Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘sin’

The literary structure of Mark 2:13-17

We’re in the Gospel of Mark today, looking at the call of Levi and the subsequent meal in his home. This is the second in a sequence of five stories of conflict. Last time the conflict was over Jesus’ claim to forgive someone’s sins. Today it’s his practice of sharing fellowship with sinners.

Let’s jump right in –

Mark 2:13-17

v. 13- “He (Jesus) went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.”

As we have seen, Jesus was a celebrity, especially because of his ability to heal. Crowds followed him everywhere. He was always getting mobbed. And so here he takes advantage of this to continue to teach them about the coming of the kingdom of God (1:15).

v. 14 – “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth. . .”

[Notice the parallels with 1:16-20, the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John: Jesus took the initiative, he was “passing by”; it took place beside the sea; Jesus saw; there is a reference to occupation; the call “follow me”; and an immediate response of leaving their occupation]

It’s interesting that in the first gospel the name of the person in this story is “Matthew,” not Levi. And there’s also a James the son of Alphaeus, who is one of the twelve. Most likely Levi and Matthew are the same person. And perhaps Levi/Matthew and the apostle James, the son of Alphaeus were brothers. It’s hard to know how it all fits together with the information we have.

In any case, Levi was a tax collector (technically a toll collector). Specifically he would have been employed by someone to collect customs fees and road tolls. He most likely had a booth along the road through Capernaum, which was a significant trade route (the Via Maris from Damascus to Caesarea). The money would go to his boss, who would give the proper portion to Herod Antipas, who ruled in Galilee.

Tax collectors were despised and treated as outcasts, for several reasons. I’ll mention just two. First, they were seen as collaborators with Rome, Israel’s oppressive overlord, since they worked for Herod, Rome’s installed puppet leader. And also they were often dishonest and charged too much, to increase their own income. They are associated in the New Testament with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), extortionists, the unjust, adulterers (Luke 18:11) and Gentiles (Matthew 18:17). None of these kept the Law of Moses and all of them were classified as “sinners.”

So Jesus sees Levi sitting at his toll booth, doing his work.

v. 14 – “. . . and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

When he says, follow me, Jesus is asking Levi to leave his current life behind so that he can travel with Jesus, learn from him and minister with him, just as he has already done with Peter, Andrew, James and John.

It’s possible that Levi had previous interactions with Jesus. Peter did before his call from Jesus, even though Mark doesn’t tell us about them. So it’s possible. Either way, Levi makes a radical break. He leaves his career behind. We will see in a moment that he had a house. But one can also wonder, was he married? Did he have kids? Was he supporting his parents? Whatever his exact circumstances, he had to sacrifice to follow Jesus in this way.

v. 15 – “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

[Jesus is a bit like David here collecting outcasts to himself – 1 Samuel 22:2].

The references “he” and “his” in the first phrase are vague. But it’s best to say that Jesus is eating in Levi’s house (Luke 5:29). Usually you would sit to eat. It was only for a special meal or banquet (Luke 5:29) that you would you recline, that is, lay on cushions or a couch and eat off of a short table.

“Sinners,” as we saw,  is a broad term that covers Gentiles and also Jews who don’t keep the Law of Moses in significant ways. Maybe they aren’t even trying. It’s a lifestyle of sin.

What’s going on here is that Levi, now a committed worker for Jesus, has invited his friends and coworkers, fellow tax collectors and sinners, to meet with Jesus, and to hear his message of the kingdom.

Many tax collectors and sinners were interested in Jesus and many “followed him,” our verse tells us, perhaps in the crowds that followed Jesus around, or perhaps as repentant disciples. (As Jesus said to the Jewish leaders in Matthew 21:31, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”)

And Jesus freely joins in with them in this feast.

v. 16 – “And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”

The scribes of the Pharisees, or experts in the Law, want to see what’s going on. A meal like this would’ve been public knowledge in a small town like Capernaum. And they aren’t happy with what they see. They ask Jesus’ disciples, “What in the world is he doing?”

That’s because the Pharisees took a separation approach to sinners. The righteous must be separate from those that are morally or ritually unclean. And the walls of separation must be maintained. And they especially applied this to who you ate meals with.

To be with sinners (especially to eat with them) is to send the wrong message; one of condoning their disobedience to God. And in ancient cultures to eat a meal with someone did convey open fellowship with each other.

And then there is the concern that if you are with them you will be contaminated by them, through ritual impurity for sure, but also by means of bad moral influence.

Perhaps they even said, “if sinners want to repent, they know what to do according to the Law of Moses. Let them get their lives in order first. Then we’ll fellowship.”

So Jesus’ actions were disconcerting and threatening to their way of looking at things. He isn’t playing by their rules.

v. 17 – “And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

Jesus uses a common proverb to make his point: What good is a doctor who never goes around a sick person? Of course doctors have to be with them. How else can they help them? In the same way Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance and kingdom entrance; he calls them to be made whole. This is precisely why Jesus came. God sent him to do this.

Now, when Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” he acknowledges that there is a difference between a person who seeks to follow God and when they fail, finds forgiveness and moves forward – and a person who isn’t even trying to follow God; sinners who live a lifestyle of sin. And Jesus speaks of those who are righteous (Mark 6:20; Matthew 10:41; 13:17; 13:43; 25:37; Luke 1:6; 2:25; 23:50).

But we also have to acknowledge that with the coming of Jesus even these relatively more righteous ones are called to repentance in light of the fuller revelation of God’s will that he brings. (Just as those with faith in God are called to have faith in Jesus and his bringing forth the promise of the kingdom.) (This saying is similar to Luke 15:7, given in a very similar context, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance.”) (The Pharisees saw themselves as righteous – Luke 18:9, but Jesus often pointed out the ways that at least some of them failed in this regard.)

