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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Proverbs 5-7: Combating Sexual Temptation

One of the things from Sunday's sermon that ended up on the cutting room floor was an important passage in Proverbs dealing with combating sexual temptation.  Proverbs 5-7 is a great section of Scripture for those struggling against lust.  And though these chapters deal specifically with sexual sin, the principles found there can be applied to any other form of temptation.
In Proverbs 5-7, Solomon gives his sons three tactics for combating sexual temptation, and we find traces of all three in each chapter.  The first is tactic is to cling to the Word:
5:1 - My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding.
5:7 - And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
6:20-24 - My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching.  21 Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. 22 When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. 23 For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, 24 to preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
7:1-5 - My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; 2 keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; 3 bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call insight your intimate friend, 5 to keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words.
7:24 - And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
The wisdom, understanding, commandments, teaching, and “words” to which Solomon calls his sons’ attention should not be thought of only as the content of the book of Proverbs.  Solomon most likely has in mind the broader law of God.  Psalm 119:11 tells us, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.  It is the whole counsel of God to which we should look to help us in the fight against temptation.
There are two things to note about Solomon’s instruction here.  First, he calls his sons not merely to know the Word, but to bind it on their hearts, to incline their ears to it, to treasure it, to keep it as the apple of their eye, to write it on the tablet of their hearts, to consider it an intimate friend.  He is prescribing more than an intellectual familiarity with its content.  He wants them to cherish it as a treasure.  The reason they should do this is the second thing we want to note: it has the power to preserve them from temptation.  Solomon says it will lead them, watch over them, talk with them, help them to see, and keep them from the evil woman.
We could combine these two ideas into one truth in our fight against sin: we should cherish and hold fast to the Word of God for the life-giving, life-preserving, life-saving force that it is.  It is our first line of defense when temptation comes.  We must learn it, love it, memorize it, meditate on it, and talk about it day and night.
The second tactic is to consider the consequences of the sin:
5:3-6 - For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, 4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; 6 she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.
5:9-14 - You [will] give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, 10 lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, 11 and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, 12 and you say, "How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! 13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. 14 I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation."
5:21-23 - For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths. 22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. 23 He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.
6:26-35 - For the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life. 27 Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? 28 Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? 29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; none who touches her will go unpunished. 30 People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, 31 but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house. 32 He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. 33 He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away. 34 For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge. 35 He will accept no compensation; he will refuse though you multiply gifts. 
7:22-23 - All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast 23 till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
7:26-27 - For many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. 27 Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
You can see by the volume of material here how important this tactic is.  I believe it is one we often neglect.  We should consider it a vital discipline to ponder the consequences of sin, to consider the certain long-term misery that will result from momentary pleasure.  Solomon describes the moment of sin as sweet, but the aftertaste as bitter as wormwood.  It will bring you to the “brink of ruin.”  It will ensnare you, hold you fast in its cords.  You will die for lack of discipline.  The repeated theme is that sin will lead to the loss of everything, including your very life.  Undoubtedly, the enemy wants us to give no thought to these things, but clearly the Holy Spirit intends for us to meditate on them.
The third tactic is to avoid temptation at all costs:
5:8 - Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.
6:25 - Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes.
7:6-21 - For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, 7 and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, 8 passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house 9 in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. 10 And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. 11 She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; 12 now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. 13 She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, 14 "I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; 15 so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. 16 I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; 17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. 18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. 19 For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; 20 he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home." 21 With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.
7:25 - Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths.
The extended section of 7:6-21 gives a chilling third-person perspective.  This young man, lacking sense, lost the battle before the adulteress even gave the invitation.  He went to the place of temptation at the time of temptation into the company of temptation.  By the time the prostitute opened her mouth it was all over.  He had already made his choice with his feet when he took the road to her house.
This is why Solomon writes, “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house…Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths.”  He is essentially prescribing the radical amputation we discussed on Sunday.  “Cut yourself off from the source of temptation.  Don’t even go near it.”
For someone who is battling this kind of temptation, it would be a wise discipline to meditate on these three chapters of Proverbs everyday, or perhaps alternate them, looking at one a day.  Again, the tactics we find there can be applied to any sin we are fighting.  We must cling to the Word, consider the consequences, and avoid temptation at all costs.  These tactics, coupled with the daily discipline of preaching the gospel to ourselves, are a strong defense against the temptation to sin.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is All Anger Sinful?

