The Roots of Hypocrisy

Hey readers! My apologies for the long hiatus and for all the promised but failed series. This isn’t much, but it’s something! I had a chance this past Wednesday to speak for my guys group back home from Matthew 6. Here’s the manuscript. I know it’s long but  if you guys have time, I’d encourage you to read it. Personally it was a very convicting study for me which highlighted the extent of my sinfulness and need for a Savior. I pray it would do likewise for those of you reading.

For my message, I drew this diagram of a tree on the whiteboard to make my points, I don’t have a scanner, so I remade it in paint. Check out my super ghetto chart. Feel free to refer to it before/as you read. I know it looks really lame, but this actually took me a really long time…

Matthew6Diagram

1. Introduction

As I open today, let me ask you guys a question. As Christians, we sometimes use ‘Pharisee’ as a negative term to describe certain types of people. My question is: what does it look like to be a ‘Pharisee’? What kind of characteristics does a Pharisee have?

For me, when we say someone is a Pharisee, I think we usually mean someone 1) who is proud, 2) someone who is confident because of what he knows and what he does, and 3) someone who looks down on other people who aren’t as good as he is.

I think these characteristics describe the Pharisees well. And we ought to be on the lookout for any signs of pride, self-righteousness, or condescension in our actions. But I think, if we stopped there, we would be oversimplifying the Pharisee’s problems. The Pharisee’s problems were deeper and more complex than that. Today, I want to look beyond the outwards signs of a Pharisee into the heart of one. It’s true, the Pharisees created a system of empty religion and self-righteousness. But today, I want to ask: what sort of heart led them to think and act in the ways they did? And I want to challenge you guys to ask yourselves, “Do I have the same sort of heart?”

If you guys have your bibles, could you open with me to Matthew 6:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-6, ESV)

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18, ESV)

1.      The Pharisees Big Problem: Hypocrisy

If you read through the Gospels, Jesus is extremely harsh to the Pharisees. He welcomes sinners, he eats with the prostitutes and tax collectors, and he spends time with the outcasts. But there is something about the Pharisees which stirs up a fierce anger in Jesus. What is it?

Is it what they taught? When we think about the Pharisees, we usually highlight how they had wrong teaching, namely, they believed in a works-based salvation; that you can earn your way to God. Is that why Jesus rebuked them so frequently? I don’t think so. The Pharisees certainly had many holes in their theology, but even Jesus said in Matthew 23:15: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you.”

So if it’s not primarily their theology, then what is the Pharisee’s big problem? We see the answer in our passage in Matthew 6. Look with me at verse 1 and notice with me how Jesus characterizes the Pharisees:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do.

Now, skip with me down to verse 5:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.

And finally, look with me at verse 16:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites

Jesus’ main grievance with the Pharisee’s was their hypocrisy. It was not primarily an issue of their bad theology or works-based righteousness—that was a result produced by their hypocrisy. But I think that many of the sinful outward actions performed by the Pharisees, came from the fact that, in their hearts, they were hypocrites—that there was a gaping distance between the religion they professed to believe and love with their mouths, and what they really believed and loved in their hearts.

In case, you’re not convinced. If you read the book of Matthew, Jesus hammers the Pharisee’s for their hypocrisy again and again. Turn with me over to Matthew 15:7-9. Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, says:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)

And, if you’re still not convinced, turn with me over to Matthew 23:13 and this should do it. In this passage, Jesus spends a whole chapter blasting the Pharisee’s for their hypocritical religiosity.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child ofhell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13-15, ESV)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:23-33, ESV)

The Pharisee’s big problem was their hypocrisy. I would argue that from their hypocrisy flowed all their actions of legalism and self-righteousness. But I want us to dig a little deeper. I’m sure that the Pharisees didn’t plan on becoming religious hypocrites. I’m sure they were normal people like you and I, and I’m sure that they were genuinely convinced that they were followers of God. The next question I want to ask is is this: 1) what leads someone to become this kind of hypocrite? 2) If hypocrisy is the root that leads to all this empty religion and self-righteousness, what are the roots of hypocrisy?

This is not an extensive list but today, I want to highlight two “roots”—two sinful heart motivations—which if we’re not careful, will produce in us the same hypocrisy that the Pharisees had.

2.      Root #1: Love of Man’s Praise

The first root of hypocrisy which we see in our passage is the love of man’s praise. Look with me back at our passage in Matthew 6:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.

Again, look down at verse 5:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.

And finally, in verse 16:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others

Jesus tells us not be like the Pharisees because all their religious acts of righteousness are done to be seen by other people. This desire—to be seen by others—is a central motivation which underlies their hypocrisy.

But let’s think about this for a second. What is it about loving man’s praise leads to hypocrisy? Remember, how I said earlier that Pharisee’s problem wasn’t primarily their teaching. Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you.” The Pharisees knew the Scriptures way better than you and I do. Now, I could be wrong here, but I think that if the Pharisee’s goal was to genuinely please God and to earn salvation through their acts of righteousness, then I think they would have been okay. They would have tried to earn their salvation but would have realized very quickly through their sinfulness and through the Scriptures that it is impossible. And so, when Jesus came, preaching his message of repentance they would have been the first one to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Their self-righteousness, while still wrong and sinful, would have led them to God.

So, I don’t think it was wrong teaching which was their primary problem. Look what Jesus says in John 5:42-45:

“But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me”

Basically what Jesus is saying here is: I know you think you genuinely love God, but I know that you don’t. How do I know? Because I’ve come in my Father’s name and you reject me, and yet you receive other leaders who act, think, and do things just like you guys do. I’ll go a step further and tell you why you don’t believe: because you seek favor from one another and you don’t seek the favor of God.

Then Jesus addresses their teaching. Jesus tells them that the problem is not that they believe in Moses. It’s that even though they appear to believe Moses, they don’t believe in Moses at all. Jesus is saying that the very law that that they’ve put their hope in, is the law that condemns them. This is why the love of Man’s praise is so dangerous: because the Pharisee’s goal was never to genuinely please God at all. Their goal was to use God and religion, as a way to be seen by others. They performed their actions of righteousness so that they might have man’s praise.

Self-righteousness with the genuine intent of pleasing God is wrong but it can be led to the Gospel of grace. But a heart set on pleasing man instead of God will never be led to the Gospel of grace. Why should I care that Jesus died to make me right with God, if all I care about is being made right before other people? Further, a religious person, who loves the praise of man, can only produce hypocrisy. Why? Because he’ll be doing all these actions supposedly for the praise of God when all he cares about is being seen by others.

3.      Root #2: Unbelief

The first root of hypocrisy, seen in our passage, is love of Man’s Praise. The second root of hypocrisy is very closely tied to it—the second root is unbelief. Look with me back at our passage in Matthew 6, starting from verse 1:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Look down again to verse 5:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Jesus says that when you love man’s praise instead of God’s praise. When you’re seeking glory from people instead of from God, then you should just be honest with yourself.  You’re going to reap what you sow. You’re going to get back what you put in. It’s not like you won’t receive a reward but you’ll receive the reward that you’re looking for.

The Pharisees performed their righteousness to be seen by other people. They might have been able to fool everyone else, but they can’t fool God. When you give, or pray, or fast and other people praise you, then you’ve gained the reward that you wanted: the praise of people. But Jesus that’s all you’re ever going to get. God sees everything. He sees past our actions into our hearts. Don’t fool yourselves into thinking God will reward you just because you’re going through the motions.

What is it that God rewards? It’s not our actions, it’s our faith.

If you pay attention to Jesus’ ministry in Matthew, you’ll notice that Jesus rewards people who are the exact opposite of the Pharisees: the Pharisees look outwardly impressive, but have no faith. Jesus rewards those who are outwardly weak—the diseased, the Gentile, those with sinful pasts—but who have great faith in Jesus.