Instead of a separation approach, Jesus took a redemptive approach to sinnersYou have to be with them to give them the message of new life. Yes, this can seem scandalous because people might think that you’re condoning sin, or even sinning yourself. But the point is to be able to share the message of the kingdom and repentance and forgiveness and new life. So it’s worth the risk.

Instead of sin contaminating him, Jesus saw his love and truth as able to transform them; to make them well. Righteousness is contagious, not sin. Yes, you risk ritual impurity, and you do have to be careful of moral influence if it’s an area of weakness for you. But other than this, it’s worth the risk.

It’s no wonder that so many people responded to Jesus. They were used to rejection and scorn. And this didn’t lead to their transformation. But now Jesus comes to them, and he comes with grace – “I know you’re sinners, even notorious ones, but God is offering you the kingdom too. Repent and you can enter in and have new life.”

Let’s end with –

Some questions

 How do you treat sinners? Are you more like the Pharisees or more like Jesus? Here’s a test: There was a Christian man who went to biker bars so that he could be with those who needed Jesus. God put them on his heart. He sought to befriend those he could, to show them the love of Jesus. But when others in church found out about it they were shocked! John goes to bars every Friday night! We’ve never heard of such a thing. What’s he thinking? That’s not a place for good Christians to hang out. He should be thinking about his witness!

Do you agree with John or those in his church? Whose concern for witness is more genuine – John’s actual witness to people or the church’s concern for mere reputation?

Jesus calls us to be with sinners, not stay away from them. Unless, of course you have a weakness, that particular people or circumstances might tempt you to give in to. Short of this we are called to be with them, not just to hang out with each other, the “well” ones; those that we are comfortable with in the church building. We are to be with them so that we can share with them about Jesus, his love and his grace.

And this is not just about outside the church. Sinners should be welcome in our church. Do people have to clean up their lives before they come to church? No! Church is the place they need to be, to be able to get clean and be transformed by Jesus.

Do you introduce your friends to Jesus? Levi’s an excellent example. He immediately invited everyone he knew to a banquet so that they could meet Jesus and hear his message. In what ways might you connect your friends and co-workers to Jesus?

Are you struggling with sin? Are you stuck in a lifestyle of sin? If this describes you, Jesus comes to you today and he comes with love and grace. He comes to offer you new life; a new start; forgiveness. He comes to you as the good physician to make you well.

What must you do? Receive his grace. Be like Levi, repent of your sins and give yourself fully, radically and sacrificially to follow Jesus. This is the path to wholeness. I encourage you, respond to Jesus today.

Read Full Post »

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:2-18

We’re back into the book of 1 Samuel today, covering most of chapter 13; what is the beginning of the end for Saul’s kingship, at least under the blessing of God.

Just to help you remember where we’re at in the story. Israel requested a king and God chose Saul. And this choice was affirmed in numerous ways in chapters 9-12. He is privately anointed king by Samuel, in a story filled with acts of divine providence that brought them together. And this is confirmed to Saul by three miraculous signs.

Next, Saul was to attack the Philistine garrison near his home, after these miraculous signs, but he didn’t. He hesitated. He was afraid. This was how God’s choice of him was to have been made known, in a military victory. Nevertheless, he is publicly chosen by lots in chapter 10 and he wins a military victory in chapter 11 over the Ammonites. And then finally in chapter 12, Samuel retires from being the Judge of Israel and Saul is established as king.

Our story today connects back to the unfinished business of 1 Samuel 10:8. Basically whenever Saul decided to attack the Philistines, Samuel told him, “go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”  (I am indebted to V. Philips Long in his book, The Reign and Rejection of King Saul for this interpretation.)

Let’s look at what happens –

1 Samuel 13:2-18

Our verses today begin with Saul selecting his standing army.

2Saul chose three thousand men of Israel. Two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the people he sent home, every man to his tent.

Jonathan’s victory. 

3Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” 4And all Israel heard it said that Saul had defeated the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become a stench to the Philistines.

It’s interesting that it’s Jonathan, Saul’s son, who fulfills the words of 1 Samuel 10 about Saul doing what his hand finds to do with the Philistine garrison. Although perhaps Saul ordered it. In any case, he certainly gets credit for the victory here.

Jonathan’s act commits Israel to all out war with their Philistine overlords. They are in open revolt. They are a “stench” to the more powerful Philistines.

And the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.

Saul goes a ways East to Gilgal, according to the instructions of 1 Samuel 10:8, and to muster the full Israelite army.

And likewise the Philistines gather together their army.

5And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, three thousand chariots (NIV) and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven.

This was a truly massive army, perhaps much more than Israel was expecting. They also had better equipment. They had chariots (the tanks of that day). And as we learn later, among Israel, only Saul and Jonathan had swords. The rest presumably used farm implements for their fighting.

6When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, 7and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

If the Philistine response is impressive, the Israelite response is not impressive. They knew they were in trouble, if you just go by the numbers, so they hid and fled as far away as they could. Saul still had some people with him but they were shaking in their boots.

This brings us to Saul’s sin.

8He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering.

So Saul has finally, through Jonathan, attacked the Philistines and so he knows that Samuel’s instructions from 1 Samuel 10:8 are now in effect. He waited, but not the whole time; not all of the seventh day, as we’ll see.

The offerings are important because they are a means of calling for God’s blessing and help in the battle to come.

10As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11Samuel said, “What have you done?”

So Samuel comes at the last minute, apparently just after the burnt offering, and before Saul finished the peace offerings. Samuel immediately sees that Saul has not done what God commanded. He was to have waited the full seven days, Samuel was to sacrifice and Saul was to wait for Samuel’s instructions for the battle.

This brings us to Saul’s excuse.