In our look at Matthew 5:21-26 last Sunday, there was a somewhat obvious question that I did not have time to address, so I’d like to cover it here.  

Is all anger sinful?  Jesus’ statement, “…everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…” sounds like a blanket condemnation of all anger.  Is teaching that all anger is wrong?

As always, when we come to questions like this, we need to interpret Scripture with Scripture.  If we do this, we find that it cannot be the case that all anger is sinful – God Himself experiences anger.  Psalm 7:11 tells us that God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.  There are many references in the Old Testament to the wrath of God (Exod. 22:24l 32:10;Num. 25:11; Deut. 9:8; 2 Ki. 22:13; 2 Chr. 19:10; Ezr. 7:23; Job 20:28; Ps. 2:5; 78:21; Prov. 14:35; Isa. 9:19; Jer. 6:11; Lam. 2:2; Ezek. 7:8; Dan. 9:16; Hos. 5:10; Nah. 1:2; Zech. 8:14).  We know that God cannot sin (Jas 1:13;1 John 1:5).  

We also know that Jesus was angry.  The most vivid demonstration of this is in John 2:13-17: The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."
(cf. Mark 3:1-5).  Scripture also tells us explicitly that Jesus never sinned (2 Cor 5:21).

Further, there are passages like Eph 4:26, which reads, Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.  All of these things indicate that there is some form of anger that is not sinful.  So we can say definitively that anger is not inherently sinful.

We might classify some anger as righteous anger, that is, anger for God-centered reasons.  The wrath of God in the Bible is always connected to His displeasure over sin or His zeal for His own will, reputation, and honor.  These are righteous reasons for anger.  Likewise, Christ’s anger was an expression of His displeasure over sin and His concern for the Father’s honor and reputation.  

It is quite possible for us to experience righteous anger.  When we see the abuse of children or the victimization of the weak in the news and we get angry, this could be considered righteous anger.  When we get angry because of how someone’s sin has brought disrepute upon the Lord or His people, this is righteous anger.  When we experience anger about the same things and for the same reasons that the Lord does, we are experiencing righteous anger.  

On the other hand, clearly there is sinful anger, which Jesus condemns in the passage we covered on Sunday.  We could say that sinful anger is anger for self-centered reasons.  It is anger that is connected our zeal for our own will, reputation, and honor.  Typically, it results from not getting what we want.  It stems from our lusts.  Perhaps, someone does not give me the respect that I want.  Perhaps, my plans get interrupted.  There are million different possibilities, but what they all have in common is a concern for self rather than for God.

Scripture is clear that this kind of anger must not be tolerated.  Eph 4:31 reads, Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  In Gal 5:19-21, Paul classifies it as a “work of the flesh,” going so far as to say that those who practice it will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But Scripture is equally clear that sinful anger can be defeated through the power of the Holy Spirit – “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” Gal 5:16).  Remember that Christ saved us that we might live righteously for God’s glory.  And He offers the grace and strength necessary to live for Him (Phil 2:12-13).  If you struggle with this sin, you may be interested in a teaching series we just completed on dealing with anger.  You can find recordings of those lessons here.

