Discernment and Covid-19

April 19, 2020 in Bible - NT - Romans, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Depravity, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Politics, Responsibility, Ten Commandments, Wisdom, Word of God

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

This morning we return to Paul’s catalogue of the bitter fruits that are produced by those of debased mind, those whom God in His justice has handed over to their sin for their rebellion. Today, we consider Paul’s assertion that people of debased mind “are undiscerning.”

The ability to “discern” is the ability to distinguish what is good from what is evil; what is most important from what is least important; what is major from what is minor. Repeatedly Jesus rebukes the leaders of Israel for their inability to discern. They strained out gnats and swallowed camels; they washed their hands but inside were full of dead men’s bones; they tithed mint and dill and cumin but neglected the weightier matters of the law. They were undiscerning.

This inability to discern was not unique to the leaders of Israel. Paul exhorted those Jewish Christians who were entertaining abandoning Christ and returning to unbelieving Judaism:

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Paul’s words reveal that the ability to discern good from evil is a gift from God given to those who meditate regularly on His Word. After all, discernment requires a standard of assessment; that standard is God’s moral law. By meditating on His law, we have our senses trained to discern good and evil and are capable of consuming solid food.

Our current Covid-19 crisis has revealed that many of our leaders are undiscerning, incapable of identifying what is most important and ignorant of God and His moral law. Most Governors that have issued stay at home orders have distinguished between “essential” and “non-essential” services – yet the application of this distinction has uncovered many perverse priorities. Elective surgeries canceled but abortions continued; family diners closed but marijuana shops opened; churches shuttered but liquor stores accessible. These inconsistencies highlight our inability to discern what is most important and necessary for a healthy society.

The tragic consequences of this inability to discern are increasingly manifesting themselves. Quarantining the sick and urging the vulnerable to isolate themselves is wise and prudent; destroying our people and their livelihoods through statewide quarantines is not. The true heroes and sacrificial victims of our current crisis are the owners and employees of so-called “non-essential” services or businesses whose livelihoods have been destroyed and savings depleted by the actions of our governing authorities. Until our governors voluntarily suspend their salaries and cut pay for all “non-essential” government services, then they are, like the Pharisees before them, loading burdens on the backs of their people that they themselves are unwilling to bear. Let us not, in the comfort of our homes, enjoying extended time with family, continuing to receive a paycheck, forget those who are being sacrificed for the safety of a small percentage of our society, including myself, who are especially vulnerable to the Covid virus. This entire debacle weighs heavy on my heart and I find myself resorting again and again to the cry in our confession of sins, “Lord, have mercy!”

So reminded of our need to meditate deeply on the Word of God in order that we be equipped to discern good from evil; wisdom from folly; freedom from servitude; let us acknowledge that we have failed to do so and that we are reaping the consequences of our lack of knowledge. So let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sins to Him. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your order of service.

Your King Has Come

April 5, 2020 in Authority, Bible - OT - Zechariah, Church Calendar, Justice, King Jesus, Meditations, Politics, Postmillennialism, Thankfulness

Zechariah 9:9-10 (NKJV)
9
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.’

Have you ever been taught that while Jesus came as Savior in His first advent, He is waiting until His second to arrive as King? He is waiting, so it is said, to establish His kingdom on earth. If you have heard or even, like me, embraced that kind of thinking or, perhaps, still do, then you may have a hard time getting your mind around Palm Sunday. For Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as our King come to establish His kingdom. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you.”

But if Jesus is entering Jerusalem as king, why, some ask, doesn’t He appear very kingly? Why is He lowly and riding on a donkey? Such a question reveals how distorted our concept of kingship has become; how we have allowed the world to define true kingship rather than allowing our Lord Jesus to define it. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to establish justice, to save His people, and to advance both the glory of God and the good of His people is the preeminent illustration of what it means to be a king. What does it mean to be a king? It is to be just and bring salvation to your people; it is to be humble and lowly; it is to be a servant, to bring blessing and light to your people. And it was precisely this type of King that our Lord Jesus was and is.