And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

He actually has three excuses. 1) The army was deserting, so he feels he needs to act quickly. 2) He shifts the blame to Samuel. It’s your fault! You didn’t come soon enough! (The “you” in this phrase in v. 11 is emphatic). 3) And, although there is no indication that this was true, he was afraid that the Philistines would come all the way to Gilgal to attack. So again, he’s in a hurry.

So he felt compelled to go ahead and offer the burnt offerings. He’s saying to Samuel, “Hey, I had no choice!”

Notice how each of these excuses has to do with what he saw (v. 11). He’s focused on the circumstances around him. And he chose to act based on his negative circumstances versus what God has specifically commanded him to do. We have already seen that fear is a core weakness for Saul, and this is surely a part of why he did what he did.

God’s judgment.

13And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Samuel reveals that this was a test. If he had demonstrated faith in God, to obey what God said, his kingdom would have endured forever over Israel. But now his descendants will not succeed him; he will have no dynasty.

Why such a serious judgment? He disobeyed a specific command of God that he was well aware of. And he is the king and much is expected of him as the leader of God’s people. And he was given everything he needed, a specific promise in 9:16 that “Saul shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines.” He was also given a new heart by the Spirit of God working in him. And he acted appropriately before in another crisis by relying on God, showing that he can do it.

But this test reveals something deeper, that something is off in him now. 1) His thinking is off. He thinks that giving a sacrifice is more important than obeying God, when it’s obedience that brings God’s blessing, not a mere ritual or sacrifice (1 Samuel 12:13-15; 25). We will see this again in chapter 15 when Saul once again outright willfully disobeys God.

2) His heart is also off. Obeying God is now to him something to do when it suits him. When it doesn’t create complications for him. But if circumstances demand, then he disobeys. He thinks he knows better than God what to do in a crisis. But God is looking for “a man after his own heart” – v. 14. God is looking for someone who loves him and wants to obey him; who wants to please him; who desires what he desires. And even takes risks to do this. That’s why God has chosen someone else who has this kind of heart, whom we learn later is David. (That this has to do with a different kind of heart – 1 Samuel 14:7, 1 Samuel 15:28, which is in parallel to this; 2 Samuel 7:21; 1 Kings 11:4; 15:3 Jeremiah 3;15; Acts 13:22)

Notice also here how the punishment fits the crime. In v. 13 Saul didn’t keep the “command” or it can be translated “appointment” that God gave him. So in v. 14, using the same word, God has “appointed” or “commanded” someone else to be prince over his people.

The aftermath.

15And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal.

Notice how in all this Saul in unrepentant. He doesn’t take responsibility. And so Samuel simply leaves without giving him any instructions.

The rest of the people went up after Saul to meet the army; they went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men.

 He went to muster troops but came back with fewer than he had before.

16And Saul and Jonathan his son and the people who were present with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.

What are they supposed to do? They don’t know.  

17And raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual; 18another company turned toward Beth-horon; and another company turned toward the border that looks down on the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.

If before, after Jonathan’s victory, Israel had the momentum, now the Philistines have it. They send out people to surround Saul, to cut off any reinforcements and to gather supplies for their huge army.

What do we learn from this?

Sin has consequences. When we willfully, knowingly disobey God there will be consequences for us, just as there were for Saul.

Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul who sins shall die.” And even when we find forgiveness from God, there is still damage done in our lives. For Saul this meant no dynasty. Sin has consequences.

Our excuses also don’t hold water. In a time of trial, circumstances will be hard, but when God gives us clear instructions, we need to follow them. We can’t say, like Saul, “I had to disobey.” “I had no choice!” To put it in a different set of circumstances we can’t say to God, “I had to lie.” “I had to steal.” “I had to commit adultery.” That doesn’t cut it.

We can rationalize all we want. But God gives us what we need to follow him, even when it’s hard. And when we choose not to obey God that’s on us. And we need to take responsibility for our wrong choice and own our sin.

Finally, our hearts need to be after God’s own heart, to love and obey him, not just when it’s easy.

If you don’t obey God out of love; out of a passion and desire to serve God, you’re an empty shell that will one day be exposed in a time of trial, just as Saul was. Maybe some of us need to find our passion and desire for God, once again. It’s not about being religious, Saul offered a sacrifice. It’s about a heart that yearns to do what God wants. It’s about our heart wanting what God’s heart wants.

Read Full Post »

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 4:11-22

We are continuing on with several stories about the ark of God in 1 Samuel that prepare us for the emergence of Samuel as the prophetic leader of Israel.

As you will remember from earlier in 1 Samuel, God has foretold judgment on the high priest Eli and his two sons – Hophni and Phinehas. They treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt, taking the best portions for themselves. And also his two sons treated the women workers at the tabernacle as prostitutes. 1 Samuel 2:12 says of these two, “They were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

And so an unnamed prophet came and told Eli that his house would no longer be the high priestly line – 2:27-33. And that the sign that this will surely happen is that his two sons would die on the same day – 2:34. And then the Lord told Samuel as a boy, “11Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” – 3:11-14

The title of the sermon is “The other shoe drops.” You know the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” right? It means waiting for something bad to happen. Something bad has happened and something else bad will happen. If these pronouncements of judgment are the first shoe that drops, then waiting for the fulfillment of these words of judgment is the other shoe. And it drops decisively in our text today.

Our story picks up with the fallout of the battle between Israel and the Philistines that we looked at last week, where Israel was severely defeated, even though they brought the ark of the covenant to help them.

Judgment on Eli and his house

4:11And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Not only did the use of the ark not bring victory, it was captured by the Philistines. It was under enemy control.

And just as the Lord had said, Hophni and Phinehas died on the same day as a sign to all that Eli and his house were being set aside as the high priestly line in Israel.

12A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head.

So this man ran for some twenty miles from Aphek/Ebenezer to Shiloh, quite a feat. And he comes with torn clothes and dirt on his head as an indicator of mourning for the many who have died.

13When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God.

