Three Kinds of Unfaithfulness

Our Bibles contain a good deal of ancient history, especially concerning the Israelites. When reading the Old Testament we can learn not only about the customs, technologies, art, and warfare of this ancient people, but also about their intimate relationship with the LORD.

What we find is that the Israelites, over the course of the centuries, fell away from God time after time. If there was a way to go wrong, the Israelites would manage to find it. Because of this, their story gives us hope that God will be as patient with us and with our friends and family as He was with the people of Israel. It also gives us many examples of what not to do if we want to prosper and have joy in the LORD.

Here are three broad categories of unfaithfulness that we see Israel exhibiting. By examining where they went wrong, we can better be on the alert against troubles that might find their way into our own lives if we are not watchful.

1) Being too cowardly to even try to follow God’s leadership.
2) Becoming just like everyone around us.
3) Forgetting God in the midst of our prosperity.

Consider these categories of unfaithfulness in more detail:

Being too cowardly to even try to follow God’s leadership:

God told the children of Israel to go into the land of Canaan and to take it by force. He would fight for them to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. But the people, when they analyzed this task for themselves, decided that it was just too hard, and decided it was better not to try than to try and fail.

What commands has God given, or what direction does He lead, that you are too scared to follow? Find courage to follow where He leads, or you will die in the wilderness for your rebellion.

Becoming just like everyone around us:

Eventually the children of Israel did go into Canaan to take it for themselves. Many of them were courageous in following God into battle and claiming their inheritance. But many others were half-hearted about this task. They drove out some of their enemies, but they left others to live in the land. It was not long before they found themselves worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, practicing cult prostitution, sacrificing their children to Moloch, and doing all kinds of detestable things. They may have claimed to still follow the LORD as well, but their loyalties were obviously divided.

What worldly practices have you allowed to maintain a stronghold in your life? We may insist on calling America a “Christian nation,” but we must be careful to recognize that much that goes on here is anything but Christian. We must not cheapen the name of Christ by wearing it while living like everyone else.

Forgetting God in the midst of our prosperity:

God warned Israel repeatedly that they must not forget Him when times of comfort and prosperity came. They would enjoy nice houses and beautiful vineyards and large flocks and herds. Many of them would forget God in these times and feel that it was their own strength by which they had acquired their wealth.

In the age of advanced technology, modern medicine, and socioeconomic mobility, we may feel that the answer to all of life’s questions is to work harder, be smarter, and then sit back and enjoy the results of our own efforts. Science will save us. Money will fill the holes in our lives. Comfort is the ultimate goal. But we must not forget that without God, we have nothing.

Which of these kinds of unfaithfulness do you struggle with the most? Do you struggle with all three from time to time? What specifically should you be on the alert for this week?

Evil Spirits

These days, people are skeptical of talk about demon possessions and evil spirits, and perhaps rightly so. From a scientific perspective, we can now identify many genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors that can lead to the ailments that were once attributed to evil spirits. We know more about viruses and harmful bacteria, for instance, than those who lived in medieval times.

It may also be, as some have suggested, that the high rate of possessions and ailments caused by unclean spirits in Jesus’ time was a special allowance by God while Jesus walked the earth in order that He might demonstrate His power.

But we should be careful not to dismiss the concept of spiritual warfare altogether, or to conclude that talk about spirits is outdated and not relevant to our daily lives anymore. Consider this passage which speak of the reality of the spiritual forces that are at work to harm us:

(Ephesians 6:12-13) “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

So how are we to understand the identity and role of those “world forces of this darkness” and “spiritual forces of wickedness” that would harm us? I do not have all of the answers, but we can start by considering some of the references to harmful spirits in the New Testament.

  • (Romans 8:15) “For you have not received a spiritof slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’”
  • (Ephesians 2:1-2) “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”
  • (1 Timothy 4:1) “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
  • (1 Timothy 5:21) “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of Hischosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.”
  • (2 Timothy 1:7) “For God has not given us a spiritof timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
  • (1 John 4:6) “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

These are some of the spirits that we must avoid: a spirit of slavery, a spirit of disobedience, a spirit of deceit and false doctrine, a spirit of partiality, a spirit of timidity, and a spirit of error.

Perhaps you can think of other spirits that are also a real danger to you personally. It may be a spirit of jealousy or of anger, of apathy, or arrogance, selfishness, or lust.

Something to notice about these wicked spirits is that they do not simply live in any one person. Rather, they live and breathe in our society and our world at large. It may be that a particular person introduces you to a spirit of error, or tempts you to fall back into a spirit of slavery, but the spirit itself is bigger than any one person.   Much like “school spirit” or “team spirit” or “a patriotic spirit,” so too these damaging spirits can take on a life of their own when they spread throughout a growing group of people who adopt them and are shaped by them.

The books of 2 Peter and Jude both warn strongly against those who revile angelic forces without really knowing who or what they are dealing with. The Biblical message is not that we cast spells and practice mystical rituals in order to protect ourselves from evil. But what we must do is be on the alert for those harmful spirits in our world that could lead us astray, and pray to God for help in the fight.

Scriptures on Worry

What things do people tend to worry about?

– Clothes, Food, Drink
(Matthew 6:25-34)
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ or the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

(Luke 12:22-32) “And He said to His disciples, ‘For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.'”

– Money
(Hebrews 13:5-6) “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?'”

– Unfairness
(Matthew 20:8-16) “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ So the last shall be first, and the first last.”

– predicting the future, other people getting favoritism?
(John 21:20-22) “Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!'”

