areas of the brain that controlled impulsivity, risk-awareness, and, crucially, and the ability to see things from other people’s point of view.
  • They were worse at identifying what someone in a picture is feeling, or guessing how a colleague might interpret a remark.
  • They stopped mimicking or “mirroring” others, an action which builds empathy by triggering the same feelings those others are experiencing. There is an “empathy deficit.”
  • They increasingly view everything 1stperson (George Bush famously held a flag backwards to an audience because it looked right to him).

 I want to talk today about power. We all have it – we all have influence and impact – but some of us are in positions where the influence and impact expands. As Christians, it’s crucial we recognize the dangers of it, but also the solutions that allow us to use the power God has given us in a way that honors God and builds the Kingdom of His church.

When Peter writes to the church about leadership, he focuses on this issue. That will be our starting text for today. 

To the elders (church leaders) among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherdsof God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherdappears, you will receive the crown of glory[2]that will never fade away. Those who are younger, in the same way be submissive to those who are elder (church leaders or simply ‘older’). All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:1–5

 

In the New Testament there are three terms used to describe the same office:

  • Elder focuses on the character qualities; he must be a mature man of God (See 1 Timothy 3:1-7and Titus 1:5-9)
  • Overseer (or bishop) is used interchangeably with elder (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7) and has to do more with church governance.
  • Pastor (shepherd) builds on the shepherd metaphor: care, ‘feeding’, and protection of the ‘flock’

The apostle Paul gives quite a list of qualifications for being an elder (see 1 Timothy 3), but Peter is more focused. Other than mentioning that nobody should be forced to lead (good advice in a time when leadership might mean death), his advice revolves around character: specifically, how leaders are to handle money and power.

Not Greedy For Money

An elder dare not have money and riches – “filthy lucre” as the KJV would say - as a purpose or goal of being in church leadership. If leaders ever turn the church into a personal money-making enterprise, we are in trouble.

Frankly, I think church elders are under a higher obligation to consider what is an appropriate wage from the church. I don’t mean they shouldn’t get a decent or good wage – Paul tells Timothy not to “muzzle the ox” because the laborer is worthy of his hire. But Paul told Timothy that elders were not to be covetous of riches – that is, in love with money, serving it rather than Christ.[3] I think Proverbs gives the reason:

Two things I ask, O God. Sometime before I die, grant these humble requests: Eliminate any hint of worthless and deceitful words from my lips. Do not make me poor or rich, but give me each day what I need; For if I have too much, I might forget You are the One who provides, saying, “Who is the Eternal One?” Or if I do not have enough, I might become hungry and turn to stealing and thus dishonor the good name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coHKdhAZ9hU[/embed]

Not lording over others.[4]

 2,000 years ago, Jesus warned Peter that His Kingdom was not of this world. Both Peter and Paul, by the many ways in which they put structure around those who lead in the church, were warning us about the problems that can accompany power, even in the midst of God’s people.

Leaders in the church cannot become lords. 2,000 years of history has proven the practical wisdom in this.  Whenever the church has become intertwined with national power, the church has become either oppressive without and compromised within.[5]

Constantine legalized Christianity in the early 300s for selfish political reasons, and that combined with his reputation for violence hurt the reputation of the church even as Christianity spread.[6]The Anabaptists claimed the fall of the church began during Constantine’s reign. “By recognizing Christianity as a legal religion (including making Sunday a legal holiday), he slowly strangled what was once a vibrant, close-knit, committed fellowship of persecuted believers, and turned it into a religion that would become, by law, at the end of that century, the official state religion of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE).”[7]Within less than 80 years from Constantine’s legalization, the “Christian government for the first time executed Christians that deviated from the government-endorsed orthodoxy.” [8]

Thousands were killed by the Church’s Inquisitional courts[9]in the Middle Ages.

