Billionaires, Hoarders and Slaves (1 Timothy 6:10)

One of the scourges of daytime television is Kidz Bop. It’s one of the most annoying commercials on TV. I’d prefer the sound of a dentist’s drill. You know the commercials … The dozen or so carefully styled and manicured tweens prancing and singing karaoke to the most inappropriate radio hits of today. The online Urban Dictionary defines “Kidz Bop” as follows: “The soccer mom’s attempt to make most of today’s music suitable for young children. This leads to butchering good songs or making crappy ones even worse. See cruel and unusual punishment.” If you’re wondering why a bunch of 5 years know vapid pop songs like “F— You” by Cee-Lo Green or “Baby” by Justin Bieber, totally blame Kidz Bop.

Case in point: A few years back, it really struck me strange seeing a bunch of Kidz Bop models/singers(?) performing the Travie McCoy song “Billionaire.” You might know the song: “I want to be a billionaire so (expletive) bad … Buy all the things I never had.” Listen here! It made me start to think: How many of those professional child actors with the professional stage moms/dads really do want to be a billionaire so (expletive) bad? How many would willingly sell their soul for a billion dollars? And – like the song – would they seemingly find happiness and contentment in being so rich that they could play basketball with the President and save all of the Hurricane Katrina victims?

Here’s the critical question for today’s blog: Is it OK for a Christian to want to be a billionaire so (expletive) bad? How ‘bout just hood rich? How ‘bout just winning a $1000 lottery ticket every now and then? Doesn’t the Bible say that “money is the root of all evil”?

Sorta. This well-known maxim (“money is the root of all evil”) is not extraordinarily far off base from the actual Bible verse, but there are subtle nuances that make a critical difference. The actual passage is found in 1 Timothy 6:3-19. I know this passage is rather long, but it is one continuous argument about wealth from Paul to his protege in the ministry, Timothy. So here is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in its entirety:

[6:3] If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, [4] he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, [5] and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. [6] But godliness with contentment is great gain, [7] for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. [8] But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. [9] But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. [10] For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

[11] But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. [12] Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. [13] I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, [14] to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, [15] which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, [16] who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

[17] As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. [18] They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:2-19 ESV)

So the actual Bible verse in 1 Timothy 6:10 has a few more words, which actually makes a critical difference. First, “the love of money” is the source of the problem. Paul does not condemn money or wealth itself. The relentless pursuit and desire for money is the problem. Second, the love of money is a “root of all kinds of evil.” Not every evil in this world comes from the love of money. It is a misplaced desire for something other than God – whether it be money, sex, ambition, pride and litany of other created things – that ultimately causes the failure to worship the Creator God. This is the essence of idolatry. Martin Luther defines idolatry as follows: “Whatever your heart clings to or relies upon, that is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol.” If the heart clings to and relies on money, money will become your god. We cannot love something that God created more than the One who created.

In this light, the idolatrous love of money is so dangerous that Paul cautions that it causes many to wander away from the faith. In verse 9, Paul vividly describes the love of money as a shiny lure that causes us to want the wrong things. The love of money is also described as the traps that ensnare the wild animal. Ultimately, the lured and ensnared man will drown in an ocean of destruction and pain. The love of money turns you into a fish on a hook, a wounded animal caught in a trap and a man drowning in a sea of sorrow and pain. Many will abandon God for the love of money. The love of money is deadly.

In digging deeper, Paul has two central admonitions about the love of money in this passage:

Warning #1: Pursue contentment. 1 Timothy 6:6-7 is an interesting verse, urging the believer to pursue “godliness with contentment.” The word for “contentment” used here essentially means to be independent from everything but God. God should be the only person having a grip on the believer. The issue is not whether a believer has money or not … The issue is where the believer’s trust and dependance lies. Believers have the most gracious gift of all, which is eternal life through Jesus Christ. If the birds, flowers and other parts of nature are content with what God has given, the children of God that have received the full measure of grace should be even more content. Furthermore, if God has given you the wherewithal to get food, clothing and meet your most basic needs, then be thankful and be content. If God blesses you with more money than you need, then still be thankful and be content – but also be extremely generous to those who are without. God desires for us to be increasingly more content in His provision.