Eli was devoted to God in his own way. We see this in his teaching Samuel about the Lord and here in his concern for the ark. Despite his sin, he still had this.

And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out.

As the Lord said to Samuel, God would “do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” (3:11). And they must have all been stunned to hear the report. They are crying out not just in general, but because many of their own fathers, brothers, husbands and sons were now dead. And their lives may well be in danger, as we will see.

14When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. 15Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see.

So Eli can hear – he hears the city cry out, but he can’t see, which is why he didn’t see the messenger or how he was dressed. He is still wondering what’s going on. So the messenger comes and tells him the report in person.

16And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” 17He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”

The man tells Eli in ascending order of importance about Israel’s defeat, the death of his two sons and then that the Philistines now have the ark of God.

Eli doesn’t seem that concerned about his sons, for the story continues . . .

18As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

His sons are dead and now he dies after hearing the fate of the ark. In a way his own sin is a part of this, for he fell off his chair and broke his neck not only because he was old, but also because he was heavy –perhaps related to his eating the best portions of the Lord’s offerings.

This is the only place that mentions Eli as a judge; he ruled for 40 years. The Hebrew word for “seat” here (and also in v. 13) also means “throne.” So Eli is symbolically dethroned and his reign comes to an end.

19Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention.

The bad news induced her labor. She was so overcome by what happened that she didn’t even care that she had given birth to a son.

21And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Before she dies, in the naming of her son she gives insight into the situation that is going on in Israel. Ichabod is taken by her to mean “the glory has departed.” This a reference to God, who is the glory of Israel (1 Samuel 15:29). 1) God was not with the Israelite soldiers, even though they brought the ark; 2) the leaders of Israel are now dead – Eli and his sons, including her own husband; 3) but above all else, repeated twice here (5x in whole story) the ark of God is now gone. God has truly abandoned them. What was apparent, even when the ark was present, is made perfectly clear with the capture of the ark. God had already left them because of their sin and unfaithfulness.

In the phrase “the glory has departed,” the word “departed” can also be translated, “has gone into exile.” God has gone into exile in a foreign land. God is absent. Why? Israel’s sin drove God away.

If the pattern later was Israel left the land and went into exile, here God leaves the land in exile. And they become slaves in their own land (1 Samuel 4:9; Psalm 78:62-64). (But also see Ezekiel 10:18 where the glory leaves and the people go into exile.)

Psalm 78:59-61 says of this event, God “utterly rejected Israel. He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt with people, and delivered his power to captivity.”

And then we have something that is not recorded in this passage, but almost certainly happened at this time –

The destruction of the tabernacle at Shiloh

In Jeremiah 7:12, several centuries later, the Lord says, “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” In other words, God is saying to the people of Jerusalem, “you think I won’t judge you because you have the temple in your midst? I’ve don it before! Just as I destroyed the tabernacle in Shiloh, so I will destroy the temple in Jerusalem. (Also 26:6, 9)

And this fits with what we find in 1 Samuel. Shiloh is never again mentioned as a worship center in Israel; the ark is not taken back there when it is recovered from the Philistines later; and Samuel goes back to his home in Ramah as his center of operations. (Bergen. Even Eli’s descendants are later found in the city of Nob.) 

Given this, along with the capture of the ark, this was surely the lowest point for Israel since their time of slavery in Egypt.

What do we learn from all this?

1. Our sin drives God away from our lives, just as we see in this story. In Isaiah 59:2 the Lord says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” Our sin creates a barrier or a wall between us and God. And so we have to deal with our sin through confession, repentance and receiving forgiveness from God, so that we can have a relationship with God. This is what Israel failed to do, but this is what the story teaches us. Don’t be like them! Act and make decisive changes so that you can be reconciled with God and experience renewed relationship and help.

2. God keeps his word. Now we like it when God keeps his word to bless us and help us. But God just a surely keeps his word when it comes to judgment and the many warnings that he gives us about walking in sin and unfaithfulness.

In Eli’s case God spoke it through two prophets – and as Scripture says, let everything be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). And it surely came to pass. And just as surely God will keep his word of judgment if we walk in sin. We may think we are fine because nothing bad has happened yet, so it seems like God doesn’t care or that God won’t act, but the other shoe will drop – whether it is today, tomorrow or on the final day. We will reap what we sow. There are consequences for our unfaithfulness to God. Our sin will find us out. And so this should encourage us all the more to deal with our sin and come back into a right relationship with God.

Read Full Post »

Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

Last time we asked, “What is humility?” To put it briefly it means that we lower ourselves before others to serve and sacrifice for their needs. Today our topic is – a little help as we seek to be humble.

And we begin with Romans 12:3, where Paul says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think . . .” This certainly teaches us to be humble. But I also want to be clear as we get started here that this isn’t about saying we have no value. Each one of us has immense value, even beyond our understanding. We are all made by God. We are all loved by God. God has given each of us gifts. And God has a plan and a purpose for each one of us.

So, when Paul says, “do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think,” he means have a right view of who you are, that is, use “sober judgment” as he goes on to say. Each of us needs to have a sense of our value before God, without needing then to lift ourselves up in pride over others. In fact, for some of us, our falling into pride may well be an evidence that we don’t have this inner confidence in our value before God, and we are trying to compensate for this lack by boasting or lifting ourselves up to be seen by others.

Whatever the case may be this isn’t about berating ourselves, it is about walking in the truth about ourselves which should lead each one of us to a place of humility. Here are five things to remember that should help us in this.

1. You too have failed

Sometimes we are tempted to think we’re pretty good. Especially when we compare ourselves to others. Right? You can always find someone that’s worse off than you, at least in your mind.

Well, the truth is stated well in Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Each one of us has missed the mark and still do. In this regard we should all be humble. We are only forgiven sinners.

