Fighting Words

We must watch our language when we are angry.  James wrote, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  Many people have damaged or destroyed their reputation because they would restrain their tempers.  Anger acts like an intoxicant that can cause one to lose control and do or say things he typically would not.  Christians must have their tempers under our control, to “be angry and sin not.”  Paul condemned the following types of wrathful language in Colossians 3:8:

  • Anger:  An excitement of the mind and violent passion.  W.E. Vine* suggests that this is a settled or abiding condition of the mind that frequently has a view towards revenge.
  • Wrath:  The outburst resulting from anger inside.
  • Malice:  “A disposition or intent to injure others for gratification of anger” (David Lipscomb).
  • Blasphemy (KJV – railing):  Scornful and derisive language directed at man or God.  “To blame with bitterness” (Lipscomb).
  • Add to this list gossiping and backbiting that is condemned in 2 Corinthians 12:20.  Gossip pushes another person down in order to lift up the speaker.

No one speaks wrathful language in love and it does not edify the hearer.  It tears at a person, as a wild animal would devour his helpless prey.  When we talk with our spouses, parents, children, and friends, we must be especially careful not to allow our familiarity to be a license for such shameful speech.  Consider Proverbs 15:1-2:  “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.”  The prudent man controls his anger, Proverbs 12:16.

*Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

Just Because We Want It Doesn’t Mean God Wants It

Sometimes sincere and well-intentioned people want to introduce practices in the worship of God that were not commanded or practiced by Jesus, the apostles, or the church in the New Testament. Often they will counter the request for New Testament authorization that we are free to do what we want in service to God because it would honor Him and it seems like a good thing to do.

Before embracing this philosophy, consider these important lessons from Scripture.

David and Nathan

 David, before his sin with Bathsheba was called “a man after God’s own heart” and after that sin, Nathan was the faithful prophet who confronted the king with his sin. After securing peace for Israel through military power, establishing Jerusalem as the city of the king, and building a fine palace for himself, it occurred to David that he was living in luxury while the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence was manifested for Israel, was “dwelling in a tent.” Religious students know that the “tent” was the tabernacle built according to the specific pattern that God gave Moses.

When righteous David expressed his concern to faithful Nathan, the prophet told David “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you (2 Samuel 7:3). Since two faithful and sincere men of God came up with what seemed like a good thing to do for God, the Lord must be pleased, correct?

Before he left the palace grounds, God sent Nathan back to David to tell him that He did not want David to build him a house (temple). In fact, God argued, through Nathan:

In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 2 Samuel 7:7

God had the power and means to command what He wanted and never commanded this. And God made that clear to Nathan and David that they conceived this in their hearts (no matter how sincere they were) but it was not in the heart or plans of God.

Though Nathan was a godly man, he was presumptuous to say that God supported David’s plan. Though David was a godly man, he was presumptuous to suppose that God would be pleased with something that He never commanded. God did allow the construction of the temple, but on His terms and instructions.

Jeroboam’s innovations (1 Kings 12:25-33)

Some changes are not introduced with noble intentions. When the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms, King Jeroboam feared that people leaving the northern kingdom to worship in Jerusalem, according to the commands of God, would lead to instability in his kingdom. In order to prevent this he made some changes to to the worship God commanded. Some changes seemed minor but God considered it abominable:

  • Jeroboam built calves at Dan and Bethel and told the people that “these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Note: this sentance sermon also preached by Aaron was not acceptable in his time either – Exodus 32:4).
  • Instead of appointing priests from Levi as commanded by the Law, he appointed anyone who wanted to be a priest. The book of Hebrews notes that by commanding tribes from the tribe of Levi it excluded priests from any other tribe: Hebrews 7:14.
  • He changed the days of worship commanded by the Law to days of his own choosing. Similar to those who forsake the Lord’s Day–the first day of the week–as was the pattern of the New Testament church to days that are more convenient to them.

The effect of this sin is that in addition to the sins the kings of Israel committed, they are also condemned for “following the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin.”

Pharisees

The Pharisees, mentioned often in the gospels, were a religous/political party in the New Testament. They tried to be faithful to the law but introduced practices and condemned men for not following their man-made decrees. In rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus said “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” Matthew 15:9. It is vain worship to follow the practices introduced by the wisdom of man and not the command of God–no matter how sincere or well-intentioned those men might be.

God has given us commands for how to worship. It is presumption and arrogance to think God will just accept whatever we want to worship. It is true sincerity and humility to worship as God instructed.

Forgiving Yourself

Many years ago I had a discussion with a young lady who was debating within herself whether to acknowledge to the congregation things she had done wrong in the past and asking forgiveness from those who knew what she had done. More than that, she wanted the prayers and encouragement of others as she struggled to forgive herself. That struggle to forgive oneself was the subject of the letter that I sent to her and share here with you. If you are struggling to forgive yourself I hope you will find words of encouragement to allow you to free yourself from the hold this sin exerts in your life as it weakens your spiritual strength. If you have obtained forgiveness from God through the gift of His Son, give yourself a wonderful gift of freedom by removing the grip of the past sin so you can fully embrace your future service for God.

First of all, I appreciate your sensitive heart, the courage to face yourself, and the changes already evident in your life. You are a fine example to others and I do not think making this confession will diminish it in the least. On the contrary, I think it may open opportunities for you to help others in a similar situation. Though God does not want us to sin, I think that He is able to use our experience to help heal the lives and pain of others in a way that others cannot do so easily. I think I have told you before but when I was in high school and college I did not drink. I wish I could say that it was because of my dedication to God but more often there were other things in my past that created a strong aversion to alcohol and its results. Whatever the motivation, I am thankful for the result. However, when talking with someone who is having a drinking problem or other problems to which alcohol contributes, I can encourage them from the scripture but I cannot relate to them as one who has been there. However, there are other problems with which I can be very helpful because of my personal experience. God says, “Behold, I make all things new,” and he will be able to make something new from your experience.

Your confession statement was well worded and very moving. From your email I know that you believe God has forgiven you and, based on His promises, you are correct. However, since you have written this document and revised it on several occasions I assume that it has been on your mind for a long time. If this is troubling you and you cannot find peace without bringing it before the congregation, I think you have the answer you are seeking. If you feel that you should have said something in the past, you should say something now, I am sure that you will feel that you need to say something in the future–until you do. Your statement explains well why you have waited to make such a statement.

It breaks my heart that you are still struggling with your guilt and have problems forgiving yourself. You have already made the hardest decision–facing yourself and your sin and making changes. Sometime when you pray, thank God for the guilt and shame that moved you to repent and leave a path headed to destruction. Your past will not define your life and you should not look at yourself through the lens of your past. There are many young Christian women who have been down the same road you traveled who are fine teachers, loving wives and mothers, and good examples for young women. Many young women at the church look up to you and, knowing what you have been through and the changes you have made, I would, without any reservation, feel that they chose well when you are listed among their role models.

Sometimes we hold onto guilt and have problems forgiving ourselves because we feel that we are letting ourselves off too easily. Holding guilt allows us to punish ourselves and, when reaching some spiritual summit, reproach ourselves saying, “You’re not so good.  I remember when you…” It is perfectly fine to let go of your guilt. Acknowledge that your inward pain has been your punishment and prison for past sins and give yourself a pardon. Forgiveness is the greatest thing you can give others and yourself. Grieve your sins, the embarrassment you feel/felt, the sorrow for letting others and yourself down, the actions you regret–yes grieve them–then let them go. You have punished yourself well enough–I think anyone could say that you have not let yourself off easily–you have the right to free yourself and enjoy true peace and happiness. You will never forget what you have done, but when you forgive yourself, it finds a place in your past that can only give you a small tinge of pain when it is brought to mind, but it will not bully and berate you anymore. This I can tell you from experience.

What Do You Do For Fun?

