Christianity is important to us. Making sure we live the right way is important to us. Because our loyalty to God is important to us, and because our lifestyle is characterized by avoiding evil, many believe that our mission in life is to defeat evil. Some Christians believe that this involves social activism or influencing public opinion. Nothing about this is intrinsically wrong, but it cannot be our primary focus.
Evil exists, period. Humanity introduced evil when we disobeyed God. As we noted last week, evil is on borrowed time thanks to Jesus, but it will exist until the end of time. So, what’s our job if fighting evil isn’t top of the list?
Christians are people who decide to follow God. That means living based on his moral code, not on humanity’s. That means we avoid practicing morally evil things. We recognize the influence that evil has on the world. We understand the consequences of choosing evil over God.
Christians are recruiters! We’re a tight knit group of people with shared goals, views, and struggles. Part of our job is to keep each other strong (Gal. 6.10; I Pet. 1.22; Heb. 3.12,13). The rest of our job is to recruit people to populate heaven (Matt. 28.19; Acts 20.24; Jn.15). God also expects us to be good citizens and live quiet, peaceful lives (Rom. 13; I Pet. 2.13; I Tim. 2.2; I Thess. 4.11).
Jesus defeated evil (I Jn. 3.8, 4.4; Col. 2.15), and he will personally destroy it forever at the end (Rev. 20; II Pet. 3.7). For now, though, evil is inevitable (I Jn. 5.19). Our job is to share God’s hope with those who don’t have it. By avoiding evil ourselves and helping others escape its influence, we help diminish its influence on the world!
To get your concealed carry permit for a firearm in Kentucky, you can expect to undergo a background check, complete gun safety training, and pay a fee. There is a minimum age requirement, and there are other conditions to meet while holding a permit (which can be revoked or suspended). Did you know that in 2020, there were over 68,000 permits either issued or renewed? Since 1996, well over one million have been issued and renewed here. What does all that mean? It means that there are a lot of people you run into on the road, in the store, and just about any other public place who are carrying and you don’t know it.
I do not mention any of this to induce or participate in a Second Amendment debate. There is a different type of “concealed carrier” which Jesus does not approve of. He preaches about it in His sermon on the Mount. He says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:14-16).Jesus exhorts His disciples not to conceal the light of their influence.
It is impossible for a true disciple to conceal their influence (14). Truly, one can claim to be a follower of Christ in an affirming environment like at church services or around Christians. Yet, if we can be around people away from these “easy” situations and no one knows, from our speech, action, attitude, and presence, that we are a Christian, how much of a disciple are we? Jesus says it should be totally obvious to everyone!
It is unprofitable for a disciple to conceal their influence (15). What good is it to be a disciple if those characteristics are suppressed and concealed? A lamp might as well be a piece of furniture if it is covered up. All the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He means is useless if we do not apply that by sharing Him in our daily lives!
It is dishonorable for a disciple to conceal their influence (16). Our “light” is connected to doing the good works of a disciple and others glorifying the Father by witnessing the fruits of our influence. If seeing Christlike influence at work honors God, what does the opposite do?
God needs us spreading the influence of Christ every day and everywhere. There is no “secret service” branch in the Lord’s Army, and He doesn’t want any “concealed carry” light-bearers! No, not practicing your righteousness to be seen of men. Instead, practicing righteousness openly and without shame as you conduct yourself among the world.
The Redwood National Park in California is home to the world’s tallest tree. Standing at over 380 feet tall this tree is incredible to look at. The California Redwood is estimated to be able to reach a staggering 425 feet in its lifetime. It continues to grow all its life and there’s a reason it gets so tall, as the lifespan of this tree is up to 2,200 years. Think about that! There are redwood trees that are still growing today that were planted 200 years before Christ was born.
The California Redwood is massive. It is over 29 feet in diameter and has a root system that spreads over three miles underground. These trees are truly incredible. But like most trees, the key to their growth is water. California redwoods consume over 56,000 gallons of water each year or 150 gallons of water each day!
In Psalm 1:1, we are given this description: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” This person is blessed when they avoid the progression of sin. Notice how the psalmist describes the progression:
Walk not in the counsel of the wicked.
Nor Stands in the way of sinners.
Nor Sit in the seat of the scoffers.
These steps illustrate what people do when they are tempted by sin. They walk among it, noticing the wicked and their deeds. Once they walk among it, their curiosity gets the best of them and they begin to pause and spend time in the presence of sinners. Finally they are fully drawn into sin and they sit down and practice the evil that they have observed.
Rather than walking, standing and sitting with sinners, the righteous man delights in the law of the Lord. Verse two says, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The choice is obvious for the righteous man. He avoids the sin and chooses the Word of God over anything else.
Verse three reads, “He is like a tree that is planted by the waters that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, in all he does he prospers.” The source of life for this tree is water. Just like the California Redwood needs water in order to grow, the saved man spends his time next to the source of life. What is this water? John 4:14 reveals, “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” For the Christian, our source of life comes from Christ. We are able to grow and thrive on the words of God.
Let’s make the decision daily to be firmly planted in the words of life. That way, we too can be counted as righteous!
In Mark 11:12-14, we read a short and slightly strange account of Christ and his disciples, “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.” Why did he curse the tree?
It seems to me that it would make more sense if he cursed the tree because it was in season and failed to bear fruit, but it wasn’t in season. So why curse the tree? It wasn’t supposed to have fruit. Many people say that what Jesus did was a little extreme. It appears that the only reason Jesus cursed the tree was because He was hungry and was upset that it had no fruit. At first glance His actions seem harsh and unwarranted, but Christ is illustrating a very important lesson.
This tree illustrated hypocrisy. Jesus cursed the fig tree because it had the appearance of being fruitful, but it was a lie. It lacked fruit. It was this lie that caused Jesus to curse the tree. It clearly states that this tree was not in season, but it still had leaves. So from far off it seemed to have the appearance of fruit, but it offered nothing but leaves. Jesus doesn’t want us to have the appearance of holiness; He wants us to bear fruit.
It’s not about looking like a Christian, but living like one.
Emily told me a story from when she was younger and literally had a run in with a peach tree. She was driving a golf cart at a friend’s house and ran over a young peach tree. The golf cart stripped off the bark and flattened the small tree. The owners had to spray fake bark onto the tree just to keep it alive and healthy, and to this day it’s an ugly tree. But, despite being deformed and mangled, this tree, according to Emily and all her friends, makes the best peaches out of all the peach trees on the property.
What’s the point? It’s not about how you look. It’s about what you produce. Jesus doesn’t care about our appearance and if we look like a Christian. The ONLY thing that matters is if we are bearing fruit.
This tree was an illustration of the hypocrisy that was found in the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27-28. Like the whitewashed tombs which Jesus references in these verses, the fig tree looked beautiful on the outside. It looked like it was ripe with fruit! But upon closer examination, it was a lie.
It had nothing. It made itself out to be something it wasn’t. Christ had no tolerance for hypocrisy. If we claim to be Christians and that we have a relationship with God, and yet fail to dwell on His word and spend time in prayer, we are living a life of hypocrisy. Jesus uses this tree to show us how he feels about those who claim to be one thing, when in reality it is all a lie.
After Jesus curses the fig tree, they immediately enter the temple and what do they see but a living example of the fig tree? In verse 15 Jesus sees people using the temple as a place to rip off others. They had turned the temple into a den of thieves. The fig tree had the appearance of having fruit to offer, but it gave none. The temple, Jerusalem, and the Pharisees had the appearance of having holiness and offering salvation, but had none.
We must use this account as motivation to practice what we preach and be who say we are to those around us.
Robert Aaron Long serves as a vivid example of how one should NOT deal with his addiction. While politicians and activists may seek to politicize the “massage parlor shooter’s” motives, law enforcement is painting the picture of a mentally disturbed man who seeks to justify the murder of others because of his sex addiction. Long evidently has a problem dealing with his lusts. Hence, these massage parlors’ existence, which he patronized in the past, presented such a temptation that he felt it necessary to kill the proprietors and workers of said establishments.
As rationally thinking people, we readily see the problem with Long’s logic. Why would the perpetrator of the violence not turn his anger inwardly? He is the sinner, regardless of who the temptress may be. Would it not have been more effective to actually pluck out his eyes or remove other body parts causing him to sin? At least, one could twist Jesus’ hyperbole in Mark 9.34ff in such a fashion to justify self-mutilation for the sake of entering the Kingdom of God. If you seek to live righteously, would such extremes not be better than taking the life of eight people?
If anything, this incident demonstrates the sad state in which our modern world finds itself. Long knew enough to realize he had a problem with his fleshly appetites. Had no one taught him to “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2.22)? Had he pursued righteousness with others calling on God’s name, he would have learned how to “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4.4 NASB1995). Older Christian brothers could have encouraged Long to exercise self-control (Titus 2.6).
I cannot claim to know the particulars of Long’s home life, but I can inspect the fruit born of contemporary society (cf. Matthew 7.20). These types of crimes result from a nation that has excluded God from the public square. With God’s teachings, one notes that the one accountable for sin is the individual committing it (James 1.13-15). John identifies the three main avenues the world uses to tempt us: “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2.16 NASB1995).
The correct application of the passage from Mark 9.34ff mentioned previously is that one takes personal responsibility in removing such influences. In the case of sex or pornography addiction, turn off the television and internet. Avoid the parts of town where more seedy businesses operate. Remove your libertine friends who desire to patronize things like strip clubs and “massage parlors.” As Paul indicates of his daily walk, it is self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9.24-27).
And do not try to tackle addiction alone. Again, we observed that Paul told Timothy to flee lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with other Christians. (2 Timothy 2.22) Addiction is difficult to overcome. The addicted can fall off the wagon periodically. Hence, he or she needs others to help lift them back up. We are mindful of the truth that “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4.9-12). Join this truth with prayer and Bible study, and one can find the necessary strength to overcome. Isaiah reminds us that God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isaiah 40.29)
Having seen how not to deal with your addiction, like Robert Aaron Long, decide to take responsibility, purge your life of the evil leaven, ask others for help, and turn to God for strength.
In this volatile political climate, many Christians face some uncomfortable dilemmas. Is party line a salvation issue? How do we handle seemingly irreconcilable differences? What do we do going forward?
Rather than delving into those questions, I’d like to focus on the attitude of the early church, which faced internal division–Jew/Gentile controversies like in Acts 15, opinions over cultural matters as seen in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, and external pressures.
In keeping with the spirit of the early church, let’s focus on the following list.
We must focus on and grow our own spiritual culture, independent of our earthly nationality (while observing Romans 13).
We must be faithful Christians who value being righteous, no matter the cost.
We must manage our concerns and worries by spending MORE time with each other and developing our faith.
We may need to see ourselves less as Americans and more as Christians. If we remember that our kingdom is the church first, we will be far more united.
Be awesome citizens. When outsiders hear about us, it should be that we never cause trouble, we are loyal to each other, we are selfless, we help people, we have strong families, we rely on each other, we are pleasant to be around, we are dedicated to our faith, and we love people who treat us poorly.
We must remember that priority number one is heaven. Everything else is second.
We must avoid talking or posting on social media about non-salvation issues that can and do create division or offense, out of courtesy and respect for each other (Romans 14.1-4; 13ff).
If these are the things we worry about and focus on, no political division or any other heartburn-inducing unpleasantness can affect us. Besides being happier, we’ll be a stronger church!
Judges 12 details a civil war between Ephraim and the Gileadites of Manasseh. God used Jephthah and the Gileadites to humble Ephraim. The haughty Ephraimites felt they could bully Jephthah and the Gileadites as they had previously bullied Gideon (Judges 8). Jephthah and his men ended up slaying 42,000 Ephraimites. One of the keys to the Gileadites’ lopsided victory was seizing the fords over the Jordan River. And when fleeing Ephraimites tried to cross, they were asked for a “password.” The password was “shibboleth.” Various commentators have offered different definitions for the word, but its meaning is not necessary to understand the text. Here is what we need to know: The Ephraimites could not pronounce the word “shibboleth,” as the Gileadites. Thus, they replied, “sibboleth.” Having been betrayed by their dialect, the Gileadites then slew the Ephraimites.
Wordsmiths know that, beyond its Biblical source, shibboleth has come to mean any word or practice separating one group from another. Christians should have shibboleths, correct? They are called upon to transform themselves from the world rather than conform to it (Romans 12.1-2). However, while perusing several online dictionaries, I noted that they also tended to look upon a shibboleth unfavorably, calling it an “old-fashioned” or “outdated” idea still clung to by some. In the example sentences provided by those aforementioned dictionaries, shibboleths seem connected with “conservative-thinking” people. So, evidently, “progressives” must not be hampered by them. Frankly, it is hard to keep up with the self-righteousness of progressives. Their mores change so swiftly that sometimes they snare even themselves when a past tweet or video surfaces. It reminds me of the foolish man building his house upon the sand (Matthew 7.26-27).
God is aware of the mindset that mocks established standards. Jeremiah records God’s words: “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.” (6.16) Not unlike those living today, Jeremiah’s contemporaries replied, “We will not walk in it.” (ibid.) To borrow modern parlance, those in ancient Judah found the old paths “shibboleth.” But who gives such persons the right to esteem something as antiquated? Honestly, it seems like it is the “right” of the squeakiest wheel, those with the largest echo chamber. Those of us with our shibboleths abandoned the arena of popular culture, education, and media. Hence, we can only blame ourselves for allowing the castigation of truth as incompatible with temporary society.
But lest we forget, the victors from the source material had their shibboleth while the defeated had their sibboleth. As someone has said in summation of the book of Revelation, the message is that in the end, God wins. That is applicable here as well. God brings victory to those with the shibboleth, not sibboleth. No, it is not a superior concept because it is older. We can find new ways to do something that is “old.” (e.g., We may use new mediums to teach the “old Jerusalem Gospel.”) The shibboleth is what was given by God in His inspired word. Sibboleths reflect the precepts of men (cf. Matthew 15.8-9). We must not drop even one consonant sound (cf. Deuteronomy 4.2; 12.32; Proverbs 30.6; Revelation 22.18).
When I eventually cross the Jordan River ford, I want to find life, not death. Don’t you agree? To safely cross, an obedient life is our “password.”
Were you ever in the 4-H Club in school? It is an organization teaching skills you might not learn at home, urging you to get involved in your community, and helping you with a wide variety of life skills from public speaking to caring for animals. The acronym stands for “head, heart, hands, and health.” Their slogan was that you learn by doing.
In Matthew 23, Jesus gives His harshest barrage of condemnation in the Bible. He didn’t aim it at godless, irreligious heathens, but to religious leaders. They were faithful churchgoers who professed faith in God, but Jesuscalls them on some glaring problems that made God reject them .
THEY WERE HYPOCRITES (3-4)
They told others to observe things but they didn’t do them (3). They laid heavy burdens on others but were unwilling to life a finger to move them themselves (4). While hypocrisy can be defined as being a spiritual chameleon, acting one way with the righteous and another way with the world, is also hypocrisy. Seven times in this chapter, Jesus says, “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” The world sees double standards and a person who says one thing and does another as a hypocrite. It doesn’t necessarily make them bitter or angry. It makes them not care. They are conditioned to expect that all Xians are hypocrites. Being hypocritical only reinforces and heightens the stereotype. But the Bible calls for us to have a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5). We are to possess pure and undefiled religion, which is objectively measured (Jas. 1:27). We have an opportunity to blow the stereotype by being the genuine article who reflects the attitude and speech of Christ each day with the world.
THEY WERE HOLLOW (5)
If there’s anything worse than beauty that’s only skin deep, it’s religion. Jesus condemns those who did all their deeds to be seen of men. The world is repelled by professed Christians who don’t take time to see them as people. Often, they feel as if their only importance is as a potential convert or as a sinner to be judged. If we’re not careful, we fail to see every person as precious to God. That includes the immoral, the edgy, the rough, and the square peg. They see us doing or saying good things, but it’s hollow. We may do it be be noticed as a good, godly person, but we miss the opportunities to actually do good and be godly with those we interact with. Paul says, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:5-6).
THEY WERE HAUGHTY (6-12)
They wanted honor, respect, and recognition. Jesus diagnoses their problem as one of self-exaltation (12). 2. It was the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable on prayer who thanked God for his perceived superiority over other people (Lk 18:10). The world sees smug, self-righteousness as a total turn off. Jesus later says that these folks were like whitewashed tombs, beautiful outside but full of dead men’s bones (27). This is not the religion and life Jesus calls His followers to live. He describes greatness as service (11) and self-denial (16:24). The world will never be won to Christ by proud Pharisees. It takes humble hearts and helping hands to point people to Christ.