So don’t put on airs or pretend this isn’t true. Take a good look in the mirror and see the whole picture of your life – not just the good parts. Remember, you too have failed both God and others.

2. You too have weaknesses

All of us have strengths, but also weaknesses – areas where we continue to struggle in our lives or where we don’t excel. And it is human nature is suppose, to see this more readily in others, but not in our own lives. Or we compare our strengths to the weaknesses of others.

Well, the great apostle Paul had weaknesses. He proclaimed the gospel but he was not considered to be a good public speaker. As his critics said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his speech is of no account.” The Spirit of God worked through him in power, but he was considered to be a person of weak presence. As his critics said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his bodily presence is weak.”

If this is true for Paul, it is certainly true for each of us. If we stop looking at others and are honest about ourselves we will acknowledge this freely. When you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember, you too have weaknesses.

3. Your obedience is both required and enabled by God

Do you ever think, ‘Hey I’m doing pretty good. I’m witnessing, serving and following God’s will, even when it’s hard. Hey look at me!”

Well, Jesus says this in Luke 17:7-10 – “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 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.’” If you have done what God wanted, guess what? You only did what you were supposed to do in the first place! This is no cause to celebrate in terms of being proud. You get no extra credit or brownie points.

And then consider also that it is only by grace that we are able to obey God – as the Spirit works within us to do this. Philippians 2:13 says, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” If we do what is right it is only because God enables us to do so.

So if you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember, you can’t boast about obeying God.

4. Any good thing in your life is from God

Maybe you have musical gifts and people applaud you and praise you. Maybe you have a spiritual gift that everyone admires – you are an encourager or a great Sunday school teacher. Should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “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?”

Or, do you think that you are special or better than others because you have succeeded in life, in terms of finances? The world thinks this way. But should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As Deuteronomy 8:17-18 says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . ..”

Are you blessed in other ways? Maybe you have had a unique life journey. Maybe you have experienced things that most others haven’t. Should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights . . .”

Remember, every good thing you are or have is from God. No matter what it is, it is from God, not us. It is all grace, grace, grace. We have it because of God’s love.

5. Compare yourself to Jesus, not others.

Like I said, if we compare ourselves to others we can always find someone that we think is worse off than us and so we can exalt ourselves over them. But this misses the point entirely. Other people are not our standard. Jesus is our standard!

As the Father said of him on the mountain in Matthew 17:5 – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” He is the one who has pleased God. He is the one who is rightly exalted. Not me, not you, not anyone else who has ever lived. We have to get our focus right.

Remember the powerful effect Jesus had on people as the holy one of God? In Luke 5:8 Peter said “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The presence of Jesus points out clearly how unholy we are.

So listen to Jesus. Study his teaching and example. Spend more time in his presence and you won’t have to worry about pride. If you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember to compare yourself to Jesus and be forever humbled.

So just a bit of help from the Scriptures this morning for all of us on our journey to humility. So that we don’t clothe ourselves in pride, arrogance, haughtiness and conceit – lifting ourselves above others wanting to be served and to have others sacrifice for us. But rather that we clothe ourselves in humility, modesty, meekness and lowliness – lowering ourselves before others to serve and to sacrifice for them.

Read Full Post »

(Community sunrise service)

It is an honor to be able to share with you this morning. I want speak on a theme that I believe God has put in my heart – Jesus has overcome!

Scripture portrays three powerful enemies who oppose God and seek to destroy us.

The first is Sin. For sure, Scripture talks about sins in the plural. But it also talks about Sin, with a capital “S.” This is the power of sin personified as a tyrant.

God said to Cain in Genesis 4:7, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you.” Jesus said in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to Sin.” Sin is a power that comes to control and destroy our lives.

But we have good news to celebrate this morning – Jesus has overcome the power of Sin! Jesus himself was tested in every way, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). And when he walked this earth he called all to repentance and forgiveness.

Even on the cross when he bore our sins, Sin could not overcome him, but rather his death brought about the provision for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus overcame.

And this same Jesus now sets us free from the power of Sin. Paul says in Romans 6:17-18, “thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart . . . having been set free from sin . . ..”And although Jesus tells us in John 8:34 that all who sin are slaves of sin, he also tells us in John 8:36, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”

Jesus has overcome! Can I hear you say it! “He has overcome.” What has Jesus done? “He has overcome.” He has overcome the power of Sin.

Satan is another powerful enemy. In Luke 11:21-22 Jesus describes him as a fully armed strongman who holds his captives hostage. And John tells us in 1 John 5:9, that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

But, sisters and brothers, we have good news to celebrate this morning – Jesus has overcome the power of Satan! Jesus himself did not give in to Satan’s temptations and testing, and when he walked this earth he delivered people from the power of Satan, and this was especially evident when he cast out demons.

Because of the cross, as Jesus said in John 12:31, “the ruler of this world (is) cast out.” And this should not surprise us for 1 John 3:8 tells us that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” If at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew Satan is portrayed as having authority over all the kingdoms of the world, at the end of the gospel of Matthew, after his death and resurrection, Jesus tells us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Things are quite different – now Jesus has all the authority!

And this same Jesus now sets us free from the power of Satan. As Jesus went on to say in Luke 11, Satan may be a strong man, but Jesus is the stronger one who “attacks him and overcomes him” and sets his captives free! (v. 22). Jesus sets us free from Satan! As Paul says in Colossians 1:13, “God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”

Jesus has overcome! What has Jesus done? “He has overcome.” What has Jesus done? “He has overcome!” He has overcome the power of Satan.

The final enemy is Death. Death is also personified in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul speaks to Death as if it were a person. And in the book of Revelation Death is the rider of the pale horse rider who comes to bring judgment (6:8). Death is a power that enslaves and destroys us.