In early America, Christians who fled here to escape persecution by the powerful suddenly had power - and did the same things:

  • Puritans banished people for not being Puritan
  • Protestants denied Catholics property, voting rights and even holding public office – but then again, in the 1500s the Spanish Catholics had slaughtered hundreds of French Huguenots in the New World.
  • Then there was the coerced conversion of Native Americans; the Salem Witch Trials; the hanging of four Quakers in Boston in the mid-1600s for being Quaker. In the mid-1800s there were Bible Riots in Philadelphia, where two Catholic churches were destroyed, houses were burnt, and 20 people killed.[10]

Unfortunately, the problem of power we see in the big picture or national politics occurs in individual churches and church leaders as well. As a leader in a church, this concerns me deeply. I want to talk about what I’ve been reading from Christian leaders concerning ways to make sure power does not corrupt, and also talk about how this plays out in our church.

Surround yourself with “toeholders.” “Power Physically Damages the Brain, New Research Reveals”[11] gave some examples of "a toeholder" who tugs you back towards reality whenever you threaten to float away on your inflated ego.

  • Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, once wrote to him, “My Darling Winston. I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not as kind as you used to be.” He had been acting “so contemptuous” toward subordinates in meetings that “no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming.” This was written on the day Hitler entered Paris.

If a church leader is surrounded by "yes men", it's a problem. There have to be people who have no problem confronting, challenging, grabbing them and pulling them back when they begin to stray in orthodoxy (right doctrine) or orthopraxy (right actions).

Be transparent and accountable.Some Christian leaders I intensely admire have been falling from the pedestals on which I (wrongly) put them. They have lied about qualifications, misused money, and contributed to the #metoo movement by harassing, using and even abusing women. Beth Moore wrote a heart-wrenching open letter a week or two ago about how men in power in church circles have treated her for decades. [12] How did they get there? I suspect it was in large part due to a lack of transparency and accountability.

Welcome feedback from everyone. Everyone. It does not mean everyone is right, but it’s possible for anyone to have valuable insight. It's up to leasers to take that feedback and present it to the rest of the leadership (see the next point), as well as and to those who are close to them. This group filter helps leadership to process feedback in a healthy way and respond appropriately.

Serve in plurality of leadership.[13] In both the Old and New Testament, there is always a plurality of elders. Plurality brings a variety of gifts: finances, organization, relational wisdom, hospitality, teaching, preaching. Itprevents burnout; it brings accountability (in life and doctrine); it increases the reach of the ‘shepherds’ and increases wise decision-making.

Practice empathy and 3rdperson thinking. LISTEN!! Spend time talking with people in order to genuinely understand and love them. Practice “walking a mile in another’s shoes.” Learn what it’s like to hold up a flag so it makes sense to other people. I personally have found fictional books, movies and TV shows to be very helpful in broadening my understanding. Not every story is a good story - obviously - but as authors, directors, and writers create stories that can't help but reveal their experience of the world, we can put on the lense of a biblical worldview filter and grow in our understanding and empathy as we pray for wisdom on how to effectively reach everyone with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 Follow in some area of your life and leadership. Don’t lead everything. Look for ways to divest of power appropriately. Don't micromanage every aspect of the church. It's a good idea to answer to others in our organization about something - maybe even many things.

Get over yourself.It’s God’s gig, not yours. All good things are His. If the church genuinely flourishes, it's to God's glory, not the glory of leadership.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcVdq5Q-Paw[/embed]

But Peter speaks to the church here also.

“Those who are younger, in the same way be submissive to those who are elder(s).”

In other words, be respectful and considerate, and seek to serve the leadership even as the leadership seeks to serve you.

  • “Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

Respect does not mean you are timid in speaking truth. Respect is not avoidance of confrontation or criticism. I’ve heard some leaders use the phrase, “Don’t touch God’s anointed”[14]as a means of bullying people into silence. That’s silly. That was specifically, “Don’t kill my prophets because you don’t like what they say.” The Bible itself tells you how to confront someone in leadership who is in sin (Matthew 18; 1 Timothy 5). Respect has to so with approach and attitude.

Submission does not mean you follow and obey anyone blindly especially me. We are all to be Bereans[15]when it comes to examining Scriptures for ourselves. You are not lemmings; we are all priests and kings (Revelations 1:6).

“Being subject” is primarily an attitude of respect and cooperation with the elders as they do their best to follow what they believe is the Lord’s will for the church (Heb. 13:17).

Everyone: Be clothed with humility

To the Greeks, what you wore outwardly signaled what you were inwardly. If you were a slave, you wore slave garb. If you were noble, you wore the clothing of nobility. To be clothed with humility was not a false cover up. It was identifying who you were.

