Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Worldliness Respectable Sins: Sermon Seventeen by William Klock Tonight I want to wrap up our series on respectable sins by talking with you about the sin of worldliness. It’s something that we sometimes have trouble defining. For the Amish worldliness means electricity and cars. In some churches worldliness means movies or playing cards. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to look at two Scripture passages that define worldliness from a Biblical perspective. The first is 1 John 2:15-16: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. The other passage is 1 Corinthians 7:31: …those who deal in material goods, as though they were not fully occupied with them. For this world, as it is now, will not last much longer. (TEV) I particularly like the way the Good News Bible paraphrases that last verse, because it makes it clear what St. Paul was getting at: we all live in the world and we have to deal with material things –with things of the world – but we shouldn’t be “fully occupied” with them. The things of the world shouldn’t be our preoccupation, because as Christians we know that they won’t last. Worldliness is what happens when we become too attached to the things of this world – when we become engrossed or preoccupied with them. That doesn’t mean that worldly things are sinful in and of themselves – the problem is often simply what we do with them or how we value them. St. Paul also says in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Jesus tells us, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). The things we value most should be the things that are “above” – the things of the spirit that draw us closer to God: the Bible (and time spent with it), prayer, the Gospel itself, obedience to God, fulfilling his Great Commission – and, well, God himself! It’s on these things that we should have our focus. Here’s were the distraction comes from. The world doesn’t focus on things from above. Our unbelieving friends and neighbours have their focus only on worldly things. And yet if we look at those people, their outward lives aren’t really that different from our own. Their houses are pretty much like ours. They take care of their gardens. They go to work. They go to school. They pay their taxes. They usually avoid the same scandalous sins (the “biggies”) that we do. That’s why living next to them makes worldliness look so acceptable to us. You see, that’s the other side of worldliness: Worldliness means accepting the values and practices of our nice, but unbelieving, society around us, without discerning whether or not those values and practices are biblical. Worldliness, especially in our day and place, is just going along with the culture around us as long as we don’t see anything obviously sinful about it. Now, we could go on for hours and hours looking at all the different ways we can be worldly, but since the purpose of these sermons has been to draw our attention to what has become respectable or acceptable to us, and since we have limited time, I want to look at three places where we can be very worldly: money, immorality, and idolatry. First: money. We live in one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Even poor people in Canada are well off by comparison to those in Africa, South America, or parts of Asia. I looked up the statistics and found that in 2006 the average household income in Canada, after taxes, was $67,000. But the average credit card debt of each of those households is over $9,000 and the average household charitable giving, whether monetary or gifts in kind, totalled a whopping $259 per household each year. Now those numbers are based on the entire population. Surely Christians do better than that. They do, but not much. In 2003 a survey was made of eight evangelical denominations. It showed that members of those churches gave 4.4 percent of their income to God’s work. This as down from 6.2 percent in 1968 in those same churches. We’re becoming less generous toward God with our money. And so are the churches themselves – maybe because they have less money to operate with. In 1920 churches gave 10 percent of their income to missions. Now we give only 3 percent on average. We’re one of the richest nations in history, and yet we’re gradually giving less and less to God and to the furtherance of the Gospel. At the same time our credit card debt has increased. So what are we doing with our money? We’re not saving it. The average household only saves about 2 percent. In too many cases, we’re spending our money on the things of this life: houses, cars, clothes, holidays, and electronics, just to name a few things. Where we spend shows where we’ve set our minds. In our culture, Christians show that they’ve tended to set their minds on the things of the world, not on the things of God. We’ve become worldly in our use of money. In contrast, Scripture sets the minimum standard of the tithe: by definition, 10 percent. And while the New Testament doesn’t specifically mention tithing, neither does it do way with it. In fact, in both epistles to the Corinthians, St. Paul commends the idea of proportionate giving. Under the tithe, the person who earns $10,000 gives $1000. The person who earns $100,000 gives $10,000. Both give proportionately as God has prospered them. And yet not many Christians tithe anymore. Instead we’ve taken a worldly attitude with our money and have become stingy toward God. We may not like that word. Nobody wants to be thought of as stingy to other people, but when we give less than half of what the Old Testament Jews gave to God, isn’t that being stingy? Does it please God when we give half of what the Jews gave, especially when he described their failure to give their tithes as robbery of him (Malachi 3:8)? Jesus tells us that we can’t serve both God and money. We serve one or the other. And if we choose to serve money, it’s not God who loses – it’s us! God may use our money, but he doesn’t need it. If we choose to use our money on worldly pursuits, we’re the ones who become spiritual paupers. Some people will say, “Well, but I can’t afford to tithe.” If that’s your perspective, then what you’re really saying is that God’s a liar – that he won’t make good on his promises to care for us. When I was in elementary school my family was dirt poor. My parents decided to attend a Bible school that had some unscrupulous men in leadership. When we sold our house, those men convinced my parents to give half of the sale price to the school. That meant that when we couldn’t afford to buy another house, and since my parents were both students, we had to live off the money left over from the sale – which wasn’t much. My dad kept finding jobs, but they never lasted very long. We didn’t have money for new clothes. We hardly had money for food. And yet God consistently provided, whether it was a grocery bag of food brought by a neighbour or brand new Converse All-Star hightops (which were all the rage at the time for boys my age) that my mom found at a thrift store for $2. In 1 Kings 17 we read the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. She has on the verge of starvation, with only enough flower and oil for one more small loaf of bread. She was going to make one last meal for herself and her son before they died. And yet the prophet Elijah came to her and asked for her to make that bread for himself. He was saying, “Feed me first and God will provide for you.” She did what he said and God miraculously kept her flour jar and pot of oil full through the famine. I’ve seen God provide miraculously and have carried that with me my whole life. We need to remember that everything we have comes from God. Giving back a minimum of 10 percent is our way of giving him the recognition and thanking him for it. It’s also a tangible way for us to tell him that we trust him to provide. Second: immorality. To clarify: when I say immorality I’m obviously not talking about gross immorality; we’re talking about what’s become acceptable in the Church. What I want to talk about is what one person calls vicarious immorality. We may not engage in gross sins, but we get enjoyment and entertainment value from other people doing it. Do you get enjoyment reading the stories in the paper about people engaged in sin? Do you sneak a look at the trashy tabloids at the check-out in the grocery store – wanting to know all about the sinful exploits of famous and openly immoral people. That’s vicarious immorality. Or do you watch TV shows and movies knowing that sexually explicit scenes will be in them (the same goes for books too). That’s vicarious immorality. We know the world likes these things or the tabloids and Hollywood would be out of business. This is one instance of values and practices accepted by society around us that are clearly contrary to Scripture, and to the whatever extent we follow along, we’re being worldly. The other area that comes to mind is immodest dress. This issue applies to both men and women, but is especially a problem for women when they dress. Fashions keep tending toward what is obviously intended to attract the lustful eyes of men. I can’t count how many times I find that I have to remind myself to look away on any given visit to the mall. I feel especially sorry for young Christian guys on school or college campuses. There are two areas under this subject in which we can be worldly. First, many Christian women, especially young women, simply go along with the styles of the unbelieving world. It’s amazing to me what’s acceptable in school, let alone what I’ve seen some girls wear to church. And yet 1 Timothy 2:9 tells us that Christian women are to dress respectably and modestly, using self-control. Anything less is to cave into the pressures of the world. But we men have problems too in terms of how we respond to the women dressing immodestly and the temptation to look lustfully. We don’t have to project that look into actual images of immorality. Even to linger with the eyes and enjoy what some women deliberately show off is sin. One of my Christian friends in University could always be found between classes sitting on a bench on the campus mall. He’d sit and check out the girls as they walked by and his usual line was that the Bible said not to take a second look at a woman – so he was making sure the first look counted. Now he wasn’t the only one making sure the first look counted – lots of other non-Christian guys did the same thing. But that’s just it. We do what all the other nice and decent guys around us are doing – and that’s being worldly. For men, the problem isn’t going to go away. We need to prepare for the assault on our eyes by memorising verses like Proverbs 27:20: “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” My old Scout Master told me about that verse. He knew I was a Christian and he warned me not to look at the pornographic magazines that a lot of the other guys brought along on campouts. He said, and I think he knew from personal experience, that looking never satisfies – it just stokes the fires and makes you want more, which is why “soft-core” pornography usually leads inevitably to “hard-core” and then to all sorts of other sins. St. Paul writes in Romans 6:21, “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” You need to ask yourself what benefit you get from indulging your eyes in a lustful looks. There’s nothing more there than the fleeting pleasure of sin. And Paul warns that after the fleeting pleasure, all that’s left are the shame and regret. The third thing I want to look at is idolatry. I don’t think any of us is guilty of carving false gods from wood or stone, but we are often guilty of taking the things of this world and elevating them to the spot God should have in our lives. Our careers or vocations can easily become idols as we obsess with advancement and getting to the top. Jerry Bridges talks about a car salesman he knows. This man told him, “After I became a Christian, I stopped trying to sell cars and started helping people buy cars.” His vocation didn’t change, but his focus did. Instead of worrying about how much money he would make, he started focusing on serving people and helping them find the car that would best suit them and their financial situation. He changed his career from an idol to a service to God through genuine service to people. All of us have jobs that we can either see as money-makers or as opportunities for serving God. I think another issue where we can be guilty of idolatry is in political and cultural issues. It’s important that Christians be aware of what’s going on in the world around us and in our government. It’s wrong for us to just drop out of the world entirely and not take advantage of the ways God has given us to influence the world, but it’s also possible for us to make an idol out of our involvement in political and cultural issues. Things like abortion or homosexuality are issues that we need to address as Christians, but we have to remember that our first priority is to the Church and to the Great Commission. So we need to work to save the unborn or to preserve marriage, but at the same time our highest priority needs to be rescuing men and women from the clutches of Satan and bringing them into the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. Finally, and this may be so obvious that I don’t really need to mention it: sports. Sports have, without doubt, become an idol in our culture. There are places, especially in the States and in the South, where football is even spoken of as a religion and where high school coaches get paid more than their school principals. We may not be quite that extreme with our sports in Canada, but we can be pretty extreme. I learned that the hard way by interrupting Hockey Night in Canada one time… We need to be careful. We need to remember that it’s only a game and that God isn’t glorified just because our team won. When it really comes down to it, winning only panders to and feeds our pride. We can root for our favourite team, but we need to keep it in perspective. In conclusion, let’s review what worldliness is. First, it’s a preoccupation with the things of this world – the things of this temporal life. Second, it’s accepting and going along with the values and practices of society around us without discerning if they are biblical or not. The key to our tendencies toward worldliness really lies in those two words: going along. Our problem is that we simply go along with and accept the values and practices of the world around us without thought as to whether or not those values are biblical. That’s why Christian girls will wear immodest clothes. They just go along with the styles everyone else is wearing without stopping to think if those styles please God. There’s nothing sinful in sports themselves, but if we simply go along with the people around us, we can end up making an idol out of our favourite team. We all have to work for a living, but if we go along with the values of our culture, we may make an idol out of our career. The answer to our problem of worldliness isn’t just being determined not to be worldly. We have to have a standard to judge it the world against. We need to become more godly. We need to grow in our fellowship with God and start looking at every aspect of life through the lens of his glory. Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister in the 19th Century preached a sermon titled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” That’s exactly what we need. We need an increased affection for God that will expel from our hearts all of our affections for the things of this world. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we ask your forgiveness for the time when we place the things of this world above the things of your kingdom. We ask that you would give us the grace to draw closer to you, and that our growing affection for you and for the things of your kingdom will expel all of our affections for the things of this life. We ask this through the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Sins of the Tongue Respectable Sins: Sermon Sixteen by William Klock It’s interesting that the first person to whom I mentioned this series of sermons back in April when I was planning it had this response: “Oh, respectable sins – you mean like gossip.” I’ve had more than one comment along those same lines. It’s telling that that’s what we think of when someone talks about the sins we tolerate in the Church. What’s really interesting is that Jerry Bridges, whose book Respectable Sins is the basis for this sermon series, shares exactlythe same thing in his chapter on “Sins of the Tongue.” He writes: “In the months that I have been working on this book, I have often been asked in social settings, ‘What are you working on now?’ When I mention the ‘respectable’ or ‘acceptable’ sins we tolerate, invariably someone will roll his or her eyes and say, ‘Oh, you mean like gossip.’ Apparently, this is the first of the Christian sins that comes to mind, so it must be quite prevalent among us and is something we continue to tolerate in our lives.” He’s right. Gossip is something that many of us do all the time, but it’s not the only “sin of the tongue” that we’re guilty of. This morning we talked about oath taking and the need for the Christian to be honest in all he says and does, so in a sense you can take tonight’s sermon as “Part II.” We may be guilty of gossip, but were also guilty of lying (whether blatantly, by being deliberately misleading, or by stretching or embellishing the truth). We’re also guilty of slander, harsh words, insults, sarcasm, ridicule, and harsh speech – which may be true, but is still spoken harshly and unlovingly. The bottom line is that any speech, whether true or false, that’s spoken for the purpose of tearing someone down, is sinful speech. The pages of Holy Scripture are filled with warnings against just these kinds of sins of the tongue. There are more than sixty warnings against these sins in the book of Proverbs alone. Jesus gives us some sobering words in Matthew 12:36, where he says: I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. We may speak carelessly, but we shouldn’t. St. James also warns us in his epistle: We all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:2-12) We think our sins of the tongue are acceptable – no big deal – and yet St. James tells that they’re like the spark in the wilderness that sets the whole forest ablaze. He reminds us of all the wild animals in nature that man has tamed, and yet the tongue, he says, is restless, untameable, and full of poison – a wild thing that stains our entire body. I think the most succinct passage on the subject in the New Testament is Ephesians 4:29: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Notice the contrast: “let no corrupt talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up…” This is St. Paul’s “put off / put on” principle that he describes as part of the sanctification process – as part of the way we become holy and Christlike. He lays that out a few verses earlier: Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt throughdeceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Do you remember Jesus talking about casting out demons? It’s not enough to cast out the demon – if that’s all you do it’ll just come back. You have to sweep the house, put it in order, and let God’s Spirit fill it – then the demon can’t come back. You see sin is like that. World and flesh are just as much – probably even more so – sources of temptation. When you deal with sin in your life – when you’ve recognised the sin – it isn’t enough to just stop the sinful behaviour; you have to replace it with righteous behaviour. Sinful behaviour patterns always have to be replaced by righteous ones. It’s not enough to just put off the old man – you have to put on the new one in his place. This is one of the most important principles we can learn when it comes to our sanctification. Don’t just put off sin; you have to replace it with something righteous. So St. Paul says, “Don’t let any corrupt talk come out of your mouth.” How do we define “corrupt talk.” It’s not just profanity or vulgar things we speak – in fact, those things are a lot less serious than what Paul really has in find. Corrupt talk includes things like lying, slander, harsh words, insults, sarcasm, ridicule, and harsh speech. And notice that Paul gives us an absolute: No corrupt talk. No gossip. No sarcasm. No critical or harsh speech. No insults. Anything that has even a little bit of a tendency to tear others down is to be put off – to be removed from our speech. Think about what the Church would be like if all of that stuff was gone. We think these things are acceptable, but take some time to think about all the damage they do – even within the Body of Christ. If we’re going to look at specifics, I think we need to look at gossip first. What is gossip? Gossip is the spreading of bad or unfavourable information about someone else. Sometimes the information may even be true, but that doesn’t stop it from being gossip. More often than not, gossip seems to be based on rumour, which makes it even more sinful – it’s not significantly better than spreading lies. Why do we gossip? I think that in most cases we do it to feed our sinful egos. We gossip to cut someone else down – maybe because we see them as a rival (remember last week’s sermon?). We gossip about someone else’s sin, because it makes us feel more righteous by comparison. Often we gossip and spread rumours just to make ourselves seem more important. When it comes to Christians, we’ve become very adept at disguising our gossip, we say things like, “I want to share something with you so that you can pray about it.” If you know something bad about someone else, by all means pray about it, but don’t spread the word under the guise of a prayer request when you know that all it’s really going to do is result in people thinking less of that individual. When we do that the subtle message is often: “Mary’s a sinner – we need to pray for her; but look how righteous I am because I’m willing to pray for her.” That’s one of the kinds of speech that St. Paul warns us to “put off,” but he doesn’t stop there. He also tells us what kind of speech to “put on.” We’re to put on such speech that builds others up and gives grace to those who hear it. So if you’re tempted to gossip, you need to ask yourself, “Will what I’m about to say tear down or build up the person I’m about to talk about?” Gossip’s closest cousin is slander. Slander is making untrue statements about someone else that defame or damage their reputation. When someone says “slander” the first thing most of us probably think of is political campaigns, where candidates sling mud back and forth at each other. One candidate makes accusations against the other, usually based on comments taken out of context or based on only half the information available. The whole point is to create a negative false impression so that people will think less of that person. So do Christians slander? Yes, we do – we’re probably just more subtle about it or we’ve learned to disguise it as something that sounds righteous. We slander when we attribute wrong motives to people, even though we have no way to see into their hearts or discern what their motives really are. We may be guilty of slander when we accuse another believer of being “uncommitted” when he or she doesn’t practice the same spiritual disciplines we do or engage in the same kinds of Christian activities as us. We slander when we misrepresent another person’s position on a subject without first finding out for ourselves what that persons position actually is. We slander when we blow another person’s sin out of proportion and make them out to be more sinful than they really are. Why do we do it? Well, typically for the Christian it’s to justify our own lack of righteousness, our own lack of holiness. We want to look good to everyone else, so we either compare ourselves to others who may be struggling in their Christian walk or we tear down those whom we think are standing a few rungs above us and showing us up. That’s just it. In the business world they call it “climbing the ladder” and if you have to step on a few fingers or toes or grab the foot of the guy above you and drag him down, that’s what’s often expected. I think most Christians think of that sort of thing as being unacceptable in the business world, but we yet we somehow find it acceptable in the Church. We want people to think better of us or we want to be in a higher position or a place with greater authority, and so we disparage someone else in the hopes that we’ll win everyone over to our side. As I talked about this morning, Christians need to be committed to Truth. Slander is ultimately lying – it’s deception, it’s dishonest. But even if you tend to guard against outright lies in your speech, most of us are often guilty of dishonesty as a result of exaggeration or a failure to tell the whole truth – sometimes we lie, but we justify it saying, “It was just a little white lie” – a lie, but a lie we can justify as having little or no consequences. But whatever form it takes, the lie expresses an intent to deceive. So in stamping out corrupt talk from our speech, another thing we ought to ask ourselves is, “Is what I’m about to say true?” Critical speech is simply negative comments we make about others. Sometimes they may even be true, but we need to ask ourselves: “Do they need to be said?” Things like, “So-and-so is a bad cook.” “So-and-so picks his nose.” “So-and-so watches too much TV.” Before we make these kinds of comments we need to ask things like, “Is it any of my business if So-and-so watches TV a lot or picks his nose?” “What’s my purpose in telling someone else about So-and-so? If it really isn’t my business and if it really doesn’t matter, why am I ‘sharing’ this about them?” “Is what I’m sharing kind?” You see, more often than not, we’re sharing these kinds of things so that others will come to think more highly of us because we’re leading them to think more lowly of another. But we sin in our speech not only when we talk about other people – we also sin when we talk to others. Things like harsh words, sarcasm, insults, and ridicule are also forms of sinful speech. In every case their intent is to put someone down, to humiliate them, or to hurt them. Sometimes other sins are what lead to this kind of sinful speech – often we’re already guilty of being angry or impatient and sinful speech just follows naturally. Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). What does that mean? It means that even though we may be talking about “sins of the tongue” what lies behind it is a sinful heart. Behind our gossip, our slander, our critical speech, our insults, and our sarcasm is a sinful heart. The tongue only says what the heart directs it to. And that ties into what we’ve been studying on Sunday mornings in the Sermon on the Mount. We need to apply Ephesians 4:29 – St. Paul’s warning about corrupt talk – we need to apply this verse to our lives. We need to memorise it so that it will pop to the front of our minds when we’re about to say something unkind about or to someone else. But we need to deal with our hearts too. There have been times when St. Paul’s warning pulled me up short before I said something about someone else, but later I found the Spirit convicting me. I may not have said it, but I thought it in my heart – I wanted to say it, even if I didn’t. We need to not only guard our tongues – we need to guard our hearts. We need to worry not only about the keeping the letter of the Law – we need to make sure we obey the spirit when it comes to our motives. David prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart by acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). David was concerned with not only the words he spoke, but more importantly with the thoughts that were in his heart. Even if a verse like Ephesians 4:29 keeps me from speaking sinfully, I still need to make David’s prayer my own – I need to apply Paul’s warning to both my tongue and my heart. I need to desire that what both do be acceptable to God. What exists in our hearts ought to build others up as well. That’s the real key. If your heart is full of corrupt thoughts, it’s hard to keep them from being spoken by your tongue. The same is true if your heart is full of loving and righteous thoughts. Each of us needs to be close to God. The closer we get to him, the more time we spend in his Word and the more time we spend with him in prayer – and the more time we spend conforming to the image of Christ – the more not only our actions will be like Jesus’, but the more our hearts will be like his. Please pray with me: Our Father, we confess to you that our speech is often corrupt. Tame our tongues, we ask you, by filling our hearts with your grace. You have loved us, even when we were unlovely. Let that love fill our hearts, that our tongues will be moved to speak only that which builds up. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Envy, Jealousy, and Realted Sins Respectable Sins: Sermon Fifteen by William Klock One of the most frustrating aspects of my secular work during the last twelve years had to do with the fact that I always seemed to be the low man on the totem pole regardless of where I worked and how hard I worked. I worked for two different companies in that time and did the same work as an Apple Computer repair tech. In the first company I was one of three techs. The other two had been there fore a long time. One of them was lazy and surly. The other always seemed to work hard, but he never seemed to get anything done, and on top of that, he was always breaking things. By the time I left that shop after three years, I was doing 85% of the in-house repairs, yet my salary was the lowest of all three. In my second job as a repair tech, I only worked with one other person. The work was split pretty much fifty-fifty between us, but my colleague’s salary was about 30% higher than mine. Yet I was the one who would stay late – sometimes working several 14 or 16 hours days back to back without compensation when we fell behind, simply because I knew that the work had to get done to keep the customers happy. I was the one that ended up doing all the difficult or time-consuming repairs. The boss in both instances was always happy to thank me for my work, but it was always the other guy who got the public recognition or who was called on when some really important thing came up. Apple wanted to write new certification exams. I was all studied up. I had more experience. And yet the boss would send one of the other guys to the testing evaluation seminars in California. I was often tempted to be envious of my colleagues. Envy is the painful and oftentimes resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by someone else. Sometimes it leads to the sin of covetousness when we want the same advantage as that other person. Sometimes we just harbour resentment because they have something that we don’t. I think we can see the envy in our lives better when we understand the two conditions that are typically present when we fall into envy: First, we’re more prone to envying people with whom we identify. And second, we tend to envy them in the areas we value the most. Both of those things were present in my work situations. The guys I was tempted to envy did the same job I did. We were all at the same competence level and had the same job descriptions. I could identify with them as technicians of pretty much equal ability as myself. I became envious because in each case they had an advantage that I didn’t have myself: greater recognition, a bigger salary, and in my first job, they were Apple Certified and had certificates on the wall at the service counter. That one really got to me. I was doing 80% of the work, but the company wouldn’t pay to send me to the official training centre. My name wasn’t on the wall for the customers to see. When I called them about their computers, theyd frequently ask, “Who are you? I didn’t see a plaque with your name on it? Are you qualified?” When an important client called up and needed a field service call, nobody ever asked me to go. Because of our close proximity to Vancouver, we had a lot of celebrity customers, but it was rare that I ever got to meet or work with any of them. The irony is that I didn’t need a bigger salary at the time, I didn’t like having to take time out of my schedule to deal with training and certification seminars for stuff I already knew inside and out, and most of all, I resented not being asked to make the outside service calls, yet I hated that sort of work anyway. In all, the thing that tempted me to envy wasn’t the work I was missing out on, it was the recognition that came with it. See how subtle envy can be? I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever been envious of a great politician, a sports star, a musician, or an actor. I might admire some of them, but I’ve never been tempted to envy them. What they do is so totally different from what I do and what my talents are, it just isn’t an issue. Someone once asked me, do you get envious of the big name pastors out there that go on speaking tours and have gigantic churches. No, I don’t. That’s not me. They might be fellow labourers in the “pray trade,” but their jobs are totally different from mine. They’re not people with whom I compare myself. I’m far more tempted to envy colleagues in my own denomination with churches that started at the same time as my own, but have grown twice the size. (Now I don’t have a reason, because I’m in one of those growing churches!) A salesman might envy the guy in the cubicle across the hall who’s on the rise, making more sales, and heading toward management. A minor league ball player might be envious of one of his teammates who’s being eyed by the majors. Parents might envy other parents with children who are better at school or sports. We might envy our friend with the fancier car or house. The possibilities are as endless as the different things that we all esteem. The issue is that whenever we start to compare ourselves to someone who seems better off than we are, we court temptation to fall into envy. Sometimes we may not even want what that other person has – we just resent their having it. So when we are tempted to envy, we need to remember that no matter how seemingly small and acceptable it might seem to us, it’s listed with all the other really vile sins that St. Paul catalogues in both Romans 1:29 and Galatians 5:21. Closely related to envy is jealousy. They’re so similar that we often confuse them. The subtle difference is that jealousy is usually defined as intolerance of rivalry. Instead of just wanting what someone else has, we actually want them to stop having it. Now there are some cases where jealousy is good. If someone is trying to win your husband or wife away from you, jealousy is a good thing. God himself declares that he is jealous and that he will not tolerate the worship of anything but himself. Sinful jealousy is what happens when we’re afraid that someone might become our equal or our superior. One of the best examples of jealousy in Scripture is the story of Saul and David. After David killed Goliath, the women of Israel sang, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). Saul got really angry. Here he was, God’s anointed – he thought he was a big shot just because God had chosen him. But then along came David. God anointed him too and suddenly he was getting more honour than Saul, and from that time on, Saul saw David as his rival and became jealous – even to the point of trying to murder David. It’s easy for us to become jealous if God has blessed us in some aspect of life or ministry and then someone new comes along who does it all better than we do. Think of a car salesman who’s been top in his company for years. Suddenly a new guy is hired and quickly outdoes the first and starts receiving all the recognition that the other guy used to receive. The first salesman will probably be tempted to become very jealous. So how do we deal with the temptation to become envious or jealous? The first thing we need to do is remember the sovereignty of God. We need to recognise that God is sovereign over our talents, our abilities, and our spiritual gifts. If we’re going to successfully overcome temptation here, we have to bring God into the picture. We have to remind ourselves that he determines not only what abilities we have, but also the degree to which he has given them to us. It’s pretty obvious if you look around that some people are better selling things than others. Some are better at pastoring than others. Some are better working with their hands. Some people are more mechanically inclined than others. Not only that, but God has blessed us with a wide diversity of spiritual gifts. We aren’t to be jealous that God gave one person a gift that he chose not to give to us or that he has given two of us the same gift, even when the other person has greater ability and aptitude with it. And for that reason, just because an individual has a gift that you don’t, doesn’t mean that person is any closer to God than you are. All these gifts come from God, who makes poor and makes rich, who brings low and exalts. We have to recognise that to be envious or jealous of someone is either eliminating God from the picture or else accusing him of being unfair in his distribution of gifts and talents. As we combat envy and jealousy, we also need to remember that all of us who are believers are “one body in Christ and individually members one of another,” or as the NIV translates it, “Each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). This is why St. Paul says, “Outdo one another in showing honour” (12:10). Instead of being envious of those with some advantage over us, we really should be honouring and applauding them. God has given them that gift precisely because it is needed in the Body – we are all one. Third, we ought to remember that if we spend our emotional energy on envy and jealousy, we lose sight of what God might do uniquely in our lives. God has given us all different gifts and abilities for a reason. He has a place and an assignment for everyone – and his great desire is for us to step up to that job he’s got for us. Even if some receive more earthly recognition, all are important in God’s ultimate plan. Another potentially sinful attitude that’s related to envy and jealousy is competitiveness – the urge to always win or to always be on top in whatever your field of endeavour is. We can all be like this and it starts early as we play tick-tack-toe or checkers with our brothers and sisters and get upset when we lose. But it’s not just little kids. I’ve seen grown men throw bigger tantrums when their team – or their son’s team – lost a ball game. Competitiveness is basically an expression of selfishness. It’s the urge to win at someone else’s expense. It’s the opposite of loving our neighbours as ourselves. Now that’s not to say that friendly rivalries are a bad thing and a certain amount of competition can push us to do our best. The problem is that as a society, we’ve gone way beyond this. You see, a competitive spirit is not a Christian virtue. 