There is a clear danger of having godliness without contentment. God desires for His followers to be content in His grace alone, and not to experience the discontent that comes with the longing and desire for material things. This concept of contentment is especially critical for American Christians living in a culture essentially based on a lack of contentment. There’s an essential rule of marketing: Explain why the person needs that product. Explain why the person will have sleepless nights without it. Explain why the person will collapse into a puddle of incompleteness without it. I was mildly amused one evening when my six-year old said to me: “Did you know that joy is found at McDonald’s? We should go sometime.” Apparently, she learned this concept from a TV commercial: McDonald’s brings joy. Wow. But it was effective marketing. My daughter and I had a good discussion about it, and I explained that nothing other than God will bring us true love, joy or contentment. Believers must not be ensnared by the culture of discontent.

Even worse, our discontent breeds other dangerous behaviors: conceit, lack of understanding, desire for quarreling and controversy, envy and strife. And that’s the tip of the iceberg (1 Timothy 6:4-5). Our illicit discontent with material possessions makes us behave in selfish and irrational ways. I am continually haunted by the images from “black Friday,” when shoppers stampede, main and use all manner of violence against one another to get the discount flat screen TV, basketball shoes or hot Christmas toy. Selfish irrationality. I was at a bookstore the other day, and I overheard a woman have the following telephone conversation with her significant other: “Hey honey … Guess we won’t be able to pay the rent this month … I spent all our rent money at the bookstore.” Selfish irrationality. When we don’t pursue contentment in God, our discontent breeds more sinful, selfish and rebellious behavior. And our selfishness leads into more discontent which forms a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape.

Does this mean that believers should not pursue higher education, a better job, a pay raise or better job benefits? Should we perpetually be content in the place God has put us? Not necessarily. A higher education may be needed to pursue the job into which God is calling you. A better job or pay raise might be able to provide better for the needs of a growing family, bigger utility bills or the stewardship of your church. Those better job benefits might more effectively pay for a medical need or condition that would otherwise leave your family destitute. Like Abraham, God might just call you on a moment’s notice to do something completely different somewhere different for His glory. As with anything, check your heart and seek God’s will through prayer first. And remember that those who find happiness in money will never be content, because true contentment is found in Christ alone.

Warning #2: Pursue certainty. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul gives his advice to believers who are already rich: Don’t place your hope in the uncertainty of riches. There is a difference between being rich in the “present age” and the coming kingdom of Christ. Paul doesn’t tell those with wealth to give up all their stuff. However, he tells them to pursue the “sure thing.” As believers, our future is certain, and we are headed to spend an eternity with our Lord. If the promised future of Heaven is truly what you believe, materialism is completely irrational. The pursuit of money makes exactly zero sense. “You can’t take it with you” turns out to be a very accurate – if not Biblical – statement. The certain “sure thing” is the treasures being stored up in Heaven: generosity, sharing, compassion and love. Pursue the eternal things that God values. Hope in a certain future with God.

While most people on the street would agree with the philosophy of “you can’t take it with you,” our actions ultimately state otherwise. In 2005, there were 1.875 billion square feet of self-storage units in the U.S., and approximately 1 in 11 American households were renting a self-storage unit. That’s a lot of people paying to have their junk stored or eventually auctioned off on the TV show “Storage Wars.” The National Association of Homebuilders reported that the size of the average American house went from 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,400 square feet in 2004. The reason for the change in home size isn’t because we’re having more babies or larger families … It’s because we’ve got more junk to store. A recent study showed that 2 to 5 percent of Americans exhibit behaviors associated with “hoarding,” which is habitually storing stuff of little or no value. Not to mention the phenomenon of TV shows ranging from “Antiques Roadshow” to “Pawn Stars” with “experts” telling you how much all the junk stored in grandma’s attic is really worth. The whole culture is screaming: “Don’t throw out your stuff … It might be really valuable one day!”

