10/07/2018 sermon at Liberty Spring Christian Church
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
The first and second things I need to do today are to apologize. First, I’m sorry that there’s not an insert in your bulletins about October prayer concerns. Please don’t blame Cathy; it’s all my fault. I want to reformat that page, and I just didn’t get around to it this week. So I’m sorry, and I’ll make sure they get done for next Sunday.
Second, I need to apologize to you all – but especially to Lauren and (again) Cathy – for what I’m about to do. Lauren worked hard to put together music that would fit with the theme of my sermon today, and Cathy got the sermon references ready and inserted so you’d all have them ready today.
So it’s probably going to be a little bit frustrating to them when I ask you now to take those sermon references and fold them up and put the into your Bibles. I expect we’ll use them next week. And maybe Lauren can come up with a few more songs about faithfulness that we can sing next week.
But this week, we’re going to switch gears from what I had planned and prepared all the way through Friday afternoon, which was to continue our series on Christ’s letters to the church in the book of Revelation.
Here’s the problem: No matter how much I studied for my sermon, no matter how much I prayed about it, and no matter how much I simply sat down and wrote – I just never got a feeling of satisfaction that it was the message God had in mind for us this week.
So when I felt the Spirit leading me to change tracks late on Friday, I did pray, “Please no, Lord.” But my heart wasn’t in that prayer.
I guess some part of my subconscious has known all week what we needed to talk about today. And the simple fact is that it’s really just an application of all the lessons we’ve been learning together for the past month or so.
First, a confession. In the midst of this struggling to settle on the message, I have been seriously distracted this week. As I’m sure many of you have been, I have been watching the drama unfold around the nominee to the vacancy on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now let me say that I am not a big fan of current event-driven preaching. God’s Word is eternal, His promises are eternal and His commandments do not change, and we should not allow the world or its affairs to dictate how we worship Him or how we learn about His call to us.
But we all live in the world, and we are called to be salt and light to the world and we are called to love our neighbors, and all of that has some application within the cultural context of this distracting week.
If you have a television, if you read newspapers, if you follow social media or if you have been breathing in America this week, there is almost no way you could have missed some portion of the coverage and response to the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.
The public portion of those hearings concluded in a remarkable and unprecedented day of testimony in which a woman claimed to have been sexually assaulted by the nominee when they were both high school teenagers.
She claimed to be 100-percent sure it was him. He claimed to be 100-percent sure it did not happen. And there the foundation was built for one of the most divisive weeks in a nation whose divisions seem to push us all farther apart every day.
I have no idea who is telling the truth, and I’m not here today to suggest to you that you should believe — or support — one party over the other.
What I am here to tell you today is that both the man and the woman in this drama are people who were made in the image of God. Before the foundation of the world, God looked forward through history, He saw them both and He loved them; He loved them so much, in fact, that He sent Jesus to die for their sins — as well as yours and mine — so that if they would believe in Him they could have eternal life with Him.
We all know this is true at a conceptual level, but there has been a disconnect within the church between our understanding of John 3:16 and the resulting responsibility we have to keep the new commandment He gave that we love one another in John 13:34 (and lots of other places).
Jesus warned us that the world would hate us.
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)
But our response to the world is to be something completely different. We are called to love our neighbors. Period.
And I know we have talked a lot about that since the beginning of September, but like I said last week: You should probably get used to it.
It’s not clear to me whether Kavanaugh or his accuser was telling the truth. But what IS clear to me is that many of us Christians have done a lousy job this week — and for a long time, frankly — in responding in a way that demonstrates we are somehow different from the lost world.
Guess who was made in God’s image? Brett Kavanaugh was made in God’s image. The woman who accused him of assaulting her was made in God’s image. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee was made in God’s image. His Democratic counterpart was made in God’s image. The president was made in God’s image. Every person who voted against the president was made in God’s image. And every person who voted for him was made in God’s image.
And yet, I have seen people whom I know to call themselves Christians make the most vicious attacks on people with whom they disagree, people who simply represent a political dogma that doesn’t match their own.
We should expect that kind of behavior from the lost world. Solomon talked about it over and over again in the book of Proverbs.
“Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” (Proverbs 15:18)
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19)
Clearly Solomon understood something about the power of words to hurt. It is a power that has been displayed in all of its terrible glory this week. But as followers of Christ, are we not called to something greater?