2 Timothy 2:15 stresses not competition, but that each of us ought to do our best at what we do. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians that in our work, we ought to work heartily – we ought to do our best. We just have to remember that our “best” isn’t the same as another’s “best.” God has gifted each of us uniquely. But because he has gifted us, we ought to be motivated to do our best by a desire to glorify God using what he has given us – not to win recognition for ourselves. We may well get the recognition, but that should never be our motivation. The salesman in my earlier example should concentrate on doing his best to sell his product in a way that honours God. If his best makes him the top salesman, great. He should not be proud of his ability, but grateful to God for giving it to him. But if his best makes him number three or number four (or whatever), he can take comfort in knowing he did his best and can still give thanks to God. Now envy, jealousy, and competitiveness all fall under the subject of rivalry. Instead of seeing others as fellow members of the Body of Christ, we can slip into thinking that their rivals whom we need to beat and outperform. But there’s a more subtle sin that also falls into this category. This is the sin of seeking to control others to our advantage or to get what we want. People come for counselling for all sorts of problems, but this underlies a lot of them, whether married people or friends. If two people are in a relationship and have strong personalities, they can often butt heads with each other – especially if they’re married to each other. One or the other always wants his or her own way and won’t back down, no matter what. In most of our relationships, one person is usually more dominant than the other, and if the dominant person isn’t careful, he or she can control the relationship. It happens with husbands and wives, but it happens just as often with kids on the playground. One person wants his own way and he steamrolls over anyone who stands in that way. This is the sort of sin that tears churches apart. A church I attended for a short time while in university was torn apart when the long-time music director refused to bow to the demands of a new pastor, who was forced out the job. The end result was a church split. The campus ministry of which I was a part was virtually taken over during my final year by a woman graduate student who became angry when the group leadership refused to nominate her as president of the ministry. She claimed God had called her to head the ministry, despite the fact that the group held to the biblical principle of male headship. When she wasn’t elected she started trying to dominate every aspect of the group. The controller tries to get his way using various methods. One way is to completely dominate a relationship by sheer force of willpower so that the other person (or persons) always gives in and lets him have his way. Another is to get angry when his decisions are questioned or his desires are not readily granted. Frequently, I’ve seen, the controller-type person, when he doesn’t get his way, resorts to manipulation to get what he wants. He might make people feel guilty or incompetent. The controlling husband might say something like, “Why is dinner never on time?” when, in fact, dinner is almost always on time. The manipulative wife might say, You are just like my father” (because her father wouldn’t always let her get her way). In the instance of the music director who didn’t get his way, he resort to tearing down the new pastor by means of character assassination. The controller wants his own way. But in Ephesians 5:21, St. Paul tells us that we are supposed to submit to each other. Biblically speaking, if there’s a conflict, it should be the opposite: “Let’s do what you want.” “No, let’s do what you want.” “No, really, let’s do what you want…” Always wanting to be in control is a sign of selfishness. The really hard thing in addressing this sin is that if we’re the controller, we’re almost always the last one to recognise it and see it in our life. This is a place where we really need to power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to show us our blind spots. The help of others who can see our sin when we can’t is also critical. So I urge you, as I have before, to ask God for help here and ask the people around you to help you see your tendencies toward envy, jealousy, competitiveness, or being controlling of others. Ask the people closest to you to be honest with you about it. And remember that if you are this kind of person – especially if you’re a controller, others may be reluctant to tell you because of your history. So you need to approach them with real humility. Then instead of being defensive – or using it against them – when they are honest with you, wisely accept what they say and take ask God for help in overcoming these sins. Remember that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Don’t put yourself in the position of being opposed by God. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we confess to you that in our pride, we often desire to take the credit for our achievements ourselves, instead of acknowledging that you are responsible for who we are and the gifts we have. We have no business taking the credit for ourselves and we have no business becoming jealous or envious when you choose to give to others what you have not given to us. Give us grace, Father, that we may always be satisfied with the blessings you have seen fit to give us, and let us rejoice with others in the blessing that you give to them. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Judgmentalism Respectable Sins: Sermon Fourteen by William Klock One of the ways in which we can best see the shift that has taken place in our culture over the last few decades is by looking at what the culture knows of the Bible. It used to be that the most often quoted and best known Bible verse – both inside and outside the Church – was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” But that’s not the case anymore. Now it’s Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” And what’s interesting is that it’s probably quoted most often by non-Christians when they confront us. Part of the reason for this is that quote often the world misunderstands what it means to judge better than we do. Judgmentalism has become such a respectable sin for us that we no longer see it for what it is. And in doing that we’ve damaged our witness to the world. Jerry Bridges gives the best definition of judgmentalism that I’ve seen in a long time. He writes: “The sin of jugmentalism…is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right. It’s obvious that within our conservative evangelical circles there are myriads of opinions on everything from theology to conduct to lifestyle and politics. Not only are there multiple opinions, but we usually assume our opinion is correct. That’s where our trouble with judgmentalism begins. We equate our opinions with truth.” But it’s not just conservative Christians. That’s the ironic thing. The non-Christian who tells us, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” is usually being very judgmental. My former coworker who belong to Earth First! and who firebombed forest service trucks and sabotaged an 80 foot tall electrical transmission tower in the Oregon Cascades was acting out his judgmentalism. The “Jesus wouldn’t drive and SUV” folks or the “Fur is dead” crowd are being judgmental, not necessarily because Jesus would drive in SUV or because wearing fur is okay (that’s not the point), but because those folks are making a dogmatic and judgmental statement based on nothing more than their person opinion. Let me put in terms that those of us here are probably more likely to understand. A lot of us grew up in time when men wore suits to church and women wore nice dresses. A few decades ago that all changed. First the suit-coat disappeared, then the ties, and eventually the slacks were lost in favour of jeans or even shorts. Women started wearing pants. Especially in the case of women, it wasn’t just the change to pants, but skirts started getting a lot shorter and necklines a lot lower (Yes, as a priest, I’m frequently and inadvertently subjected to rather awkward and explicit shows when administering the Communion.) I was pretty young at the time and I remember being told by my parents, as they pointed to some of the older kids whose parents let them dress in the new fashions, “You’ll never go to church looking like that. Would you dress like that if you were invited to have an audience with the Queen?” Well, that all made sense to me. But you know what? There’s nothing in the Bible that tells us what style of clothes we have to wear to Church. Really the only things that apply are the other statements that have to do with modesty and discretion – but those verses don’t tell that we can’t wear jeans and t-shirts, just that we shouldn’t be dressing in a way that might cause someone else to stumble. The fact is that culture changes. What the Elizabethans wore to church is not at all what I grew up wearing to Church. Twenty years ago most people would have dressed up to meet the President, but that’s not the case anymore. This was really driven home a couple of years ago. A girls’ volleyball team was invited to meet George Bush and he posed for a photo with them. Many people thought it was scandalous that most of the girls were wearing shorts and flip-flops. “How disrespectful!” they said. And yet those girls weren’t trying to be disrespectful. The culture has changed. They didn’t know better. And the real question is: Did they need to know better? Think about how we sing in church. Most of us probably grew up singing hymns to the accompaniment of an organ. There’s something majestic about that. For me that’s what reverent worship is all about. And yet today most of that’s been replaced by a band and much simpler songs. Some people are very judgmental about that: “How can they call that worship?” (And you know, that question comes from both sides of the spectrum!) But the fact is that the New Testament doesn’t tell us what instruments to use in worship or what to sing. It just tells us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Well, that about covers everything. I still prefer the grand music, the theological depth, and the variety of the old hymns – but that’s my preference – and not necessarily a Bible-based conviction. There are a lot of shallow and man-centred praise choruses, but there are also a lot of very popular hymns with terrible theology (try looking over the Christmas section of the hymnal sometime!) This is an area where we need to avoid being judgmental. Or what about things like drinking, smoking, playing cards, watching movies, or dancing? Veronica and I were at a Family Life marriage conference about ten years ago. On one night of the conference you’re supposed to go out with your spouse for a date: a romantic dinner and all that. We went to the nice restaurant at the hotel and were seated one table away from a couple we’d seen at the conference. We ordered some wine. We looked over to see this other couple sneering at us. When the waiter asked them what they’d like to drink they made sure we heard them telling him they wanted MILK to drink, event though milk wasn’t on the menu, while looking at us and shaking their heads and send the poor waiter on a goose-chase to find the milk that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise ordered anyway. Sometimes we can be judgmental and hypocritical. I remember growing up in a church where “cards” were considered evil, yet when people got together they played games like Rook and Uno. It’s not like anyone was gambling, even if they had been playing “real” card games, but there was a strong judgmental attitude about cards being wrong – so people came up with substitutes that were no different. St. Paul confronted this issue with the Roman Church where there were two problems: one was an issue surrounding vegetarians in the congregation; some people insisted on eating only vegetables, while others ate whatever they wanted. The other had to do with the observance of holy days. As Paul says, “One person esteems one day better than another, while another esteems all days alike” (Romans 14:5). We don’t have the specifics, but what we can glean from the passage is that there were those who ate only vegetables and were judgmental toward those who ate meat, while the people who ate meat were contemptuous of the vegetarians. Both sides were being judgmental. The vegetarians thought they had the moral high ground, so they looked down on those who ate meat. Those who ate meat thought they had superior knowledge. They knew that what they ate didn’t make a difference to God so long as it was received with thanksgiving as described in the 1 letter to Timothy. But they were really just being judgmental in a different way. We still do the same thing in the Church. The people into contemporary music disdain the traditionalists as old-fashioned and out of touch. The traditionalists scorn the contemporary folks for having no sense of reverence. Some of those who see thing like alcohol, tobacco, cards, movies, or dancing as issues covered by our Christian liberty really do look down their noses at “those poor and simple-minded” people that practice abstinence. So it really doesn’t matter so much which side of an issue you’re on. We can very easily become judgmental toward anyone whose opinions are different from our own. The sad thing is that we then hide our judgmentalism under the cloak of Christian convictions. St. Paul told the Romans, “Stop judging one another regardless of which position you take.” And then he added, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another. It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). He told them, “Stop trying to play God towards your brothers and sisters in Christ. God is their judge, not you!” That’s really the sin inherent in judgmentalism: taking God’s role as judge on ourselves. Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” There are a lot of times when the log in our own eye is the sin of being judgmental – the sin of taking God’s role on ourselves. We saw Jesus use hyperbole last week when he talked about the ten thousand talent debt of the kings servant – an impossible debt to rack up and even more impossible to pay off. Well, it’s impossible to have a log in your eye, but just as the gazillion dollar debt of that servant represents the weight or our sin against God, the long in one’s own eye can very well represent God’s verdict on our sin of judgmentalism. If this really is the case, then the seriousness of our sin in being judgmental isn’t so much that we judge a brother or sister, but that in doing so we assume the role of God. Now this doesn’t mean that we should never pass judgment on the practices or beliefs of others. When someone’s conduct or beliefs are in clear contradiction to what Holy Scripture teaches, then we are right – we even have an obligation – to point out their sin. There are a lot of practices that the Bible clearly says are sin. They’re throughout Scripture, but some of the best examples are the lists in Romans 1, Galatians 5, and 2 Timothy 3. They make it clear that things like idolatry, sexual immorality, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, rage, rivalry, dissension, envy, drunkenness, slander, lack of self-control, and the like are all clearly sinful. When we declare them to be the sins that they are, we are not judging so much as agreeing with God’s Word. God is judging through Scripture, not we ourselves. That said, we still have to be careful. We can rightly judge in accordance with Scripture, but still sin if our attitude is one of self-righteousness. We sin when we condemn the obvious and gross sin of others while failing to acknowledge that we too are sinners. We’ve been talking so far about things we do, but we can also fall into judgmentalism in addressing beliefs; let’s call it doctrinal judgmentalism. This is probably becoming less and less of an issue these days, but not for good reason. Increasingly evangelicals are coming to see doctrine as unimportant. One year we celebrated Reformation Sunday at our church in Portland and one individual was very upset about it. “Why are be celebrating a bunch of men and their movement that created a huge division in the Church?” she asked me, and then said, “Jesus is all that matters, why dispute other things?” Well, the fact is that doctrine is important and we have to take it seriously. But because we are (or should be) devoted to God’s truth, we can easily fall into the sin of judgmentalism. The doctrine of the Trinity as defined by the councils of the Church, the person of Christ as being both fully God and fully man, his substitutionary atonement for our sins and the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, and the inspiration and inerrancy of Holy Scripture. These are all critical doctrines and in each case they are places where we have to draw a line in the sand. There is no compromise on these issues. These are doctrines on which the church stands or falls. If we see them compromised or downplayed we have an obligation to take a stand, whether it’s the liberals on one side or the “word of faith” teachers