Two Women worried about their weight. They both believed if they lost some weight and got into better shape they would be more energetic, productive and would look better and feel better about themselves. Both were told by their Doctors that losing weight would be a wise thing to do.
The first woman went out and got some exercise equipment. Every day she vowed she was going to get started using the equipment because she really wanted to lose weight.
The other woman began a program of education. She learned what foods were healthy and which were not as healthy. She began a program of exercise and began watching and limiting the kinds of food she was consuming.
The first woman ended up selling her never used exercise equipment for a fraction of the cost at a yard sale. She is looking at some new equipment now because she still really wants to lose weight.
The other woman lost her weight and looks and feels great. She still eats the right foods and has a regular program of exercise. Now it's not because she is trying to lose weight . . .it's because she has found that she is more energetic, productive and she feels better about herself and life.
The key was in combining the elimination of destructive behaviors and the development of positive behaviors. This is exactly the key to becoming spiritually fit. These words are not a prescription for salvation . . . we know we are not saved by rules and human effort. Instead, this is instruction on how to live in the new life Christ has given us. This is a prescription, if you will, for victorious, abundant living. This week the Apostle Paul tells us what things need to be eliminated from our lives. Next week we will look at the apostle's spiritual exercise program.
WHAT WE MUST PUT TO DEATH
Paul begins by telling us,
Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
Before we get into the specific commands we need to understand the seriousness of Paul's words. First, the word for "put to death" is very strong. The word suggests radical action. The things on this list are like a cancer to our spiritual life.
Commentator Alexander Maclaren likens the action to that of a man working at a machine who gets his fingers caught between the rollers or caught in the belting. Because of the strength of the machine, in another minute his whole body will be caught up in the machinery and he will be flattened into a bloody shapeless mass. This person will take up an axe and hack off his own hand at his wrist . . .It is not easy or pleasant, but the only alternative to a horrible death.
This is the same idea as Jesus' words in Matthew 5:29,30 "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."
It's with that same seriousness and intensity that we are to address the following problems in our lives. But that's not all. Notice that Paul says it is on account of these things that God's wrath is coming. He wants us to take rigorous action because this is sin that separates us from God. These sins lead to God's displeasure rather than blessing. These sins rob us of spiritual life. You cannot do any of these things and experience the richness of blessing that is available. Now it should be pointed out that this is not an exhaustive list. In
Galatians 5:19-21 we read: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
But this morning we will look at the list he gave to the Colossians. The problem we face is that these words are all similar in their shades of meaning. So I carefully try to make some distinctions.
Immorality . The greek word here is the word porneia. It is the word from which we get our word pornographic. The word refers to any sexual relationship outside the context of marriage. I realize that this is a sensitive issue. I also realize that any message of sexual purity before marriage usually meets with snickers. However, the Bible is crystal clear. Sex is right ONLY in marriage. Society may have changed, but God hasn't.
Kent Hughes points out that it is conceivable that on any given evening of TV watching, one may see more sensual sights than one's grandparents did in their lifetimes. Everywhere we turn gratuitous sex is the norm. It's in movies, it's on television, it's in print, it's on the Internet. In fact we are so surrounded by immoral behavior that it has caused our defenses to be weakened. Sin has become commonplace and acceptable in our society. But this does not change the fact that sexual license is contrary to God's design.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 we read,
It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
Impurity. What causes immoral behavior? Impurity. This is wider and more subtle than physical immorality. It involves our imagination, or speech. This is what immediately precedes immorality. Immorality is the act .. . impurity is the thought.
Lust. This is a great desire or longing for that which is sinful. If you find yourself craving someone else in a sexual way that is not your spouse, this is lust. Lust is characterized often by seeing people as objects for your own personal enjoyment rather than as people. It is seeing the sexual act as something isolated from relationship and commitment.
Evil Desires. Lust is obviously an evil desire. However, it seems that we are talking about those desires which lead us to look for "greater thrills". It's that desire to be aroused that leads to the purchase of a magazine or video. It is the desire to "play with fire" that leads to pornography. It is the desire that leads to dangerous flirtations. It is the desire to see how close to the "edge" you can play without falling off.
Greed. It may seem strange to you that "greed" is included with all of these other things. But in reality this is the core ingredient of lust and immorality. Greed is the desire to have something another possesses. In other words, it is a dissatisfaction with what God has given. In essence it is the belief that some object, experience or possession will bring fullness to your life. In other words, these things become your God.
Do you see how this works? You are not content with your spouse so you take someone else's. You are not content with your relationship so you seek to augment it through pornography and other lusts. And even as you get older you may not crave the sexual but you will transfer your desires to the material. Discontent leads to sin. How many content people do you know?
What makes the situation even worse is the amazing human capacity for self-delusion in respect to sensuality. I have know Bible-carrying "Christians" who talked sensitively about theology and serious issues, yet were adulterous and even incestuous. I have known Christian workers who were fundamentalists at work (mouthing all the right words) and cable TV voyeurs at home. Even more tragic, the delusion is so deep that they see no inconsistency in their behavior. (Hughes, Colossians p. 97)
Solomon spoke with great wisdom when he asked, "Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?" (Prov. 6:27). Solomon's point is clear: you cannot ignore God's standards without paying a price. Think about some of the costs
Any time we play with fire we are risking that the fire will get out of control. Our job then is to do everything possible to maintain purity in our minds and heart. We must take action. We must be diligent about avoiding lust producing materials. We must strive to avoid that lustful look. We must work hard to focus on the pure.
Jack Eckerd, owns a chain of drug stores called the Eckerd Drug chain. Jack became a Christian and knew that his life would never again be the same. He walked into one of his stores one day and spied some soft-core porn magazines and immediately realized this was wrong. He ordered his chief of operations to remove the offensive magazines from all his stores.