Right after our passage in chapter 6, in chapter 8 Jesus is approached by a Gentile Centurion with a sick servant. Jesus rewards him for his faith.

When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith… “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew 8:10-13, ESV)

In chapter 9, a woman who has had a bleeding flow for years, comes and touches Jesus’ robe. Jesus rewards her for her faith:

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matthew 9:22, ESV)

In chapter 15, Jesus is approached by a Canaanite woman who begs for her daughter to be healed. Remember? Jesus tells her it’s not fit to give bread to the dogs, but she asks for the crumbs from the table. Jesus rewards her for her faith.

Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith!Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matthew 15:28, ESV)

Now, listen to Hebrews 11:6, here’s the principle I want to draw out.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)

Faith is living for a heavenly reward that you hope but you don’t yet have. Unbelief is living for an earthly reward that you can see and have right now. Faith puts its hope in an invisible God and trusts in him. Unbelief puts its hope in visible things—the praise of people, money, career, fame, pleasure. Faith is hard because you have to believe in something you can’t see. Unbelief is easy because you can have an immediate and tangible reward right now. But God does not reward unbelief because unbelief does not seek its reward in God, but in other things.

Unbelief is at the heart of hypocrisy. An unbelieving heart seeks the reward of man’s praise, because it doesn’t have the faith to believe that God’s praise is better. It doesn’t have faith to believe that God exists—I’m not talking about just intellectually, but that he really exists in our world, our lives, our problems—and that he rewards those who seek him with a greater reward than anything we could ever have here. And so, it produces hypocrisy. A religious person, without faith wants all the benefits of religion, but when it comes down to it he really doesn’t believe, and so all he can do is be a hypocrite.

4.      Application:

Reflect on your motivations:

Many of you guys just came back from camp; it’s cool because a lot of my close friends in college are actually guys from camp. A lot of my friends are from CIBC. Sometimes we’ll joke about it, and I’ll tell them that the CI guys were the heathens at camp, and they’ll tell me that the CG guys were the Pharisees.

I’m not sure if your generation of guys is still like this. But that’s been the stereotype of CG, especially CG guys in the past. That we may know our Bibles, we may know our theology, but we’re proud and we look down on other people. Sadly, I think it was true of my generation. I want to let you guys know: take pride seriously. When you guys go to camp, don’t be puffed up because of what you know. Don’t separate yourself from other churches because you think you’re better than them. We have to put that stuff to death.

But I don’t want you guys to just stop with outward actions. If we just change our outward actions—say we stop talking badly about other churches or we stop bragging—but we fail to address the root cause, then, our sin will just appear in different areas. It’s like pulling out a weed but leaving the root. The weed will just grow back, just in a different place or in a different form.

I know for myself I addressed many of the outward signs of being a Pharisees, while inwardly I still had the heart of a Pharisee. So even though I appeared more religious, my religion was still as empty and hypocritical as it was before. If anything, I just became even better in my hypocrisy. I learned that the appearance of humility is able to better win you the praise of man than boastfulness. So, just remember, you don’t have to be outwardly prideful to be a Pharisee. In fact, humanly speaking, you can appear very humble. So I encourage you guys to reflect on your motivations. Ask yourselves:

  1. Where in my life am I being hypocritical?
  2. How much of my ‘love for God’ is really a desire for man’s praise?
  3. How much am I seeking my reward in earthly things? (Litmus test: how is my faith when I’m alone?)

I encourage you guys to check on your motivations often. I think the temptation for hypocrisy is especially strong in groups like ours, where, just like the Pharisees, there’s a lot of knowledge and lot of church involvement. Slowly, we can begin to think that knowing something is the same thing as living it out. Or that coming to church is the same thing as doing it for God. It’s not.

Repent of our sinful hearts

If you read the Gospels, the hardest thing for the Pharisees to do was to recognize their sinfulness. Prostitutes and Tax collectors came to Jesus for forgiveness of sins because they understood they needed him. The Pharisees thought they were righteous, so they never realized how much they needed Jesus.

Personally, this is a big struggle for me. Day to day, it’s hard for me to really feel the weight of my sinfulness and my need for Christ. I feel guilty if I commit a ‘big’ sin, like lust or blowing up at my parents. But for the most part, it’s hard for me to understand that I’m a sinner deserving of hell.

For those of you who might be like me, this passage should hit us like a train about why we desperately need Jesus. Jesus isn’t harshest to the prostitutes or tax-collectors; he’s harshest with religious people who had hypocritical hearts. Jesus hates all sin but he really, really, really hated the sin of the Pharisees. Just think about it. Remember Matthew 23, Jesus devotes an entire chapter to rebuking the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Not only that, he started every other line with the line, “Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites” Imagine if Jesus spent a whole chapter of scripture rebuking you—“Woe to you,                 , hypocrite…”—That’s crazy. Nothing like that happens in all the rest of the Gospels.

I want you guys to think for a moment why is this? What was it about the Pharisee’s sin that angered Jesus so much? Why was the Pharisee’s sin so bad? While you’re thinking about that, turn with me over to Matthew 22:34. Now, consider the context of this passage. This is in the last week of Jesus’ ministry before he goes to die on the cross. This passage is sandwiched between chapter 21 and 23. In chapter 21, Jesus directly calls out the Pharisees in the parable of the Two Sons and the Tenants in chapter 21 to the point where the text even says, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables they perceived that he was speaking about them” (Matthew 21:45 ESV). And we read chapter 23 earlier, when Jesus gives seven woes to the Pharisees. Let’s read what it says:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40, ESV)  

This is pretty crazy. Why is Jesus so angry with the Pharisees in chapter 23? Why is the Pharisee’s sin so heinous? I think we find the answer here in chapter 22. In this passage, Pharisee’s come to ask Jesus about the most important commandment in all the Scriptures.  Jesus tells them to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Now, follow with me here, what sin is the complete opposite of the greatest commandment? Is it lust? Is it anger? Nope. It’s the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus tells them to love the Lord with everything they have. The Pharisee’s love the praise of man and they don’t love God at all. They think they have a reward with God, while all they’re trying to do is gain favor with people.

Now, check this out. Jesus doesn’t have to answer the Pharisee’s question. Just earlier in chapter 21, the Pharisee’s ask Jesus a question and Jesus just asks them a question right back that they can’t answer. This is just my speculation, but I think by answering their question, Jesus is offering them grace. Jesus is trying to show them that they’re not righteous. When the Pharisees heard the greatest commandment, it should have broken them. It should have brought them to sorrow and repentance with tears, because, even though they were supposed to be the teachers of the law, they had broken the greatest commandment. That was their sin.

But remember what it says in vs. 34: “when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.” The Pharisees were so blinded by their hypocrisy that they just want to stump him. They don’t care about Jesus’ answer. Jesus is giving them the words of eternal life, a chance to see their sinfulness and turn to him. And it goes right over their heads, because they’re not even listening. They just want to see if it’s a good answer or not. Do you see why hypocrisy is so evil? It is completely against the greatest commandment. Not only that, It hardens them to the grace of God. And it is that hypocrisy, their unbelief, it is their love for man’s praise, and jealousy against anyone who might take that away that leads them to crucify the Son of God.

Now, we may not completely hypocritical like the Pharisees, but, I don’t care who you are, hypocrisy, unbelief, and love of Man’s praise still exist in our hearts. For many of us, we really struggle with this. It’s scary because I understand the Pharisees. I understand why they acted the way they did, because I see those same motivations in myself. And so, when we see those sins in our hearts, it should break us. We should be humbled, knowing  that on our own we had no power to escape our hypocrisy. We had no answer to Jesus’ question to the Pharisees, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:33, ESV)”. We should hate those sins when we see them in our hearts, realizing that it was those very sins which led the Pharisees to harden their hearts and crucify Jesus. And, as we realize that we’re not good, that we’re deeply and profoundly sinful, let us we come again in gratitude that Jesus has shown us grace. He died for us. He has not left us blind and hardened to our sinfulness like the Pharisees, but he’s given us eyes to see how much we need him.