2 Cor. 3:5: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”

 Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.”(Philippians 2:3-4)

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:19-21.

Humility is not feeling stupid; that’s shame. Humility is not underplaying our strengths; that's disrespectful to the God who gave us those gifts. Humility is not devaluing yourself; we are all bearers of the image of God, and if we have given our lives to following Jesus, we are now His spiritual children. Humility is a commitment to having an attitude that says, “I do not have more value or worth than you do. I offer whatever I am about to do or say because I think God has something for me to offer in this situation for your good and God’s glory.”

If we can all do this together, we will be flourishing in God’s model for the church.

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[1]https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/power-causes-brain-damage/528711/

[2]An Olympic reference. Winners of the Greek games received a garland that would shrivel and die; this crown for “running the race” (to use another Pauline reference) would last through eternity.

[3]Paul says that “the elders who rule well [should] be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). “Honor” (in Greek) meant both “respect” and “price.” As 1 Timothy 5:18makes clear, elders who labor at preaching and teaching should not only be respected, they also should be paid.  http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_timothy/5-17.htm

[4]  “Lording it over” the flock (5:3) recalls the silly debates the twelve had about who was the greatest, and the Lord’s teaching about the greatest being the servant of all. “Be clothed with humility” recalls Jesus taking a towel and girding Himself as He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). The word about Satan (5:8) recalls Jesus’ warning that Satan would “sift” Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). The verb, “to perfect” (5:10) is the same word translated “mending their nets” (Matt. 4:21) when the Lord called Peter to follow Him. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_timothy/5-17.htm

[5]“The historian Paul Johnson concludes, “Attempts to perfect Christian societies in this world, whether conducted by popes or revolutionaries, have tended to degenerate into red terrors.” ― Philip YanceyChristians and Politics Uneasy Partners

[6]To quote John Wesley from 1791: 'After the empire became Christian, a general corruption both of faith and morals infected the Christian Church; which by that revolution, as St. Jerome says, "lost as much of her virtue as it had gained of wealth and power.’"–

[7]https://simplychurch.com/2005/12/28/313-ad-the-death-of-christianity-and-the-birth-of-the-christian-religion-2/

[8]Read more at this sobering article: “How Christianity Became Aligned With Politics Under Constantine.” http://butnotlost.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-christianity-became-aligned-with.html

[9]http://www.themichigancatholic.org/2016/11/inquisition-50-68-million-killed-church/

[10]https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/

[11]https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/power-physically-damages-the-brain-new-research-reveals.html

[12]https://blog.lproof.org/2018/05/a-letter-to-my-brothers.html

[13]"In the New Testament, there is always a plurality of elders (overseers, pastors) over the church in a given location. Acts 14:23 reports how Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (plural) in every church (singular). Acts 20:17tells how Paul called to him “the elders of the church” in Ephesus. In Titus 1:5, Paul reminds Titus how he left him to appoint elders (plural) in every city. In the New Testament, the church in a city was viewed as a unit. Thus you have the church in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Antioch, etc. Each church may have been broken down into house churches that met all over the city on any given Lord’s Day. But over each church there was a plurality of elders or pastors." (I don't know where I got this, but it's not my original words).

[14]Psalm 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22

[15]Acts 17:11

To This You Were Called (1 Peter 3:8–3:16)

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I have often heard people ask, “What has God called me to do?” It’s a great question. We want to know if we were made for something; if there is something we can do that really, really matters to God and can have an impact on the world. When I was teaching high school, this was a common dilemma of seniors, but it can apply to any of us who wonder if we are really being the person God intends for us to be. So, I have good news: I am going to tell you this morning what your calling is. But let’s back up first.

The latest section we have been covering began this way:

“Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment.”(1 Peter 2:12)

Then Peter highlighted three groups of people to honor:

  1. Rulers
  2. Masters
  3. Spouse

 

In 1 Peter 3:8, we get to the “finally” - the last admonition in this section on how to live honorably so that our good works will glorify God in the midst of a hostile world. This “finally” is now addressed to “all of you.”[1]

Finally, all of you, be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and a humble mind to and for each other— not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing. It was this you were called to do, so that you might inherit a blessing. It is written in the psalms: “If you love life and want to live a good, long time, then be careful what you say. Don’t tell lies or spread gossip or talk about improper things. Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. For the Lord watches over the righteous, and His ears are attuned to their prayers. But His face is set against His enemies; He will punish evildoers.”