When my family moved from Fort Worth, TX to Martinsville, IN, the deal for the house we were going to purchase fell through two days before our move, and we were effectively homeless for two months. We lived off the generosity of church members and kept our belongings in the church basement. Some of our stuff wound up being stolen in the process. After those two months, we came to a very interesting realization: We didn’t really need all of the stuff that we were storing. We began to question why we rented a moving van in the first place. We made out perfectly fine without it, and we’re in the process of getting rid of many things we don’t really need. How many of us would admit that we are storing boxes of stuff that we haven’t opened in ten years?

Do you own stuff or does stuff own you? Far too often, we allow things other than God to own us lock, stock and barrel. We go to extremes to keep, store and protect our stuff and hardly think at all about pursuing spiritual wealth. The Christian rock band Disciple has a great song about this concept called “Dear X, You Don’t Own Me.” The singer starts running though the litany of things that used to control him before knowing Christ. Pain held him tight. He was safe in the arms of shame. He was faithful to anger and hate was never far away. He then boldly declares to these things: “You don’t own me!” Only God owns him.

How you live this life essentially comes down to who owns you. Does the Creator own you? Or do things that God created own you? In order to be a slave, you have to give your undivided attention to your master. As a slave, you cannot split your attention between two masters with two different standards (Matthew 6:24). Inevitably, you will love one and despise the other. You will be devoted to one and disobedient to the other. Living for Heaven is incompatible with living for this world. God desires our exclusive loyalty.

Only God owns me. I belong to Him. And I’m content.

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Climb On A Back That’s Strong (God Helps Those Who Help Themselves)

Hypothetical scenario: A man quits his job and starts praying to God every day for one million dollars. The man does not believe that he has done anything to merit the money, but figures he’ll ask anyway. Sure beats working. Would God answer the man’s prayer? How you answer that question depends on whether you believe the following phrase is true: “God helps those who help themselves.”

A recent survey showed that 82% of all adults believed that “God helps those who help themselves” is an actual Bible verse. If you thought this phrase was an actual Bible verse, sorry to pour coffee in your corn flakes … It’s not. It reminds me of the cruel trick when youth ministers ask their students to look up Hezekiah 6:1 in their Bibles.

While the true origin of the phrase is disputed, most scholars agree that Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac popularized the phrase in the American lexicon. Franklin’s book references the Aesop fable about the Greek god Hercules and a “wagoner” (translation: a person pulling a wagon), which provides the context for the saying. Here’s a translation of that Aesop fable:

A wagoner was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank halfway into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the Wagoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong. “O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress,” quoth he. But Hercules appeared to him, and said: “Tut, man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel.” The gods help those who help themselves. – Aesop (~ 550 BC)

So the origin of this phrase actually comes from Greek philosophy and pre-dates Christianity. Note that the original version of the saying references the Greek “gods” and not “God” of the Bible. The Greek gods were portrayed as fickle and capricious, and the actions of man and other gods often held tremendous sway over their actions. The Greek gods were also very arrogant and self-aggrandizing, continually tricking and tormenting to achieve their hearts’ desires. All of this leads to problem #1: When this catchphrase is applied to the God of the Bible, it asserts that God’s character is similar to the Greek gods: fickle, capricious, arrogant and self-aggrandizing.

Can you imagine if God actually acted like Hercules from Aesop’s fable? If you pray to God for guidance and knowledge of His will, God asks you why you haven’t first sought out the guidance of every wise person on your iphone call list first. If you pray to God for healing from cancer, God asks you why you haven’t sought out radical surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment yet. If you ask God to save you from the power of sin and the grave, God asks you why you haven’t tried to live a better life and be a better person. If you ask God to remove a disability from your life, God asks why you haven’t tried every therapy or procedure available.

Fortunately, this phrase doesn’t reflect the character of the true and living God of the Bible.    Consider what Paul has to say in Ephesians 2:1-9:

[2:1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:1-9 ESV

Before we knew Jesus Christ, we were spiritually DOA. We were walking in the ways of the Devil (“the prince of the power of the air”), who was wreaking disobedience throughout the world. In turn, we marched to the tune of disobedience, rebellion and sin as well. We lived according to our own passions of our flesh and desires of our mind instead of God’s ways. We deserved the full measure of wrath of God, since we were living as the enemies of God.