Refocus our Righteousness: Live for the Praise of God by faith

My last point is to refocus our righteousness. I’ve focused so far, almost exclusively, on the negative example of the Pharisees. But in our passage, Jesus actually tells us about how he wants us to follow him. And so I’ve entitled my last point.

Look back to our passage, starting in verse 3:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Now look down at verse 6:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And finally at verse 17:

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Jesus tells us to be the exact opposite of the Pharisee’s. The Pharisee’s practiced their righteousness in public so that their good deeds might be seen by other people. Jesus tells us to practice our righteousness in private so that we might not put our hope in being seen by people, but in being seen by God. The Pharisee’s lived by sight for an earthly reward: the recognition and glory that comes from man. Jesus tells us to live by faith for the heavenly reward that comes from God.

I love the words of Jesus because they’re so simple, yet so profound. I think if we understand what Jesus is saying here and we apply it to our hearts then it will change our lives. Jesus’ teaching here is definitely one of those gems that I’ve taken away and made one of the foundational principles of my life. If I could sum up Jesus’ point here into a principle, it would sum it up like this: Live for the praise of God by faith. Simple right? This has two parts to it. Let me break each of them down quickly.

Live for the praise of God: What I mean here is that we should care about what God thinks about us more than what anybody else thinks about us. We need want to please God more than we want to please anyone else; more than our friends, more than any girl, or any dating relationship, or any spouse, more than our parents, more than our teachers or our bosses. When we care most about what God thinks about pleasing him, then we’re empowered to do anything, even if nobody else sees or cares. Like Jesus said, we can give to the needy, we can pray, we can fast without anybody knowing because we’re doing it for God.

By Faith: This sounds great, but you and I know that this is really hard to do. Why? Because when we do things to be seen by people, we feel an 1) immediate and 2) tangible reward: their approval. When you work at your job you receive an immediate and tangible reward: money But when we do things for God, because we can’t physically see or hear him, sometimes it feels like our good deeds are being wasted, or that there’s no point. That’s why we need to live for the praise of God by faith. Hebrews 11:1 says. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” By faith, we let go of our earthly rewards—of people’s approval,  money, fame, pleasure—to trust in God for a heavenly reward in Christ. By faith, we trust in God’s character, that even though we don’t have any immediate reward, that he will be faithful to fulfill his promises and that the reward of knowing Christ is far better than any sinful pleasure we have here.

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2, ESV)

Thanks for reading! I hope it was as encouraging and convicting to you as it was for me as I was preparing.

Reviewing and Retaining: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, part 2

In part 1, I reviewed Burrough’s argument that discontentment is not merely weakness, but also sin. In this post, I continue reviewing his section on “The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit”. The main point here is that not only is discontentment sinful, but it’s also straight-up dumb. Here’s are a few reasons Burroughs gives why.

Part 2. The Foolishness of Discontentment

1. By murmuring and discontent in your hearts, you come to lose a great deal of time: With discontentment comes the constant worrying, the imagining of feared outcomes, and the sinking feeling in your chest which makes it impossible to work or think. Of this, Burroughs writes:

When you are alone you should spend your time in holy meditation, but you are spending your time in discontented thoughts. You complain you cannot meditate, you cannot think on good things, but if you begin to think of them a little, soon your thoughts are off from them. But if you are discontented with anything, then you can go alone and muse, and roll things up and down in your thoughts to feed a discontented humor. Oh, labor to see this evil effect of murmuring, the losing of your time”

2. It unfits you for duty: Not only do you lose your time, but discontentment robs us of our ability to do our duties humbly with joy; instead we go about our work, distracted, focused on ourselves, and miserable. How many opportunities to serve God at church, school, work, and at home have we squandered because of our discontented attitudes?

3. By it you undo your prayers: Prayer is our act of humbly casting our cares into the mighty hand of  our caring God (1 Pet. 5:6-7). Through prayer, we can have “the peace of God which transcends all understanding” because we understand that God is in control and that he is good (Phil 4:6-7). However, if after we pray, we still cling tightly to our discontentment– our anxiety, depression, and fear, we go contrary to the heart of prayer. Prayer is laying all our fears before God and trusting him to keep us safe; yet, if we still cling to discontentment, then though we might say all the right words, our hearts have not submitted. As James says, “let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (1:7-8)

4. It takes away the present comfort you have, because you have not something you would have: Discontentment always forgets and minimizes present blessings we have. Burroughs writes:

“What a foolish thing is this, that because I have not got what I want, I will not enjoy comfort that I have…God gives you many mercies, but you see others have more mercies than you and therefore you cry for more; but God does not give you what you want and because of that you throw away what you have…is not this folly in your hearts?”

5. By all your discontent you cannot help yourself, you cannot get anything by it: As Jesus says in Matthew 6, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (6:27). Burroughs writes:

“Who by taking care can add one cubit to his stature or make one hair that is white to be black. You may vex and trouble yourselves but you can get nothing by it. Do you think that the Lord will come in mercy a whit the sooner because of the murmuring of your spirits? Oh no, but mercy will be rather deferred the longer for it; though the Lord was about to send mercy before, yet this disorder of your hearts is enough to put him out of his course for mercy.”

6. Discontentment eats out the good and sweetness of a mercy before it comes: Burroughs argues that it is better to not have that object which makes us discontent, rather than to have it in our discontentment. He writes, “If God gives the man or woman who is discontented for want of some good thing, that good thing before they are humbled for their discontent, such a man or woman can have no comfort from the mercy,but it will rather be an evil than a good to them” Therefore, he exhorts us to say this to ourselves when we are discontent:

“Lord, if what I so immoderately desire were to come to me before I am humbled for my discontent for want of it, I am certain I could have no comfort from it, but I should rather have it as an affliction to me.”-

The foolishness of discontentment is that we cling to it because we think it gives us control. It is the old man in us: self-love, self-fear, self-protection. He says, “if we don’t look out for ourselves, who will? if I don’t worry, who will make sure everything is okay?” And so, we trust in ourselves instead of trusting God in hopes that by our efforts we might find peace. We know, logically and by experience, that this leads only to constant instability and sadness. Yet, with our small faith, it is so hard not to do. Oh, that we might die to our old selves and realize that we are children of God. May we fight the temptation to think that by giving our cares and anxieties over to God, there will be no one to care for our needs.  He alone can provide for our needs. Therefore, let us strive more and more to do as Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord will all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him  and he will make your paths straight.”

part 1: the Evil of Discontentment

part 2: the Foolishness of Discontentment

Reviewing and Retaining: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, part 1

I’m going to start out of order and start reviewing the section I just finished reading, entitled “The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit“. In it, Burroughs explains that discontentment is not just an inconvenience or a sign of weakness (as if we should be pitied as victims), but foolishness, unbelief, and rebellion against God. What a thought!

Part 1: The Evil of Discontent

Burroughs argues  that discontent should not be seen as something natural and neutral to be tolerated, but a sign of great evil and corruption in our hearts– “A murmuring heart is a very sinful heart”. Why? Here are two of the many reasons that Burroughs provides (At first I thought I could summarize all of them, but he gives 12 x_x)

  • God accounts a murmuring heart as rebellion— “Discontent is contrary to the worship that is in contendedness. That is, worshipping God, crouching to God, and falling before him, even as a dog” When we are discontent, we reject what God has given us in his wisdom– the blessings meant to bring joy, and the trials designed to challenge and grow us. We fail to realize that we are nothing, even worse than nothing because of our sin. Instead, of bowing before God in humility, we rebel in our hearts. Burroughs gives this challenge:

“Will you be a rebel against God? When you feel your heart discontended and murmuring against the dispensation that God has given you, you should check it thus: Oh , you wretched heart!… Charge your heart with this sin of rebellion.””