Of course we are.
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
James had quite a lot to say about the matter:
“But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19b-20)
“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.” (James 3:8-12)
In fact, James writes later in his epistle that there are good and useful ways to use our mouths.
“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.” (James 5:16)
Imagine what a great witness to the world Christians in America would be right now if they had spent the last week confessing their sins to one another and praying for the healing of this nation’s divisions.
But instead, many of us have contributed to those divisions by speaking and writing things that sounded just like the hateful things of the world.
Jesus prayed that His Father would sanctify His followers in truth, because as the Father had sent Him into the world, so Jesus had sent them into the world.
Note that Jesus said He was sending them INTO the world. That suggests that His followers are not OF the world. And if we are not OF the world, then we should not be attached to the things of the world, including its political dramas.
“do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?” (James 4:4-5)
When we identify ourselves more closely with some side of a political or social controversy than we do with Jesus Christ, we have made that other thing an idol.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to something bigger, something better than this. We are called to use our speech for building up, not for tearing down. We are called to speak life and not curses, whether that’s in our conversations here in church, at work, in the community or on Facebook.
“For 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.” (Ephesians 6:12)
This may sound a bit out-there to some of you, but I firmly believe that what’s happening in Washington, D.C., right now isn’t a result of something that may or may not have taken place at a party in Montgomery County, Md., more than 30 years ago.
It’s not the result of a divisive election or worries about whether or not Roe v. Wade will be overturned or any of the things that are being bandied about in the media and then picked up by Christians following the world’s lead on Facebook and on the cable news networks.
What’s happening in Washington right now is a result of the forces of darkness, the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places, forces that set things in motion within the world to bring division and hatred.
They tempt us to walk out of here on Sunday saying, “God bless you, brother,” and then log onto Facebook and curse those who bear the image of God.
That passage in Ephesians is followed by the one most of you know about putting on the full armor of God.
If we have girded our loins with truth, we will not be swayed by the lie that our hope is to be found in any government or political party, because we know that our only hope is He who called Himself Truth.
If we have put on the breastplate of righteousness, we will not fear the arrows of wickedness, because we know that even death itself is for our gain.
If we have shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace, we will not tread into the muck of divisiveness, because we know we are charged with carrying the message of grace and peace to a lost world.
If we have taken up the shield of faith, we will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of hatred, because we know that our Savior was hated first, and He stands at the right hand of His father in Heaven, waiting with a place prepared for those who follow Him.
If we have taken on the helmet of salvation, even a fatal blow will only send us to stand beside Him.
And if we carry the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, then we have the most powerful weapon ever made. It is a weapon that is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Make no mistake, brothers and sisters. This is spiritual warfare; it is a battle that we cannot win in the conventional sense. We will never win people to Christ with great arguments one way or another on Facebook. We will never win people to Christ by effectively cursing them — by demeaning them and denigrating them — in political debates.
We will only win the battle by calling on the Holy Spirit to help us to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from [us], along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)
We will only win the battle by “Be[ing] kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven [us].” (Ephesians 4:32)
Let the world fight its battles. Our battle is something else altogether. Our victory spoils are the souls of those we turn to Christ. And we will never turn any of them to Him if we do not remember that every person out there — whether we agree with them and their politics or not — is someone who bears the image of God.
Love one another.
If you’re looking for an application from the messages I have preached since my first week in this pulpit, it is this: If you really want to love one another, then you have to start by treating each other — and treating EVERYONE with dignity and respect.
Sometimes — perhaps much of the time — that means choosing not to score those debate points. Sometimes it means just scrolling past the bile that appears on our Facebook feeds. Sometimes it means reminding our fellow Christians that when they’re spewing anger and venom at others, they are talking or writing to people who bear the very image of God Himself.
So much of the past week’s anger and vitriol has been based in pride. “My side is right, and your side is a bunch of fools.” But when we begin to look at others as God’s image bearers, we begin to see that pride has no place in our interactions with them.
If you are made in God’s image, then I should approach you in humility. And humility, as it turns out, is at the very core of love.
This broken world — this place at the center of the great battle between the spiritual powers — needs more love. We who follow Christ are the ones who can bring it, but we cannot do so without humility.
So as you go today, bridle your tongues, put on humility and put on love.
Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.