To our fallen nature this type of kingship can seem utterly ineffective. Among pagan nations, might makes right. No king who comes to serve rather than to be served will be great; no king who places the good of his people ahead of his own personal good will really be successful. Pagan nations extol those like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar who push and prod and pursue their own glory. It is kings like that who accomplish great things.

But the prophet Zechariah extols the coming glory of our King. Immediately after proclaiming the character of the coming King (the King is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey), Zechariah declares that this King will destroy warfare from the earth and will establish universal peace under His rule. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off.”

How effective shall Christ’s Kingship be? He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.’”

So what of you leaders out there – what type of kingship have you been exercising? Whether you are a husband, a father, a mother, an employer, a foreman, a manager – what type of kingship have you practiced? Have you demanded, cajoled, manipulated, and wormed your way to the top? Or have you been just, looking to bless and serve those whom God has entrusted to your care? Are you living as the servant of the servants of God?

Reminded that we have been unrighteous kings and queens, demanding our own way rather than imitating our great King and willingly serving others, let us confess our sin to our Lord. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Calamity Comes from the Lord

March 29, 2020 in Bible - OT - Amos, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Ecclesiology, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, King Jesus, Lord's Day, Meditations, Politics, Providence, Responsibility, Sin, Sovereignty of God, Trials

Amos 3:1–6 (NKJV)

1Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying: 2“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” 3Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? 4Will a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he has caught nothing? 5Will a bird fall into a snare on the earth, where there is no trap for it? Will a snare spring up from the earth, if it has caught nothing at all? 6If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?

Amos reminds us that when calamity comes, it comes from the loving hand of the Lord for the benefit of His people. God had rescued Israel from Egypt. But rather than fear and serve the Lord, Israel had rebelled against Him, worshiped idols, and committed iniquity. While God had permitted the nations to wander astray and to pursue their own course in the old covenant, He had chosen Israel as His own peculiar people. Consequently, He refused to let them remain in their sin. Whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, even as a father the son in whom he delights (Prov 3:12).

Therefore, the Lord acted to chastise Israel for her sin and to bring her back to the Lord. The calamity that was striking Israel in Amos’ day was clearly from the hand of God. Amos uses a series of rhetorical questions, the answers to which are patently obvious, to emphasize this. These questions culminate in the final one, “If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?” Of course! After all, He is the Sovereign Lord and the Ruler of His people Israel.

Given that this calamity was from the Lord, what ought Israel to do? She ought to acknowledge her sin, return to the Lord, and cry out for His forgiveness. It may be that God would relent of His punishment:

14Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the Lord God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken. 15Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

Amos insists that if the people of Israel repent and return to the Lord, loving His law and seeking His forgiveness, God may relent of the harm that He has brought. He may bless Israel and restore her.

So what does Amos teach us? Whereas in the old covenant, God dealt almost exclusively with the nation of Israel, in the new covenant God is calling all men everywhere, God is summoning all nations, to turn from their sin and to worship Him through His Son Jesus. Even as the Lord summoned Israel to repent by punishing her for her iniquities, so God is summoning us to repent. The calamity that has come upon us is from the Lord. Will we give heed, turn from our sin, and turn in faith to Jesus Christ, crying out for forgiveness and mercy? Or will we harden ourselves in our unbelief and our iniquity?

As the people of God, let us lead the way in seeking the Lord and His favor for our people. Let us confess our sins and the sins of our people to the Lord and seek His forgiving and empowering grace, praying that He would have mercy upon us as a people and draw us back to Him, back to the truth. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As we confess our sins to the Lord, let us kneel together as you are able.

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

January 20, 2020 in Abortion, Bible - OT - Exodus, Confession, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Politics, Sexuality

Exodus 21:22–25 (ESV)

22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, appointed such to mark the anniversary of the diabolical Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. For 47 years now our nation has given legal sanction to the murder and dismemberment of the unborn, the most vulnerable members of our society. Our hands are covered with the blood of innocents and God is exacting and will continue to exact vengeance upon us as a people for our bloodshed.