What an incredibly bleak picture! Does that imagery convey that we have done anything that would merit God saving us? More importantly, does that sound like God wants us to take a little initiative about our salvation? No. We are completely, wholly and compellingly unable to save ourselves. And here’s where God’s grace kicks in. Ephesians 2:4 describes God as being rich with mercy. Our God takes pity on our wretched state of affairs. We had effectively signed our death sentence due to our rebellion and God chose to make us alive instead. And the reason that God did it was “because of the great love with which he loved us.” God did not save us because of any actions that we have done or because we’re intrinsically good people. Paul reiterates this point in Ephesians 2:8: Salvation is not of our own doing. Salvation is a gracious gift of God. We are all equally helpless and hopeless and God is gracious to us anyway.

The worst part is this: The “God helps those …” mantra flat-out states that some people are more deserving of God’s assistance than others. The self-motivated and capable are deserving of God’s aid and the lazy and incapable are unworthy of any attention. Romans 3 squashes this concept of God’s preferential treatment. According to Romans 3:9, there is NO ONE righteous … NOT ONE! There’s no distinction between sinners (Romans 3:22-23). We are all equally undeserving of God’s attention regardless of whether you work 100 hours per week or play Halo in your mom’s basement all day long. And God’s grace covers both the hard-working and the sluggish.

Can you imagine if God actually favored the self-motivated and marginalized the lazy? Or – even worse – if God favored the able bodied and trivialized the incapable and incapacitated? What if you had a disability that rendered you physically or mentally unable to “help yourself”? For that matter, exactly how much effort would be possible to appease God and convince Him that He needs to help? Just giving it a good try? Exhausting every avenue, every dollar in your bank account, every possible solution that you can think of? Does this really sound like the God who is near to the broken hearted and saves those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18)?

Note that up until this point we haven’t even broached the subject of work ethic. That’s because the central issue is the character of God. There are plenty of proverbs that state that God considers hard work virtuous and laziness abhorrent (see Proverbs 13:4). But it’s another thing to state that – as a unbreakable rule – God’s character always rewards the hard working and always punishes laziness. It’s the opposite of the doctrine of grace. It also arrogantly attempts to place parameters of perceived human “fairness” around the sovereignty of God. How are humans wise enough to demonstrate to God who should be rewarded?

I love the Shawn Colvin song “Climb On (A Back That’s Strong)” (sorry … that Caedmon’s Call version is nowhere near as good). The song is written from the perspective of a person assuring their lover, who is in desperate need. The singer longs for her partner to lean on her for strength as she calls out: “You can get what you want … Climb on a back that’s strong.” I think that closely reflects the nature of who God is. God desires for us to climb on His strong back and carry us in His strong arms. He doesn’t want us to rely on ourselves. He wants us to fully trust in and rely on Him for strength.

So that’s the main problem with the “God helps those …” phrase: God wants us to draw nearer to Him and not push us farther away. As Jesus asserts in Matthew 7:7-12, we should view God as our loving Father in Heaven, who wants us to ask and knock. He wants to give good gifts to those who ask. He wants us to lay our troubles and burdens down at the foot of the cross. Our God longs for us to draw near to Him. When we knock on the door of Heaven, God will never respond: “Go away! Quit knocking on my door until you’ve relied on your own strength!” He wants us to climb on a back that’s strong.

God, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places.” – Habakkuk 3:19 ESV

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Jerry Springer Jesus (Matthew 7:1)

chairIt’s hard to believe that The Jerry Springer show is still on the air. I mean … The show’s own tagline used to be: “An hour of your life that you’ll never get back.” Every show is excruciatingly similar. The female KKK leader comes on the show to confess to her common-law husband of 25 years that she’s pregnant by her half-brother’s hair-dresser’s cousin’s dog-walker’s dominatrix’s BFF. Almost like clockwork, someone in the midst of this slow train-wreck horror show will proclaim: “Don’t judge me! Only God can judge me!” Then everyone starts throwing metal folding chairs.

While many Christians might not be first in line to sign up to throw down on Jerry Springer, the belief that God tells us never, ever, ever to judge any person under any circumstances is highly prevalent. It seems that the one Bible verse everyone knows regardless of how many times they’ve darkened the door of a church is: “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1a KJV). These two words from the Sermon on the Mount are repeatedly quoted to assert that no one but God is qualified to comment on anyone else’s actions.