Maybe not what you were expecting, but there is your calling:

“Be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and a humble mind to and for each other— not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing.

This letter has been relentlessly reminding us that God’s transformation of our hearts must result in a transformation of our lives. Specifically, it is molding us into the kind of people who will (or at least should) model righteous relationships: honest, faithful, loving, and sacrificial.

Sometimes when I am prepping I think, “We are going to talk about how to move deeper into the holiness which God gave us yet again? And we are going to focus on how this impacts how crucial our relationships are as an expression of this?” Yep. And we are going to keep covering it until Peter moves on.

[2]Be ye all of one mind (divinely inspired harmony) -  It’s about inner outlook that manifests in outward behavior. Having the heart and mind of Christ changes how we live with each other. It coordinates us. We are in sync with Christ and each other for our good and God’s glory. This does not mean we agree on every secondary issue. This means we unite around the nature of Jesus and the salvation He brings, and then lock arms and work together as a testimony to how the Holy Spirit’s divine inspiration unites in a way that defies human explanation. We can argue, disagree, even wound each other – and then we kneel together at the foot of the cross, repent to God and each other, and extend the forgiveness to others that Jesus gave to us.

  • Politics does not separate us. Even obnoxious people who talk obnoxiously about politics do not separate us, because Jesus is bigger than politics.
  • Social class or IQ or Personality Types don’t separate us, because Jesus is stronger than these differences. We should be able to say, “Wow, we are so different - but Christ is enough.”
  • There are good social issues that we think ought to be prioritized in a Christian’s life – abortion, immigrants and refugees, sex trafficking. There are good ‘in house’ issues that we think are important: singing vs. preaching on a Sunday, where and how and how often to do missions, prioritizing evangelism vs. discipleship. How we prioritize these issues ought not destroy our unity, because if we have the heart and mind of Christ, we are already united in the idea that these issues are important, even if the where we place them on a scale of importance differs.
  • Anger at those who let us down in some way or wound us should not separate us. Now, if it’s actual physical, emotional or spiritual abuse, safe boundaries are necessary, and that includes physical, emotional and spiritual space. But in relationships that have unavoidable and appropriate conflict, anger or frustration at someone else should unite us even more because we walk into it, which means we walk toward the people who are part of the problem and not away from them. (Ideally, there is reconciliation and healing in ALL the scenarios).

Have compassion -  This is being tender-hearted; the biblical language carries the idea of letting our bowels yearn over the distressed and afflicted.

I spent a while being really annoyed at people saying I had “white privilege.” I have never thought of myself as living with privilege. My parents lived below the poverty line from the time I was 10. But I must “let my bowels yearn over the distressed and afflicted.” So I spent time reading and listening to what people who are not white had to say.

It took a while, but eventually the frustration and pain that I had not previously understood began to make sense to me. As a result, a more tender heart formed. I might not have fully understood, but I was certainly better equipped to understand, to feel compassion, to want to draw close rather than distance myself and offer dismissal and judgment.

My calling, as a Christian, is to be tender-hearted in these moments. If people around me are distressed, if they are afflicted, if they are being harmed or dishonored or dismissed – my calling is to have the heart and mind of Christ for them. Purposeful investment (listening, reading) can builc compassion – a tenderness that helped me long for wrongs to be made right.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean I will agree with the validity of everything someone else says or feels. But even if I don’t, I have still taken the time to honor them by investing in their lives.

People in pain don’t have to be right or justified in order for me to care.

My calling is to know and seek to understand them, because they are people created in the image of God, and whatever I do to anyone, it’s as if I did it unto Jesus. So I genuinely enter into their world to honor them and bring the transformative truth and grace of Jesus.

