The Truth about Sin and Relationships, part I

Epistle Lesson  1 Corinthians 3:1-3

                1Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. 2I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, 3for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?

 

Gospel Lesson   Matthew 5:21-37

                21“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

                23“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

                25“When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.

                27“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, 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. 30And if your hand—even your stronger 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 be thrown into hell.

                31“You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ 32But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.

                33“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the LORD.’ 34But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. 35And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

 

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        Whether they want to or not, pretty much all parents are engaged in the educational development of their children.

I remember one summer, the school told us that they wanted to advance our youngest daughter, Sarah, in math to the next grade level starting in the fall.  So, over our summer vacation at the beach, her and I sat down at the table and went through the entire 2nd Grade math curriculum within a week.

If you know Kim and me, although we work with numbers all the time, math is not our favorite subject.   So, you know it was an act of love for me to deal with math formulas that I was totally unfamiliar with and ultimately could care less about.

Funny thing though, Sarah probably was more adept with Mathematics as an elementary student than both Kim and I were as adults.  So you can see that age, knowledge and maturity are not the same for everyone.

I know we’ve all heard and perhaps said, “Act your age.”  But, then again, what is age?  I’ve seen young people act with more maturity and responsibility than adults 2x their age.

So age, one’s chronological, emotional, intellectual and physical development can vary.  We assume that when we see a young one who is over 6 feet tall that their emotional and cognitive maturity is equal to their height, and once we find out their age we are often surprised.

This past week, we’ve seen scores of very young Olympians achieve in their short lives what most of us would only dream of achieving over a lifetime. Then again we can go on and on with other examples of success, from the Justin Biebers, Miley Cyrus’, the Lindsey Lohans or to grown members of Congress who continually act like children.

And so was Paul’s point as he wrote the church in Corinth, “when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. 2I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger.

Apparently a good number of the believers, though professing their faith for years, hadn’t advanced beyond their infancy in spiritual development.  Paul had to continue to handhold them in matters of faith and understanding and found it difficult sharing with them the more complex elements of Christian teaching, which would in turn empower their lives and their walk with Christ.

We all know that an infant is needy for milk and requires feeding often; however, when the child grows it requires food that lasts in the belly longer and can energize them for longer periods.  Paul expressed his frustration with the church in that they were so spiritually needy and how he long for the day when they could be spiritually self-sufficient.

Only then can one truly realize the wealth of resources and the sweet intimacy one can have in relationship with Jesus Christ.

For instance, if I have to depend on someone else in order to know Jesus Christ and trust my life to Him, then I’m not benefiting with that one on one life Jesus wants to have with me. Many feel they need a proxy between them and Christ.  However, Christ never said, “come unto me through your proxy or designated other …and then I will give you rest.”

During His “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus attempted to make it real for those who would listen.  But, even today as through the centuries, people misread what Jesus was trying to say.

Each of us needs to remember, that God’s sole desire, from the time of Adam and Eve, Father Abraham, Moses and the 10 commandments, and through Kind David and the succession of prophets that followed; is to ensure a right and good relationship with God and in turn a right and good relationship with our fellow humankind.

Jesus opens His sermon with the Beatitudes, but continues throughout His message to layout an understanding how we can enhance our relationships, both with our God and everyone else.

So today, we’re looking at verses 21-37 and next week we’ll examine verses 38-48.

In 17 verses Jesus covers the gamut. He talks about murder and anger, unresolved relationships, reconciling legal issues, definition of adultery, habitual sin, divorce and remarriage, and making a vow or taking an oath.

But first, the problem with the interpretation of this passage is that interpreters, scholars and commentators of the church see Jesus as making doctrinal statements; or in our terms, Jesus was making policy statements or matters of law for the church and her believers.

Nothing could be further from the case.

The average adherent believes that the Bible is all about rules, regulations and commandants.

And, yes, God, through the Bible, lays down universal, absolute, never changing regulations, called commandments.  However, if you look at them closely, they are actually universal proven principles to preserve, enhance and improve our relationship with God and with others.  Most of the Bible is about personal practical application and less about doctrine and dogma.

The first 1/3 of the 10 commandments instruct us how we can maintain a relationship with God and the remaining 2/3ds tell us we can maintain strong positive relationships with others.