For the last few years on this Sunday, we have contrasted our law which does not recognize the personhood of the unborn child with the case law in Exodus 21 which does. The opening admonition declares: When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.” 

Note, first, that this law recognizes the personhood of the unborn. The ESV accurately captures the Hebrew and identifies the baby or babies in the mother’s womb as her “children” – not her property, nor her bodily tissue, but her children.

Second, note that this legal protection fosters a culture that honors pregnant women and the life they carry. This law specifically addresses incidental or accidental contact. If two men are striving with one another and, in their striving, intentionally or inadvertently hit a pregnant woman so that her children come out, then the men are held guilty for their action. God so honors the life-giving woman that He judges these men culpably irresponsible. And note that this is the case even if no harm happens to the woman or child – if “they strike her so that her children come out but there is no harm, then they shall pay as the husband demands and the court allows. In other words, God demands that people honor a pregnant woman by restraining their rage in her presence.

Finally, note that this law adds additional consequences in cases when harm does occur. Verse 23 declares, “if there is harm, then you shall pay.” If there is harm – harm to whom, we ask? The woman or the child? The answer is either. The ambiguity of the text indicates that both woman and child are protected by the law. And what shall be paid? The lex talionis is applied: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Biblical law protects the mother and her unborn child.

We see, therefore, how perverse our law has become. And because our law refuses to protect the unborn, our honor for life generally has regressed. As God’s people, our calling is to reverse this trend by loving pregnant women, loving the unborn, loving little ones, and granting them due honor and protection. So thank God for the baby showers, for regular prayers, for the love of life displayed here in this congregation. May such things continue. Men and young men, let us lead the way by honoring the women in our congregation, especially those with child: open doors, yield your place in line, make offers of help. Children, we have many pregnant women in our midst; be careful when you are running around lest you accidentally hit them. Parents, train your children to recognize and honor those who are with child.

Reminded this morning that God honors and protects the women who bear children and the children themselves, let us confess that we have betrayed the unborn and that we are guilty as a people. And as we confess, and as you are able, let us kneel before the Lord. We will have a silent confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

Full of Strife

December 15, 2019 in Bible - NT - Romans, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Responsibility, Thankfulness

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just, delivering those who stubbornly rebel against Him to a debased mind. And this debased mind bears numerous bitter fruits. Today we consider the eighth of these fruits: strife. Paul writes that rebellious peoples are “full of strife.”

Webster defines strife as, “Exertion or contention for superiority; contest of emulation, either by intellectual or physical efforts.” Louw & Nida’s Greek-English lexicon adds that strife is “conflict resulting from rivalry and discord.” In Scripture, strife often keeps company with envy. Recall that envy is the heart desire that begrudges other people that which God has given them; envy longs to possess or destroy that which belongs to another. Consequently, strife is often the fruit of envy. Paul exhorts the saints in Rome, “Let us walk properly, as in the day,… not in strife and envy” (Rom 13:13).

While strife is characteristic of rebellious cultures, it frequently invades the Church as well. Consider some examples. First, factions within the Church. Often we are tempted to forget our identity as members of Christ and so we begin striving with one another, vying for importance. Thus Paul rebukes the Corinthian church which was riven by strife: “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:13) To degenerate into factions is to be full of strife.

At other times, Christians can even do noble things from strife. Thus Paul writes to the Philippians, “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife…” (Phil 1:15). On this occasion, some envied the influence that Paul had among the Gentile churches. Thus, they took advantage of his imprisonment to try to undermine his influence. While their actions were noble – preaching Christ – their motivations were envy and strife. They too were full of strife.