Love -  this is philadelphos; brotherly love. Agape love has to do with purposeful sacrifice for the good of the other. It’s a term of commitment and priority. This word is more emotional. Be ‘affectionate friends’ of your brothers and sisters in Christ as if they were beloved family members. If you have been in a family where you have had a good relationship with at least one family member, you know it’s simultaneously beautiful and really difficult. Not every day (or week or month) is a good one, but they are family. You know at the end of the day you are not letting go of each other, and so you figure it out. And on the other side of ‘figuring it out’ you (ideally) know and understand each other better. There is unity.

Humble-minded -   acquire and cultivate a friendly disposition. It’s from a word that means God-reliant rather than self-reliant, and so it never self-exalts. I use to go to a gym with a guy who would say, “Did the room just get smaller?” every time he would walk in (he was joking, btw).

This is so important. If the room gets relationally smaller when we walk in, if we go into conversations or relationships thinking we are all that, it’s not going to go well. If we constantly think, “I’ve got this. I am the smartest person in the room right now,” odds are really good we don’t got this, and we are not.

And in situations like this, walls go up in the people around us. They know when we are so full of ourselves there is no room for anyone else. Even God resists the proud – but He gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6)

Not paying back evil for evil/insult for insult - Purposing, saying, doing nothing but good; and invariably returning good for evil. There’s a movie with a scene where a bouncer is training a group of other bouncers how to de-escalate and resolve tense situations. His advice: “Be nice.” If someone calls you an idiot? Be nice. If someone suggests your mom participates in the world’s oldest profession? Be nice. “When can we stop being nice?” I’ll tell you, he says.

Now, nice isn’t really a biblical word, but kindness - “actions which are eternally and ultimately beneficial for others - is. Here’s what the Bible tells us: be kind. Do not pay back evil and insults with evil and insults. Never stop doing that which is eternally and ultimately beneficial for others, and this can include a boldness and bluntness that we don't think of as ‘nice’.

But it will always be done out of and with love, humility and compassion, and never out of anger, frustration, pride or revenge. It will never overcome evil with evil, but with good.

It was this you were called to do

“This is your calling - your business in life, to do good, and to do good for evil, and to implore God's blessing even on your worst enemies. And this is not only your duty, but your interest; for in so doing you shall obtain God's blessing, even life for evermore.” Adam Clarke

Peter wraps up this section with the following conclusion:

13 Why would anyone harm you if you eagerly do good? 14 Even if you should suffer for doing what is right, you will receive a blessing.[3] Don’t let them frighten you.[4] Don’t be intimidated, 15-16 but exalt Him as Lord in your heart.[5] Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope. Keep your conscience clear so that those who ridicule your good conduct in the Anointed and say bad things about you will be put to shame.”

“When someone asks you why you live in hope.” In context, this question apparently comes from people who are astonished at our behavior.

  • Why don’t you take the bait?
  • They started it, why don’t you give them what they’ve got coming?
  • Why didn’t you move in for the sarcastic ‘kill’?
  • How do you absorb all those verbal and emotional punches without lashing out?
  • How is it that you stay so calm when people come at you?
  • How do you stay so gentle with such obnoxious people?
  • I’m pretty sure you love everyone. How is that possible?
  • How is it that you live with such honor for everyone? How is it possible that you do not repay evil for evil?

 

Be ready to talk about Jesus :)

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[1] As you read, note what Paul wrote in Romans 12:9-21:“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

[2] My definitions and explanations for these are heavily indebted to Adam Clarke’s commentary and the definitions at biblehub.com.

[3] “This seems to refer to  Matthew 5:10, etc. Blessed or happy, are ye when men persecute you, etc. It is a happiness to suffer for Christ; and it is a happiness, because if a man were not holy and righteous the world would not persecute him, so he is happy in the very cause of his sufferings.” - Adam Clarke

[4] “The exhortation may mean, ‘Fear not their gods, they can do you no hurt; and supposing that they curse you by them, yet be not troubled; "He who fears God need have no other fear.’" – Adam Clarke

