22 November 2017

'Acceptable' Sins Not Excepted: Selfishness


One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28–31)
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” For a group of fallen sinners, this is not an easy commandment to keep.

Selfishness is in our nature—our fallen nature, anyway. It was, after all, one of the primary sins at the root of that first sin in Genesis 3.
[I]t was by placing their own wills above God’s that Adam and Eve first brought sin into the world. Self-will has been at the heart of every subsequent sin.[1]
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to be selfish is to be “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself; seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.”

Sounds rather unpleasant, doesn’t it?

Yes, but even if being selfish is not desirable, it is not a sin that harms others. Shouldn’t I focus more on the “big” sins, like lust and hatred, and worry about my selfishness later?

Think about it. Is not selfishness at the root of those “unacceptable” sins like lust and hatred (which, as Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:21–30], are equivalent to and lead to adultery and murder)? If one selfishly desires someone outside the boundaries of marriage, does it not lead to lust?

Selfishness is not innocuous. If it were, Scripture would not have so much to say about it.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3–8) 
Says John MacArthur of these verses,
It is not surprising that rejecting selfishness is listed first, since it is the root of every other sin…There is no verb in the Greek text, but the grammatical form (mÄ“den kat eritheia, lit. “nothing by way of selfishness”) expresses a negative command. That prohibition goes far beyond mere action; selfishness is also to be totally excluded from the innermost thoughts of the heart.[…] Selfishness is a consuming and destructive sin.[2] 
As a positive command, the Apostle exhorts his readers to look out for the interests of others. When we are seeking to serve ourselves, further ourselves, and satisfy our own desires, we naturally disrupt the spiritual unity that we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we put others before ourselves, though, we preserve that spiritual unity and honor Christ by serving as He served. When we live in such a gospel-worthy manner, we will find contentment and joy beyond the temporal and worldly gratifications that our fallen self thinks it requires.

Writing at the Grace to You blog, Cameron Buettel notes,
Paul’s life is a testimony to the fact that lasting contentedness is a product of cultivating a selfless concern for others.[…] For the sake of our own contentedness, as well as the benefit of the church and its testimony in the world, we need to cultivate that same kind of selfless concern for others.[3]
Indeed. And as we, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, cultivate such a marvelous, Christ-honoring character, we will find ourselves growing in spiritual maturity. Selfishness, by contrast, is a sign of spiritual immaturity, so while its manifestations harm the broader body of Christ, the continued nurturing of a selfish spirit will lead to a stunting of one’s own personal spiritual growth.
[T]he spiritual state of multitudes in the church today [is that] they are utterly preoccupied with self. They want their own problems solved and their own comfort elevated. Their spiritual development is arrested, and they remain in a perpetual state of selfish helplessness. It is evidence of a tragic abnormality. 
Arrested infancy means people do not discern. Just as a baby crawls along the floor, putting anything it finds in its mouth, spiritual babies don’t know what is good for them and what isnt’. Immaturity and lack of discernment go together; they are virtually the same thing.[4]
Is this not most certainly part of Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:15 to “grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ”? Believers who are not growing are a danger to themselves and to the church, and the food of selfishness can only serve to stunt our growth in Christ.

This all seems like a bit of bad news though, doesn’t it? We may not want to be selfish, but, like Paul in Romans 7, we often do things we don’t want to do and don’t do the things we want to do! So, what are we to do?

If we consider the ultimate example of selflessness, we quickly find the answer. The Lord Jesus Christ lived a life of serving others. He was not bothered when the children desired His time (Mark 10:14; cf. Luke 18:16). He ministered to an immoral Samaritan woman so that she might find salvation in Him (John 4). He called His disciples to lay down their arms and healed a man sent to arrest Him in the hour of His arrest (Luke 22:51). He submitted to the Father’s will and gave His life that men might live (Luke 22:42).
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
This is the God we served, and this is the God who saves. The gospel tells us that Christ died for sinners. Those who repent of their sin and trust in Him and His work alone for salvation, are not only forgiven of their sin (yes, even the “silent” sin of selfishness), they are granted the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. By His power, our desires are conformed to His, and we can strive for holiness confident that He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

______________________________
1. John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 109.
2. John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 109–110.
3. Cameron Buettel, Be Focused on Others, accessed 01 September 2017.
4. John MacArthur, Reckless Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 63.