Was Jesus the world’s first moral relativist? Did Jesus claim that there are no moral absolutes and morality is constantly changing through the currents of time, place and culture? Is Jesus telling his followers to throw shade for sin? And did Jesus argue for a brand of tolerance that never tells another person their actions are wrong? Let’s look at Jesus’ complete words on passing judgment from the Sermon on the Mount:

[7:1] Judge not, that you be not judged. [2] For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. [3] Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? [4] Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? [5] You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. [6] Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Matthew 7:1-6 ESV)

The initial command regarding passing judgment found in verse 1 is clear: Avoid passing harsh condemnations on the deeds of others. But why does Jesus say such judgments should be avoided? Jesus goes on to say in verse 2 that our final divine judgment by God will be a reflection of our judgment of others. So here’s the ultimate point: If we deal harshly and critically with others, we are inviting God to deal harshly and critically with us. As such, this passage parallels Jesus’ earlier words in the Sermon on the Mount: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).

In this light, this passage of the Sermon on the Mount is really all about how we respond to God’s forgiveness. If we have truly experienced the forgiveness that Jesus gives us freely through the cross, then why do we turn around and act harshly and critically towards others? If we have the expectation that God will be merciful to us, then why are we so quick to punish and condemn others? It reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant where the master forgives his servants’ debts, and the servant responds by cruelly demanding payment of those that owe him money (Matthew 18:23-25). If you have experienced mercy, you should be merciful.

Jesus makes a joke in verses 3-5 to illustrate and make another point. A “speck” is an infinitesimally small piece of wood or chaff. A “log” is an extremely large piece of timber used for the construction of roofs. How can someone take a speck of sawdust out of another person’s eye if they have a giant board in their own eye? Of course, it is impossible. The  guy with the big, fat board sticking out his eye couldn’t possibly hope to perform delicate eye surgery. Not only is such behavior ridiculous, but Jesus also labels it as hypocrisy. As demonstrated by Jesus’ joke, the essence of hypocrisy is pridefully being blind to one’s sins while keenly pointing out the sins of others. The hypocrite evades his own guilt by highlighting the guilt of others. Just like the white-washed tombs described by Jesus in Matthew 23, hypocrites attempt to look beautiful outside but are actually rotting away inside.

If Jesus stopped exactly at this point, it would 100% support the popular notion that generally told everyone to mind their own P’s and Q’s. But notice what Jesus goes on to say in verse 5. Once that person sees clearly, he should proceed with taking the speck out of his brother’s eye. When the Holy Spirit empowers the disciple to remove the big fat boards from his own life, he then is qualified to assist others in dealing with their minor specks. To be truly compassionate, the disciple should help his brother overcome his problems and sin, and not leave him drowning in his sins. If your brother is in a car wreck, you work furiously pull them out of that hazardous wreckage. If your brother is drowning, you dive into the treacherous waters to rescue them. Similarly, if your brother is embracing something as dangerous, hazardous, destructive, corrosive and deadly as sin (see Romans 6:23), you should compassionately attempt to rescue them. Loving your neighbor means helping them overcome their sin.

Then the discussion seems to get non sequitur with Jesus talking about scenes from “When Animals Attack.” But verse 6 is an important bookend to the discussion on judgment. In the context of 1st century Hebrew culture, most dogs were not household pets but were wild and ravenous scavengers. Pigs were considered to be unclean animals. Jesus acknowledges there are genuinely malicious and deceitful people that will seek to attack the gospel and those who herald the gospel message. There are people who will respond to compassion with hostility. There are people who will respond to forgiveness with malice and harmfulness. Christians should not be gullible or naive when it comes to destructive people. So in terms of passing judgement, Jesus tells his disciples to avoid the extremes: Don’t be a hypocritical inquisitors or naive simpletons.