[5] But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts -  “Entertain just notions of God; of his nature, power, will, justice, goodness, and truth… separate him in your hearts from every thing earthly, human, fickle, rigidly severe, or capriciously merciful… Do not confine him in your conceptions to place, space… heaven, or earth; endeavor to think worthily of the immensity and eternity of his nature, of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence… conceive of him as infinitely free to act or not act, as he pleases. Consider the goodness of his nature; for goodness, in every possible state of perfection and infinitude, belongs to him. Ascribe no malevolence to him; nor any work, purpose, or decree that implies it… Do not suppose that he can do evil, or that he can destroy when he might save; that he ever did… pass them by without affording them the means of salvation. Thus endeavor to conceive of him; and, by so doing, you separate him from all that is imperfect, human, evil, capricious, changeable, and unkind. Ever remember that he has wisdom without error, power without limits, truth without falsity, love without hatred, holiness without evil, and justice without severity on the one hand or capricious tenderness on the other. In a word, that he neither can be, say, purpose, or do, any thing that is not infinitely just, holy, wise, true, and gracious; that he… has so loved the world, the whole human race, as to give his only-begotten Son to die for them, that they might not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and you will ever be ready to give a reason of the hope that is in you to every serious and candid inquirer after truth.” – Adam Clarke’s Commentary

 

Backpacks, Burdens and Blessings (Galatians 6:1-10)

"If someone is caught in a sin, you who live in step with the Spirit should restore that person gently instead of ignoring or shaming them. But watch yourselves; you could get too close to the sin and be drawn in, or you could begin to feel superior and become proud. If either one happens, you will not be able to effectively bear the burdens of those around you. This is crucial, because it’s in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. This is fruit-bearing faith expressed in love." * Christians are called to challenge people caught in sin with the goal of gentle restoration. We need to walk with the Spirit toward them…and then with them.  The burdened might not like the help at first. The Greek word here is a term to describe setting a dislocated bone back into place. To put a bone back in place will inevitably inflict pain, but it is a healing pain. It’s crucial that we are gentle and clear about what we are doing. We must listen, understand, empathize, care, and speak truth boldly and carefully.

If the sin becomes compelling, we need some distance. If we become proud because of how spiritual we are, we need to repent and take a good honest look at ourselves.

If anyone of you smugly thinks you are too spiritually pure or important to get involved, you are deceiving yourself. If you are tempted toward pride, refocus on your own life. If you are living well in the midst of trials and temptations, take satisfaction in your personal integrity.  Don't worry about comparing yourself to others. If you are honest, you will see that the load of your own life – circumstances, gifts, weaknesses, struggles –  is challenging enough. You might not have the burden your neighbor has, but your backpack has enough to keep you humble and gentle with others.  You don’t know what God has given others to carry. They may have more or less than you. Don’t judge; worry about yourself - but don’t live in isolation."

God has given each of us a different set of difficulties and opportunities, a different set of weaknesses and gifts: personalities, family of origin, economic reality, skill sets, right brain/left brain, introvert/extrovert, broken home/intact home, /math/sports/music, pride/low self-image, a particular area of sin that is a temptation…

We carry this personal load by ourselves. We shouldn’t compare ourselves with someone who has done less than us (and feel conceited) or someone who has done more (and feel envy). If we see life this way, we keep our attitudes in check. We don’t know what their load is, or how well they are actually carrying it.

"I’ve already talked about those whose burdens come from sin and failure, but people can also become weary as they live well for Christ. That’s why you need to be generous with those who are instructing you in the Word of God.  Don’t be a consumer who takes and never gives. You can bless others by sharing of resources, friendship, and service. In this way, we share our mutual gifts from God as an act of deeply committed fellowship."

We also see the necessity of looking to helping those who are weary. Ministry is costly no matter who does it or where it is done. People burn out. In true Christian community, we should look for ways to ease that kind of burden too.

"There is a spiritual principle at work here.  Don’t be deceived: God cannot be mocked. Just like a farmer, you harvest what you plant. Whoever plants a crop of self-centered gratification, personal pleasure, and arrogant pride will harvest rottenness, corruption, disillusionment. Whoever plants a crop of self-sacrifice, humility, gentleness and love will be walking in step with the Spirit of God, and from the Spirit of God will harvest an eternally enduring life. This is life indeed."

God’s moral universe has processes. Sin makes things fall apart. If you eat bad foods, you harvest poor health. If you give in to your sinful nature, you reap spiritual breakdown and destruction. Dishonesty produces distrust; honesty produces trust. Jealousy produces bitterness; contentment produces affirmation of the success of others. Harshness produces anger; gentleness produces vulnerability.