Further Reading
The Lie of Acceptable Sins
Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Gossip
Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Impatience
Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Envy
Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Worry
Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Anger

    18 November 2017

    This 'n' That (One Day Late)

    First of all, thank you for your patience and understanding why this week's post is a bit late. If you're on Twitter, you know the reason. If you're not on Twitter (or missed it), here you go. Now, let's get to the good stuff.

    I love Hallmark movies, especially at Christmas. Yes, true confession, when it comes to those cheesy romantic comedies and dramas, I totally fit the stereotype. Watching these may not be the most productive use of one's time, but every now and then it's nice to spend a relaxed evening disconnected from the world while watching something that is lighthearted, clean, and not offensive.

    What I find fascinating about these films is that the majority of them seem to take place in small, rural towns. It's clear that most of us have this idyllic picture of what a perfect, calm, quiet life might look like, and Hallmark has embraced that. (Although, having recently been in New England, I'm here to tell you that it doesn't all look like the quaint New England towns you see in the Hallmark movies). Of course, there is always a happy ending and, at least in the Christmas movies, there is plenty of hot chocolate and hot cider to go around. They portray what many of us might believe to be "the perfect Christmas."

    Yet we all know that there is no picture-perfect Christmas that falls into our preconceived ideas. And we all know that, whether we live in the city, the suburbs, or on that seemingly quiet farm, life is hectic. It is chaotic and it pulls us in far too many directions. None of us will ever experience a Hallmark movie Christmas. And that's okay.

    It is okay if we're too exhausted in the evening to build a gingerbread house and go caroling (does anyone go caroling anymore? We should!). It is okay if our house isn't decorated to grace the cover of Better Homes & Gardens. It is okay if our dinner doesn't look like Martha Stewart prepared it. It is okay if we, our family, and our Christmas are not perfect.

    At the end of the day, none of these things—the cookies, the carols, the decorations, or the dinner—have eternal consequences. At the end of the day, these are the "nice to haves." So what are the "must haves?" Time with our family to enjoy one another and to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Time with our church family to serve one another and to fellowship and edify one another. Most importantly, time with our Lord to grow closer to Him so that we may grow in His grace this season and all year.

    We'd all love to experience a Hallmark Christmas, but don't be disappointed when yours doesn't turn out that way. Enjoy the entertainment, but embrace the reality that the Lord has gifted you.

    Well, now that I'm done opining on that, I think I'll go grab some hot cider and a gingerbread cookie while I hum Christmas carols and place presents underneath my perfectly trimmed Christmas tree. In the meantime, why don't you sit back and enjoy your week in review (kind of):

    15 November 2017

    Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Anger

    You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)
    Well, that’s easy enough. After all, it’s one thing to be angry, annoyed, or irritated by someone, but it would have to be a really depraved person who would actually murder another human being. You and I, in all of our sinfulness, just wouldn’t dream of doing that, would we? This commandment is a simple one for most Christians to keep.

    Isn’t it?
    You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)
    Oh.

    Well, that’s still in extreme cases. It’s not as if my frustration and shouting at the person who cut me off in traffic counts. That’s righteous anger, because it could have caused an accident. It’s the same scenario with that friend at church who gossiped about me. I’m angry at her because she sinned against me, and that is a righteous reason. I mean, Jesus got angry.

    Let us address each of these points, albeit a bit out of order.