But, brothers and sisters, we have good news to celebrate this fine Easter morning – Jesus has overcome the power of Death! Jesus himself was not under the power of Death, but as he said in John 5:26, the Father has “granted that the Son . . . have life in himself.” And when he walked this earth he healed people and raised the dead.

Even though he died on the cross for us, Death could not keep him down. After all, as Peter says in Acts 3:15, he is “the author of life.” And as h also says in Acts 2:2, “it was impossible for Jesus to be held by the power of Death.” As Hebrews 7:16 tells us, Jesus had “the power of an indestructible life.” Jesus really is, as he calls himself in Revelation 1 (17-18) “the first and the last and the living one.” Jesus truly is “the resurrection and the life,” as he himself said in John 11:25.

This same Jesus, who is life, sets us free from the power of Death. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that since we are flesh and blood, “Jesus himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of Death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of Death were subject to lifelong slavery.” We no longer need to fear. Jesus sets us free!. For as Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus has overcome! What has Jesus done? “He has overcome!” What has Jesus done? “He has overcome!” He has overcome the power of Death.

And if Jesus has overcome these most powerful enemies of God, he can overcome any obstacle that we face and give us freedom, and give us victory and give us God’s blessings. Jesus has overcome. And because he has overcome, we too can overcome through him.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Series: How to overcome sin

[Also presented with the title “5. The issue of sexual desire and self-control”]

For the full teaching on the five steps to overcoming sin follow this link.

As we end out time together tonight, I want to give a more detailed illustration of how to overcome our sinful behaviors and habits. We have already looked at the issue of faithfulness when facing death with Peter and Jesus, and very briefly at the issue of unrighteous anger. For tonight I have chosen the issue of sexual desire and self-control.

I posted some teaching on this topic on a blog that I maintain and I’ve been amazed by the number of views it’s gotten. In fact, this is my all-time most viewed topic. This tells me that people are struggling in this area. Christians are struggling with this. Listen to some of the search engine phrases used to find and read what I posted: how Christian women can control sexual urges; should a Christian have sexual desires; coping with sexual urges; how to overcome sexual desires as a Christian; how does a man control his sexual urges; how to deal with a spouse that struggles with sexual lust.

People are struggling. As one indicator, according to one set of statistics, 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are regular viewers of pornography. Christians are struggling with this. And this is why I want to talk about this with you, even if it might make us a bit uncomfortable at times.

Let me say two things up front, 1) sexual desire was created by God and is good. Sex is God’s idea, with all of its joys and pleasures. However, like all the desires of our flesh, it often seeks expression in wrong ways. And so 2) it has to be controlled.

But this notion of self-control isn’t a popular idea in our culture, where sexual gratification has been turned into an ultimate good, without which you are not fully human. The message is “as long as you don’t hurt others – go for it. Satisfy your desires.”

Our culture tells us it’s a fool’s errand to even try to control our sexual desires fully. And even some Christians would say, “It’s impossible to be single and not be sexually active.”

But this is a pagan view of sex. We aren’t simply animals who feel an urge and then have to act! We need to recover a Christian sense of the dignity of our humanity, as those who are made in the image of God. We have sexual desires, and they are good. But we are not to be ruled by them. Rather we are to control them and keep them within the boundaries of God’s will for our lives. As Galatians 5:22-23 says, “the fruit of the Spirit is . . . self-control.” This is a mark of the Christian life.

So let’s apply the five steps to our focus tonight on –

Overcoming wrong sexual desires, thoughts and actions

Step #1. Understanding what God’s will is, acknowledge your weakness to do what God says. Scripture has a lot to say about sex. Here are some verses that speak to God’s will in terms of controlling our sexual desires, thoughts and actions:

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 – “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his (or her) own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
  • 1 Timothy 5:2 – “Treat . . . older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.” And this would apply to women treating men this way as well – as fathers and brothers in all purity.
  • Matthew 5:28 – “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Again this would apply to women looking at men in this way.

So, understanding God’s will on the issue of self-control, we need to humble ourselves and be totally honest about where we are not measuring up.

Are you lustfully looking at others? Are you allowing yourself to  engage in mental fantasies? Are you viewing pornography? Are you involved in masturbation? Are you sexting? For those who are single, are you engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage – anything from making out to sexual intercourse? For those who are married, are you involved in adulterous activity – anything from flirting to actual acts of adultery?

I can’t stress this enough. The first step to overcoming is humbly and honestly acknowledging your weaknesses and failures. Pride will keep you in your sin. Pride will kill your life with God. But if we humble ourselves and confess our sins, God can help us.

Step #2. Remain alert in prayer for testing and temptation in this area. Since you know you’re weak, and you know that Satan seeks to test you; to tempt you and pressure you to sin, you need to be alert! The danger of sin and judgment looms here.

So look to God for help. And specifically ask God to keep you from testing and times of temptation. Satan asks God for permission to test us. And so we need to be praying, “lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one,” as Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer.

“God I am weak, please don’t let the evil one test me, so that I fail. Protect me the assaults of Satan, and from circumstances that would pressure me to sin – images that come up on my computer – and people who will encourage me or entice me to give in to temptation.”

Be alert and pray. And then, even if God allows you to be tested, because he knows you can handle it and he wants you to grow in character and godliness, you will recognize what is going on and be ready for it.

Step #3 in a time of testing– Keep your mind focused on God’s truth. We all, from time to time, have inappropriate sexual thoughts that come to mind. And these thoughts can fuel our sexual desire. What’s important is that we not entertain them.

If you do have inappropriate sexual thoughts, use the name of Jesus to rebuke wrong thoughts. Satan will often put these in our minds to tempt us, or he will tell us that it’s alright to indulge in our own sexual thoughts with all kinds of rationalizations and justifications to give in. And he often does this through other people, and in general through the influence of “the world.”