Posted Greg Birdwell

Thursday, March 1, 2012

To Stay or Not To Stay

In the message on Sunday, I made the statement, “there are good reasons to leave a church, just not as many as we think.”  Of course, the obvious question is “what are those good reasons?” 
There are no passages in the New Testament that explicitly deal with this issue.  To formulate an answer then, we have to appeal to principles that we find in the Bible.  This is somewhat subjective, but I think we can come up with some general ideas.
First, I’d like to share what I believe do not qualify as good reasons to leave a church.  As we saw on Sunday, Ephesians 4:1-3 assumes that we are going to have differences.  Paul writes, I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 
Humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and the eager maintenance of unity are not necessary if everyone gets along.  Neither are they necessary if those differences are adequate grounds for separating from one another.  The New Testament is littered with similar references that assume that different preferences, different convictions, and offenses against one another are a part of the normal course of church life (Rom 12:9-12, 14:1-15:12; Gal 6:1-5; Eph 4:25-32; Phil 2:1-11,4:1-3; 1Th 5:12-15).  These passages do not condone parting with fellow believers over such things.  On the contrary, they command the opposite.  We are to love and forgive and be patient with one another in the face of all kinds of differences and offenses. 
When we leave a church because our preferences are not the norm there, and go to another church where they are, we will eventually find that we have more preferences than we originally thought.  While the preferences for which we left Church A may be favored at Church B, we will in all likelihood find that we have other preferences that Church B does not favor.  We then have a longer list of preferences that must be favored by a potential Church C – that is, we will look for a church that favors all the preferences for which we left Church A and all the preferences for which we left Church B.  You can follow this trail off into infinity.  At some point, we have to recognize that the church isn’t about our personal preferences.  We have to sacrifice what we might prefer for the good of the body.  Some examples of preferences would be worship style, the right programs, no programs, and even whether or not there should be gourmet coffee and a bookstore.
Many people also leave churches because they have been offended by someone or many someones.  This might be the most ironic reason for leaving a church.  In one large respect, it is completely different from leaving a church over personal preferences.  If you leave a church because of preferences, you will at least end up in another church with different preferences.  On the other hand, if you leave a church because it has sinners who offend you, you can search high and low until the Lord comes back, but you will never find a church that also does not have sinners who will offend you.  The only thing you accomplish by leaving one church for another for this reason is variety – you will simply have a greater diversity of people sinning against you.
It won’t seem that way at first.  The new church will seem perfect – no sinners.  Everyone gets along.  But let’s face it – we are all perfectly adorable until you get to know us.  The longer you are at that church, the more flaws you will see in people and the more flaws they will see in you. 
When we leave for these kinds of reasons, we do an end run around one of the primary ways that Christ makes us like himself.  Our differences and offenses teach us to die to self and forgive.  If we run from conflict and uncomfortable situations, we will never learn how to deal with them in a godly way. 
I think we can use texts like Eph 4:11-16 to help us determine what would be an appropriate reason to separate from a local church. 
  11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  (Eph 4:11-16)
These verses teach us that God has given equippers to the church to equip them for the work of ministry.  Paul shows that this is critical in order for the church to function properly. If the pastors and teachers are not equipping the church for ministry or giving instruction in sound doctrine, that local body has no hope to be healthy. 
We can add to this the instruction that Paul gives to Timothy and Titus on the importance of preaching the Word and holding to strong doctrine (1 Tim 4:6; 2 Tim 3:14-4:4; Titus 1:9, 2:1).  One of the strongest admonitions in all of Paul’s writings pertain to this matter: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2Tim 4:1-2).   
Preaching and teaching are safeguards for the purity of the church.  They also are essential for the equipping of the church.  Without them, a local church simply will not be a biblically-functioning body.  If a person finds himself at a church where God’s Word is not preached faithfully and sound doctrine is not a priority, he should raise his concerns with the leadership of the church.  If those errors are not remedied, that person should remove himself and look elsewhere. 
I believe that our priority should be to maintain the unity of the church.  To that end, I must be willing to sacrifice my personal preferences and be patient with those who sin against me.  However, when God’s Word is not being preached and sound doctrine is compromised, a believer must find a biblical place of worship.
posted by Greg Birdwell