    12 November 2017

    Equipping Eve: Reformation Women


    Luther, Calvin, Zwingli. Without these men and many others, there would not have been a Protestant Reformation. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. But the Reformation was not only impacted by men. What about the women behind those men? What about those women who were wives or sisters of the Reformers and who influenced the movement, not just by being faithful to the calling of wife or mother, but by demonstrating faithfulness through the pen and through their bold, public courage in the face of persecution? In this episode, we will meet some of these sisters in the faith from whom we can learn so much.

    Click here to listen to this episode of Equipping Eve.

    Further Listening
    Reformation Reversal, Part 1
    Reformation Reversal, Part 2
    How Healthy is the Women's Ministry in Your Church?

    Sunday Morning Praise

    All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name

    10 November 2017

    This 'n' That

    Well, I think I've decided what I'm going to be for Halloween next year. Yes, I know it's still early, but I think I might need to get a head start on this costume.

    I am going to dress up as a cherub.

    Source
    No, not the chubby baby Precious Moments kind of cherub. This kind:
    As for their appearance, all four of them had the same likeness, as if one wheel were within another wheel. When they moved, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went; but they followed in the direction which they faced, without turning as they went. Their whole body, their backs, their hands, their wings and the wheels were full of eyes all around, the wheels belonging to all four of them. The wheels were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels. And each one had four faces. The first face was the face of a cherub, the second face was the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. Then the cherubim rose up. They are the living beings that I saw by the river Chebar. (Ezekiel 10:10-15)
    As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies. (Ezekiel 1:4-11)
    That's right, a real cherub. Now I just need to locate three more faces.

    I'm not sure when or how our culture transformed cherubim from the beings described in Scripture to the chubby babies we see in Hallmark stores, but I suppose doing so has helped to diminish our view of God, and our fear of Him.

    That is all the more reason why we should daily thank Him for saving us and showing us the truth contained in His Word. What a banquet of truth He has given us!

    While I get started on that costume, then, why don't you take a few moments to enjoy your week in review (kind of):

    08 November 2017

    Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Worry


    Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
    Christians know they are not to worry and that anxiety should not overwhelm or consume them. After all, God is sovereign; that is why we make our requests known to Him!
    And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
    Indeed, God, in His faithfulness, offers peace, comfort, and even joy in the midst of even our most trying circumstances.

    So it is simple, isn’t it? Just trust God, pray a few prayers, and everything will go well for you! Worry will fade away like the morning fog, and you will find yourself floating through life, light as a feather, without a care in the world.

    Yes, it is that easy!

    Isn’t it?

    03 November 2017

    This 'n' That

    Well, it's November 3. Reformation Day—particularly the 500th anniversary—is now in the past. You may have noticed that I didn't post anything specifically for Reformation Day on October 31. The reason for that was twofold: 1) in the hustle and bustle of life, the blog had to be placed on the back burner, and with the plethora of posts available on the topic, I figured nobody would mind or notice if I skipped it, and 2) while October 31, 2017 was a wonderful opportunity to remember the "official" start of the Reformation, it is hardly final. Just as the Reformation began before October 31, 1517, so too does it continue beyond October 31, 2017.

    The Reformation wasn't about an event, it was about truth. It was about a reinvigoration of God's Word among the people. It was about a reintroduction of that same Word. The gospel message of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, that message that had been deliberately veiled by men for centuries, had finally been propelled back into the spotlight, illuminated by the truth of Christ. The Bible, closed for so long to common men, was blown open and could no longer be contained.

    The truths celebrated and taught by the Reformers are the same truths to which we cling today, and in fact, they are the same truths taught long before Martin Luther picked up his mallet. The truth of the gospel has been around for far longer than 500 years. It is truth for life, not truth for a day.

    Thank God for those men and women who paved the way for the Reformers. Thank Him for the men and women of the Reformation proper, and thank Him for those who still stand firm on that same biblical truth. Most of all, thank Him for that truth and praise the One who is Truth and Life.

    Also, now that November is here, we can finally start listening to Christmas music! So while I go rock around the Christmas tree (just kidding, my tree won't be up for another month!) why don't you hum your favorite holiday tune while you enjoy your week in review (kind of):