"This is a sacrificial life, but don't become weary; you will inspire others. When God decides the time is right, we will have a harvest full of blessings if we do not give up. Therefore, as we see the opportunity, we should do good to everyone around us - but especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

We should do good to all “as we have opportunity.” We can’t personally meet all the needs of all people all the time. Opportunity and ability must work together.  Sometimes, we are not able to step up because carrying our own load is taking all we’ve got. Other times, our load feels light, and we look around for ways to match opportunity with ability.

This is the lifestyle from which, “if we do not give up,” we “will reap a harvest”—real, fulfilling, lasting life.

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* I have drawn from numerous commentaries and translations for this presentation of Paul's writing in Galatians. Think of it as a commentary.

It's Not Rocket Science

I grew up on a small farm, less than a hundred acres. My dad had small orchards of cherries, apples, and some peaches and plums.  Although we were never wealthy, I was very happy.  Well, for the most part!

My neighbor Pat and I (Ted Smith) played together a lot, especially riding bicycles in the neighborhood. We’d pretend that our bikes were cars, and we’d identify them according to what our dad’s drove.  My dad, being a small-scale farmer, drove a rather plain Oldsmobile. 
So --- my two-wheeler became an Oldsmobile.  I was o.k. with that…..at first!  Pat’s father was an Orthodontist, and he drove a Chrysler Imperial (the word “Imperial” even sounds impressive, doesn’t it?)  So there we went, riding around the neighborhood: Pat on his IMPERIAL, and me with a plain Oldsmobile.
There is a streak in us from the get-go that seeks to identify and quantify our existence, and more often than not to exaggerate our importance.  Sometimes, when we become educated and enter the employment realm, we seek to define ourselves by our careers and the importance that comes with that job title.  I guess you could call it “positioning.” 
There’s a new television ad that I’ve seen several times recently – it features a few laborers who work for an electric utility company. They’re in a bar bragging about what they do as workman.  In the conversation they imply their daily labor somehow involves the very beer that they’re all enjoying, so one of the other guys says, “Do you MAKE the beer?”  To which another guys says, “No, We make the POWER that makes the beer!” 

If we can’t get recognition one way, we’ll get it another.  We want so desperately to be “large and in charge!”   And then, operating out of that exaggerated importance, we set out to rule the world.  Well, at least our portion of the world.  And this arrogance has gotten us in trouble since the beginning of time.  Long before Frank Sinatra sang, “I’ll Do It My Way,” we’ve been doing in our way!  Sinatra just gave it a theme song.

Look at what scripture says about this:
• Judges 17:6 (NLT) In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. 
• Psalms 10:4 (NIV) In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. 
• 1 Samuel 2:3 (NIV) “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.
Like I said, this has always been a serious problem for mankind, but today it’s causing us pain and heartache like never before.  And I don’t think people realize the source of the pain.  There is hardly anything we haven’t changed to suit our wants and wishes and whims.  
  • We’ve seen the legalization of abortion --- the taking of life of a human being before birth --- and now we’re dangerously close to decisions that will withhold life-sustaining services for the elderly on the grounds of viability or practicality.  I remember when life was precious.
  • Sexual intimacy outside of marriage is no longer considered a bad idea --- in fact, it’s nearly a given that couples will live together while they contemplate marriage, if they marry at all.  The Bible still calls this sin, because it is still outside God's design and plan for our holiness. 
  • Marriage itself was once an untouchable institution.  Just a decade ago, no one would have assumed that something other than “one man and one woman” would be said to constitute a marriage in America, but as you know, state after state is challenging that standard.  
Individuals are being encouraged to accept moral lifestyles of any kind as normal, and perhaps even God-given.  Unfortunately, what is touted as a right and good for them will only prove to make their already pained lives worse, as both biblical revelation and societal analysis makes clear.  

Proverbs 14:12 (NIV) says:  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." The result of all sin is destruction -- unless we humble ourselves and repent and turn from our wicked ways!"         