and “oneness” Pentecostals on the other. In ever case they are compromising the very Gospel itself. But in doing so we have to be careful not to fall into the sin of judgmentalism. We may disagree so strongly that we demonise them. Because we believe so strongly in the importance of sound doctrine, we can very easily become hypercritical of those with whom we disagree. We have an obligation to express our disagreements, but we need to do so in a way that doesn’t degenerate into other sinful ways of expressing ourselves. Finally, I want to end by talking about what happens when we make a habit of being judgmental – we develop a critical spirit as a way of life – looking for and finding fault with anything and everything. It doesn’t matter what the topic of conversation is – a person, a church, a thing, whatever – you find something negative to say about it. We all know people like this. Veronica pointed out to me at one point that our daughter was starting to be like this, not because she developed the habit on her own, but because she was imitating me. I was in the habit of making note of lots of little things that I saw around me: hey, that kids not wearing a bike helmet; hey, that guy didn’t use his turn signal; argh, Superstore never has anything in the same place twice – stuff like that. I mean it wasn’t extreme, but I realised that I often focus on stuff that may be legitimate problems, but they usually aren’t worth noting, aren’t my business, and harping on them doesn’t show much grace. I think, that like so many other of our “acceptable” sins, critical spirits show themselves up in our families. A husband or a wife is constantly looking for their spouse’s faults and shortcomings or they constantly point out their children’s flaws and mistakes and rarely praise them for doing well. Bridges points out the example of a friend who was raised in a Christian home with a father who was hypercritical of his middle-daughter. As she got older she developed into a person who never seemed to be able to do anything right – at least you’d think that to hear her dad berate her. The more he criticised her posture, the more she slumped. The more he pointed out her lack of eye contact, the more her eyes became fixed on the floor. If his repeatedly putting her down “for her own good” (as he saw it) has one result, it was a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. She felt her dad’s pattern of criticism as rejection, and she came to see herself as a reject. As an adult her one priority in life was to seek out people who would accept her, but as those people got to know her they saw her as someone whom they could take advantage of. On his deathbed, her father realised his sinfulness and tearfully repented of his critical spirit towards his daughter. But by then it was too late. By then she had secretly become promiscuous and a crack addict. This is an extreme example of the destructive nature of being critical and judgmental, but it’s something that happens – and all too often. There’s plenty of evidence around us of the sinfulness of this sin. They say it takes seven compliments to undo the effects of one criticism. So we need to look at ourselves, or better yet, we ought to subject ourselves to the examination of others. Do we have a critical spirit? Are we judgmental? Do we constantly find fault with others? Instead of being critical and judgmental, we need to be like St. Paul. When it came to the divisive issues in the Roman Church – and this may come as a shock to some of us – he didn’t try to change anyone’s convictions in regard to what they ate or which days they considered special. Instead he said, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). I have to admit that I struggle with that statement. I think that may be true of most of us. As Christians we don’t like ambiguity. It’s hard to accept that someone else may have a different opinion than ours and that we can both be acceptable to God. It doesn’t mean that there’s not right or wrong, and for that reason we need to study God’s Word all the more so that we can come to the point of being “convinced,” as Paul says, of what is right and what is wrong. Our convictions need to be based on the absolute truth of Scripture. But again, Paul says it – right from the mouth of the Apostle: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” He didn’t try to fix one party or the other – to straighten them out. And so we need to take St. Paul seriously: hold to our convictions, but do so in humility. If we do that, we’ll be much less likely to fall into the sin of judgmentalism. Please pray with me: Our Father, we confess that in our pride and in our mistaken desire to compare ourselves to others, we often become judgmental. We confess that we take your role of Judge Supreme for ourselves when we should know better. Forgive us for our judgmentalism and for being overly critical. Remind us of the great grace that you have shown us, so that we can show it to others. We ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins The Weeds of Anger Respectable Sins: Sermon Thirteen by William Klock Last week we looked at the sin of anger, but we can’t just leave things there – we need to look at the unruly weeds that find fertile soil in our anger. You see, we’re prone to thinking of our anger in terms of episodes. We get angry and then we get over it. Sometimes we might apologise to the person whom we were angry at, but sometimes we don’t. Either way, both parties typically manage to “get over it” and get on with life. The relationship has been scarred, but not broken. It’s not the best way to live with each other, but we tolerate it. That really seems to be the way many Christians view the sin of anger – they just accept it as part of life. Holy Scripture takes a different approach. It tells us to “put away” our anger and it associates what we might think of as no big deal with other really ugly sins, like bitterness, clamour, wrath, slander, malice, and obscene talk. Anger doesn’t keep good company. In Ephesians 4:26, St. Paul writes his familiar words, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Paul’s not saying that it’s okay to be angry – he’s saying just the opposite: don’t sin in your anger. If you’re angry, deal with it. Don’t hold onto it. Nip it in bud. Don’t go to sleep on it – deal with it before the sun goes down. At best anger is sin, and at worst it leads to even greater sins. Tonight I want to look at some of those long-term sins that grow from the fertile soil of our anger. If we don’t deal with these sins, they will poison our minds – and worse, they usually end up poisoning the minds of the people around us. First: resentment. Resentment is what happens when we don’t let go of our anger. It’s what happens when we internalise or “stuff” our anger. It’s what happens when you’re treated badly, but don’t feel like you’re in a position to do anything about it. Think of our examples last week – of the employee with the boss who screams and swears first, then asks questions later; or the wife with the overbearing husband who jumps on everything she does wrong. We need to deal with resentment, because it tends to become entrenched. It’s the result of nursing our wounds in an unhealthy and sinful way that leads us to dwell on our anger. Second: Bitterness. Bitterness is the next step. It’s what happens when our resentfulness grows into feelings of hatred and animosity. Resentment might dissipate given enough time, but bitterness just continues to grow and fester. The longer we let it go the worse it gets. It’s usually the long-term reaction to a real or perceived wrong when our initial anger isn’t dealt with. I think we’ve all experienced this, at least in other people, who have held onto a past wrong or hurt. People will say, “I forgave her, but I haven’t forgotten.” Obviously, if that’s our attitude, we haven’t really forgiven! This sort of thing often seems to happen in our families or even in our church family. Someone feels they haven’t been treated right or fairly, but instead of trying to resolve the issue, they allow the hurt to fester and grow into bitterness. But regardless of the hurt or the unfairness, bitterness is never a biblical option. We can be hurt, and we can acknowledge the hurt, but we are never allowed to become bitter. Third: Enmity. Enmity (or maybe it would better to say hostility) describes our ill will or our animosity when it’s taken to the next level. We can be bitter, but still treat the object of our bitterness politely and civily, enmity or hostility is usually expressed openly. We might cut another person down with our speech, make fun of him, or gossip about him just to make sure others esteem him as lowly as we do. And that’s the real problem with enmity. Where bitterness is usually something we keep to ourselves, enmity tends to spread to the people around us – we want to make sure everyone knows that so-and-so did us wrong and shares the same level of enmity that we do. Fourth: grudge. This occurs five times in Scripture and it’s telling that two of those times are translated as “hate” by many modern translations: Esau hated Jacob and planned to kill him (Gen 27:41) and Joseph’s brothers were afraid he would hate them and pay them back for all the evil they had done to him (Gen. 50:15). So we go from resentment, to bitterness, to enmity, to hate – to the point where plans for murder come into play. Granted, it’s not likely that any of us would hold a grudge and actually carry out a plot to kill the object of that grudge, but do we get perverse enjoyment from thinking over in our minds what form our revenge might take on the object of our wrath? Do we take pleasure in dwelling on those fantasies? St. Paul says in Romans 12:19-21, Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Finally: Strife. Strife is what happens when a conflict boils over and it almost always seems to involve groups or parties – it doesn’t stay between just two people. That’s why we talk about “church fights” or “family feuds.” It’s always an ugly thing that goes way beyond the bounds of “respectable” sins. It’s certainly not subtle, but I think we need to address it because it’s a sin that we tolerate. Strife often happens between self-righteous Christians who never consider that their own attitudes or heated words might contribute to the conflict. In their minds, it’s always the fault of the other guy. I think these five sins really make the point that anger tends to escalate if we don’t deal with it. If left alone it festers into bitterness, resentment, enmity, and grudges, so it’s no wonder that St. Paul strongly warns us, “Don’t let the sun set on your anger!” But if we need to deal with our anger, what are the steps we should take. Well, I think there are three basic directions. First, as I said last week, we need to remember the sovereignty of God. God doesn’t cause people to sin, but he does allow it – and always with a purpose. He wants us to grow in Christ-likeness and he can use any and every situation in our lives to do it. Think about Joseph. His bothers threw him in a pit, sold him to slavers, and he ended up in prison. He didn’t become bitter. He didn’t hold a grudge. No, instead he could say to his brothers, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:8). I’ve found that firmly believing in the sovereignty of God is my number one first line of defence against the temptation to allow anger to linger in my mind and emotions. If I’m really struggling with the temptation, I bring to mind the specific things that caused my anger and remember that they are under God’s sovereign control. Though those actions may be sinful, just as with Joseph, God intends them for my good and for my growth. Sometimes that good might be to grow to be more like Christ. But sometimes God has other ends in mind – maybe to prepare us in some way for greater usefulness in the Kingdom. Sometimes we may never be able to figure out what God intended when we were tempted by anger, but it should be enough for us to know God’s promise is always to use all things for our good and for his glory in our lives. Actively reflecting on this great truth of God’s sovereignty is the first step to defusing anger. Second, we need to pray that God will help us to grow in love. In his first epistle, St. Peter urges us to pursue holiness even when the going is tough. Throughout his epistle he stresses the importance of brotherly love – the love we ought to have toward fellow believers. He writes in 4:8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Sometimes the offence against us may be so great that we need to deal with it by confronting the person who sinned against us – and if he refuses to confess and repent of it –we need to take the issue before the Church. But St. Peter tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins” as well. The love put in our hearts by the Holy Spirit should be able to overlook the occasional snub, embarrassment, or inconvenience. When the strong-willed husband comes home and sees the house is still a mess, the kids are dirty, and dinner isn’t ready, he can allow love to cover the situation. In fact, if he really does let love cover it, he’ll not only overlook the temptation to get angry, but he might get the kids in the tub, get out the vacuum cleaner, or put some dinner in the microwave to help out his wife. If he does that, he’s following the example of Jesus, who in full awareness of his deity performed the lowliest of tasks, like washing his disciples dirty and dusty feet. If the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we should be more prone to respond with love than with anger. That’s really the bottom line. In 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul tells us that “Love is not easily angered.” We really need to think about that. Are you easily angered? Do little things set you off? Or are you able to let love cover those little things. St. Paul also tells us in that same chapter that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Do you keep a scorecard for each of the people in your life. If someone asks, can you recite the last twenty things your husband or your wife did to tick you off? The last fifty? More? One wife came to counselling with 420 typed pages of her husband’s wrongs against her. That’s not love! That’s the road to bitterness, resentment, enmity, and strife! To keep no record of wrongs means that we cease to bring up the wrong to ourselves or the other party. We can’t erase the hurt (that’s God’s job), but we can choose not to feed the anger. Finally, we need to learn to forgive as God has forgiven us. I think that the most helpful passage of Scripture here is the familiar parable of the unforgiving servant. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” In the parable Jesus describes a servant who owed his master, the king, an outrageous debt: ten thousand talents. Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. We’d say that the servant owed his master a gazillion dollars. And so the servant, who could never pay the debt back to the king begged for patience and leniency and the king took pity on him and forgave the debt. So the servant left the king’s palace, but as he was walking down the street, he ran into a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii. Again, that’s no small sum – about 1/3 of a year’s wages – but by comparison to the first man’s debt it was practically nothing. The second servant pleaded with patience, but the servant who had just been forgiven his gazillion dollar debt refused and had him thrown into prison. The message of the parable turns on the huge difference between the two debts: a gazillion dollars and, say, $10,000-$15,000. Even the smaller sum is nothing to sniff at, but it’s still significant. The gazillion dollars represents our moral and spiritual debt to God. If it’s a gazillion, it might as well be an infinite amount. It’s a debt we can never repay no matter how hard we try, no matter how moral or spiritual we are – the debt of our sin is enormous. The damage to God’s glory by our sin is determined not by the severity of our sin, but by the value of God’s glory. Think of it this way. If I spill ink on the dirty mat by your front door, that’s bad. But if I spill ink on the white, wool, designer carpet in your living room, that’s really bad. Either way, my act is the same, but he value of the two rugs is vastly different. The extent of the damage is determined not by the size of the ink stain on the two rugs, but by the value of each of those rugs. That’s how we need to see our sin against God. Every sin we commit, regardless of how insignificant it might be to us, is an assault on the infinite glory and holiness of God. And the value of the expensive rug, even if it’s in the millions, is nothing compared to God’s glory. So we’re all in the same predicament as the first servant with the unpayable debt. So what happened to the gazillion dollars the first servant owed. Could the king just forget it? Were there no financial consequences? No, it wasn’t that easy. The moment the king forgave the debt, his net worth went down by ten thousand talents, by that gazillion dollars. It cost him a lot to forgive the debt. And just so when God forgives us. It cost him the death of his Son. No price can be put on that death, but God paid it anyway, so that he could forgive each of us the giant spiritual debt we owed to him. So the message should be clear: The moral debt of wrongdoing, of sinful words and acts against us, is virtually nothing compared to our debt to God. My point isn’t to minimise the seriousness of anyone’s hurts or damages. Even in the parable, the second servants debt wasn’t just chump-change and neither are the wrongs others have committed against you – but in comparison to the hurt each of us has caused God, those other hurts are no comparison So the basis for our forgiving one another, then, is the enormity of God’s forgiveness of us. We are called to forgive precisely because we have been forgiven so much. Until we acknowledge that we are the ten-thousand talent, the gazillion dollar debtor to God, we will continue to struggle with forgiving people who have wronged us in significant ways or people who continue to wrong us. Once we embrace the reality that we truly are such debtors to God because of our continual sin against him, we can say when others wrong us, “God, that was a terrible wrong against me, but I m the ten-thousand-talent debtor. His sin against me was northing in comparison to my sin against you, and because you have forgiven me, I, from my heart, forgive that person. Amen.”
