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There’s a scripture that’s been circling in my head lately. I can’t seem to get away from it because I see it’s implications almost every time I turn around.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. – 1 Peter 2:15-16
Too many times we want to silence opposition by winning an argument. We want to prove why we’re right as Christians and they’re wrong. The truth is, once the argument has begun, we’ve already lost.
Jesus said that others would know that we are His disciples by our love (John 13:35), not by our ability to win an argument. Sadly, the urge to win has more to do with our self-righteous desire to be right than furthering the cause of Christ into a dying world. Jesus wants us to share His love with others to save those that are lost. That is the arena we should be fighting in.
Sometimes I wonder if our search for inner peace doesn’t occasionally lead us down the wrong path. It’s easy to pray and read the Bible looking for God to grant us peace, but I know many times as I read God’s word that, instead of peace, I feel a little bit discontented. I’ll read a passage that seems odd to me and my first though is usually, “Is that right?” While this can be caused by a misunderstanding of a scripture, more often then not, it is not an error in understanding but an error in me that God is trying to correct through the Bible.
The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 5-7 is a great example of scripture that can and does challenge our preconceived notions. Anger for a brother is murder. Lust for another is adultery. One particular teaching from Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-10 on divorce can be particularly difficult. In these passages, Jesus says that if a man and woman divorce for any reason other than sexual immorality and then remarry, they (meaning the formerly married couple) commit adultery as do those whom marry the divorcees. It is a teaching that even greatly troubled those that heard it in Jesus’ day (see Matthew 19).
When we encounter difficult scriptures, such as these, that cause unrest in our spirits, there are two paths that we must choose between. The first path leads down the road of moral relativism as we try to explain the scriptures away. For example, people say things like, “The scripture is antiquated and doesn’t apply today,” “It’s out of touch with society,” or, “This scripture was just used to control people and is irrelevant with the freedom we have.” We can even take a scripture and completely misrepresent the teaching to suit our own desires. Nothing, though, along this path leads us to the truth.
The other path, instead of judging scriptures based on our own personal bias and beliefs, takes us to a place where, “The word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV).” Along this path, we allow the scripture to enter our lives and change us – our beliefs, our bias, and our understanding of God and the world.
We gain an understanding that, “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV).” If we want holiness and righteousness, we must approach the Bible with an open heart. We must allow God to speak through His word that we may, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may approve what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2 NKJV).”
What then of peace? If we truly want peace, peace with God that allows peace to grow in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, we must allow His word to abide in us. We must put away notions that His word is antiquated, for God does not change. We must also resist the urge to ignore scriptures that challenge us; for in doing so, we deny the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives calling us toward conviction. It is only when we allow His work in us that peace can grow through the aligning of our lives to the will of God.
I’ve never really had a knack for gardening. I remember when on one particular occasion my parents asked me to go and, “hoe out the onions.” I, being the logical person that I am, took that to mean that I should take a hoe, traverse to the garden, and proceed to hoe the onions out of the garden. Little did I know that to hoe out the onions actually meant to remove the grass and thorns from the onions. What I do know about gardening, and what this story humorously points out, is if you want a plant to grow and be productive, you have to remove any weeds that could hinder it. When a plant is surrounded by weeds, the weeds steal important nutrients that help the plant grow and produce fruit.
Our spiritual life works much the same way, and Jesus makes such comparison in a parable. In Matthew 13:3-9, Jesus compares the word of God to seeds that are being sown into different types of soil. Some of the seeds are sown into soil that is inundated with thorns. Spiritually, these thorns represent, “The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches “. They choke the life out of the word and keep it from bearing spiritual fruit in a person’s life.
These spiritual thorns, though, are much more dastardly than normal thorns. Normal thorns are generally ugly, nasty plants that are an eyesore. However, our spiritual thorns are often pretty little things that we tend to with the utmost of care. Often, they aren’t even things that we would consider bad, but regardless of the nature of the thorn, they perform their job more efficiently than any natural weed could. They thoroughly hinder the growth of the word in our lives and make us unfruitful Christians. I’m currently in the process of removing a thorn from my garden that I’ve let run wild for far too long – video games. Games have consumed much of my life, and while there is nothing wrong with some games, they took up a lot of time and energy that could have been better spent serving God.
This brings up a key point, once we’ve realized that something in life is a thorn, we have to determine what to do about it. Some weeds are actually good plants that are beneficial when under control of the Holy Spirit. It’s when these plants become an obsession that they turn into thorns, and instead of allowing them to be brought under control of the Holy Spirit, they supplant God as our main focus and rob our lives of producing spiritual fruit.
When a good thing turns into an obsession, you have a much bigger problem on your hands. As with me and video games, a much more drastic solution is necessary – complete eradication. Some weeds have such a strangle-hold on our lives that there is no choice but to remove them. We could try to carve out a nice space for them, but they have such an impression on our psyche that they grow like wild fire when any attention is given to them. They are consuming and uncontrollable, and our only hope if we want God’s word and the Holy Spirit to reign in our lives is to clear these thorns out.
So, all that’s left is to decide, “How far are we willing to go?” Are we willing to sacrifice so that the word of God might grow? Are we willing to let these weeds die that our lives might bear fruit for the kingdom of God? If we truly want to live for God and truly desire His word to flourish in our lives then removing these thorns isn’t just a good idea or mere sentiment. It’s a mandatory action that requires all of our effort. It’s time to decide whether we want to keep trudging along or if we want to run this race with nothing holding us back (Hebrews 12:1).
While I was listening to the chorus of Chris Tomlin’s song “Our God,” I was struck with a terrible thought, one that some might call ridiculous or find offensive.
Is God still standing for us, specifically here in America?
There’s a stark contrast between Christianity in America and Christianity in the rest of the world like China, Somalia, and elsewhere. Here, we have a very closed-off faith. We shelter ourselves in the four walls of our home or church, and our glimpses of faith from outside these walls come only from an occasional visit from a missionary, if even that. Voluntarily or involuntarily, we have inoculated ourselves from the suffering and pain that others are experiencing for their faith.
But, when you look at these countries, and nations like South Korea, you see something noticeably different behind all of the misery – a spiritual richness that is absent here in the US. As we as a nation have continued to prosper (and despite the recession, living standards are incomparably higher than most of the world), our opulence has led to nothing but spiritual poverty. We have no need for God because we have everything we want at our fingertips. We’ve replaced the true essence of the Christian faith with beliefs and practices that mirror our society, and rather than challenging society with that faith, we conform to the world around us.
Yet, looking at the church where horrible persecution exists, you see devotion, love, and spiritual growth. Despite the fear of death, many are willing to stand up and proclaim Christ while we cower in fear at the prospect of being mocked or jeered.
I do believe God stands with believers. I just pray that we stand for Him before it’s too late.