So on the mountain, Jesus was clearing up traditional misconceptions or opinions people have regarding our relationships with one another.  Jesus was all about restoring relationships, and if believers would “get it” then they’d discover they don’t have to keep making the same mistakes over and over again in dealing with people in their lives.

Jesus was not about making more rules, but how each of us can employ and apply basic pointers in living out our lives better and more purposefully.

I’m not going to be able to cover in detail all 7 of these principles that are in these 17 verses, but let me touch on a few. 

The first one begins in verse 17.  Everyone knows that committing murder is serious moral infraction; however, Jesus takes it a step further.

Basically, He tells us that if we want sound, kind and loving relationships in our lives we can’t go around calling people names.  Whether you call them a dummy, an idiot, stupid or worse, or whether you simply infer that they are, you are in Jesus’ eyes committing murder.

For whenever you insult or sling derogatory, cynical or passive aggressive language at someone else who is an object of God’s love you are in turn committing character assassination.

Yes, whenever you discount, malign or depersonalize another you are subtracting from their identity—an identity born of God.  In so doing, you are by all intents and purposes, murdering them.

If you desire improved relationships with your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow believers you need to bite your tongue every time you have the urge to name call or criticize anyone.

If you want an “anti-bullying” passage, you found it.  And one of the worst places we find bullying is in the church.  The youth found out a couple weekends ago from the speakers at ROCK that some of the most hurtful things ever said to them were from church people and family.

What made it worse is that the very place where people should feel safe is with other believers and in the confines of the sanctuary!  Jesus reminds us that just because we are Christians and are forgiven our sins, doesn’t mean we can feel free to abuse people with our words and actions.

A principle of leadership and management is that before a leader or manager voices a correction to an employee or subordinate, they had better have 3 things positive they can say about them.  And, if they can’t come up with 3 things positive, then they must put on hold their correction until they come up with them.

You can see how this applies not only to our work relationships, but our families with our spouses, parents and children.  We can apply it to our life together in our church, our communities and everywhere else we go.  Heaven forbid; we can even apply it to our statehouses and congress, as well!

Jesus uses this same tactic in dealing with our unresolved relationships, taking care of legal matters, with the issue of adultery, our bad habits, divorce & remarriage and giving our word.

You see, He’s not focused so much on the heinousness of the “act” as much as what was in your heart that drove you to that act.  For instance, committing adultery is simply a consummation of a deeper malady and infliction of the heart. 

God can judge you on your behavior and the courts can assess your guilt legally, but judgment does not remedy why one is driven to the act in the first place.

If one can’t uphold their vows and maintain the sanctity of God’s blueprint for family, then that one needs to confront what is driving them and deal and seek help with that, rather than focusing on the adulterous act itself.  Jesus was simply pointing out in real terms that the damage and injury to the bond of marriage was inflicted long before the act ever occurred.

Bad habits?

I’m sure every one of us has a habit or two that we just can’t, or won’t break.  When Jesus instructed that it is better to whack off one hand or pluck out our eye if it offends us, He wasn’t being literal.  He was using hyperbole or exaggeration to get across to us and through our thick heads that any dysfunctional habit is unhealthy to sustain personal relationships, let alone a relationship with God.

Many of us deceive ourselves into thinking that it’s my bad habit, I’ll live with the consequences and it’s no one else’s business.   Jesus blows that one out of the water.  All our behavior, bad or good, has an effect on other for bad or for good.

For instance, there’s nothing in the Bible that says you can or cannot smoke, whether it is tobacco, weed, hemp or anything else for that matter.  At the same time, if it becomes a habit that intrudes on others, or degrades your health to a point where others need to support you, then you see how your private habit becomes other people’s business.

You can apply the same to our eating and drinking habits, whether Coke, beer, ice cream, red meat or snickers bars.

Again, Jesus isn’t about making more rules, or codes of conduct, we already have enough of them.  He was all about relationship and what healthy, functional habits and practices we can employ to grow in our relationships rather than repeating the same broken cycles over and over again.

We’ll cover more next week, but my prayer today is that you would discover how Jesus wants to set you free from both inner and outer constraints that traditionally limit you from growing closer to Him and stronger with one another—not to lead you into greater bondage, but bind you and I in greater intimacy as we walk the walk of faith together.

I hope you are the answer to my prayer, this day.

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