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Anger Respectable Sins: Sermon Twelve by William Klock Nobody really likes anger, but the fact is that we all experience it. We all get angry and we’ve all experienced being the brunt of someone else’s anger. In his book Uprooting Anger – which I highly recommend – Robert Jones writes this, “Anger is a universal problem, prevalent in every culture, experienced by every generation. No one is isolated from its presence or immune from its poison. It permeates each person and spoils our most intimate relationships. Anger is a given part of our fallen human fabric.” What he adds is very true, when he writes, “Sadly, this is true even in our Christian homes and churches.” Jones is right. The most blatant displays of anger tend to be aimed not at the people we work with or interact with on a daily basis in the world, but at the people we love the most: at our husbands, wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters – and not just our biological brothers and sisters, but our brothers and sisters in Christ too. I remember the pastor of one of the churches I attended as a kid talking about anger. He said that when he was a young kid, about ten years old, his dad came home with a big surprise. He’d been given a raise that day at work, and so to celebrate, he’d gone by the Chevy dealership on the way home and traded in the old family car on a brand-new 1955 Chevy. He said that when his dad got home you could see just how happy, excited, and proud he was as he pulled into the driveway in that new car and shouted to the family to come and take a look. Our pastor said he’d been riding his bike and was excited too. He rode into the driveway on his bike, jumped off it, and ran to give his dad a big hug, but before he got to his dad, all the excitement came to a sudden end as the look on his dad’s face changed. He turned to see what his dad was looking at and saw, almost in slow motion, his bike tip over. The handlebar hit the side of the new car and as it fell to the ground the end of the handlebar made a loud screech as it scraped a two-foot long scratch in the side of the car. In an instant his dad’s joy turned into anger as he flew into an angry rage and berated him, going on for fifteen minutes about his carelessness – anger totally out of proportion to the infraction. Our pastor said that his dad usually kept his cars for a long time, but they only kept that car for a couple of years and he said that its sale was the happiest moment his family had with that car. I think everyone here has had a moment like that at some point in life – you’ve either been on the giving or receiving end of it. We’re often hardest on our kids, as in that story. Think about how we parents often respond in ways that are out of proportion to what our kids do. Little pre-schooler Susie is playing outside while Mom’s mopping the floor. She picks some flower and excitedly runs inside to give them to her Mom and doesn’t realise that she’s tracking mud all over the clean floor, and Mom blows up at her. It’s totally out of proportion to the infraction. (And, as an aside, if you couple that with the fact that Susie sometimes does things that are really deserving of serious discipline and Mom choose to ignore them, it’s no wonder when our kids grow up to be disobedient and flaunt authority.) So what is anger? I think a lot of us would say, “I can’t really define it in words, but I sure know when I see it, especially if it’s directed towards me!” Well, obviously at its most basic, it’s an emotion – a strong feeling of displeasure with something or someone. In that sense, like all emotion, it’s God-given. God has designed us to experience anger – it gives us energy and then that energy can be directed at solving the problem that’s caused the anger in the first place. Our problem is that we may experience anger over things we have no business being angry over – or, maybe more commonly, we take the energy that anger gives and direct it at something other than the real problem or we use it in ways that make the problem worse instead of better. Remember that St. Paul tells us in Ephesians, “Be angry, but sin not.” Anger’s a big and complicated issue and it’s not really something we can deal with in one sermon. So since this series of sermons is about helping us to confront the sins we tolerate in our lives, I want to focus tonight on the aspect of anger that we’re prone to treating as an “acceptable” sin. Now to do that I think we need to be clear about righteous anger. Some people will justify their anger as being “righteous.” They think they have a right to be angry about a given situation. So how do you know if your anger is righteous or not? Well, let me remind you of what I said before: anger is a God-given emotion. And so, if our anger arises from an accurate perception of true evil – if it’s provoked by a violation of God’s moral Law or if we see God’s Truth being profaned – our anger is probably righteous. Righteous anger is focused on God and on his will, not on me or my will. That said, righteous anger is also always self-controlled. Righteous anger doesn’t result in the loss of one’s temper and it doesn’t provoke us take revenge or retaliate in some kind of vengeful way. The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about righteous anger. The really great example we have is that of Christ driving the money-changers out of the Temple. There are a few other similar examples, but Scripture mostly focuses on sinful anger – on the way in which we’re prone to misuse the God-given emotion and the ways we tend to misdirect the energy it gives us. Sometimes we may be reacting to the real sin of another person, but if we’re more concerned with the negative impact of that sin on us than we are that it’s a violation of God’s Law, then our anger is sinful. It’s completely just and righteous for us to be angry and outraged when we see leaders in the Church teaching false doctrine and undermining the Gospel itself. In situations like that our anger ought to motivate us to stand up for the truth. The problem is that in the current crisis in the Church a lot of people, instead of taking a stand for truth, are attacking those teaching bad doctrine and attacking them in ways that are clearly sinful. That doesn’t solve the problem. If you our goal is to bring those people to faith and repentance, calling them names and making threats isn’t going to get us to that goal – it’s only going to make the problem worse. When we become sinfully angry we need to realise that the cause is in us – not in another person or in the situation. You might get angry because someone mistreated you. Maybe they gossiped or told lies about you and when you heard about it you got angry. More often than not the anger isn’t the result of that person having sinned, it’s the result of them having sinned against you. You’re angry because your pride was hurt. Maybe you get angry when you don’t get your way. We see this in our kids on a regular basis, but it’s just as true of us adults. Some of us have stronger personalities than others. Sometimes we can angrily clash with each other. Other times the stronger tend run roughshod over the weaker. When someone in our family doesn’t get his or her way, they tend to become angry. The same thing can happen in the Church too. But ultimately the cause of the anger is selfishness – “I want it my way!” Often our anger is a response to someone else’s. A husband comes home from a long and tiring day at work expecting a clean house and kids and dinner on the table, and when the house and kids are dirty and dinner isn’t even on the stove he loses his cool and says something hurtful. Then the wife gets angry in response and says something nasty back – or maybe instead of blowing up in return, she internalises her anger and seethes on the inside. Her anger is just as sinful as her husband’s. Maybe your boss chews you out at work. I used to have a boss like that: yell, scream, and swear first; ask questions later. Retaliating in kind will usually get you fired, so like the wife in my last example, you stuff it and seethe with resentment. We can choose how we deal with anger, whether it’s a husband, a wife, a boss, or an employee. Consider St. Peter’s words to slaves in the apostolic Church. They often served under harsh and cruel masters and by our modern thinking would have been justified in fighting back, but that’s not what Peter tells them to do. He writes, Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Peter 2:18-20) None of us is a slave, but the broader Scriptural principle applies to all of us: We are to respond to any unjust treatment as “mindful of God.” What does that mean? To be mindful of God means to think of God’s will and God’s glory. You need to ask yourself how God would react in your situation? Ask yourself how God is best glorified by your response. God is sovereign over all things, but we tend to forget that and live as if he’s not in control. We need to remember that in all things he is in control and that in his infinite wisdom and goodness he’s using the hard things in our lives to conform us more and more to the image of Christ. In the heat of the moment it’s not always easy to remember these things: that God’s in control, that he’s working for our good and his glory. If we forget and act out sinfully, when the heat dies down, we quickly need to acknowledge the sin, confess it to God and to the person we’ve wrong and ask for their forgiveness. But better yet, memorise Scriptures like Romans 8:28, that teach us that God works all things for the good of those whom he loves and are called according to his purpose. The more you dwell on God’s truths, the more you’ll come to live by them – the more they’ll become a part of what motivates you and drives your responses. It helps to memorise Scriptures that remind us how we’re supposed to act in the first place. Think of Ephesians 4:32: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Or Colossians 3:13 …bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. But more importantly, we need to hand over to God the occasion of our anger. This is even more true when we find ourselves the object of someone else’s anger or when we’re treated unjustly by a boss or an overbearing spouse – or anyone who treats us unfairly. To dissolve our sinful responses we need to acknowledge that God is sovereign in every aspect of our lives (not just what we perceive as the “good,” but also what we perceive as the “bad”) and that all the words and actions of other people that tempt us to anger are somehow included in God’s wise and good purposes to make us more like Christ. We need to remember that any situation that tempts us to sinful anger can either drive us to sinful anger of our own or to Christ and his sanctifying power. There’s another aspect of anger that I think it’s important to touch on while we’re on the subject of anger and that’s anger towards God. As a minister this is something I’ve heard an awful lot of people talk about – they’re mad at God. They think that somehow God has let them down. Some say they think that God is against them – that he’s out to get them. Some people beat around the bush to express their anger at God, but I’ve talked to some people who are happy to say it outright: I’m angry with God – even, I hate God because of the bad things in my life. What do you say to someone like that? What do you do if that’s how you’re feeling toward God? Is it okay to be angry towards God? I’ve heard a lot of modern psychologists say that it’s okay. I’ve even heard pastors and popular Christian writers say that it’s okay. A pastor I once knew told my friend, “It’s okay to be angry at God. He’s God. He’s a big guy. He can take it.” And quite frankly I’ll tell you, that’s blasphemy. I can’t say this loudly and clearly enough: It is never okay to be angry with God. When we get angry with God, we’re making a moral judgement that says, “God has done me wrong.” Think that statement through. If you’re accusing God of having wronged you, what your really accusing God of is sinning against you. You’re saying that God hasn’t treated you fairly or that he hasn’t give you a fair shake – that he should be treating you better than he is or that he owes you something. You’re putting God in the defendant’s seat and acting as judge over him. Jerry Bridges writes about a man who, as his mother was dying of cancer said, “After all she’s done for God, this is the thanks she gets.” Okay, so never mind the untold suffering and agony that Jesus Christ experienced to pay for her sins so that she wouldn’t have to spend an eternity in hell. This man thought that on top of sending his own Son to die for his mother’s eternal salvation, he also owed her a better life on this earth. We’re probably all prone to momentary feelings of anger toward God, but when that happens we need to be quick to recognise it for the sin it is and repent right then and there. But how do you deal with the temptation to be angry with God? We might be prone to “stuffing it” just as we “stuff” our feelings of anger toward other people, but if we do that then our fellowship with God is going to suffer. Stuffing it is no better than blowing up – both are sinful ways of dealing with anger – and in this case anger with God, which is never justified. The biblical answer lies in a well-grounded trust in the sovereignty, wisdom, and love of God. Instead of getting angry with God, we need to bring our confusion and perplexity to him in a humble and trusting way. We can pray something like this: “Father, I know that you love me. I know that your ways are often above and beyond my understanding. I come to you now admitting my own confusion, because I am unable to see the evidence of your love towards me. Open my eyes, Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit and show me the way to put my trust in you instead of giving in to the temptation to become angry with you.” Remember that our God is a forgiving God. Jesus didn’t die for some sins and not for others. God will forgive our anger against him just as he forgives our other sins when we repent of them. Jesus’ death on the cross has already paid for it all. So if you have anger in your heart, I urge you to come to God in repentance and experience the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, which was shed for you. A lot of Christians live in denial of their anger. They knowingly experience flare-ups and blow-ups in their thoughts and emotions towards others who somehow displease them, but they don’t identify it as anger, and especially not as sinful anger. Instead of looking at themselves, they focus on the other person as the cause and justify their own reaction. They don’t see their sin. As a result their anger has become an “acceptable” sin. If this is you, you need to deal with it. And for all of us, whether our anger is frequent or only flares up every once in while, we need to recognise it as the sin that it is and take appropriate action to put an end to it. Please pray with me: Father, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We acknowledge that our emotions – even the angry ones – are part of your design. We confess that all too often we misuse and misapply the gifts you have given in sinful ways. Give us your grace and show us how to put your gifts to Godly use. We ask in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Impatience & Irritability Respectable Sins: Sermon Eleven by William Klock I’ve noticed over the years that the people I often esteem as models of mature Christianity – people who have walked with Christ for many, many years and seem to have it all together – are often the ones most ready to confess their struggles with the flesh. When I was a university student I remember sitting down with the campus chaplain from my church one day. He was older – close to retirement age – and had been a Christian since he was a teenager. He carried his Bible around with him everywhere. It was a cheap paperback copy and the cover had fallen to pieces, I assumed, years and years before. The thing was covered with duct tape and was really ratty. If he set it down it fanned open all by itself. In contrast, my nice leather Bible hardly looked used – because it was hardly used. I took it to church on Sunday mornings and if I wasn’t too busy I cracked it open every once in a while during the week. To me his Bible looked like it was a million years old, but even more than that it was a complete enigma to me. I wondered, first, why he didn’t just buy a new one, but I also wondered how a man of such deep and profound faith could wear out a Bible – I mean, I thought he must have read it so many times he didn’t need to anymore. But one day he told me that, no, his Bible wasn’t decades old – it was only about five years old. He wore it out not only because he was using it daily to teach from, but mainly because it was almost constantly in his hands and because he was reading it ever chance he had – because it was the Word of God that gave him victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil as he walked through every hour of every day. Not only was it profound in that it reminded me that maybe a lot of my problem was a lack of time spent in God’s Word, but it also taught me that no matter how much we progress spiritually in this world, we will always struggle with sin. As I’ve said before, the Holy Spirit works like a microscope in our lives. He shows us our sin and then when we’ve dealt with it, he turns the power up and shows us more sins that we need to deal with. It’s never ending. Don’t listen to the guy who tells you he doesn’t sin anymore – he’s guilty of at least one: lying! The point of this series is to help us see the sin that remains in our lives – especially the subtle ones that we’re blind to. And this week I want to look at two of those sins: impatience and irritability. These two are closely related to each other, and since they can be defined in quite a few different ways depending on the context, I want to narrow things down a bit and define impatience as a strong sense of annoyance at the (usually) unintentional faults and failures of others. This impatience is frequently expressed verbally and in a way that tends to humiliate the person who is the object of the impatience. This kind of impatience is a response to the usually unintentional actions of someone else. Here’s an example: I’m one of those people, who if there’s nothing else to distract my attention, I’m usually deep in thought about something. Someone once asked me why I’m always walking around with a scowl on my face. I said, “I’m not scowling – I’m just thinking hard!” People have a problem getting my attention. Veronica will often see me in the room and start to tell me something, and I’ll respond with, “Huh?” I was right there, but if I’m thinking about something else and she didn’t get me attention first, I may have heard it, but I wasn’t listening. This is the sort of thing that can cause a person to become annoyed, as I have to ask the person who spoke to me to repeat what they just said. If you’re like me and you do this a lot, it means that the people around you have