So based on our examination of the entire passage, here’s the million dollar question: What did Jesus actually say about passing judgment? Jesus said that we should judge our brother with forgiveness, compassion and restraint and without hypocrisy and naivety. While we should not inappropriately pass judgment on others, He did not say that we should not judge others at all. Instead of being the soap box preacher on the milk carton with hateful billboard in one hand and megaphone in the other shouting down people into Hell, our reaction to sin must be sacrificial willingness to forgive and to love our neighbor as Christ loved us. Before we open our big, fat mouths to condemn or make some snarky comment about another’s sin, perhaps we should reflect on how Christ had compassion upon our sin.

This principle is beautifully demonstrated by Jesus in the account of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11 (which I blogged about here). Over the course of the story, Jesus compassionately spares the life of a nameless sinful woman used as a pawn in a cruel game of religious brinksmanship. Only Jesus – who is sinless – ultimately stands in judgment of whether the woman merits execution. Jesus does not condemn this nameless women … But he also tells her to “sin no more.” Jesus does not turn a blind eye to the sin that she has been caught in. Jesus tells her to quit shacking up with other peoples’ husbands.

To this point, Jesus never stated that Christians should ignore sin. As evidenced in John 8:2-11, Jesus called out sin as sin. While Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, He also told her to quit sinning. When Scripture clearly defines spiritual truth, Christians should stand in agreement with Christ. In doing so, Christians should always act with forgiveness and compassion, but flat-out ignoring things that God clearly de-marks as sin is neither forgiving or compassionate to that person. Love does not mean the absence of confrontation or the celebration of sin. Let’s remember that love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).

While this approach will certainly lead to some awkward and difficult conversations amongst brothers and sisters in Christ, we need the awkward and the difficult for genuine Christian community to work. We need the beautiful mess. We need more people willing to Biblically cast judgment with forgiveness and compassion. I personally have appreciated the times when brothers and sisters in Christ have come to me in love to call me out for my sins and failures. I probably wouldn’t have finally ended up in ministry without some bold folks convicting me that I was acting like an idiot. We need more people willing to walk alongside their brothers with grace and humility to help them grow to be more like Christ. Imagine what our churches would be like if we actually held one another accountable in our walk with Christ.

Through my many years in ministry, my growing concern is that our churches don’t want to get messy … Or rock the boat. We promote talent, pride, tradition and stewardship over moral integrity. We turn a blind eye to the greeter that has a well-known ongoing history of sexual immorality, because he’s always done that job in the church. We ignore the church pianist caught in adultery, because we don’t want to lose the talent. We tolerate the abusive husband simply because he gives generously to the church. We roll our eyes and gossip on the way to KFC after church, because a married man has his arm around his new girlfriend during church services … But no one in the congregation says a wayward word either to them. Of course, how our churches compassionately handle these issues matter. But in the end, all of this “toleration” of sin makes our churches into the very bastions of hypocrisy and Phariseeism that most non-believers rightfully hate.

It’s been said that the church is “hospital for the sick” (which is true), but the patient must be willing for the Great Physician to heal them of their sin.

To be honest, many Christians – including me – don’t like all this talk of passing judgment, because getting involved in other people’s lives is messy. Your own life is pretty messy enough, so why bother getting involved in someone else’s mess? Brothers and sisters in Christ, respectfully I tell you to get over it. Seriously. Get over yourself. Many in our culture would tell you that the respectful thing to do is give people “space” and shake your head as they drown in a sea of sorrow, grief or sin. Garbage. Loving your neighbors means walking alongside of them in sorrow, grief, pain, trauma and all of life’s messes. The easy thing to do is watch other people’s pain from the sidelines, but Jesus did not call us to do the easy thing. Be forgiving to your brother. Be compassionate on your neighbor. Love them as passionately and fervently as Christ loved you.

I want to make sure that people see where my heart is at on this issue. I believe that Jesus does not call us to completely butt out of other people’s lives and mind our own business. On the other hand, the manner in which we proceed is vitally and critically important. In order to avoid hypocrisy, we’ve got to remove the planks from our eyes before we approach others’ specks. We’ve got to remember that we’ve received mercy and forgiveness and we should be merciful and forgiving to others.

Chuck Colson summarized this principle best: “True tolerance is not a total lack of judgment. It’s knowing what should be tolerated – and refusing to tolerate that which shouldn’t.”