"But, Mr. Eckerd," the man said, "you don't know how much money those magazines bring in! Let me get some information together and show you tomorrow."
Early the next day, the man walked into Eckerd's office and showed him the figures. The magazines did earn a substantial profit. But Eckerd ordered them taken out. He understood that when he asked Christ to take over His life he had a new allegiance.
The classic Biblical example is Joseph. He was serving an official named Potiphar. He was seen as a faithful servant and therefore was given great authority in Potiphar's household. Well, Mrs. Potiphar thought Joseph was quite the "hunk". She gave him all kinds of subtle signals that she was interested in a "relationship with Joseph. Joseph resisted. One day however, Mrs. Potiphar threw herself at Joseph. Joseph could have said, "Who would know?" But he knew that God knew. He also knew that Potiphar trusted him. So Joseph ran away to protect his virtue. The scorned Mrs. Potiphar made up some stories and Joseph was accused of something he didn't do . . . .but he remained pure.
Joseph is ever the example to us. When those immoral thoughts and feelings come our way we should run. When temptation rises we must recognize that we are no match for its power. We must flee. It also means we must turn off the television, give back the book, or put away the magazine that leads us to impure thinking and discontent.
WHAT WE MUST GET RID OF
But Paul is not finished with his list, he continues by listing other things that we must get rid of,
but now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips.
Once again we have a sequence of activities. Anger is something that builds within us. It usually comes because we are frustrated that we are not getting our way about something. People didn't respond the way we expected so we are angry. This anger begins to boil within us and eat away at our defenses.
Rage is the boiling over of anger. It is seen in a quick tempered person. Rage is when we "lose control". We "fly off the handle". Rage is when anger comes spewing out. And it always leaves casualties in its wake.
Malice is the bitterness that seeks to hurt another. It is malice that causes us to say hurtful things. It is malice that leads us to "go for the jugular". It is a viciousness of mind.
Slander follows suit. This is hurtful speech that defames a person's character. It is often speaking hurtful or distorted truth to make another look bad.
Filthy Language When anger controls a person they often spew hurtful and vile words.
These five words often seem to happen in just a matter of seconds. Someone cuts you off in traffic, you lay on the horn. You immediately conclude that this guy chose you deliberately to cut off. It was a massive plot to annoy you. You draw verbal conclusions about the man that are not flattering. You may even talk about the man's lack of intelligence or the shallowness of his upbringing. In some cases you might even send an unkind gesture the man's way. And some people will race their cars to catch up to the man and shoot him or try to run him off the road. Why? Because he was inconsiderate . . . or maybe because he just didn't see you there.
Anger is a dangerous emotion. When anger grows bad things happen
A moment of anger can destroy what it has taken a lifetime to build. We have heard people say, "it is important to get your anger out . . .you should not keep it bottled up inside." But guess what? Studies now show that giving vent to anger only stirs it up. The person who vents is the one who gets even more angry. The person who acts in love begins to feel even more love.
So, how do we defeat these demons?
For example, your spouse is later than you expected. You are worried about all kinds of things. You envision a police officer coming to your door soon to break the bad news. Then your spouse walks through the door. What happens? You may very well "bite their head off". Now the real problem is that you were afraid . . .but it came out as anger. How much better to have dealt with the fear.
You go out in the garage to make a repair. Things are going well until you begin working on one bolt. The bolt won't budge. In the process of trying to persuade this bolt to do what it doesn't want to do . . . you hand slips and you smack your knuckles. Next you pick up the wrench (who was your friend) and throw it across the room in anger. Now, why are you angry? It is because you are frustrated. Things are not going as you thought they should. Frustration comes when people don't react as we want them to act, when they don't do what you expected them to do. It comes when circumstances don't allow you to do what you wanted to do. We need to deal with the frustration before it spews into rage.
4. Resolve the issue as soon as possible. This eliminates the stewing that distorts things all out of perspective. Remember that judgement is the Lord's job . . . not yours.
When you begin a diet it is not enough to know what foods to stay away from . . . Paul tells us to stay away from immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. These are all powerful and enslaving emotions. How do we gain control over these things?
I wish I could tell you how I gained victory over these things but I can't. These are areas where I fight constant battles. But with that disclaimer let me suggest a few things,
1. We need to cultivate a deeper love for the Lord. If our passion is for the right things it will not be available for wrong uses. That daily time with the Lord guards us from sin, alerts us to temptation and continues the process of building the life of Christ in us. We must bury ourselves in His arms so we are protected by His strength.
2. We should admit the struggle. There is nothing worse than trying to fight these demon alone. We need relationships where we can be honest about our struggles. We need people around us who will tell us when they see us going in the wrong direction.
3. We must understand the nature of new life in Christ. We died to these old things. We are set free from these things to something far better. We have Christ in us and anytime we engage in these activities we stain the name of Christ. We take Him with us wherever we go. We represent Jesus.
4. We need to be alert to the warning signs. We need to recognize when our thinking is drifting into the impure. We need to turn off the shows that pander to lust. We should put down the reading material that is filling our mind with garbage. There is too much at stake! When we begin looking around thinking that the grass is greener wherever we aren't, it's important that we recognize that as discontent, greed, and idolatry. When anger begins to well up inside of us we must stop and ask, "why am I angry?"
We all want to be spiritually healthy. It would be nice if there was a pill you could take or a book you could read that would produce spiritual vitality and health. It would be nice if you could do that for your physical health. But there isn't any such things. We become healthy physically and spiritually the same way: you have to eliminate what is harmful and cultivate what is helpful. It's not easy . . . but it is the only way.
Rev. Bruce Goettsche