to learn to be patient! Here’s another example: When we get married we bring our habits and backgrounds with us. Some of us are accustomed to getting places early and with time to spare. For other people “on-time” means getting to Church before the first hymn is finished. And if two such people marry, well, it’s an opportunity for both to learn some patience. Either one could respond with a “Why are you always late?” or “Why are you always rushing?” You could even say nothing at all and still communicate an attitude of impatience. But you could also be patient, realising that a harmonious relationship is more important than leaving the house at the time you’d prefer. I think these are example that we can probably all identify with. They’re also examples of situations that come up when two people live closely with each other. And you see, that’s another issue here. Impatience and irritability tend to be sins that we practice at home – with our families – and a lot less frequently when we’re out dealing with the world. Being impatient or irritable at work or at church would probably have repercussions that we don’t want, so we restrain ourselves, but at home we let loose. That tells us something about our priorities, but it also drives home the point I made last time, that society sets certain boundaries, but within the boundaries we generally live as we please – not as God wants us to. Why? Because we can get away with it. Now, it’s also important to note that one person’s failure to listen or another person’s running late isn’t really the cause of another’s impatience. Those things simply provide the opportunity for the flesh to do its thing. The actual cause of our impatience lies in our own sinful hearts – in our own attitude of insisting that everybody around us conform to our expectations. Can you think of situations in your life that tempt you to become impatient? You might say, “Who, me? I don’t have a problem with impatience!” Well, you might not have a problem per se, but are you ever impatient? Let me suggest a few more possibilities. As parents we can become impatient when our kids or teenagers are slow in responding to our training: “How many times do I have to tell you not to leave your shoes on the stairs?” How many times do I have to tell you to clean your room?” Or, “When are you going to stop playing with your food?” When you’ve told your kids something over and over, it’s easy to become impatient when they don’t seem to be learning the lessons you want them to. And the real problem with our impatient outbursts is that they only give vent to our own impatience. They don’t really help to teach our kids anything – they only humiliate them. The same goes for our kids when they get impatient with brothers and sisters – they need to learn the same lessons we do about being patient with others. Obviously we’re not just impatient with other members of our own families. That may be the place where we’re most likely to let our guard down. But how about this? How are you when you’re in your car? We get very impatient when we’re stuck behind a slow driver on the road. We can get very impatient waiting in line at the bank or the store. How about when you go to the post office to buy a book of stamps and the lady in front of you has a stack of twenty packages she wants to mail to Timbuktu? You may or may not see your own impatience, so I suggest that you ask your husband or wife, your kids, or a good Christian friend who knows you well. Ask them to tell you if there are areas of impatience they see in your life. Above all else, we need to acknowledge and repent of our impatience as the sin that it is. St. Paul exhorts us in several of his Epistles, to be patient. In 1 Corinthians 13 – the great “love” chapter – he starts his long description of Godly love by saying, “Love is patient.” He could have started anywhere in that list, but no, he starts by telling us that first and foremost, love is patient. Think about that the next time your husband or wife does something that annoys you! In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit – the very characteristics that by their existence in us verify the presence of the Holy Spirit. Patience is one of the nine fruit of the Spirit. If you’re a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives in you. Are you showing his fruit of patience? In Ephesians 4:1-2 Paul urges us to live our lives with patience, and in Colossians 3:12, he tells us that we are to put on patience. There was no question about it for St. Paul: the quality of patience is a godly quality that we need to cultivate in our lives. If patience reflects God’s character – and think of all the times that God has been patient with you – we can be certain that impatience, the opposite of patience, is a sin that we have an obligation to stamp out of our lives. Impatience may be an “acceptable sin to us, but it’s not acceptable to God! I said earlier that impatience and irritability are closely related. Where impatience is a strong sense of annoyance or exasperation, irritability, as I define it, describes the frequency of impatience, or the ease with which we might become impatient over the slightest little provocation. A person who easily and frequently becomes impatient is an irritable person. We can all be impatient at times, but the irritable person is impatient most of the time. He’s the sort of person who makes you feel like you have to walk around on eggshells. He’s not fun to be with, but if he’s your family member or your co-worker, you don’t have a choice. Ask yourself this: Are you upset with someone or with some circumstances a lot of the time? If the answer is yes, then you just might be an irritable person. If you’re upset with another person (or persons) a lot of the time, you may need to learn to overlook their unintentional actions. Proverbs 19:11 addresses the problem of anger (which we’ll deal with next week), but it applies here too: “It is [one’s] glory to overlook an offence.” St. Peter wrote saying, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). You could say that if love covers a multitude of sins, how much more should it cover a multitude of acts that irritate us! If you regularly catch the brunt of someone else’s impatience – if you’re often berated, criticised, or chewed out – how should you respond? Responding in kind isn’t going to work. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that an irritable person probably isn’t going to just sit there and listen while you give him a taste of his own medicine – all you’ll do is start a war of words. This approach is not only unproductive – it’s also completely unbiblical. Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you’re the sort of person who doesn’t respond verbally, but inwardly seethes and resent the person who had vented his or her impatience at you. Well, this is just as unproductive and sinful. Biblically speaking you have two options. You can follow the example of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Sometimes this might be your only biblical option. But the other thing Scripture says we can do is to confront the person who is always impatient and irritable – confront him and point out examples of his impatience. The hitch here is that you can only do this when you’ve resolved the issue in your own heart and can speak to the other person for his benefit, not just to make your own life more pleasant. If you do this in a biblical manner and the person accepts what you say, you’ve likely enhanced your relationship with one another. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). But if you confront him lovingly and he’s hostile or denies that he’s impatient and irritable you either have to be willing to take the next step, or back off and allow “love to cover a multitude of sins.” Either the issue needs to taken before the Church or you need to follow the example of Jesus. But to follow Jesus’ example really does require a firm belief in the sovereignty of God in every situation in your life. God is probably using this person’s sinful actions to help you grow in the biblical virtues of patience and meekness. This was what happened to Moses. Miriam, his sister, and Aaron, his brother, started speaking against him, but the writer of Numbers tells us that Moses responded with meekness. The text says, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). He didn’t respond in kind – he trusted in God to work it out. And God did. He told the three of them to report to the Tabernacle. He descended in a cloud on them and when the cloud left Miriam was covered with leprosy for a week as a lesson to her. I want to close with this reminder. We’re looking at “respectable” sins – the sins we tolerate in our lives at the same time that we condemn the more blatant and flagrant sins of the society around us. We need to be as severe with ourselves over our own subtle sins as we are with the vile sins we condemn in others. May we never be like the self-righteous Pharisee in the Temple who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” but may we continually have the humble attitude of the tax collector who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:11-13). Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Lack of Self-Control Respectable Sins: Sermon Ten by William Klock In Proverbs 25:28 we read, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Remember that in biblical times, the wall of a city was its primary means of defence against outsiders. It was hard to tunnel under the walls. It was hard to climb over them, but if you could break down the gate or knock down part of the wall, an invading army could pour into the city and destroy it from the inside out. Think of the story of the fall of Jericho. God told the people to march around the city for seven days blowing their trumpets. And at the end of the seventh day, after marching in silence all day, when they blew the trumpets, God caused the falls to collapse and the Israelites swarmed over the city and destroyed everyone in it. And so Solomon tells us that just as a city without a wall is easy prey for an invading army, so a man or woman who lacks self-control is easy prey for any and all kinds of temptation. It’s too bad that Solomon didn’t heed his own device. He’s a perfect example – on a large scale – of what happens when you lack self-control. The Bible tells us that he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, and many – maybe even most – of them came from pagan nations – the very people God had told the Israelites NOT to take wives from. But Solomon gave free reign to his desires and passions. You see it started harmlessly enough. He married the Pharaoh’s daughter to cement a political alliance – that’s what kings did in those days. But God called his people to be different. While the other nations trusted in horses and chariots (and worldly negotiations and treaties), God called on his people to trust in him and consistently obey his Law. Sin snowballs. It starts with small things, but it turns into big things. Instead of trusting God, Solomon negotiated with Pharaoh and took his daughter as his wife. Pretty soon he was doing the same thing other kings and princes – marrying their pagan daughters and bringing them into his household. And once it started, it awoke in him other sinful desires and before long he was building a harem, bringing in every pretty girl he came across. Instead of exercising self-control, he disregarded his own words of wisdom and allowed himself to be ruled by his out-of-control passions. He paid a heavy price. Those pagan women brought their pagan religions into Israel and turned not only the heart of Solomon, but the hearts of the people, away from God. And God’s punishment was to split the kingdom upon Solomon’s death. Never again would Israel have the prominence, peace, and prosperity that God had given under David and Solomon. Holy Scripture makes it pretty clear just how important self-control is. Proverbs addresses it and so do the Epistles. St. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And it’s a lack of self-control that he tells St. Timothy will characterise the “last days” – in the same passage we read last week that begins saying that men will be lovers of themselves. The church in Crete apparently had a big problem with self-control, because St. Paul exhorts St. Titus on three occasions to teach about it. Paul also wrote to Titus, saying “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). God hasn’t just given his grace to save us, he’s given us his grace to sanctify us – to help us live lives that are pleasing to him – and one part of pleasing him is having self-control. St. Paul also, when he lists the qualifications for bishops, lists self-control. St. Peter tells us several times in his epistles, that we should be sober-minded and self-controlled. The virtue of self-control is all over the pages of Scripture, but it’s a virtue that I don’t think gets much conscious attention from most Christians. I think that when we do practice self-control, it’s not so much because we’re wanting to please God, but because our church culture – and often even our secular culture – tend to restrain us from obvious sins. I don’t think many Christian men would every walk into a brothel, but depending on what survey you look at, four to six out of ten Christian men regularly surf porn on the Internet. I don’t think any of us would walk into the store, stuff our pockets full, and walk out with out paying. But how many of us would have no problem showing up to work late, going home early, taking a long lunch, or taking care of our personal business on company time? I doubt that any of us would go down to Staples and steal a box of pens, or a box of paperclips, or a ream of paper, but we have no problem taking those things home from work. When I worked for Hewlett-Packard we had our own office supply division on site. A site with 4000 employees needs to stock its own supplies. They had pens, paper, binders, erasers, tape, glue, paperclips, printer cartridges, floppy disks and CD’s. You name it, and if it could somehow be used there, they had it. You just took what you needed, wrote it in the log, and listed your name and department. But every September they’d have to bring in extra stock, because of all the employees who’d drop by after hours to get what was on their kids’ school supply lists – and a lot of those people were Christians. What kind of witness is that? You see, we avoid sin when there’s a risk of getting caught and when we know that it would damage our reputation, but if we can get away with it in secret we show very little self-control. There are obvious boundaries around us, but for the most part, within the boundaries we pretty much live as we please. We seldom say “no” to our desires and emotions. A lack of self-control is one of our more “acceptable” sins. And because we tolerate it, like Solomon, we become vulnerable to other sins. A lack of control of our tongue, often opens the door to all manner of defiling speech, like sarcasm, gossip, slander, or ridicule. What is self-control? I like Jerry Bridges’ definition: “It is governance or prudent control of one’s desires, cravings, impulses, emotions, and passions. It is saying no when we should say no. It is moderation in legitimate desires and activities, and absolute restraint in areas that are clearly sinful. It would, for example, involve moderation in watching television and absolute restraint in viewing Internet pornography.” Now, it’s important to understand that self-control and willpower aren’t the same thing – at least not natural human willpower. Anybody, believer or unbeliever, can practice self-control in specific areas of life if they’re trying to meet a certain goal, but in other parts of their lives, they may live with little or no self-control at all. An athlete might be strict and have a lot of self-control when it comes to his diet or his daily workout, but then be totally lacking in self-control when it comes to his temper. Sometimes our self-control may be situational. Think of the guy with a temper problem. He controls his anger and his temper when he’s at work and around his customers, because his livelihood depends on it, but when he gets home he gives up that control, loses his temper, and takes it out on his wife and kids. That’s a human-powered kind of self-control. Biblical self-control, in contrast, covers every part of our lives and requires an unceasing conflict with the passions of the flesh that, as St. Peter puts it, “wage war against our souls.” No one can do that on his own. This is why God fills us with his Holy Spirit when we come to saving faith in him. His goal isn’t just to redeem us – it’s also to make us like Jesus. Real, godly, biblical self-control depends on the work of the Holy Spirit to give us not only a desire for self-control, but the power to do it. You could say that real, full-time, biblical self-control is not control by yourself through your own willpower, but instead it’s control of yourself through the power of the Holy Spirit. I think it helps to remember that self-control is one of the fruit of the Spirit. We don’t expect to put on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or gentleness all on our own power – we know that this is the work of the Spirit in us. The same goes for self-control. I think that we often tend to think of self-control in relation to certain activities and not as a general way of life. As I said, we have no trouble controlling ourselves when it comes to certain things, but then we go nuts when it comes to others. Case in point: what and how we eat and drink. You guys all know what this is. [Hold up empty “Pringles” can.] Potato chips. Mmmm. Potato chips. Did you know that I ate the whole thing all by myself? Okay, so that’s not a big deal. In fact, that’s what I planned when I bought them. But here’s the problem. After they made it to my desk drawer the plan changed. They were supposed to be part of my lunch – for two or three days. But when I got them here they looked really good, so I opened the can and figured I eat one or two before putting them away. And you know, they managed to stay in the drawer for about an hour. And then, I’m ashamed to admit, they came out of the drawer…and I ate the whole thing…by 9:30 in the morning…while I was writing this sermon. [Hang head in shame.] That’s 163g of potato chips. According to the label that’s supposed to be six servings. 