Q & A:

And here are some answers to some questions that I got when I initially posted this blog:

How does 1 Corinthians 4:5 fit into this discussion?

1 Corinthians 4:5 is part of a lengthier discussion that Paul makes to the Corinthian church in defense of his ministry. Beginning in 1 Corinthians 4:1, we are reminded that every believer should ultimately be regarded as a servant of Christ, so no Christian – whether Paul, Apollos, Peter, Rick Warren, Billy Graham or Joe Smith from Valdosta, GA – should be held in higher regard than another. Therefore, we should walk in humility with one another, since we are all equally humbled to be servants of Christ. Paul rebukes those critical of his ministry in 1 Corinthians 4:4. Paul’s measuring stick is greatness in the eyes of God and not greatness in the eyes of man. As he proceeds in ministry, He ultimately seeks out the approval of God alone, and holds himself to the standard of the cross.

This section of 1 Corinthians is a great addition to the discussion of judgment. Particularly in ministry, it is easy to be more concerned with what others think instead of what God thinks. It is easier to be more fearful of man than God alone. While Christians should open to rebuke and correction from other believers, we should remember the cross is the standard to which we hold ourselves. Only God sees us as we truly are.

Isn’t there a difference between judging the heart and one’s actions?

Yes. Ultimately, only God can see our motivations and rightly judge the heart (Jeremiah 11:20). The verse most referenced in this regard is God’s selection of David in 1 Samuel 16:7. Where man saw a weakling, God saw David as a king. As such, we should acknowledge that our ability to see others accurately is inherently limited, since we cannot truly see their heart.

Conversely, Jesus also warns against purely judging by mere actions. In John 7:21-24, Jesus admonishes a crowd that is criticizing Him for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus’ demonstrates the crowd’s hypocrisy by pointing out that circumcision on the Sabbath was an accepted practice. Jesus concludes the matter by stating: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). Jesus’ call is to be theologically discerning. The Pharisees outwardly appeared extraordinarily upright and moral and inwardly were spiritually dead. In a modern context, many will use church attendance or service to appear upright and moral and are inwardly spiritually dead. Only Jesus brings new spiritual birth.

In the midst of being spiritually discerning, we should acknowledge in humility that man lacks complete spiritual insight into the heart of another man.

Isn’t there a difference between judging a believer and non-believer?

Yes. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 is the core text in this regard. Non-believers lack the wisdom endowed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals to the believer the great mystery of Christ crucified. We must acknowledge that non-believers will continue to assert that the wisdom of Christ is foolishness. However, the perceived foolishness of the cross by the world should not stop believers from proclaiming the cross as the salvation of God.

In addition, Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5 establish principles and parameters for how believers and the church should handle judgment of other believers. These texts don’t apply to non-believers.

An Introduction To Bumper Sticker Theology

Before the hot new cultural trend of “Tebowing,” Tim Tebow was scrambling around SEC football fields back in the 2008-2009 college football season with John 3:16 plastered on his face. Do you know what the number one google search trend was on January 8, 2009? That’s right … John 3:16. After a big college football game, there were a ton of people out there googling John 3:16 because they have no idea what John 3:16 is.

Americans are becoming increasingly more Biblically illiterate. Recent surveys have exposed how glaring the problem is:

  • Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels.
  • 60% of all adults cannot name five of the Ten Commandments.
  • Approximately 1/3 of all adults stated that Billy Graham delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
  • 82% of all adults believed that “God helps those who help themselves” is an actual Bible verse.
  • 12% of all adults believed that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
  • 50% of graduating high school seniors believed that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
  • 45% of all adults did not know that the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is not one of the Ten Commandments.

Even within the context of the church, I have experienced this trend personally. A few years back, I remember teaching a Bible study in youth group where the focus was Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. After the lesson, a high school senior that had grown up in the church came up to me and said: “That passage was awesome! I’ve never heard that before!” On a different evening, another youth challenged me that Luke 14:26 is not in the Bible. When she discovered that it was in the Bible and Jesus actually said it, she publicly renounced her Christian faith in the middle of youth group. Another awkward moment they don’t teach you about in Seminary.