Author Unknown

Several years ago a Christian girl told me about an incident with a young man who had been trying to date her. He was not a member of the church, and they just did not have anything in common. She had turned him down twice and now she had said “no” to attending a rock concert with him. In a kind of mock exasperation, the young man asked, “What do you do for fun?  You don’t dance, you don’t drink, you don’t attend rock concerts. What do you do for fun?”

She replied, “For fun, I get up in the morning without feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty about what I did the night before.” The young man had nothing more to say. She was right; it is not fun to feel guilty for your actions the night before. There are many things in life that are fun. For example, the Christian girl is now married to a fine Christian man. They have a little girl and are building an outstanding Christian home together. Think of the fun she is having.

She is having fun every day living without the scars of fornication, drugs, alcohol, or regrets from her past. She is having fun getting ready each afternoon to receive a husband home from work; knowing that he will not be stopping off at the local bar for a few drinks with his friends. She is having fun knowing that her little girl will never see her father in a drunken stupor or experimenting with drugs. She is having fun knowing that while he is away from her, his Christian conduct will not allow infidelity or even flirting. She is having fun watching him hold his little girl on his lap with loving, protective arms. She is having fun living with the assurance that the home will be led by a spiritual leader who will guide each family member towards heaven.

The list of fun things for the Christian is endless.

What do you do for fun?

Who You Are Is Not Who You Were

The Bible clearly teaches that we will be judged by our actions. Revelation 20:12 tells of judgment where “…I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” The books (Old Testament and New Testament) reveal the standard of what we must do in order to please Him (2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Peter 1:3). Paul clearly links our actions to eternal punishment or reward (Romans 2:6-11 – note the variations of “do” and its direct relationship to the results). Jesus says that we will even be called into judgment for every careless word (Matthew 12:36). What we do and say impacts our eternal life.

But our actions also enrich our earthly life and the lives of others. I think the scripture makes it clear that God does not want us to live holy lives to prepare for a grand accounting, but in order to share in His holiness and to be like His righteous Son. Jesus lived the life of a servant and had a tremendous impact on the lives of those He touched. A life that serves God and others is the life revealed in God’s word.

The Bible teaches that we have all fallen short of the standard God has set (Romans 3:23). The question is, how will you react to your failure to be holy? You can beat yourself up and say that you’ll never be able to live up to God’s standard but, in truth, you are blaming God for your lack of effort. You can say that you have too many sins or you have messed your life up too much, but that is accusing God of having insufficient grace. However, God wants you to take two important steps.

First, be reconciled to Him through His Son. We must believe what the gospel says about Jesus and confess Him as God’s Son (Romans 10:9-15). We must also turn away from a life that is dedicated to honoring self instead of God and the sin that separates us from God (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19). We must also submit to baptism, immersion in water, which is a burial and resurrection with Christ, so that our sins may be cleansed (Romans 6:1-14). Note that it is not the actions themselves that save us but obeying the will of God that commands these things. When we sin after we are baptized, we can repent and pray to God to forgive us (1 John 2:1-5).

Second, as a child of God you have the duty and privilege to bring others to God to receive the forgiveness, hope, peace, and joy that you received. The reaction of the Samaritan woman in John 4 is a great example of one who lived an unrighteous life but used the testimony of her past (“Come see a man who told me all things I ever did”) to bring others to Jesus. If you have overcome a type of sin or habit you are in a better position to help others overcome that sin or habit better than someone who has no experience with it. We should not indulge in sin so we can help others–we must strive for holiness–but when we do fall, we should use our failures to help others succeed. God can help us use our defeats to bring victory in our life and the lives of others.

Do not let yourself be defined by failures of your past. What has been done cannot be changed, only forgiven. But yesterday’s actions do not demand the same actions today. When we give up because of past sins, we allow history to steal the present and hinder the opportunity for a brighter future. When we give our sins to God, make the choice to reject sin, and strive for holiness we will become more like Jesus and less like what we were. Jesus can clean up a polluted life, fix what is damaged, and create a wonderful child who lives a satisfying life and makes a positive imact on the lives of others.