60g of fat. Yikes! And all while I was writing a sermon on self-control. Now there was a time when I used to do that several times a week. I’d take a break in the mid-afternoon to walk down the street to the grocery store and buy a can just like this. I’d take it back to work and it would all be gone in about thirty minutes. But you see, I learned a long time ago that when I open one of these cans I seem to lose the ability to stop until the thing’s empty. I don’t seem to have that problem with any other food. God used something as stupid a can of Pringles to show me my lack of self-control. He showed me that a lack of self-control with something silly and relatively unimportant weakened my self-control in more important areas of life. God taught me that self-control is a lifestyle – it’s not something you apply here or there – you apply it to everything. So how do I exercise self-control with Pringles now? I already know that an open can is too big of a temptation. I learned that sometimes self-control is simply removing the source of the temptation. I don’t have to worry about Veronica buying the things for me – she’d never do that. I just don’t buy them myself on any kind of regular basis. If I’m in a snack mood in the afternoon, I’ve learned not to go to the grocery store – because every time I do, even if I have the best of intentions, guess what I buy? Right. So I’ve learned how to avoid getting into the situation that challenges my self-control. My point isn’t to send anyone on a guilt trip for enjoying junk food, desert, or Starbucks. What I want you to understand is that we need to make sure that we control our desires rather than letting them control us. Maybe your problem isn’t with food. Maybe it’s your temper. I can attest from personal experience and from counselling that this is a big problem for lots of Christians. We all know people like this – or maybe we are people like this. You’ve got a short fuse and when it burns down you explode. Anger is the subject for another sermon, but a temper has to do with self-control. Anger can often be sinful, but if you struggle with being short-tempered, you compounding things by adding the sin of lack of self-control. We can blow up at anyone that does something to upset us. It might be another driver who cut us off on the highway, an umpire who makes a bad call, a wife who burned dinner, or a kid who didn’t clean up his room like he was asked. The worst thing is that it’s our family members that usually take the brunt. Natural, fleshly, and selfish self-control might keep us from blowing up at the boss, but it doesn’t stop us from coming home and kicking the dog or getting angry with our family. Scripture, especially the book of Proverbs, warns us against a quick temper: “A man of quick temper acts foolishly” (14:17) and “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (16:32). St. James warns us in his epistle to be “slow to anger” (James 1:19). If this is your problem area, store up God’s word in your heart that you might not sin against him (cf. Psalm 119:11). Read Proverbs and make note of all the verses that talk about anger and tempers, and make note of the five or six that really speak to you – then memorise them. Let God’s words replace the words that you’re prone to speak in anger! Put off the old man and put on the new man by the power of the Holy Spirit! The final area I want to cover and that I think Christians tend to lack self-control is personal finances. I know it’s a problem because a lot of people have asked me how God can help them get a hold on this area of life. I know because one of my former parishioners wrote a book on the subject for Christians – and it’s one of his best sellers. I know because of men like Richard Barnard, who used to be the rector of one of our churches in Dallas. He’s seen that this problem so plagues the Church that he has a ministry in which he travels the country, going from church to church, leading a seminar that teaches Christians how to get out of debt and make Christ Lord of their finances. I don’t know what the numbers are in Canada, but the average household in the U.S. carries about $7,000 of credit card debt. I wouldn’t image that Canadians are that drastically different. That’s not low interest debt like you’d pay on a house or maybe a car – that’s high interest debt that keeps growing as long as you don’t pay it off. We spend beyond our means – way beyond. As a people we aren’t exercising financial control; instead, we’re indulging our desires for what we want: new clothes, a new car, expensive holidays, new computers, new televisions and stereos and all sorts of other things. It’s not just people who are in debt, though, who fail to exercise self-control in this area. There are a lot of affluent and wealthy people, including a lot of Christians, who can afford to indulge themselves in whatever they want. They’re like the writer of Ecclesiastes who said, “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them” (2:10). Indulging ourselves in whatever we desire, even if we can afford it, is not a way to exercise self-control. Remember, again, that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. We could probably stay here all night listing other ways we lack self-control. How often do you sit down in front of the T.V. to watch one programme and end up staying there all evening? How often do you sit down at the computer to look at just one website or to look-up one piece of information and end up sitting for hours following one interesting link to another until the day is gone? How often do you throw yourself into sports while ignoring your family or your other duties? What about impulse buying – going out to “hit” the sales – or the garage sales – with no real goal in mind other than to get some good deals – and you come home spending more money than you should have on stuff you didn’t need before you saw it on sale? For us men a big need for self-control is over our eyes and thought lives in an age when many women dress less modestly every season. I’ve hit on some of what I’ve seen to be the more common areas of life over which we tend to lack self-control, but we’re all different. I urge you to examine your own life. Are there desires, cravings, or emotions that may be out of control to some degree? Remember that we’re talking about “respectable” sins – sins that are often so subtle that we fail to notice them. So look hard. Because this sin is so subtle, we all suffer from it somehow. As you work to stamp out this sin in your life, remember that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Don’t try to do it on your own. It’s Gods enabling power that give us the victory! Please pray with me: Father, we confess that in many areas of our lives we lack self-control – while you should be the Lord of our lives, we often hold back parts of ourselves. We confess to you that we do not have the power in ourselves to control the flesh, and so we ask you to put your Holy Spirit to work in our lives, showing us the places we’ve held back from you, and helping us to give them over that he might control us and use us in your service. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Selfishness Respectable Sins: Sermon Nine by William Klock What do we make of the fact that so many of the great men and women of the faith have had their faults? That so many of them have obvious feet of clay? When I was little someone gave me a child’s storybook about Martin Luther. I admired and looked up to him as a kid. When I was older I picked up a biography of him written for young adults and admired him even more. When I was in high school I started reading his sermons and he profoundly influenced my faith. And then when I was in college studying church history I read the histories and biographies for grown-ups that didn’t whitewash history and characters the way kid’s storybooks do. I learned that Luther, my great hero of the faith was temperamental and would often get enraged or would storm away from an argument in an enormous huff. In one instance, he and John Calvin were discussing the nature of Jesus’ presence in the Lord’s Supper. Calvin said that Jesus was spiritually present and Luther insisted he was physically and bodily present. In the end Luther angrily scrawled the word “is” (as in “this is my body”) on the tablecloth and stormed away. That was the end of his talks with Calvin. When I studied United States history I fell in love with the character of General Robert E. Lee. To this day he’s still my favourite character in American history. He was a true Christian gentleman and a man of deep and profound faith that truly influenced the way in which he lived his life. And yet he was a slave owner despite his own personal reservations against the institution of slavery. What do we make of knowing that great men and women of the faith so often have feet of clay? Well, it ought to be a warning to us that despite our best efforts to uphold God’s truth and to live according to God’s precepts, we all have blind spots – we all fail to fully live the fruit of the Spirit. We can be orthodox in our theology and circumspect in our morality and yet still tolerate “subtle” and “acceptable” sins in our lives – sins like the ones I’ve been addressing for the last two months. Did Luther deliberately try to be angry and prideful. No, I don’t think so. The fact is that God created Luther as he was and gave him the ability to stand firm for truth in the face of persecution. Luther was the right man to stand before the papal prelates and the Emperor at Worms. But just as much as we may use God’s gifts for his service, we can also abuse them. Every personality trait can be used for God or can be abused and used wrongly for selfish gratification. We need to take our God-given personality traits captive to Christ and put them to use in his service. Selfishness can be one of our big blind spots – one of our tolerated “acceptable” sins. It’s something we inherited from our first sinful parents as part of our sin nature. Think about it. How many of you here had to teach your kids to be selfish? No, they come out of the womb selfish little savages with no thought for anyone but themselves! A baby has no capability of self-control at the start and when they don’t get what they want they scream themselves into a fury. Look at little kids. A brother and a sister were sitting on a rocking horse. The boy said to his sister, “You know, it sure is crowded here. If one of us would get off, there’d be a lot more room for me!” How many of us had to teach our kids not to share with their friends or their brothers and sisters? No, you have to teach them to share! As we get older we learn that obvious acts of selfishness are socially unacceptable and so we find more subtle ways to be selfish – but the problem is still there. Even as Christians we still struggle with the flesh that wars against the Spirit. And one of the manifestations of the flesh is selfishness. This is a hard sin to expose. It’ easy to see it in other people, but not always easy to see in ourselves. Part of the problem in seeing it is that there are different degrees of selfishness. Some people may be blatantly and openly selfish. Someone may steal things from other people or just make it plain by the way he treats them that he doesn’t care about them at all. I don’t think that’s a problem that most of us are struggling with. Our selfishness is usually more subtle and more refined. Are we selfish with our interests? Look at what St. Paul wrote to the Philippians in 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. By interests Paul meant not only the needs and concerns of other people, but also in a narrower sense, the things they’re interested in. Think about what interests you. When you get together with other people do you talk only about your interests or do the other people there talk about theirs too? I know a person that only talks on two subjects: herself and her kids and grandkids. If she stops talking about them long enough for you talk about something that interests you, she’ll quickly grab hold of what you just said and turn it around to point back at herself or her kids again. If your kids did something great and you bring it up, her kids have always done the same thing first or done it better than yours. I do it too. Veronica can tell you how many times I’ve come home from work and immediately started in on the, “You would not believe what I had to deal with today…” litany – not thinking to stop and ask her first how her day went and what she did. I know I’ve probably bored friends and family to tears talking about the things that interest me – probably theology, ecclesiology, or genealogy! We need to evaluate how we interact with others in this respect. A good test of the degree of selfishness in our interests would be to reflect on the conversation and ask yourself just how much time you spent talking about yourself compared to letting others talk about themselves and what interests them. Someone once pointed out to me, “If everyone else’s plate is empty and yours is still full, its time to start using your mouth for eating instead of talking.” Anyone who knows me also knows that I’m still learning to put that into practice. Now you might say, “Well, what you’re talking about might be rude or unthoughtful, but it’s not sin.” But the fact is that it’s a big indicator of our self-centredness. It shows that we’re mostly concerned about ourselves. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, St. Paul gives us a list of some pretty ugly sins that will characterise the “last days.” The first sin in that list is “lovers of self.” That’s a good description of a selfish person, because he’s first and foremost centred on himself. If he takes it to an extreme, he simply doesn’t care about others or their interests, their needs, or their desires. His only interest is himself, and his self-centred conversation is the evidence. How about this: are you selfish with your time? Time is a precious commodity that we only have a limited amount of. You can become wealthy and have extra money to spend, but not many folks have “extra” time. We’re all busy and it’s easy to become selfish with our time. A husband who says to his wife, “My time is more important than yours,” is being obviously selfish, but we can be more subtly selfish here too. No matter who we are, we tend to guard our time. Think of a student asking her roommate to help her with homework, but the roommate is busy studying for a final exam. Will she give up her precious time to help with the homework, or will she keep it for herself? Or will she give of her time to help, but do it grudgingly? For that matter, is the first student acting selfishly to ask her roommate for help when she knows she’s busy studying for the big test the next morning? We can be selfish by inordinately guarding our time, but we can also be selfish when we unduly impose on someone else’s time. Either way, we’re thinking of ourselves and not the other person. Think about this in the context of your home-life. Husbands, wives, and kids all have things they have to do, and much of the time we’re reluctant to step outside our own duties. We take a “that’s not my job” attitude. Kid’s are known for actually saying, “Hey, that’s not my job!” But even as adults we do the same thing – we’re just more subtle about it. Rather than saying, “I’ll take care of that for you,” we just ignore the help another person needs and go about our own thing. And yet St. Paul tells us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Going beyond our normal duties to help someone is one way we can bear each other’s burdens. A third area in which we can be selfish is our money. I don’t know what the statistics are in Canada, but Americans give less then two percent of their income to charities or religious causes. The United States is the richest nation in the world with the highest standard of living and yet Americans give only two percent of their money away – and that’s the most of any nation in the world. I don’t know how far behind that number Canada falls, but it does mean we here give less than two percent too. We pride ourselves on our generosity when there’s a major natural disaster, but the statistics don’t lie. They show that on the whole we’re indifferent to the physical and material needs of people worse off then ourselves. This is especially important for Christians. St. Peter wrote that we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). St. John wrote, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). The Gospel calls us to cultivate hearts of compassion toward those in need and then put that compassion to work through our giving. But what about giving to the Church? Less than four percent of North American Christians tithe. That’s the minimum standard for giving that Scripture sets for us, and yet 96% of us don’t meet that God-given standard. We’d rather keep our money for ourselves. But what does that say about our appreciation for what God has blessed us with? He calls us to trust him and to rely on him for our needs – “seek first his Kingdom and all these things shall be added unto you” – and promises that he will take care of us even better than the most loving parent. And he not only meets our most basic needs, he’s blessed us with an abundance from which he only asks for ten percent back. That ten percent is really a token amount that acknowledges that it came from him to begin with and that we trust him for our provision. And we treat our money as if we’re ultimately responsible for having received every last penny. Finally, what about inconsiderateness? Being inconsiderate can express itself in quite a few ways, but the bottom line is that the inconsiderate person simply doesn’t think about the impact of his actions on other people. The person who’s always late and keeps everyone waiting is inconsiderate. The person who talks loudly on his cell phone to the disturbance of others is selfishly inconsiderate. The teenager (or the husband) who leaves his mess on the kitchen counter for mom to clean-up is inconsiderate. Any time we fail to think about the impact of our actions on someone else, we are being selfishly inconsiderate. We are thinking only of ourselves. We can also be inconsiderate of the feelings of others. Think bout how often you’ve been rude or even downright mean to a waitress, a clerk at the store, to a customer service rep on the telephone when you’ve been on hold for half-an-hour, or to the anonymous person at the other end of an internet connection. Maybe we’re not mean or nasty, but we’re inconsiderate of their feelings. Instead of being rude or indifferent, we can with no more expenditure of energy brighten someone’s day with a simple thank you and a little graciousness. Think about the witness you have to people like that, who are used to taking the brunt of others’ frustration all day long. You may have all the reason in the world to be angry or upset, but sharing God’s grace by being thoughtful is one means by which we share Christ with the world. The person whose attitude is, “I just say what I think and let the chips fall where they may,” is selfishly inconsiderate. He’s indifferent to the possibility of embarrassment, humiliation, and hurt feelings. He may call it honesty, but in