– Bad people getting away with it
(Psalm 37:1-5) “Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass And fade like the green herb. Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.”

– physical wellbeing
(Matthew 10:28-31) “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

– disaster, persecution, tribulations, etc.
(John 8:31-39)  “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Just as it is written,
‘FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG;
WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.’
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Relationships
(1 Corinthians 7:25-28) “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.”

– Evangelizing
(Matthew 10:16-20) “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

– Salvation
(2 Timothy 1:12) “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

Have you ever worried about something that turned out to be fine?

What is the difference between worrying, being concerned, being anxious, being stressed, urgency, planning ahead, etc.?  How can we know which of these is good and which is bad?

(Luke 12:25) “which one of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?”

(1 Peter 5:8) “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

(Matthew 10:16-20) “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

(2 Corinthians 11:27-29) “I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?”

Are there things that we SHOULD be worried about?

(James 4:8-9) “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.”

(John 10:28) “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Is worrying a sin?

(Philippians 4:6) “Be anxious for nothing,”

(Matthew 6:34) “do not worry about tomorrow”

(Luke 12:25) “which one of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?”

What is the Biblical way to deal with worry?

(1 John 5:13) “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

(James 5:12-16) “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

(Philippians 4:6-7)
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

(1 Peter 5:6-7)
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

(Jeremiah 29:11)
“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'”

(John 11:28-30) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 10:19-20) But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

Are you Growing?

One of our recent sermons was about “When I Mess Up.” And we all mess up sometimes. In fact, if you claim to be sinless, you are deceiving yourself, calling God a liar, and His word is not in you (1 John 1:8-10).

But that does not mean that we should make peace with our sin. It does not mean that our sin is no big deal since “I’m only human,” and “nobody is perfect.”

So how do we find the balance between a life of perfectionism that is filled with excessive guilt, shame, and fear of punishment, and a life of flippancy in which we tolerate moral decay because we think it does not matter?

Consider this passage: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

Notice, Paul does not tell the Corinthians “because you are behaving as men of flesh, it is clear that you have never been saved, and that you are eternally lost and hopeless.” Rather, because they are behaving as “men of flesh,” he calls them “infants in Christ.” Of course, this description was only appropriate because the Corinthians actually were young in Christ. They were a new church full of new converts who wanted to follow Christ, but lacked the spiritual maturity that someone older in the faith should have.

The concepts from this passage can help us to think about our sins in an appropriate way. The journey of a Christian is one of growth over time. Not all humans grow, either physically or emotionally, at the same rate. But we all should be growing.

Indeed, while we expect less from an infant than we do from a grown man or woman, we do expect even an infant to be working towards skills such as crawling, sitting up, standing, walking, speaking, etc. If an infant is not progressing over time, we become deeply worried. Likewise, we are deeply concerned when an adult behaves like a child, perhaps throwing a tantrum, refusing to share, or calling others by petty names.

In this respect, the spirit of a Christian is no different. There are two options that, like all living things, our spirits must choose between: growing or dying. Praise God that though our bodies are subject to death and decay, our spirits are free to grow and to soar for as long as we may live on the earth, and then into eternity with even greater glory.   “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

So let us assess ourselves. If I am young in the faith, what steps am I taking towards maturity? If am older in the faith, do I still behave as though I were a spiritual infant? If we are not growing, we are in grave danger of spiritual death, and it is right for us to be filled with a holy fear of the Lord.

What about you? Are you content with a one-time event of “being saved,” and unconcerned with spiritual growth over time? Are you still sinning in the same ways, with the same frequency, years after your conversion? Can you point to spiritual growth in the past year? What step should you be taking next in your spiritual life? Will you be willing to take the next step of faith towards being the image of Christ? Or, having come so far, will you sink back into eternal spiritual decay?

Why Do the Right Thing?

It is no secret that God asks us to give up our sins, some of which may be very dear to our hearts. He asks us to change our lives in ways that can be difficult or painful. He asks us to give up our pride. He asks us to step out in faith and do things that get us out of our comfort zone. He asks for a lot.

So why should we do what He asks? Why do the right thing? Here are some possible answers:

So that life will be better for us here and now. After all, God’s commands are designed to protect us from harm. There can be no question that following where He leads is beneficial. In Mark 19:30, Jesus says of anyone who gives something up for Him, “he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age.”

So that we can go to heaven. In Matthew 6:20, Jesus encourages us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Romans 2:6-7 tells us that God “WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” Some day we want to hear Him say “well done.”

So that we won’t go to hell. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 says plainly, “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” For those who really believe all that the Bible says about hell (and the Bible says a LOT about it) this is a real motivation to do the right thing.

There are many other possible reasons to do the right thing. To be a good example to those younger than us. To avoid hurting family and friends. To keep a clear conscience. To maintain personal credibility.

But there is one primary reason to do the right thing that we must not forget.

We do the right thing because, as Christians, we don’t have a choice. God owns us. We gave up our rights when we died with Him through baptism (Romans 6). We signed up to be slaves of righteousness (also Romans 6). It is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Our lives are living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

We live in a society that esteems personal freedom over duty. Others may give us advice, but they are not to control us. No one can tell us what to do, we get to weigh the pros and cons and decide for ourselves. But the relationship between the Christian and his God is not this way.

God can and does tell us what to do. If you want to follow Him, you only have one choice: submit. We don’t get to pull out a list of pros and cons every time we want to sin, assess the situation, and decide whether discipleship seems personally advantageous. God either owns you or you do not belong to Him at all.

“Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)