So we need to rebuke Satan, so that he has to leave. The name of Jesus is powerful. In Luke 10:17 the disciples said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” All the powers of evil have to yield to the name of Jesus. When we become aware of inappropriate thoughts say, “Depart from me in the name of Jesus!”

And then, use the word of God to keep your mind focused on God’s truth. This is what Jesus did when he was tested in various ways in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4-10). The Word is powerful and can bring us back to a right mind when we are being tempted and pressured. And it will remind us of God’s truth and will in this area. Use the passages I noted above. Memorize them, say them, even out loud, if you need to.

Step #4. in a time testing – Receive strength from the Spirit to control your sexual desires. Even if we control our thoughts we will still struggle at times with sexual desires. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Our fleshly desires often seek to find expression in unrighteous ways.

But Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. The Spirit, who lives within us, can strengthen our desires for righteousness so that they are stronger than the desires of our flesh. As Paul said in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit (the power or strength of the Spirit) and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” So when you are struggling with sexual desires, call out to God in prayer for strength from the Spirit to do what is right.

As the Spirit strengthens us, we are then able to deny ourselves, or crucify or kill the inappropriate desires of our flesh – our fantasies or lusts. Paul writes in Romans 8:12-13, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” By the Spirit (the strength the Spirit gives us) we put to death the deeds of the body (we deny ourselves, we crucify or kill the desires of our flesh), in order to follow God.

There is death and resurrection here – death to inappropriate fleshly sexual desires and the further manifestation of the new life of God within us, in this case, self-control.

Step #5. Endure the test. Keep your mind focused on God’s truth and controlling your thoughts as long as Satan is trying to lead you astray. And keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will for as long as the wrongful sexual desire persists. Keep doing these things until the immediate test or temptation passes. God doesn’t allow us to be actively tested continually.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation (or testing) has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

And then,  if you are putting the five steps into practice and continuing to fail, you will need to –

Deal with some deeper concerns

I will mention just three tonight. Sometimes wrong sexual desires and practices are connected to our inner brokenness. For instance, if you suffer from the mental health condition of mania, it can lead to reckless behavior, including promiscuity. If this is the case, then this inner brokenness needs to be dealt with, if at all possible, for the sake of Christian faithfulness.

More commonly, we need to cut off stumbling blocks. These are things that are not necessarily sinful in themselves, but they lead you to sin. So, access to the internet is fine, but if it leads you to give in to viewing pornography – it is a stumbling block for you. Friends are fine, but if certain ones encourage you to see inappropriate material they are a stumbling block for you. Being with your date is fine, but if spending too much time alone with him/her leads you to act in inappropriate ways, this is a stumbling block for you.

Jesus said, talking about lustful looks, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” – Matthew 5:29. We have to cut off what leads us to sin. This can mean making deep changes in our lifestyles and behaviors, for instance how we interact with the internet, what friends we hang out with and how we date.

And then, sometimes we have indulged our wrong desires, thoughts and actions for so long that our sin has become ingrained within us. It is an entrenched habit. And this kind of sin is harder to overcome. If this is true you may well need to ask someone to hold you accountable, to check in on you to see how you are doing regularly. This can be a powerful help to overcoming our sexual sins.

A final word

Find righteous expression for your sexual desire in marriage. This is where our sexual desires can rightly be expressed in sexual actions – as a part of a loving, committed, life-long relationship between a man and a woman.

God gave us our sexual desire, in part, to cause us to seek out a relationship with a spouse. If we are struggling with our desire and are not married, Paul says, (famously) “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” – 1 Corinthians 7:9.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:3; 5 – “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . . Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

So work on your marriage, grow in love for your spouse. Create the kind of relationship that is mutually satisfying, where both of you can find fulfillment for your sexual desires.

I pray that God will help us in this area of sexual desire and self-control. Our culture has it wrong and so many people are hurting and wounded because of this. May God help us, his people, to be a light to the world of a different and better way to approach sex, one that is governed by God’s will, the one who thought of sex in the first place.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Series: How to overcome sin

Our focus is, ‘How to overcome sin in our lives.’ We have been looking at five key steps in this process, that we learn from the example of Jesus as he overcame his test of the cross. And tonight I want us to move into looking at some deeper concerns that can trip us up in our quest to overcome sin.

But first, here’s a very brief review of the five steps, using the example of unrighteous anger.

Step #1: Understanding what God’s will is, acknowledge your weakness to do what God says. The Word says in James 1:20, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” This is anger that is according to the flesh which hurts and tears down others. Jesus likens this to murder in Matthew 5, or verbal murder, when our words destroy others.

God gives us anger to stir us up to act when a wrong has been done. But so often, once stirred up, we act in the flesh and not according to God’s will. We return harm for harm and tear down those who have wronged us or those we love. Rather than this, we are to trust God with our grievances and desire for justice, so that we can be free to focus on being Christ-like as we address the wrongs that have been done –  with love and gentleness (Matthew 5:44; Galatians 6:1). If you struggle with unrighteous anger, you need to humbly admit this, so that God can help you.

Step #2: Remain alert in prayer for testing and temptation in this area. Since Satan will seek to pressure you in your area of weakness, pray to be spared people and situations that might trigger your wrongful anger. Maybe that someone won’t slander you so that you become enraged. Or maybe that someone doesn’t start an argument with you on a particular topic that would trigger your anger. But if God allows you to be tested, at least you will be ready and know what is going on. It’s not that this person is trying to start an argument with me – this is a test from Satan!

Step #3: In a time of testing – Keep your mind focused on God’s truth. Rebuke Satan as he tempts you and offers up rationalizations to give in to your anger. “Hey that person who wants to argue with you – he needs to be put in his place!” Tell him to go away. You can respond by countering with the Scriptures – “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” And “the fruit of the Spirit is love . . .patience . . . gentleness . . . and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23.

Step #4: In a time of testing – Receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Pray for the Spirit to fill you and help you. In this way you can put to death your desires to engage in wrongful anger and respond to every situation with love for others.