the end he’s only concerned with expressing his own thoughts and opinions. Scripture calls us to look not only to our own interests, but to the interests of others. If we broaden what that means to include the needs and concerns of others, as I think St. Paul did, then you can see that the unselfish person not only is indifferent to the needs of others, but actually expects them to meet his needs and desires. This is the sort of thing that kills a marriage: when the husband and wife get married to have their own needs met, rather than to serve and meet the needs of their spouse. Certainly the greatest example we have of unselfishness is Jesus Christ. As St. Paul says, though he was rich, for our sake he became poor so that by his poverty we could become rich (see 2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul urges us, as Christ’s followers, to cultivate that same frame of mind (Philippians 2:5). Think of the many priests that died of plague in the Fourteenth Century. The bubonic plague wiped out 30 to 40 percent of Europe’s population because it was so contagious and so deadly. People were afraid. If a member of their family became sick, they would often leave that person to die rather than risk staying in the house with them and getting sick themselves. Many of the priests of the day stepped in to serve those who were dying and many of them in turn caught the plague and died themselves. It’s said that the best of the priests were killed by the plague, leaving the worst of the priests to live. In our cases, it’s unlikely that living unselfishly will result in our deaths, but it can be costly. It means giving up our time, our money, and our interests and investing in the interests and concerns of others. I suggest that the place to start is in our own homes and with our own families. Most of us tend to be on our best behaviour when we’re outside the home, but when we get home we tend to set aside our artificial restraints and truly be ourselves – to live out our true character. And because selfishness is something that’s often so hard to see in ourselves, we ought to start by asking our family members to point out our selfish tendencies. We should do this without being defensive. We shouldn’t retaliate by then bringing up the selfishness we see in that other person. Instead, we ought to humbly and genuinely repent, and start praying that the Holy Spirit will enable us to deal with those selfish characteristics. God fills every one of us with his Spirit for a reason – to open our eyes to sin in our lives and to help us to overcome that sin. This is an area where we need to ask the Spirit to make us “extra” sensitive, and then we need to seek his help set that sin aside. Please pray with me: Father, we come to you knowing that selfishness is one of our big problems. We engage in it so often that we’re often completely blind to it. Open our eyes to any place where this sin exists in our lives and give us the grace to overcome it, replacing it with a selfless love for others. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Pride Respectable Sins: Sermon Eight by William Klock If we looked at all the characters in the New Testament, I think that maybe the most repugnant to us would be the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable: the one who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). We cringe to hear someone pray that way, but the irony is that even as we condemn that Pharisee, we ourselves fall into the same kind of self-righteousness. As Christians we all have blind spots – sinful parts of our lives that we’re totally oblivious to – and I think that pride, after ungodliness, may just be the most common of those blind spots. And so pride needs to be addressed, because it’s completely incompatible with the Gospel message itself. You can’t turn to Jesus for salvation, looking for a righteousness you don’t have, while at the same time being full of pride. I think that with this reminder you can see just why it’s so important that we deal with this particular sin. It really is critical. In fact, both St. James and St. Peter warn us saying, “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). Pride manifests itself in all sorts of ways that we’ll never have time to cover, so tonight I want to look at just four specific ways in which pride is, I think, most likely to manifest itself in the life of the believer: the pride of moral self-righteousness, the pride of correct doctrine, the pride of achievement, and the pride of an independent spirit. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable shows moral self-righteousness. This is a form of pride that expresses itself in feelings of moral superiority over other people. It’s not just limited to believers. You can be morally self-righteous in the political and cultural arenas too. You can be liberal or conservative and be guilty of this. Anyone who believes he stands on the moral high ground in any thing like politics, economics, or even environmental policy is very likely indulging in moral self-righteousness. This is an easy sin to fall into in the world in which we live – where society at large is falling into and condoning gross immorality: abortion, drugs, avarice, easy divorce, and any and all sorts of sexual immorality. What used to be scandalous doesn’t raise an eyebrow anymore – or worse, is even proclaimed as being virtuous. Because we don’t commit those sins, we tend to feel morally superior to everyone else. We look down on them with a certain amount of disdain. Sometimes I think this is the great sin of the orthodox Anglican community. If you want a perfect example of this sin, just point your web browser to Virtuosity – the conservative Anglican news website. Too many of the articles there show just this kind of attitude. They don’t stop at calling sin, sin – they take a Pharisaical and self-righteous position of superiority over those in the Church that have fallen into sin – name calling and just generally showing a lot of self-righteousness. And if you dare, scroll down to the comments left by visitors to the site – they’re even worse. It begs the question: What do we want to see happen? Because it would seem that these folks would rather see the liberals rot in hell than be redeemed. You see, there’s often a fine line between raising a prophetic voice against sin, and allowing ourselves to fall into a spirit of contempt toward sinners. We need to remember that we ourselves are sinners too. That without Jesus Christ, we stand before God just as condemned as everyone else. We need to remember that the Church isn’t a social club. It’s a lifeboat and our goal is to be proclaiming God’s message of redemption and gathering as many people as possible into the boat. Notice that St. Luke tells us that Jesus told this parable about he Pharisee “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). So what can we do to guard against the sin of self-righteousness? First, we need to seek an attitude of humility based on the truth that “there but for the grace of God go I.” We need to remember that at some point in the past, someone else rescued us and pulled us into the lifeboat. We need to remember that if we are morally upright, and especially if we are believers trying to live morally upright lives, it’s only because God has shown us his grace. No one is naturally morally upright. Each of us has to admit with David, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). When we’re tempted to feel morally superior and to condemn those around us engaged in gross sin, we should instead feel gratitude toward God, that by his grace he’s kept us from those sins – or maybe even rescued us from them. I think it can also help us, too, to identify ourselves before God with the sinful society we live in. Ezra gives us an example of this. He returned to Judah with the other Jews who left Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem. He was a scribe trained in the Law and he went back to Judah to teach his people God’s Law. We’re told that Ezra “had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He was a godly man who led an exemplary life. The Israelites he was supposed to teach had fallen into some big sins, and yet we read about Ezra actually identifying with their sin, even though he wasn’t guilty of it himself. He prayed, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to life my fact to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” Notice how he says, “our iniquities” and “our guilt,” not pointing his finger to everyone else and saying, “their iniquities” and “their guilt.” Especially in our culture, it would do much to keep us humble to do as Ezra did as he identified himself with the sin of the people around him. Closely related to moral pride is doctrinal pride: the assumption that whatever my doctrinal beliefs are, they are correct, and anyone who holds another belief is theologically inferior. Anyone who takes doctrine seriously is susceptible here. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Arminian or a Calvinist, if you subscribe to Dispensational or Covenant theology. Because “we’re right” we can be prone to look with disdain on those whose beliefs are different from our own. For that matter, lets round out the spectrum a bit: Even for those people who don’t consider doctrine important are prone to look with disdain on those of us who do. In other words, this form of pride is a pride in our particular belief system, whatever that may be, and an attitude that in our beliefs we are spiritually superior to those who hold other beliefs. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not at all meaning to say that taking a firm stand for doctrine isn’t important. I’m not saying that we can’t believe, and even assert, that our beliefs are right. Just as it’s critical that we take a stand for biblical morality, we must also take a stand for sound and biblical doctrine. I wouldn’t be an Anglican if I didn’t firmly believe that the Prayer Book, the Articles, and the Homilies promote the doctrine and practice of Holy Scripture – and I’ll fight for that doctrine and practice tooth and nail. But even when we know we’re right, we need to hold that truth in humility. In 1 Corinthians 8, St. Paul addresses this form of pride in regard to the issue of eating food that had been offered to idols. Some of the Corinthian Christians had concluded that this practice fell within the bounds of Christian liberty. St. Paul didn’t disagree with them, but he did rebuke them for the doctrinal pride that resulted from their belief. He wrote to them saying, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). The Apostle agreed with their “knowledge” – but he charges them with doctrinal pride. Their “knowledge” had puffed them up. So if you’re Calvinism or Arminianism or Dispensationalism, if you’re view of the “end times” or of the Holy Spirit (or your disdain for all doctrinal beliefs) causes you to feel doctrinally superior to those who hold other views, then you’re probably guilty of the sin of doctrinal pride. Again, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t seek to know the truths of Holy Scripture or that we shouldn’t seek to develop deep doctrinal convictions about what Scripture teaches. What I am saying is that we should hold our convictions in humility. If we are “right,” it’s only by God’s grace – because he’s given us his Spirit to open our eyes to Scriptural truth – not because we’re so smart and everyone else isn’t. If you struggle with this sin, memorise and pray over 1 Corinthians 8:1 – the “knowledge puffs up” verse. Then ask God to help you pinpoint the areas where you tend to be doctrinally proud – and ask him to help you hold to your convictions with a genuine spirit of humility. Now I want to switch gears a little bit and look at how we tend to take pride in our achievements. The Bible does teach us that in general there is a cause-and-effect relationship between hard work and success. Proverbs 13:4 tells us, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” St. Paul exhorted Timothy in his ministry: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (2 Timothy 2:15). And St. Paul himself went all out in his ministry. But the Bible also teaches us that success in anything is under the sovereign control of God. We read in 1 Samuel that, “the Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts” (1 Samuel 2:7). We might have the brains to succeed in school or the savvy to succeed in business, but in neither case can we take the credit. We may have worked hard, but it was God that gave us the gifts in the first place. Paul wrote to the proud Corinthians, “Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Think about that. What do you have that you did not receive? Nothing. None of us has anything that did not come to us ultimately as God’s gift. If you’re smart, if you’re talented, if you’re healthy, if you can work hard thank God, because it all came from him. So then, why do we boast? We do it in different ways. Sometimes we’re overtly proud. Other times we can boast more subtly. Either way, it’s because we’ve failed to acknowledge that success comes from God. Of course, we put ourselves into those successes and worked hard, but who gave you the ability and the desire to succeed? Who blessed your efforts? Ultimately it’s all from God! And yet we often boast to others of our accomplishments as if God had nothing to do with it. We often boast of our children’s accomplishments as if God had nothing to do with it? Or maybe our pride shows itself in our desire for recognition. We all like to be told when we’ve done a job well. But what’s out attitude when we do a job well and don’t get the credit or the recognition? Are we willing to labour in obscurity, doing our job as unto the Lord, or do we become disgruntled over the lack of recognition? There are two Scriptural principles that we can apply to our pride – to keep us on our guard. First, we should remember Jesus’ words in Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” When we’ve done a job well or maybe served faithfully for a long time, our attitude should be, “I have only done my duty.” Second, we need to learn that all recognition, regardless of the immediate source, ultimately comes from God. It’s God who puts one down and lifts another up. Putting these two principles together should cause us to say, “All is of grace.” I deserve nothing, and all I do receive, including recognition, is only by God’s grace – so if I don’t receive it, I won’t worry about it.” Finally, I want to look at the sin of having a pridefully independent spirit. This kind of sin usually expresses itself in two ways: either a resistance to authority (especially a spiritual authority), or an unteachable attitude. Often both expressions go hand in hand. Think of the stereotypical teenage know-it-all. As I’ve heard it said, “We don’t know how much we don’t know!” I think most of us were like that to some degree. We had no experience, but we thought we knew it all. I remember that first opportunity I had to intern in a church. I was assigned to what was supposed to be a moderately evangelical little church over in Vancouver. Yet what the bishop considered evangelical or conservative and what I did were two different things. To top it off the moderately liberal rector was a woman. I went in there knowing that I knew more about ministry than she did just because I was theologically orthodox. (Yes, I was guilty of doctrinal pride too!). Was she wrong on a lot? Yes. But she also had a lot more experience as a minister than I did and knew a lot of things that I didn’t – things that had little to do with liberal vs. conservative debates. I was often unwilling to submit to the authority that was over me. I was often unwilling to receive the instruction I needed from someone who was more mature than I was. I wish I had been more familiar with what the Bible says about authority. Look at Hebrews 13:17: 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. The writer of Hebrews was talking about the spiritual authority of elders in the church, but his principle of submission and teachability applies to any situation where someone is under the tutelage or training of a more mature believer. It’s our pride of an independent spirit that makes us unteachable or unsubmissive. Its not just young people – like me when I was a seminarian – older people can show a resistance to spiritual authority and an unteachable spirit too. In teaching and counselling I’ve encountered many people that will respond to something I’m teaching by saying, “Well, I disagree. I think…” There’s no appeal to Scripture – it’s just personal opinion or maybe based on experience as opposed to Scriptural authority. Sometimes they’ll even outright state that the Bible is wrong. In that person’s mind, their opinion is authoritative. There’s no willingness to grapple with the teaching of Scripture. But the Bible teaches very strongly the value of a teachable attitude. Proverbs in particular has a lot to say about this. Listen to these examples from the first few chapters of Proverbs: My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. (Proverbs 3:1) Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight. (Proverbs 4:1) My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding. (Proverbs 5:1) My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you. (Proverbs 7:1) Proverbs often talks about the father/son relationship, but the point is the principle of teachability: a willingness – even a desire – to learn from those who are more mature in the faith than we are. A person with a teachable spirit is a person who knows he needs the wise counsel of a more mature believer who can help his growth in the things of the faith. All of these manifestations of pride have become “acceptable” sins. Often I don’t think they’re even seen as sin at all. And that’s because they’ve become so common among Christians. They’re also sins that we’re prone to see in others, but not in ourselves. So I urge you to pray about the sin of pride and to ask God to bring to light any tendencies of pride in you life – and then confess them as sin. And as you do that, remember God’s promise through Isaiah, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Please pray with me: Father, we confess that even though we ought to remember that you have given us everything – our talents and abilities, our desires to work hard and to succeed, our spiritual life – even what righteousness we do have has come from you – instead of giving you the credit, we take the credit ourselves and become sinfully full of pride. We confess, Father, that we do this so often, that we don’t even see it as sin anymore. Open our eyes, we ask you to the pride in our lives, and give us the grace to set it aside and humblty acknowledge that it all comes from you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.