Elsewhere Paul warns Timothy to beware lest theological debates descend into strife. While such debates can reflect a love for God and His Word, left unmonitored they can destroy a congregation. Paul reminds Timothy that false teachers are “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions…” (1 Tim 6:4). Some people are so persnickety about using just the right theological jargon that they are willing to destroy God’s church. They are the type of men who strain at gnats and swallow camels.

So what of you? Paul reminds the Galatians that while the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control”, one of the deeds of the flesh is strife (Gal 5:20). While standing for truth will often result in conflict, we must always stand for truth in such a way that we not forget our call to peace with all those who also know and love the truth. Thus Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9). So do you love the truth as a peacemaker? Or are you driven by envy and strife?

Reminded that strife is one of the deeds of the flesh and often infiltrates the Church of God, let us confess the strife that has torn the modern church asunder and petition God to forgive us and restore us to unity one with another. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Full of Murder

December 8, 2019 in Abortion, Bible - NT - Romans, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Hell, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Responsibility

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just, delivering those who stubbornly rebel against Him to a debased mind. And this debased mind bears numerous bitter fruits. Today we consider the seventh of these fruits: murder. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “full of murder.”

Webster defines murder as, “The act of unlawfully killing a human being with premeditated malice, by a person of sound mind.” To murder, therefore, is not simply to kill; to murder is to kill unlawfully; it is to shed innocent blood. Because murder assaults those made in God’s image, God commands that murderers be executed for their crime. “Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Gen 9:6). Just societies utilize the death penalty to punish those guilty of murder. Thus God warned, “Your eye shall not pity [a murderer], but you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with you” (Dt 19:13). Societies that descend into injustice and show pity to murderers defile the land. “…you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death… for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it” (Num 35:31, 33).

Over the course of her history, Israel did defile the land with blood. “They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood” (Ps 106:37-38). Hence, God judged the people of Israel and cast them out of their land, granting the land rest from their wickedness.

Our land likewise has become defiled with blood. Our eyes have pitied murderers. We have failed to utilize the death penalty, sustaining murderers for life rather than showing our honor for the image of God in their victims. Further, we have legalized abortion, the murder of the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society. We too have sacrificed our sons and daughters to demons. God has handed us over to a debased mind; we are full of murder.

Murder, like other sins, emerges from the heart. “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed… murders” (Mk 7:21). Actual murder is but the fruit of murderous intentions – and both the intention and the action make us guilty in God’s sight. Thus Jesus reminds us:  “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Mt 5:21). God’s law addresses our heart. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov 4:23).

Thus we must not only confess the widespread murder in our culture but the murderous intentions that dwell in our own hearts. We need God’s grace to transform and renew us that we be a people who love and protect life, uphold justice, and show pity to the victims of murderers. And so reminded that God treasures those who are made in His image and that we have failed to honor God’s image by failing to execute those convicted of murder, let us confess our sin to the Lord and pray that He would free us from our murderous thoughts and actions. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Full of Envy

December 1, 2019 in Bible - NT - Romans, Confession, Depravity, Heart, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Responsibility, Temptation, Thankfulness

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just. Therefore, when peoples spurn Him and reject His moral law, He eventually hands them over to a debased mind. And this debased mind bears numerous bitter fruits. Today we consider the sixth of these twenty three fruits: envy. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “full of envy.”

So what is envy? Let us begin by distinguishing envy from jealousy. While they are commonly confused, Scripturally they are quite distinct. Jealousy is the emotion aroused by the fear of losing something that is one’s own. So an unfaithful husband or wife will arouse the jealousy of their spouse. Their spouse fears to lose that which is lawfully theirs. While sinful men can be aroused to jealousy unjustly or use their jealousy to justify wickedness, jealousy itself is not condemned in Scripture. After all, God Himself is jealous of the affections of His people. Moses instructs the people of Israel, “you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex 34:14). God protects that which is rightfully His own.

While jealousy is not inherently sinful, envy is. Jealousy desires to protect what is one’s own; envy longs to possess or destroy what is another’s. Envy begrudges other people that which is lawfully theirs; resents the fact that God gives gifts to others without regard to our sense of “fairness.” And envy takes all shapes and sizes. We can envy someone’s parentage, their hair color, their beauty, their voice, their musical skill, their muscles, their intellectual prowess, their marriage, their influence, their friendships, their socks. Any time we observe another and see them blessed by God in some way and then wish them ill or hope for them to lose that which they have, envy is at work.

Envy taints our fallen human hearts and destroys ourselves and others. Paul writes that “we ourselves were also once… living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Tit 3:3). So envy moved Rachel to cry out to Jacob, “Give me children or else I die!” (Gen 30:1). Envy motivated Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (Gen 37:11). Envy inspired Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to conspire against Moses and Aaron (Ps 106:16). Envy led the Edomites to make war on Israel and Judah and attempt to steal their land (Ezek 35:11). Envy moved the chief priests to plot Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt 27:18). Envy is a destroyer.

I remember years ago, when Paige and I were young marrieds and poor, some friends of ours bought a used car. When they drove up outside our house, I was envious. The inner thought of my heart was, “Why don’t I have that car? I hope it’s a clunker!” It was only a couple weeks later that that same car died and our friends, who were also poor, struggled to find another. And I remember thinking, “Ah, Lord! Forgive me my envy!”

So what of you? Are you filled with envy? Envy is associated with the color green, even as sickness is, because the one who is envious frequently becomes sick at heart, full of bitterness and resentment. Solomon reminds us, “A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones” (Prov 14:30). Envy is a destroyer; its only antitode is a “sound heart”, a heart of thankfulness. So when envy rears its ugly head and you find yourself resenting the glory that God has given another, kill envy by giving thanks. Thank God for blessing that other person; thank God for preserving you from the trials associated with the gift He has given that other person; and pray God that He would yet further bless that other person. Give heed: Be killing your envy or be assured that your envy is killing you.

Reminded that envy is a grievous sin that destroys ourselves and others, let us confess that we are often envious and are in need of God’s grace to make us a thankful people. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Filled with Maliciousness

November 24, 2019 in Bible - NT - Romans, Confession, Depravity, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, Meditations

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just. Therefore, when peoples spurn Him and reject His moral law, He eventually hands them over to a debased mind. And this debased mind bears numerous bitter fruits. Paul lists no fewer than twenty three such fruits. Today we consider the fifth of these: maliciousness. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “filled with… maliciousness.”

So what is maliciousness? The Greek word is kakia and is translated as wickedness or maliciousness or just malice. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines it as “extreme enmity of heart, or malevolence; a disposition to injure others without cause, from mere personal gratification or from a spirit of revenge; unprovoked malignity or spite.” Maliciousness, therefore, is an attitude of the heart – enmity, malevolence, malignity, spite – that then reveals itself in actions – injuring others, taking revenge.

Maliciousness is endemic to unconverted peoples. Paul writes to Titus, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice [kakia] and envy, hateful and hating one another” (3:3). A people who lack peace with God, who are at enmity with God, are inevitably at enmity with one another. Flouting the just God who rules in the affairs of men, they think it permissible to treat others maliciously, especially when others have mistreated them but often even absent such mistreatment.

Tragically, such maliciousness also invades the church. After Simon Magus was baptized, he endeavored to buy the Holy Spirit, thinking thereby to garner for himself great power and influence. But Peter rebuked him, “Repent therefore of this your maliciousness [kakia], and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). How dare Simon imagine that the gift of the Spirit was a pathway to exalt himself over the Church of God? To imagine that God’s people were mere stepping stones for his ambition?

Because maliciousness is so destructive, the Scriptures repeatedly command us to put it away by the grace of God. “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice(Eph 4:31). “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Col 3:8). Malice has no place among the people of God. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor, including our enemy, as ourselves. “Therefore, laying aside all malice… as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Pet 2:1-3).