THEY WERE HARSH (13-15)
Christ says, “But woe to you, scribes & Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (13). This is how the world sees all Christians, as Judge, jury and executioner. They don’t see the love of God and the grace of Christ. They see exclusive, isolated people who have written off everyone else. Jesus suggests that those they reach are those likeminded (15). Some people are drawn to harsh and hateful rhetoric, but they don’t make good converts of Jesus—if they stay that way. Jesus told His disciples that their identifying mark should be love (John 13:34-35). This world is an unloving place and so sincere love will reach people. At first, they may not believe we could be the real thing, but persistent compassion and grace will ultimate reach the honest heart.
The world doesn’t need Christians who compromise the truth. But they do need to see transformed disciples (Rom 12:1-2). We can be righteous without being self-righteous; We can be courageous without being callus. Matthew 23 shows that this is a must, if we will practice true righteousness.
Once I preferred laptops, but since the advent of Android and Apple tablets, I migrated back to the desktop PC. When attempting to accomplish work, there is something to be said for sitting at a dedicated workspace to help productivity. Even so, I usually choose desktop wallpaper to reflect my interests from the religious to whimsical. My capricious nature typically ensures that wallpaper is changed frequently.
One day after having selected an artist’s rendering of the Christ wearing a crown of thorns for my wallpaper, I noted how I had allowed the desktop of my PC to become cluttered with icons and files. Though they made finding things more manageable, they obscured the image I had chosen for my inspiration. I had to do some cleaning so that I could once again see Christ!
Spiritually, I feel as if we sometimes equally “mask” the presence of the Christ in our lives. It is not our intention to do so, of course. We are just going about our regular business. Yet, there comes the point in out lives in which we begin doing what we feel is most convenient, despite what this “convenience” does to the presence of the Christ in our lies. Soon, others are unable to readily see the Christ in our lives since He has become obscured by our ephemera. If this persists, others will be unable to see Him at all.
When this happens, it is time to clean up or bring order to the chaos. One needs to put things in their proper place so that the image of Christ becomes accentuated rather than obscured (cf. Matthew 6.33). It may take a bit of work, but the effort is worth more than anything else in this world because of its eternal implications.
Dear reader, are others able to see the Christ in your life? If not, perhaps it is time for spiritual cleansing. The only thing equal to the task, great or small, is the blood of Jesus Christ. For the one having never clothed him or herself in Christ (Galatians 3.27), baptism brings about the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2.38). For the immersed believer, the blood of Christ continuously cleanses us as we walk in fellowship with Him and fellow Christians (1 John 1.7).
Check your image in the spiritual mirror (James 1.22-25). If you cannot see the Christ, rest assured others cannot see Him either. Let us always strive so others can see the Christ in us.
Nothing is worse than washing your hands only to find that there aren’t any more paper towels. A paper towel roll with no towels is completely worthless. You can’t dry your hands with the roll (trust me I’ve tried), and you’re left feeling grumpy as you wipe your hands on your clothes.
In Matthew 5:13, Jesus tells us that we “are the salt of the earth.” Why are we given this description? The Greek word for salt is “halas” and its definition will blow your mind…it means salt. Jesus is talking about literal salt, so why would He tell us that we are a high sodium white crystalline substance? Salt adds flavor, it preserves food, and in small amounts can fertilize land. The Christian is salt because we add flavor to the world in the form of the gospel. We are able to preserve people’s souls through Christ. We help people grow with the help of God’s Word. That’s our job. We are the salt of the earth.
But what happens if we lose our flavor? We become worthless. Salt loses flavor when it comes in contact with moisture. If we become exposed to the world and let it take away our Christianity, what are we good for? We can’t add flavor, preserve, or even be fit to throw on some dirt. A paper towel roll with no towels does nothing. It can no longer be used for the purpose it was made for. The Christian who doesn’t live for Christ is deserting their purpose, and God sees them as worthless.
What are we showing the world? Are we carrying out our duty as followers of Christ? Don’t let it be said of us that we have lost our flavor. Don’t let God look at our life and say it is worthless to Him.