The problem is not access to the Bible. Nine out of ten homes in the United States have a Bible. Most homes have at least three copies of the Bible. 25 million copies of the Bible are sold in the United States annually. 400 million copies of all or part of the Bible are distributed through Bible societies each year.

The problem lies in our spiritual discipline. Only 16% of churchgoers read their Bible on a daily basis. Even more startling, 25% of churchgoers don’t read their Bibles at all. More than 50 percent of people who come through the doors of our churches on a regular basis only read their Bibles occasionally (maybe one or two times per month). Only 15% of all Christians are active in a Bible study program.

It’s easy to try to pin the problem of Biblical illiteracy on the Bible itself. Who doesn’t want to spend their devotional time reading about genealogies in Chronicles, skin diseases in Leviticus and kosher food in Deuteronomy? Isn’t Job too “talky”? Isn’t Revelation too controversial? Isn’t Song of Solomon just for married folks? Why is Lamentations such a downer? Can’t I just stick to reading Philippians and just be joyful? Hold on!!! Should we really accept the excuse that the Bible is too obscure, too difficult, too intellectual or too controversial to actually read? Would God make His communication to His creation as difficult as possible? Should we treat interacting with God as burdensome? The Psalmist declares: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). I encourage you to sit down and read Psalm 119 in its entirety. It’s a loving and beautiful declaration of the love of every syllable that comes from the Creator and a great image of what our love for God’s Word should look like. Don’t blame the Bible for a lack of spiritual hunger.

The real problem is a lack of serious desire for spiritual transformation. In 2 Timothy 3:16, the apostle Paul states: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” While most Christians focus on the whole “God breathed” part of this passage, we must also note that Paul is saying Scripture is useful for something. Its purpose is not to sit on the bookshelf. Its purpose is to teach us what the Creator has to say about His creation. Its purpose is to rebuke us, pierce at our hard hearts and boldly challenge our rebellious nature. Its purpose is to lovingly correct us when we stray from God’s path. Its purpose is to train us to run the race and fight the good fight for the sake of Christ. Scripture is both a sharp scalpel and healing ointment in the skilled hands of the Great Physician. D.L. Moody summed it up when he said: “The Scriptures were not given for our information, but for our transformation.”

Let’s face it: Many Christians come to the Bible seeking affirmation instead of transformation. Based on their research on the issue of Biblical illiteracy, the Barna Group states: “The problem facing the Christian Church is not that people lack a complete set of beliefs; the problem is that they have a full slate of beliefs in mind, which they think are consistent with biblical teachings, and they are neither open to being proven wrong nor to learning new insights.” In other words, many Christians read the Bible seeking a mirror image of what they already believe. God is treated like the “wing man” who’s always got your back and the “yes man” that always supports your position. Before they even open the Word, many folks have already formed their worldview and cherry pick passages that agree with their positions. When the Bible doesn’t fully support their pre-determined position on money, sexuality, judgmentalism or millennialism, many just pick out these passages that do and ignore the rest. Many don’t want to be taught, rebuked, corrected or trained by Scripture, and miss the point of 2 Timothy 3:16 entirely.

I once had a Seminary professor that labelled the current problem of Biblical illiteracy within our churches as “bumper sticker theology.” Seemingly, many Christians only know the catchier and more encouraging portions of Scripture that fit nicely on a bumper sticker, coffee mug or bookmark from your friendly local Christian bookstore. For example, many Christians know the following greeting card worthy passages:

  • “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
  • “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
  • “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
  • “All things God works for the good of those who love him.”
  • “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

But how many Christians can name the Scripture reference, talk about the context of these passages or explain the broader meaning of the entire epistle or book from which they come? And doesn’t this fixation on Stuart Smalley sound bytes betray our use of the Bible for affirmation instead of transformation?

Over the next couple of months, I’m going to use my blog to tackle the issue of Biblical illiteracy. Specifically, I’m going to be looking at some of the passages of the Bible that are more abused or flat-out mangled by Christians. I’ll also be looking at some passages that some think are in the Bible but really aren’t. It’ll be like “Mythbusters” without the explosions.

Okay … Maybe some explosions … Only if you insist.

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