So what of you? Have you harbored malice in your heart against your brethren? Have you endeavored to exalt yourself at others’ expense? Have you reckoned someone guilty of wrongdoing just because you don’t like them? Have you gossiped about someone in order to tarnish their reputation or ruin their friendships? Children, have you mistreated your brother or sister? Or sought revenge against your brother or sister when they mistreated you? This is the type of maliciousness that the Scriptures summon us to put away.

Reminded that maliciousness is a grievous sin and that God calls us to put it away from ourselves, let us confess that we are often filled with malice. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Filled with Wickedness

November 3, 2019 in Bible - NT - Romans, Depravity, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, King Jesus, Meditations, Politics, Providence, Responsibility, Sexuality, Trials

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just. When peoples spurn Him, He eventually hands them over to utter debasement and societal instability. Their debased minds bear increasingly bitter fruit. Paul lists no fewer than twenty three fruits of a debased mind. Today we consider the third of these: wickedness. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “filled with… wickedness.”

The Greek word behind the English “wickedness” is pon-e-ria which is also translated as evil, depravity, iniquity, even ugliness. In Mark 7:22 Jesus reminds us that, like other sins, wickedness (pon-e-ria) emerges from the heart. It is the fruit of a heart that neither loves God nor treasures His law. Etymologist Günther Harder writes that in the Bible those who practice wickedness “are those who do not seek Yahweh or His commands, who will not be guided by Him. Who is wicked is thus measured by God, by His commands, and by obedience to them. God determines what is evil, and in this sense evil is to be understood simply as that which is contrary to God” (TDNT). Majority vote doesn’t define evil; social convention doesn’t define evil; gallup polling doesn’t define evil. God define evil. Our task as humans is to conform our understanding to His.

The leader of wickedness is the devil himself. Those who practice wickedness (pon-e-ria) are children of the wicked one (pon-e-ros). So “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 Jn 5:19). To be delivered from wickedness, therefore, is to escape the snare of the devil (2 Tim 2:26). So Jesus instructs us, in the Lord’s Prayer, to pray that God would deliver us from evil (pon-e-rou) inspired as it is by the evil one, whose kingdom we want to see destroyed and uprooted.

So what does wickedness look like? The book of Deuteronomy describes the contours of wickedness with a repeated command: “So you shall put away the wickedness (pon-e-ron) from among you.” This wickedness includes idolatry (Dt 17:7), rebellion against judicial sentences (17:12), bearing false witness (19:19), rebellion against parental authority (21:21), sexual fraud and deceit (22:21), adultery (22:22), and kidnapping (24:7). In times of debasement, when God is handing a society over to judgment, such wickedness increases. For example, at the culmination of the book of Judges, a time of God’s judgment on Israel, the Benjamites commit a great wickedness when they rape and murder the Levite’s concubine (Judg 20:13). In Jeremiah’s day, also a time of God’s judgment, all segments of society – priests, prophets, kings, people – are characterized by wickedness (Jer 23:11; 32:32). And in Jesus’ day, the decisive moment of judgment for the people and city of Jerusalem, the Pharisees clean the outside of the cup but inside they are full of wickedness (Lk 11:39). They had no love for God nor for His law.

All this reminds us that it is God’s grace alone that preserves a society from wickedness. When we fail to honor Him and to listen to His voice, He justly hands us over to increasing wickedness. And, as wickedness increases, we incur even greater wrath for ourselves and disarray for our society. Is there no hope, then? No way of escape? There is only hope in Jesus Christ. We must confess our wickedness, repent of it, and seek the forgiveness of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

So what of you? Have you welcomed the law of God, embraced it, and allowed it to shape your definition of wickedness? Or have you been swayed by the spirit of the age, the wicked one himself, into redefining wickedness by some other standard?

Reminded that societies under judgment are full of wickedness and conscious that we are seeing such wickedness grow in our day, let us confess that we have been listening to the lies of the wicked one, endeavoring to decide for ourselves what constitutes wickedness. And as we confess, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.