Weekly Bulletin Articles
Occasionally my oldest will complain to his mother of pains. This is normal. Occasionally I complain to his mother of pains. This is also normal. But the two are not the same. The former holds the promise of growth. The later holds the promise of more pain.
“Growing pains without growth is just pain.”
The life of a Christian is one of growth. We begin as infants (1 Peter 2:2), but we must not stay there. Just as physical growth involves pain, so does spiritual growth. It takes effort to become fully mature (Hebrews 5:14). We must push ourselves, get outside of our comfort zones to thrive.
Yet it is possible to exert effort and suffer soreness, endure embarrassment and sense shame, or otherwise be strained and feel discomfited without actually growing.
Take our spiritual ancestors for example. They strained toward righteousness. They pursued godliness with a dedication often unseen today. Yet they often were chastised. Why?
In Isaiah’s day, God demanded that the Israelites cease their sacrifices. God said, “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly” (Isaiah 1:13). Their feasts had become a burden to God, such that he hid his eyes from them (Isaiah 1:14, 15). They continued to sacrifice and celebrate, but they had forgotten justice (Isaiah 1:17). Evil deeds and hearts overshadowed their outward shows of devotion (Isaiah 1:15, 16).
Theirs was a hypocritical, outward-focused religion. Since God looks upon and weighs the heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 21:2), this type of religion is bound to fail.
The Holy Spirit gives us another reason why many of our ancestors failed in their pursuit of righteousness. Of Israel, he says, “They did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32).
A perusal of Old Testament history will paint a vivid picture of pursuing righteousness by works. One that we, at all costs, must not sketch ourselves.
Certainly the issues in Isaiah’s day were caused by pursuing righteousness by works. Unchecked long enough, such a pursuit will lead to iniquity. But it might not necessarily seem so. It might look remarkably like a pursuit that leads to growth. To many the Jews of the first century seemed righteous. To the discerning eye of Jesus they were anything but.
God knows our hearts. He sees perfectly. We cannot peer into the hearts of others, but we have a view into our own. Laying out God’s word we must test ourselves. Looking at the perfect life of Jesus we must model ourselves in the image of our Lord.
Those who grow do so by God’s grace through faith (2 Peter 3:18; Romans 1:17). Growing pains produce righteousness. Growing pains without growth is just plain old pain.
One leads to glory, the other to condemnation. Choose wisely.
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15, ESV).
When readers of the Bible begin to consider sin, and to classify those which are most serious and harmful, they almost invariably think of sins of physical action which have the most harmful or offensive results. Murder, rape, child molestation and others of such nature are almost always considered to be the “worst” sins, those for which forgiveness must be most difficult to obtain.
It does not take long however to discover that God’s list of “worst” sins is not necessarily the same as ours. In particular, he is much more concerned with the impact on one’s spirit or heart than on the consequences of sin to our flesh. No statement is more emphatic than the text cited at the beginning of this article — 1 John 3:15.
I remember a popular song of my childhood entitled, “Standing on the Corner, Watching all the Girls Go By.” One catchy line was “You can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking.” Maybe not, but we are accountable for our thinking to an even higher authority than our human courts. In the context of that old song we should remember Jesus’ warning, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
It is that same principle which John appeals to in his condemnation of hatred. One who hates his brother is every bit as guilty, and as evil, as was Cain (Genesis 4:8-10). This is the negative application of the principle, “God is not as concerned with what we do, as with what we are.” That is normally said of good deeds, but it appliesequally to sins.
It is largely true to state, “one is not evil because he sins; he sins because of the evil within him.” Jesus made that plain in his teaching of defilement: “… what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person …” (Matthew 15:18-20).
Without the evil thoughts, the actions prompted by them would not occur. Sin originates from within us. It is only after those inner thoughts incubate and mature that we act upon them. James asked and answered the question as to the origin of our sins: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2). Always, the inner thoughts are first, then come those deeds which the thoughts inspire.
But one has already committed the evil when he harbors and develops the thoughts and attitudes which lead to the sinful action. The one habituated to pornography is an adulterer in God’s perspective, even if he never commits the actual physical act. The one who hates his brother (who can be anyone) is just as much a murderer as one on death row, so far as his spiritual relationship with God is concerned. Hatred is just as offensive to our Creator as that act which would take his life. It is just as contrary to the nature and will of God.
The real importance of this principle is taught earlier in 1 John 3:7. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Sin is not just about doing some bad thing, like stealing or killing or lying. It is far more about being ungodly. One who hates is far from the nature of God. One who loves is of God and from God. That should be the ultimate standard of our conduct. Not just what we do, but what, and who, we are.