May we answer:

“I never thought I was rebel against God before. I thought that I had many infirmities, but now I see the Scripture speaks of sin in a different way that men do, the Scripture makes men though only murmurers to be rebels against God.””

  • It is exceedingly below a Christian: Through the Gospel, we have been brought into relationship with God through Christ. When we are discontent, however, we insult and walk away from those relationships. Through the gospel, God is our Father. We are children of the King! yet will we dissatisfied with his riches, and disquieted for ever little thing that happens? It is “as if a King’s son were to cry out that he is undone for losing a toy.” Christ is our Spouse. We are the Bride of Christ, yet will we treat him as if he’s not enough? Not only that, but we are members of the body of Christ, and co-heirs with him. More than that, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We have the power of God in us, giving us strength, and ensuring we will persevere to the end. And yet will we still complain at our puny trials? As the hymn says:

“Think what Spirit dwells within thee, Think what Father’s smiles are thine, think that Jesus died to win thee, Child of heaven, canst thou repine?”

Thus, when we find ourselves unhappy and dissatisfied, we should not look first to our afflictions and circumstances as if they are the cause, but rather examine our hearts for sinful discontentment and repent of it — “be troubled by the murmuring of your heart for it is the greatest trouble”

Discontentment is a grievous sin indeed. Why? When we are discontent, we bring dishonor to the Gospel. We shift the terms from God’s to our own. We shift the greatest problem from our sin and the damnation we deserve, to whatever small affliction we’re facing. And we shift our salvation from the sin-bearing Savior, to what ever comfort we ‘re currently lacking. More than that, we dishonor the character of God– instead of trusting that the God who did not spare his own Son will give us all things, we shun his providence, his ways, his decisions. We refuse to yield control of our lives to him and find rest.

Discontent is one of the foremost ‘respectable’ sins in my life. In my discontent, I constantly feel sorry for myself, am fearful for the future, complain, drag my feet through my work, and half-heartedly serve God and others. For me, it’s easy to go through weeks, months, whole seasons in my Christian life, with this kind of unhappy self-focused perspective. But perhaps the greatest evil and deception is that in this self-focused mindset, I don’t feel like a sinner; I feel like a victim, like I should be getting more blessing from God, and more attention, love, and respect from people. In my pride, I sometimes even feel that I don’t need the forgiveness of the Gospel or scoff that it can restore my joy. After all, I’m trying my best and haven’t done any great sin; the cause for my unhappiness and fear must not be sin, but something outside of me– circumstances, bad relationships, uncertainty for the future. Yet, as Burrough’s reminds me, I am a sinner and my discontentment, itself, is evidence at my great need for the Gospel!

Reviewing and Retaining: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

For my few readers, you may have noticed I haven’t been writing much on here. This isn’t completely because of laziness (although, laziness certainly plays a large part!). I’ve been rethinking how I should use this blog in a way that’s helpful for myself, which can also bless others. For now, I’ll probably scale back in terms how much I write my own thoughts. Why? I’ve touched on it before in previous posts, but I have a bad habit of writing about insights, lessons, or theological truths before I’ve worked them out practically in my own life. For me, musing and thinking has always come easily; but bold faith-filled living often feels so hard I wonder if I’ll ever be able to. So, in short, even if I could write clever or profound things  here– and I don’t– what I really need to do is work them out in my own life and treasure them in my heart, otherwise there’s not much use for myself or my readers to be writing.

…But! I do want to continue writing here for my own heart and to bless the readers who follow my writing. So I’ve decided on a new series! Yes, I know, I always say I’ll write series…and I never have, but hear me out. My very-hastily-decided idea, at least, is to write about some of the things I’m reading. My main goal is for my own retainment. I’m a poor reader. Often times, success in reading for me is, well, just being able to sit down and read. Unfortunately, oftentimes I’ll find myself reading something profound or practical, but I won’t take much time to digest it, because I’m just concerned with finishing the book.

The first book I want to review– The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs– is one such book. I could tell when I started reading it that this was going to be an important  book for my soul– discontentment is sadly is often the state of my heart. But because it’s slightly dense and has older language I’ve just been plowing through. From the start, Burroughs rapid-fires on all cylinders about the utter stupidity of discontentment, its unfitness for the Christian, and how, by God’s grace, we might find peace and joy in this life in Christ. It’s definitely a book I want to remember and rehearse often to myself. After all,  what good is it if I serve God and others in the ministry, or in my future occupation and relationships if I don’t have contentment? Yet, how easy is it for us as Christians to serve God, and others in the ministry, in our work and in our relationships, full of discontentment, all the while looking respectable and pious?

So, hopefully this will help me take time to take the insights of this book and crystalize them in my own mind and heart. And, this way, my readers here can be blessed too by books that they might not have time to read. Let it be known, in terms of follow-up posts to intro-posts for a series, I have a perfect 100% track record of failure. So, keep me accountable, get on my case, bother me, so that I write. May this be a help to my own soul and to yours, for the glory of God and for our good. Amen!

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6)

Even Til the End

“Salvation is not from anything we do, but by faith in what Jesus has already done”

By faith. Sometimes those two words call great fear into my heart. Faith, believing and resting in the work of Christ, should be a ceasing from labor and an entry into blessed rest. But for me, as someone who struggles with doubt, dullness, and depression– often all three at once– faith can feel like the hardest work of all.

Is there rest for the doubting Christian, who strives earnestly for a rock-solid faith but finds it elusive? One who tries his best, but after giving all can only cry “I believe, help my unbelief” and “”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Mk 9:24, Jn 6:68). What does it mean for him when Christ makes the invitation to: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30)

Here is a brief thought from a passage that has comforted me as I’ve wrestled and struggled these past few months. It comes from God’s words in Isaiah 46, when he entreats the Israelites to lay down the idols they’ve been trusting for life and strength, and to return to him. He says:

“Bel bows down. Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnants of the house of Jacob, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb, even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear. I will carry and I will save.” (vs.1-4)

The thought is this: the Gospel does not tell us, “God sent his Son to forgive your sins and grant salvation, but you must believe (as if faith were a kind of work). Trust in this love, cherish this love, walk always in it and when you do, it shall be yours and you will have salvation. No, Israel’s frail idols could not grant this new life of rest and peace that Jesus offers in Matthew 11, nor can we attain it by the strength of our own faith. But rather, the Gospel tell us this, “If you were to bear your own faith it would weigh you down like a heavy burden on a weary beast. Faith is both given and sustained by God. And the only reason it survives is this– he has borne you from before your birth, he has carried you from the womb, and he will see you through, even until the end.”

Oh, what a comforting thought this is for the doubter, who at times feels his faith is too frail to make it through the day, sometimes even through the hour. Praise be to God that it is not his burden to bear, this heavy load of faith, but the Lord’s. Surely he can carry it and ensure that his saints cherish, trust, and grow in the Savior always. As Jesus promises, “I give them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (Jn 10:28-29). And as the great apostle echoes, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ” (Phil 1.6). And in this knowledge comes the rest of true faith– that same rest Jesus promises in Matthew 11– that strange paradox that we are not saved by the strength of our faith but by the unshakeable love of God; but because of this love, we can finally have faith– rest, trust, and peace– in him. When doubts come, when despair rises up, and when dullness obscures the face of God, I can still confidently say, “Though sorrows are many and though all around my soul gives way, I am safe. Not by my strength, nor by the merits of my belief, but because I am held by my Father in the love of Christ.  This Great God, though I cannot now see him or praise him as I ought, he will bring me all the way home.”

I confess I write much better than I live. And during the dark nights of soul, I cannot preach as boldly or as confidently to myself as I do here. But slowly I’m learning by God’s grace those great truths that John espouses in his 1st epistle: that “whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” and “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 3:19, 4:18). “We love because he first loved us”, not because of our ability to trust him, but purely by his grace– “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God;and so we are” (1 Jn 3:1, 4:19)

I have shared my greatest fear: that my faith will fail. Because of his promises, however, I know he will not let me go. So, in closing, I will share my great hope: Paul’s declaration that, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24). O, that I would be faithful even til the end! By the grace of God and through the power of his keeping love, may it be so.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 2:24-25)

One of my favorite songs of the year! It’s catchy and the lyrics are particularly relevant here. The chorus goes, “O this God, is our God, even til the end. Standing strong over us time and time again, even til the end” Beautiful. Amen, Matt Redman!

Freed to Love

Does altruis­m exist? That is, can we do anything with completely pure and selfless motives for another? The question of altruism has long puzzled evolutionists, psychologists, and philosophers alike. On one hand, their naturalistic worldview seems to exclude it. Natural selection, or “survival of the fittest”, makes altruism both impractical and undesirable, at least in the evolutionary scheme. If all we have is this life, then why do anything else other than live for self and use others for our own good? On the other hand, though rare, there seem to be concrete instances of altruism– men running into burning buildings, soldiers dying in place of a comrade, even animals acting for the welfare of their kin at their own personal expense. Faced with conflicting evidence, scientists are left to ponder whether these acts truly selfless, or if there is a selfish motive, some evolutionary phenomena or psychological mechanism, behind them.

As Christian we need not concern ourselves with whether or not altruism exists. It does. The genius of the Gospel, above every other religion or worldview, is that it makes real altruism possible.

Altruism’s greatest obstacle has always been the ‘self’—self-love, self-concern, and self-protection. It’s what the evolutionists and psychologists explain with natural selection, but what Christians say comes from a sinful heart. As Martyn Lloyd Jones puts it, men, because of sin, are constantly “turning in upon themselves, looking at themselves, and concerned about themselves” (103). The problem with the ‘self’ is that it makes everything we do, including our interactions with others, about our own good. Consequently, even when we appear most altruistic– when we are serving, encouraging, and caring for others, we are always doing it for ourselves. This manifests itself in different ways: we may love others because it feeds our spiritual pride, or we may love to feel needed and accepted out of insecurity. We may love out of fear, out of guilt, for our reputation, or so that the person loved might further the fruition of some other goal. However, though motivations may differ, the result is always the same: our actions may appear altruistic, but our hearts are never pure. We love ultimately for our own welfare and happiness.

However, the Gospel destroys the self. It does not concern itself with fixing behavior with moral codes and rules, but instead takes us straight to the heart of the problem: everything we are is completely useless and sinful. Every inclination of our hearts is desperately wicked, every thought, foolish, and every ambition, vain and empty. Even the best deeds our hearts produce are like dirty rags before God. We cannot love God or others, we cannot do good, and we cannot escape enslavement to ‘self’.

Thankfully, the Gospel does not stop there. It presents a moving story of altruism as the solution to our selfishness; one where God displays grace towards undeserving sinners at great personal expense. It tells us of Jesus Christ, who shed his divine privileges and condescended to become a lowly servant. With selfless love, he became a man, walked with the lowly, and healed the weak. And in the greatest act of sacrificial love in all history, he humbled himself to die on the cross for those who hated and despised him. He laid down his own life as a sacrifice, so that, by his act of love, our selfish hearts could be changed to reflect his. Three days later he rose again, showing that he had not only the desire, but also the power to spark altruism in our darkened hearts.

Through the power of this Gospel, we are finally able to lay ourselves aside. We can relinquish any pride in our own righteousness and strength, and cling desperately to the righteousness and strength of Jesus instead. We can abandon our own fleeting goals and desires to take up the eternal ones of our Lord and Savior. For when we see him and begin to understand what he did for us at Calvary, everything we know about ourselves, God, and others changes. In comparison to his beauty, we see a life lived for ‘self’ for what it truly is—a vain and empty sham, that brings no lasting joy. We see that the only life worth living and dying for is one for God. His cause alone is glorious enough to devote ourselves to, his love, deep enough to satisfy our souls, and his eternal plan, sure enough to ease every worry and anxiety. The ‘self’, has always gained its power by telling us: if you are not concerned about yourself, if you do not seek your own interests, protect your happiness, and worry about your future, then who will? But, in this Gospel, we have our answer: Jesus will, and he will bring greater joy than we could ever obtain by ourselves.

As for others, we can now love them selflessly. Christ has freed us from the shackles of self. We no longer have to use our relationships bolster our pride, or to find our worth in. We have laid all that down at the foot of the cross, and entrusted it to God. He will meet the needs that we formerly sought unsuccessfully in others. Now, by faith, we can live in a new ideal of love, one modeled for us by our Savior himself—that is, sacrificial love. Sacrificial love is altruistic love. It does not take into account our rights, but acts for the good of another, even at a personal cost. Sacrificial love forgets self-interest. It expects nothing in return from others because it is satisfied with all it has in Christ already, and trusts that the same God, who did not withhold his Son, will provide for us in the future. It is only in Christ that we are able practice this kind of love. We can love altruistically, because God has shown that same love for us and promised it to us, in Christ Jesus, for all eternity.

So, while the scientists debate the existence of altruism, a more practical question for us to ask ourselves as Christians, is whether real altruism exists in us. We know altruism exists for we have beheld it in its purest form in the Gospel in its purest form– Christ crucified for us, wretched sinners, to reconcile us to God. And further, we know the Spirit enables us to walk in that same kind of love toward others. By his strength, we can practice Christ’s perfect love: that self-sacrificing love which Paul describes so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13; that altruistic love which acts completely for the good of others.We know all this, but the question remains: do we love in this way?

I headed into my first year of college thinking that I did. I knew I was still sinful, but I thought at least I had made solid progress towards loving as Christ loved. Intellectually, I understood how the implications of the Gospel compelled me to love others selflessly, and in my heart, I desired to love others in this way. That, I thought, meant I had achieved a level of maturity. However, looking back over this past year, I see that I am not nearly as mature as I thought I was. Christian love is to be pristine. It requires purity in motive, and a singularity of mind that acts simply for the good of others and the glory of God. Yet, as I examine how I have loved this past year, I see in myself duplicity, a double-mindedness. Certainly, there was a part of me which genuinely wanted and tried to love selflessly. However, another part of me clung on to all the old desires of ‘self”. I lacked faith that Jesus could deliver all that he promised he could, so I held on to the happiness offered by the old ways of ‘self’.

Jesus makes it clear in the Gospels that we can only have one master. Either we will love the one and hate the other, or we will be devoted to one and despise the other. We cannot serve both God and the old desires of self. Yet, so often, we find ourselves trying to do just that—trying to strike an unholy compromise between the selfless love commanded by Christ, and the selfish “love” that we want. Our problem is one of unbelief: We have faith to see the beauty of Christian love, but not enough to completely let go of the joys promised by the ‘self’. This becomes all the more difficult in the high-stakes arena of relationships where acting selfishly offers immediate gratification, while loving selflessly offers no such reward. There is no glamour in sacrificial love unless we esteem Christ highly and trust in his promises. But we, in our unbelief, are afraid of a life lived solely in dependence on the love of Christ, so we slowly begin to slip back in the desires of ‘self’ to supplement the love that the Bible promises is enough to satisfy us.

How tempting it is to stay in this state of flux, of contaminated lukewarm love!  How easy it is to be satisfied with this duplicity in our hearts and to desire the best of both worlds: the satisfaction that comes from convincing ourselves that we love selflessly, with the old desires of ‘self’ as a safety net. But we cannot live this way. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that by loving in this way we are practicing true Christian love. We must choose the master whom we will serve.

As for me, I have set my hope in Jesus Christ. I know my love is still in many ways, shallow, superficial, and self-focused, but I trust that as my faith grows in him, he will work in me to make my love like his. May he grow my faith, empty from me every selfish motive, and teach me to love altruistically, with a singularity of mind and one pure and holy passion just as he did!

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5)

…must learn..to be less long-winded *dies*


			

The Pitfalls of Writing: A Reflection and Reminder

A while back, Tim Chailles put up this quote by a guy named, Samuel Johnson, on the dangers of writing. I found it a thought-provoking reminder, and a challenge as I try to hopefully resume posting on this blog more regularly during the summer.  Johnson writes:

It is not difficult to conceive that for many reasons a man writes much better than he lives. For, without entering into refined speculations, it may be shown much easier to design than to perform. A man proposes his schemes of life in a state of abstraction and disengagement, exempt from the enticements of hope, the solicitations of affection, the importunities of appetite, or the depressions of fear, and is in the same state with him that teaches upon land the art of navigation, to whom the sea is always smooth, and the wind always prosperous…

We are, therefore, not to wonder that most fail, amidst tumult and snares and danger, in the observance of those precepts, which they laid down in solitude, safety, and tranquility, with a mind unbiased, and with liberty unobstructed… Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory.

There is a lot of good things to take away from this quote. Johnson eloquently captures the disconnect that often occurs between our knowing and articulation of that knowledge in writing, and our translating that knowledge into action. It is always easier to “design than to perform”. When we are writing, our minds can grasp the truth abstractly. We are able to understand the advantages of the solutions offered by Christianity. But when we try to apply our knowledge in real life we face formidable enemies. I particularly like Johnson’s description of our obstacles– he calls them “enticements of hope, the solicitations of affection, the importunities of appetite, or the depressions of fear.” How right he is here in capturing the power and relentlessness of these forces, and how convincing they are in swaying us from our convictions and causing us to doubt what we know. Although Johnson is sympathetic towards writers who fail to live out their convictions, his reminder is still a sobering one: our hopes, affections, appetites, and fears often cause us to discard the lofty truths we  write about, because of our lack of our faith.

Johnson’s warning of the pitfalls of writing are especially relevant to me as I write here on this blog. Many of the posts I write are meant to be exhortations to myself to the superiority of Christ, in the midst of personal struggle. But as Johnson reminds me, this kind of writing merely makes me one who is “sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory.” Through my writing, I may come to understand the gravity of my problems and the beauty of their solution in Christ, but that does me no good, unless I am actively striving to obtain the victory.

This takes me back to the heart of why I’m writing. I cannot write for the praise of man, for the satisfaction of a well-written essay on my computer screen, to relieve my boredom, or solely as a means of introspection. One reason I started this blog was so that I’d be able to understand and articulate the things I’m thinking about, learning, and struggling with through a Christ-centered lens. But it cannot end with knowledge; it is useless if I am able to articulate truth well but unable to live it.  Good writing is vanity on its own. The success or failure of this blog, of my writing endeavors, is to be seen through the testimony of my life. May I live out my faith, trusting in Christ to overcome my weaknesses!

“But be does of the words, and not hearers only deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22)


			

The Fruit of Self Control

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to share a short devotional on the topic of self-control.  Here is the transcript for those of you who missed it!

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 those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:22-24 ESV)

Today, I’ve been asked to share on the fruit of self-control. Let me be clear, I share with you not as someone who has this virtue down, but as someone who is still very much learning how to have self-control. I would say of all the sins I’m prone to struggle with, a lack of self-control is one of the most prominent. It is a daily, often hourly, struggle for me. I don’t think I’m alone in this regards. I can say confidently that this is one of the biggest struggles of our generation. We are a generation of instant-gratification and of indulgence, not of self-control. It shows ­in the way we study, the way we use the Internet, the way we fight against lust, and even in things as simple as how we late we stay up on Saturday nights before church. The sad thing is that despite the pervasiveness of this problem in our lives, we often marginalize our lack of self-control and do not take it seriously. We recognize and fight against other sins, but we are content to live without self-control. This is a serious mistake. Hopefully, from examining the Word today, we’ll see that self-control is not something to be brushed aside, but rather a fruit we should take seriously and pursue diligently.

If you have your bibles, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 9:25-27

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.(1 Corinthians 9:25-27 ESV)

There is a lot to be said about this well-known passage. I have four brief principles about self-control and its importance which will guide us through this passage.

1)       Self-Control is necessary for the Christian

In this passage, Paul uses the image of the discipline of an athlete to illustrate truths about self-control for the Christian. He starts off by saying, “every athlete exercises self-control”. Notice the inclusiveness of that statement. Paul uses the word “every”, signifying that anyone who is an athlete exercises self-control, and conversely that there are no athletes who don’t exercise self-control. I don’t need to tell you this. We know intuitively that discipline is built-in to the very definition of an athlete. Anyone who is a serious athlete can’t do whatever they want. They have to eat a certain way; they need to spend a certain amount of time practicing and refining their skills; they need to study so that they know the strategy and the ins-and-outs of the game. However, at the same time, we know that these aren’t arbitrary burdens that serve no purpose. All of these things serve to enhance and enable the athlete’s goal, which is to perform well at his sport. So too it is for the Christian. Every Christian exercises self-control, and there are no Christians who don’t exercise self-control. Why? Because as Christian’s we can’t indulge in whatever we want and expect to glorify God in our lives, just as athletes can’t do whatever they want and expect to perform well. We need self-control so that we can fulfill our purpose: to love and glorify God!

2)      The Christian exercises self-control in all things

Notice Paul says the athlete exercises self-control “in all things”. Here in this simple phrase, we see the scope of self-control. Self-control isn’t limited to one or two areas, it covers everything we do! If you think about it, every area in our life requires some degree of discipline. The Bible itself talks about the self-control in reference to a variety of topics. To name a few, in James 5:5, James condemns a lack of self-control with wealth which leads to greediness and indulgent living. 1 Peter 4:7 talks about how we should be self-controlled in regards to the area of prayer.  Titus 2:6 talks about how young men should be self-controlled in order to present a good testimony to the world. 1 Corinthians 7:9 talks about self-control in relation to marriage and sexual passion. My point here is that we need to strive to be self-controlled in everything. We can’t be selective in our self-control, choosing to exercise discipline in certain areas of our lives while neglecting others. For example, it does us little good to battle against lust, if we waste countless hours on the computer and have no control over how we use our words. It does us little good to be disciplined in our studies, if we spend our money recklessly and irresponsibly for our own passions. The truth is God wants control every aspect of our life. So let us not pick and choose where we choose to be obedient. Let us instead surrender every area of our lives to the lordship of Christ

3)      Self-Control is eternally focused

Paul could have just stopped by saying, “every athlete exercises self-control in all things” and made it simply a moral virtue, but he goes on to say, “They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” Self-control is not a unique virtue to Christians. We know all too well that there are many non-Christians who are much more disciplined than us. But Paul say here that there is a vital difference between worldly self-control and Christian self-control. When a non-Christian practices self-control he does it to gain some kind of earthly treasure—things like wealth, power, or recognition.  But when we, as Christians, practice self-control we should have an entirely different goal in mind. We are self-controlled so that we might be conformed to the likeness of Christ. Think how much greater is our calling and how much greater shall our reward be! Their wreath will perish, but ours is imperishable. The end result of their self-control is empty treasures and accolades that will fade away. But the end result of ours will be as 1 John 2:28 says, that on the day “when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”  My question for you today, is what is your motivation for self-discipline? When you practice self-control is it as the world practices self-control, to win wealth, power, and recognition for yourself? Or does your self-control actively preparing for and looking forward to an eternity with Christ?

4)      Our Self-Control reveals the truthfulness of our love for God 

In this last section, Paul directly relates the image of an athlete back to his life. He writes, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Here, Paul emphasizes why self-control has the utmost priority in his life. If an athlete does not have self- discipline, he cannot perform his profession– his running becomes aimless and his boxing, weak. Likewise, Paul says without self-control his whole ministry as a preacher and missionary would be in vain. Why? Because he would fail his ultimate goal to please Christ. Everything he proclaimed would have not been true in his own life. Christianity is not a religion of empty knowledge and words—Christ’s harshest rebukes were directed towards the Pharisees—rather it is a religion meant be practiced and applied. My question to you is if we lack self-control, how can we ever expect to practice what we preach and claim to believe? Or perhaps more directly: if we lack self-control, how can Christ ever be Lord over our lives? Self-control is an avenue through which we demonstrate that Christ, and not our flesh, is master. Think about it. I can proclaim that Jesus is Lord over all of my life, but it’s all empty talk until I can exercise self-control in my purity, time, money, and thoughts. As Christians, we have in our lives, countless areas where we can either exercise self-control or indulge our sinful flesh. How we exercise self-control gives a tangible statement of our love and commitment to Christ. Let us, then, adopt the same mindset as Paul, and realize that, though we may preach the right words and perform all the right deeds, if we don’t have self-control, then the Gospel has no power in our lives. Let us diligently seek to cultivate  self-control so that there will be private truth behind our public words and deeds

In light of this passage, I have two points of application

  1. We Must Discipline Ourselves: There is a definite aspect of responsibility involved for us. Paul doesn’t use the image of an athlete arbitrarily. He uses it because self-control is not something that just springs forth from us without effort. It is hard work. Just as an athlete labors with sweat and tears to achieve the discipline necessary for his goal, we must also work so that we might please God. If we’re serious about self-control, we must be willing put in the work to build God-glorifying habits. We must be willing to sacrifice our comfort and pleasure, take up our cross daily, and follow Christ.
  2. We Must Look to the Gospel for Strength and motivation: Galatians 5:24-25, the verses immediately following the listing of the fruit of the Spirit, says: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”  Never underestimate the influence that our sinful flesh holds over us. If we try and achieve self-control by our own willpower we will fail miserably. Either we will be defeated and become discouraged, or we will become self-righteous like the Pharisees. The power and the motivation for self-control comes through the Gospel. Christ’s death saves us from the power of sin: we have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. In its place, we now have the Spirit, who helps us to live as Jesus lived. Christ’s death is also our motivation. Our self-control is an act of love and preparation: we strive for self-control with the help of the Spirit, pressing on towards the day where we will receive the imperishable wreath and be with Christ forever.

An End to Loneliness

If you were asked to summarize the entirety of the New Testament in three words how would you answer? There are many blessings you could turn to, and truths you could draw upon, but which are the most foundational to our understanding of the Gospel? Which words best capture the essence of what Christ has done for us? J.I. Packer writes in Knowing God that, if he were asked this question, his reply would be “adoption through propitiation.” Packer proposes that the heart of the Gospel is propitiation– Christ died for us as a sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God, and the highest privilege of the Gospel is adoption– we are welcomed into God’s family by the blood of Christ. In his poignant reply, I believe Packer identifies how Christ addresses the two great needs of the human heart: our need for forgiveness, and our need for relationship.

I wanted to write briefly about the latter. For all our talk of Christianity as a relationship and not a religion, I think practically we oftentimes make the cross to be one-dimensional; we emphasize the forgiveness of our sins, but forget how the intensely personal aspects of Christ’s sacrifice fulfill intensely personal needs in us. In doing so, I think we lose a crucial aspect of the Gospel’s beauty. Why is it so significant that we have been adopted; that through Christ, God has restored us back into his family and a relationship with him as Father? The truth is that we are not only deeply sinful people, but desperately lonely ones as well; and through the cross, Christ has made an end to our loneliness.

Over Spring break I had a chance to read Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. In this book, Hill offers a painfully honest account of the struggles of gay Christians as they seek to remain pure and faithful before God. Although I cannot claim to even approach the pain endured by those struggling with homosexual desires, I identified with Hill’s writing on loneliness– a pain experienced acutely by him, but common to us all. In his chapter entitled “An End to Loneliness”, Hill defines our loneliness as a longing for a “relationship of mutual desire; one in which we can want someone wholeheartedly and be wanted with the same intensity.” That is our need. We want to know and to be known, to desire and to be desired in return. “All our lives we are searching for someone who will take us seriously,” Hill writes, but all of our human relationships are in some way inadequate to meet this need. We desire for intimacy but are often spurned instead; in turn, we find that we can offer little to the people who need us most; and though we long to really know others and for them to know us, in the end, we know little of substance of anyone, and even our closest friendships only scratch the surface of our souls.

How deep is this problem though? Most of us know and acknowledge the gravity and danger of sin– we are not just mildly bad people; we are depraved sinners and nothing short of the blood of Christ and the regenerating work of the Spirit could have changed our hearts. I suspect, however, that not many of us would consider our loneliness a problem of similar magnitude. Is loneliness merely a nagging inconvenience for certain unloved people? Or is it a problem which, like sin, reaches to the very core of all of us?

I would argue for the latter; that loneliness is one of the fundamental problems of sinful human existence and that nothing short of the blood of Christ can fill this void. If the heart of the Gospel is propitiation and its highest privilege, adoption; then it stands to reason that the greatest problem introduced by the Fall was sin, and the greatest benefit lost was our relationship with God. Because of sin, we have been cut off from our Father, the fountain of living water. We have been alienated from the only relationship where our yearning to desire and to be desired, to know and to be known, can be met. Where we once sought and enjoyed the presence of God, we now hide and run away because of our shame and guilt. Where we once desired to worship God and to be with him, we now abandon him and desire the creation over the Creator himself. Our relationships with others, once centered and rooted in God, now become sources of pain and disappointment. In vain, we search for fulfillment and joy in the broken cisterns of this world, but we find that in everything we are alienated, both from God and from others. This is the gravity of the human condition apart from Christ: we are hungry people eating bread that does not satisfy and drinking water that only intensifies our thirst.

When we understand our desperate need for an end to our loneliness, this Gospel becomes all the more beautiful, surprising, and relevant to our hearts. For in the Gospel, our inconsolable yearning is finally met by Jesus, God in flesh, the living water and bread of life. We long to desire wholeheartedly, and to be desired in return. The Gospel rings with this resounding note– Jesus desires us. He has demonstrated his unconditional love for us by leaving his throne on high to die on the cross for us while we were still yet sinners. What greater longing is there than that? What greater love? Not only does Jesus desire us, we, too, can wholeheartedly desire him. Jesus promises that those who seek to love him with heart, soul, and mind, will never be disappointed or put to shame. We long to know and to be known. Jesus Christ knows us perfectly and there is joy and life in knowing him. He became a man like us, he has suffered our deepest sorrows, and he now stands before the Father as our risen mediator. The Bible promises that there is nothing more rewarding than those who count all as loss to know the surpassing worth of Christ!

In Christ, we have been adopted through propitiation. We are orphans no longer. The veil has been torn, the presence of God has returned, and we have been made sons and joint heirs with Christ. We were once cut off from God, but now we have been brought near by the blood of Christ. We once faced the wrath of a holy judge on sinful criminals, but now we receive affection, fellowship, and honor from our Father. In the family of God, we are not alone nor we will ever be again. We forever have the love of the Father, who, when he looks at us, sees the righteousness of his beloved Son; and we forever have Christ, our friend, our brother, and our king.

It is in this gospel where we find peace from the turmoil in our souls and rest for our weariness; strength to carry on and comfort for when everything else gives way. Here in this Gospel we find the relationship we’ve always wanted; the friend and father, lover and king that we’ve always needed. He will never leave nor forsake us. He can heal our hearts and make us whole. Hill, near the end of his chapter on loneliness, expresses it this way: “In some profound sense, this love of God— expressed in his yearning and blessing and experienced in our hearts— must spell the end of longing and loneliness. In solitude, God desiring us, God wanting us, is enough.” May we cherish and depend on this Gospel!

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1a)

This is an idea I’ve been thinking about and wrestling over for quite some time. I’d be interested in hearing all of your opinions on this! Do you believe this loneliness, as described in this post, is theologically and practically the problem that I make it out to be?

Also, I’ve divided this post up into two parts for the sake of length and so that I could finally publish this (I’ve had writer’s block  on this for the longest time…) Part 2 coming soon, which will talk about loneliness in the life of a Christian.

Facing the Giants,

Apologetics is an invaluable tool for Christians. We must know what we believe and why we believe in it to give a defense of our hope to others and to our own unbelieving hearts. Apologetics shows us that Christianity is not fantasies for wishful-thinking fools; our faith is historically credible, philosophically sound, and firmly rooted in reality; able to stand against every argument and the closest scrutiny.  A few days ago I had a chance to read through a debate on the existence of God. After reading and examining both sides, I think the Christian debater won handily. He made use of arguments that I feel are impossible for atheists to overcome. Now, it would be easy to stop here, but unfortunately it’s not that simple. The problem with debates is that the opponents of our faith aren’t stupid. It’s not as if the debate was on whether tomatoes are red or rainbow-colored; an issue where you would have to be completely illogical to support one side. Atheists make challenging and compelling arguments just like Christians do and we would be naive to think otherwise. Many men though out history smarter than I have earnestly sought answers to questions of faith and arrived at different conclusions. Herein lies the shortcoming of apologetics: you can never prove outright the Christian world view.

Say if after the debate, I rated each side out of 100 on my certainty for each side’s arguments. Lets say I think Christianity won by a score of 90%-10%, meaning that the arguments for Christianity seem far more likely that those of atheism. Even then, the small fragment of uncertainty would always be there as I become a Christian and seek to follow God. As I pray and study the bible, as I reorient my relationships and the use of my time to obey God, there would always be that shred of doubt to haunt me and remind me that a 10% chance could nullify everything I’m striving for.This is why faith is an essential component of Christianity. We cannot rely exclusively on our intellects and reasoning to resolve the debates in our hearts; we must seek to grow in the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I have always struggled with these tiny shreds of uncertainty. Even now, they continue to plague my heart and hinder my growth. I can identify deeply with the conflict expressed in the plea of the man in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!” Oh how I want to follow without doubt! How I want to give everything to him with complete confidence that I will not at all be ashamed! Sadly, I am a man of little faith. Doubt hinders me from passionately giving my all and living freely in the strength of the Gospel. It affects the quality of my time with God in the Word and in prayer. It makes me cynical at what God can do in my life, the lives of others, and in the life of the church. It is that small voice of Satan telling me to relax and to not pursue God with the zeal and fervor that I know I need to.  3%, 0.1%, 0.0005%, I don’t know what the number is in my life and it matters not exactly what it is, for the smallest remnant of doubt can have devastating effects if I allow it free-reign to grow

I have two great fears. The first is that unbelief will harden my heart and mind and cause me to fall away. Though this is a real fear, the second is a more present danger in my life: I fear I’ll never have enough faith to chase after God with all my heart. I’ll never really pursue God out of fear he might not be there and then my zeal would leave me with nothing. Instead of risking this, I become one who knows a great deal about God and godliness yet very little of God himself; a pharisee who lives a picture-perfect life without the genuine faith that pleases the Lord.  Unbelief will turn God for me into an academic venture and godliness into a game, and trap me on the middle road; too scared to follow completely, but too afraid to let go. And at my life’s end, I will be a weak-hearted boy who stayed close to what he’d always known; playing in a safe make-believe religion because he was too afraid of what he might find if he really followed. And in the end, my lack of faith will prevent me from deeply knowing and loving the living God.

These are fears and questions I must settle before those inevitable storms of doubt come. Do I really believe? Am I really following? Am I prepared to fend off the attacks of Satan? It is so very easy to settle into a type of Christianity that requires very little faith at all. Yes, I may say I believe God can do everything; anyone can do that. Anyone can go to church and learn the Christian jargon and bring himself to read and pray. The real question is: is there true genuine faith behind my actions? Do I seek and depend on God in such a way that is beyond merely disciplining and controlling my life to perform tasks, through the guise of a love for the Gospel?

The scary thing is that I know I am not above falling away and making shipwreck of my faith. I am not above becoming a Pharisee or an apostate. Worldly skepticism and cynicism are relentlessly attacking. The mundane cares of everyday life weigh heavy on me, pressuring me to forget and marginalize the ability of God to work in ordinary life. At the same time, my pride tells me to play Christianity like a game; to do the right things and earn the praise of man, while never pursuing genuine religious affections. My faith being besieged from both sides by the enemy of my soul. I know that alone I cannot stand up against his onslaughts; if God does not protect and sustain my faith then I will die like the seeds not sown on the good soil (Matthew 13). In this war, I must go on the offensive and daily seek to depend on him for faith. This means abandoning the safety of mindless detached Christianity. It means getting out of the boat, so I can walk on water with Christ. Let’s pursue God recklessly, holding nothing back, so that we might know Him deeply! Let’s grab hold of the promises of Christ, and live boldly in light of the power promised by the Gospel. If we’re wrong so be it; if this is foolishness then we will be ashamed above all men; but let us never be scared to wholeheartedly seek the truth.

Oh, how I desire for  faith like the saints of old who, in the face of overwhelming doubt, chose to trust God! I want be  like Abraham who trusted God enough to leave behind his homeland and was even willing to sacrifice his only child. I want to stand courageously like David did against Goliath when faith in God’s power was his only weapon. I want to be like the sick and broken of the New Testament who humbly approached Christ through faith to be healed; the blind men, who in response to Christ’s question: “Do you believe I can do this?”, confidently replied: “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28); and the Caananite woman, who knowing her unworthiness, humbly says: “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27). I want  faith like the saints described in Hebrews 11:

“[Those] who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy…” (Hebrew 11:33-38)

The faith of these men and women extended beyond concepts and abstractions; they trusted in the power of God to work mightily to change this broken world and their broken lives. They answered Christ’s question: do you believe I can do this?” with a resounding yes.

The same question is posed to you and me: do we believe Christ can do great things in our world and in our lives? We must continually strive to grow in faith in our belief that he can. The moment we release our grasp on the power and promises of God our faith and our lives are rendered useless. The truth is doubt isn’t going anywhere. It will be an ever-present reality here on earth that we, as Christians, must struggle with. Yet, our faith does not exist apart from doubt; rather our faith exists and is exercised in the presence of doubt. So here I stand. The enemy is calling from the other side: who are you and where is your God? Where is his power? By the world’s standards he’s right. I have nothing: I am weak, frail, and wretched, but I have faith in the power of Christ and that’s all I need. I’m all in. Bring it.

I’ve always appreciated the honesty of this song. It encapsulates many of the issues explored in this post so I thought I’d include it.

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

I realize that this post is very scattered and incomplete in many ways, but this was sitting in my drafts folder for the longest time, and I wanted to publish I lost my train of thought.