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Rather than elaborating on all that we’re doing wrong, I want to take a look at a group that got it right!  I want to look at the written record, left us by Paul as he writes to this church in Thessalonica, a church that he helped to establish on an earlier trip. 
Paul writes a tremendously encouraging report about this young church, and I hope it becomes instructional for us today. 1st Thessalonians 2:13 (NASB) begins:
"And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it ..."

Two words are extremely crucial if we wish to learn and grow by this verse.
     
Received  (Greek: paralambano, par-al-am-ban´-o).  It means simply to receive something from another. In this case it’s not the whole story of benefitting from divine wisdom, but it’s the starting point. 
In some of the these early churches (Iconium, Lystra, Corinth and Jerusalem) the crowds did not even do this; they didn’t receive, nor examine nor inquire into the word of God that Paul and others delivered; rather, they drove them out of town or imprisoned them.  They failed even the first level of receiving!  So, the first noble thing we’re told about the folks in Thessalonica is that they “received” the word. 


 But let’s look at more of the verse:
 “…when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it….”

Accepted  (Greek: dechomai, dekh´-om-ahee)  This word means to welcome; to receive favorably; to give ear to; to embrace; to make one's own; to approve.

The Thessalonian believers not only heard and intellectually understood the message, but also welcomed it into their hearts and made it a part of their lives. And I still haven't finished verse 13. 1st Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 13 (NASB)  --- again, from the start, with a little more this time:
"And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us
the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for
what it really is, the word of God..."
  

Not as the word of men, but as THE WORD OF GOD.

(Stay tuned for Part Two: "A Christian's Achilles Heel")

The Path to Peace

James 4:4-5 “You have committed spiritual adultery against God!  Don’t you know that the love of this world’s pleasures is an act of hostility against God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the corruption of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Do you think that the Scripture was lying  about this, or that the Holy Spirit which dwells in us wants us to envy others instead of being contented with the provision of God in our lives?”

Envy is an ugly thing.  It eats away at our should while tearing apart our community.  It manifests itself in mean gossip, destructive whispering, and petty complaints.  We want and want and want more - often specifically what someone else has.  More often than not, envious people are pretty sure the problem is that they just haven't received what should have been coming to them.  "I deserve better!" may not be spoken aloud, but it is certainly believed.

Here is a transformative principle:  Our community life is connected to our spiritual life. The way I treat people reflects they way I view God.The way I view God will be expressed in the way I treat others. If there is ongoing tension and disruption in church life, perhaps the issue is a spiritual one.

Let’s be clear: some conflicts are genuine and needed.  If there is disagreement about whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, or  if clear issues of moral behavior are right or wrong, then conflict can be necessary and hopefully redemptive. In fact, sometimes the phrase “I deserve better” is true; abuse victims truly do need saving.

This is not what James is talking about when he writes about envy and the role it plays in destroying communities. He is talking about:

the petty bickering,
the simmering undercurrents of hostility,
the unresolved, unending tension that keeps cropping up in church
   life,
the feuds that fester,
the rumor that someone won’t let die,
the reputation that keeps coming up to the embarrassment of the one
  who once failed,
the muttered remarks meant to shame those blessed by God with
  obvious success….

We don’t have to actually steal stuff and kill people to take from them what is rightfully theirs and destroy their lives.  We can do it with words, attitudes, and emotions too. James’ words on this subject are hard and demanding: You have a tough time living well in community because something bad has happened to your relationship with God.

But there is good news:

James 4:6-10 “God’s lavish grace enables us to resist the temptations and bear the trials of life with humility and trust, knowing that God’s Holy Spirit has said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  So, submit yourselves to God; resist the devil (who would tempt you to envy) and he will flee from you; walk closely to God, and God will be close to you.

If you want inner contentment and community peace, there is a way:  resist temptation, repent, live a life of humility, and remain in submission to God.

A couple weeks ago Madonna sang during half time of the Superbowl.  As the last notes faded, the phrase "World Peace" appeared on the field. That's a great goal, but I wonder: does her plan include resisting temptation, being humble, repenting, and submitting to God?

We want peace in ourselves, our families, our church.  That's a great goal too. Does our plan include resisting temptation, being humble, repenting, and submitting to God?

If not, peace will remain elusive. If we are willing to do these things, “The Lord will lift us up.”