Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
I recently preached a sermon based on an idea I took from Paul Harvey’s “If I Were the Devil.” My inspiration came from reading in John 15.18-25 about Jesus’ words to His disciples shortly before His betrayal about how the world would hate Christians as much as they hated Him. I immediately thought of Andrew Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, for reasons I can only attribute to my ADHD. God created us to be social creatures. Remember, God said it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2.18). So I expected the devil to twist Jesus’ words to persuade potential converts that their desires should be more like Carnegie’s and less like Christ’s. In other words, he’d write a self-help book about how to make the rest of the world fall in love with you rather than hate you.
So, if the devil had a self-help book, he’d write, “If you are of the world, the world loves its own.” (Compare John 15.19) Rather than risking the world’s wrath by becoming a disciple, make friends with it. Ignore James’ statement that being friendly with the world makes you an enemy of God (James 4.4). Instead, give in to your flesh’s desires, even if it means separating yourself from God (Romans 8.5-8). Yes, give in to the desires of your flesh, eyes, and pride, and forget that God will destroy this world and its lusts in the end (1 John 2.15-17). The pleasure of sin is yours for the taking if you’re willing to go to such lengths, unlike poor old Moses (Hebrews 11.25). The world will make it worthwhile until you pay for all the fun (Romans 6.23).
The devil will try to convince readers that serving yourself is better than following another, especially if there are no tangible benefits from subservience, such as better treatment than your master. (Compare John 15.20). So it’s best to go your way, to be free to choose for yourself, without being yoked (Matthew 11.28-30). This restraint is especially true when one considers that Jesus steers him down a “constricted” path (Matthew 7.13-14 NASB). But there is an alternative highway that is easy. And the way must be correct if it seems fitting (Proverbs 14.12). Besides, who needs some dusty old road from a long time ago when men have built newer roads since then (Jeremiah 6.15-17)? So, be your own man or woman; aim to be autonomous.
Finally, the devil would remind his readers that Jesus revealed that people treated Him cruelly “simply because they could.” (Compare John 15.25) What Jesus did, did not matter. There were just those who despised Him. So, what was Christ’s compensation for being loyal to His Father, healing the sick, and raising the dead? The people crucified Him. Why take the risk that someone will persecute or despise you even though you are doing good? It just seems like too much trouble. Avoid worrying about the welfare of others and focus on your interests instead (Philippians 2.4). It’s the proverbially “dog eat dog” world. The iron rule of “might makes right” is what people practice, not the golden rule (Matthew 7.12).
Yes, the devil will try to convince you that he has your best interests at heart. The apparent problem with the devil’s self-help book is that it is full of lies and mistruths. Jesus reminds us that the devil is the father of lies (John 8.44). Thus, lies are all that the devil can authoritatively speak. Jesus was honest with us, not discouraging or scaring us away when He gave us His warning about how the world would receive us. And Paul told Timothy that “all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12 NASB). If the world hates us, that is a good thing, as long as their reason for hating us is because we are one of God’s “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2.9 KJV).
Death was not the end for Jesus, and He assures us that it will not be the end for us, either. The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was able to endure the cross and disregard its shame because of the joy set before Him (i.e., His return to Heaven)—Hebrews 12.2. So likewise, there is no reason for us to sorrow regardless of what may occur. And those of us in the United States have yet to put our lives in danger as a result of practicing our faith (cf. Hebrews 12.4). At most, men may take our lives, but they cannot take our eternal reward (Matthew 10.28). And for those facing physical persecution as those of olden Christians, we take heart from Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4.7-11 NASB95).
If you want to make friends and influence people, stick with the Bible. It truly is the best book on the subject. And, wherein his principles find a Scriptural foundation, also consult Mr. Carnegie’s work for the business world. But avoid those books on the subject written by the adversary (1 Peter 5.8). Instead, he writes self-help books that are how-to guides for self-immolation (cf. Revelation 20.14-15).