August 3, 2014.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Today I would like to talk a little bit about heart problems. Not the physical problems that can lead to cardiac arrest, but the spiritual heart problems that underlay most, if not all the sin we see in the world today, specifically that which we see within the church. This is a topic that is aimed for those of us who are in the church, as those outside are not governed by the teachings of Christ (at least by their standards) and our duty to them is to teach the gospel that will lead to their salvation, not condemn them for their sin in which they already stand. For those inside the church who are ensnared by sin, I believe a deeper look is needed to get to the root of the sin in order to make an effort to change it.
How many sermons have you heard preached on some specific “bad” sin? How many people have you heard condemned outright for drugs, sex and alcohol on a surface level? I don’t want to make the implication that sin is good and we should not teach against it, but I think there is a deeper problem that we are overlooking when we just say “stop drinking” or “pre-marital sex is bad.” The question is why are those who are continually in these sins doing it? It is generally known what is considered sin in the bible. Most religious arguments are not over whether or not you can commit murder or binge drink, because that is typically seen as sin across the board (yes, I know this doesn’t go for every group, but I’m speaking in generalities). So my question is, will preaching against these sins over and over actually change what these brothers or sisters are doing? They already know it is wrong. There is a deeper problem.
I think this problem is a heart problem. Yes, we should preach on sin, what it is and the dangers of it. But I think we should focus on from where it stems. James says this:
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
What leads us into sin? Our own desires. So, if we are preaching on sin and not the underlying force, are we not treating the symptoms instead of the disease? Compare it to a garden that has weeds in it. If you just cut down the weeds (i.e. treating the symptom) they will grow back. If you pull out the roots of the weeds (i.e. treating the disease), then you have thwarted the problem.
Consider the opening passage. The greatest command is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Why? Why are these the greatest commandments? Jesus could have said “the greatest commandment is to not get drunk” or even “all commandments are exactly the same in weight.” But he didn’t. He said love the Lord with all of your being. Why? Because if you get the heart in the right place from the beginning, then all of the rest will fall in line quite easily. If you love God, keeping his commandments will not be a burden. If you love your neighbor, then serving them will not be a problem. Fix the heart, and everything else starts to align. But how many sermons have you heard about heart problems?
Perhaps you have heard a lot about this, and that is good. Again, I’m not saying we should stop preaching on sin, for we have to know the commands of God in order to follow them. But I do think we should stop making sin the focus of our push towards godliness. One of the main dangers with this is that we start to view certain sins, such as alcoholism and homosexuality, as more damning than others, such as lying and gossip. James says that if we offend in one point, we are guilty of all.
Instead of seeing our fallen brethren as sinners, perhaps we should see them as prodigal sons. Instead of yelling at their sins, perhaps we should encourage them to come back to Christ. Instead of asking them why they are in a specific sin, perhaps we should ask them why they (or we) aren’t in love with Christ as they should be. I don’t know if this will fix all our problems, but I do think it is at least worth a shot. When Jesus went into the world, he did not yell “You’re all going to hell!” but rather “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” He did not condone sin, nor did he sugar coat truth, but we need to have his attitude when seeking the lost. Let us see lost souls instead of sinners. I believe this perspective will better guide our response toward the world.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 22, Ephesians 4, I Corinthians 13, James 1.
Speak the truth in love.