Step #5: Endure the test. Continue on until the testing and temptation passes – keeping your mind focused; receiving strength from the Spirit.

My point this evening is that sometimes, we work hard at all this and still consistently fail. And when this happens we need to look at some deeper concerns in our lives.

Here are six things to check:

1. Are you double-minded?

To be double minded means you are torn between two things; you have two minds on an issue. You know, you want God to help you with one problem in your life, but not others. For instance, “God help me overcome my anger issue, its destroying all of my relationships!” But you don’t mention your sexual immorality, because you happen to like this sin.

We have to stop playing games. If you’re only trying to stop sinning in one area of your life, while knowingly continuing in sin in other areas, God can’t help you. James 1:7-8 tells us that a double-minded person “must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

We find God and his help when we seek God with our whole heart, not part of it. Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “you will find the Lord, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

So if you are struggling with anger and calling out to God for help and no help seems to be coming, check your heart. Be rid of any double-mindedness and give your whole life over to God. Then you will seek and find the help that you need.

2. Are you the cause of broken relationships?

If we don’t act to deal with relationships that are broken by our sin, this will break our relationship with God and cut us off from God’s help. Our horizontal relationships with others affects our vertical relationship with God. These can’t be separated.

So, if you have sinned against someone, make it right. Jesus said, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (that is, you have sinned against him) leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24. The broken relationship with the brother or sister must be dealt with before we come to God in worship. Why? Because this affects our relationship to God. Now, we can’t control whether they are willing to reconcile with us, even if we come in repentance seeking to make things right, but the rule is ‘do what you can from your end’ to restore the relationship and then you will be free to come before God in worship and to receive his help and grace.

Also, if someone has sinned against you and seeks forgiveness, forgive. Don’t keep the relationship broken through the choice to withhold forgiveness. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:14-15. If we don’t forgive, this breaks our relationship with God.

With both of these situations, if you have caused broken relationships, seek to make things right. And then your relationship with God will be right, and God can help you, for instance with your weakness in the area of anger.

3. Do you expose yourself to stumbling blocks?

According to Scripture we are not only to stop sinning, we are to separate from what leads us to sin. This is what a stumbling block means – something that trips you up and gets you off the path. It is not a sin in itself, but something that leads you to sin.

Jesus says in Mark 9:43, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” What this means is that we are to create righteous boundaries that keep us away from sin. And we must do this even if what is cut off is precious to us, like a hand.

Now these boundaries are different for each of us, since we all have different weaknesses and triggers that can lead us to sin. For instance, if debating certain topics triggers your wrongful anger response, you need to avoid these for the sake of righteousness. Or if working in a certain job environment causes you to give in to sinful anger regularly, seek a new job. This job might not be a problem for someone else, but for you it is.

The rule is – ‘separate from whatever encourages you to sin’ – relationships, activities, jobs, personal freedoms, whatever. Even if the item isn’t a problem for others, if it causes you to stumble, cut it off.

4. Are you dealing with an ingrained sin?

By ingrained I mean something that is firmly fixed; a sin that is deeply rooted in your life. We practice some sins for so long that they become a part of us as negative character traits. You say, ‘Yeah, I’m a hot-head,’ because you have made a practice of outbursts of anger for so long. It’s a part of how you think of yourself now. And some sins even create physiological addictions, like drug and alcohol abuse.

These kinds of sins are difficult to break. You may well need to take drastic measures, and in the case of addictions seek medical help.

One thing that can really help is intense accountability from other disciples – who can check with us on a regular basis. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We all need this kind of fellowship to be strong. But this is especially needed with ingrained sins.

If you know that at any time someone will be asking how you are doing in your area of struggle, it can make a real difference. Both to encourage you and certainly to keep you accountable.

5. Are demonic powers involved?

When we allow sin in our life, we open up our lives to Satan and his demonic powers. They can gain a foothold, as it were. Sometimes this is just a general influence, but sometimes we can come into bondage to demonic powers in areas of our life. Our sin is energized by a supernatural evil power.

If this is the case, the demonic power must be sent away by the authority of Jesus. Say something like, “Evil spirit, I break your power over me in the name of Jesus. Leave now!” Jesus tells us, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy . . .” – Luke 10:19. Then submit that area of your life to God, so that the Spirit of God is filling every part of your life.

I’m not saying this is a common thing, but if this is a part of your struggle, for instance, with anger then you need to act. I would just add here that it might be wise to seek the help of a mature believer or a Pastor as you work at this.

6. Is your sin connected to inner brokenness?

By inner brokenness I am thinking of mental illness or just the inner woundedness that comes from life experiences of pain, heartache and tragedy. And inner brokenness can make it much harder for us to do God’s will. For instance if you want to overcome anger, but have borderline personality disorder that leads to expressions of intense anger, this is a much more complicated situation.

If you are struggling with these kinds of weaknesses, pray for God’s healing so that you can do God’s will. But if there is no relief (I Timothy 5:23), learn to manage these issues through treatment so that you can do God’s will.

Once again Jesus’ words in Mark 9:43 are relevant. Our inner brokenness is not itself a sin. But if it leads us to sin, we must cut it off by seeking reasonable treatment – counseling or medication. In either case, through miraculous healing or treatment, seek healing for your inner brokenness so that you can do God’s will. This is a matter of Christian faithfulness.

So these are six additional factors that you may well have to sort through as you seek to overcome sinful habits and areas of failure in your life:

  • Are you double-minded?
  • Are you the cause of broken relationships?
  • Do you expose yourself to stumbling blocks?
  • Are you dealing with an ingrained sin?
  • Are demonic powers involved?
  • Is your sin connected to inner brokenness?

My point tonight and the underlying theme of all of this is that we leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of doing God’s will. We must do whatever it takes.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »