I know we’ve all done it. We’re sitting in church on a Sunday morning listening to the sermon. The pastor says something and we immediately elbow the person sitting next to us as if to say, “Pay attention. You need to hear this! This is all about you!” Or we’ll hear the preacher say something and mentally elbow a person we think really needs to hear this. We’ve all done it! Don’t deny it!
Did you know one pastor says this elbowing tendency is characteristic of “spiritual degeneracy.” Ouch!
When Jonathan Edwards was preaching on a passage from Isaiah 58, he told his congregation spiritual degeneracy causes people to “…think of the wickedness of another person they’ve had difficulty with…but not look inwardly.” During times of spiritual degeneracy we’ll complain about other people’s sins, but let ourselves off the hook. Wow!
By contrast, Edwards argues a spiritually vital Christian declares he/she is the chief of sinners and the most underserving. The first priority in listening to preaching is one’s own heart and life. It is to take the log out of our own eyes first.
Physically or mentally elbowing someone else in church on Sunday? Let’s elbow ourselves first!
Life is liking walking through a minefield. You never know what the next step will have in store for you. However, the book of Proverbs is like having a map showing you where all the mines have been placed; “step here, step there, don’t step over here…” While often overlooked, I wonder if we Christians would actually enjoy life more if we paid closer attention to the map contained within the book of Proverbs. Here are five proverbs I pray more Christians will pay closer attention to.
1. “Fools show their annoyance at once; but the prudent overlook an insult” (Prov. 12:16).
We are far too easily offended. Insults are plentiful in a fallen world. It’s worth it to work at not being so easily annoyed by such things.
2. “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered” (Prov. 17:27).
Did you see that? Use words with restraint. There’s something to be said for not talking too much. See also Proverbs 29:20!
3. “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).
If you do speak, let them be “gracious words” that edify and build up other people.
4. “Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Prov. 8:10-11).
It’s better to be wise than rich. It’s better to steeped in Scripture than to fill your financial portfolio to overflowing.
5. “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines” (Prov. 18:17).
This has application beyond the world of litigation. We should work at being able to see multiple points of view with equal clarity. We are far too quick to jump to conclusions without first gathering all the data.
Let's imagine for a moment that living a good life will get you to heaven someday. All the charitable giving you've done, all the volunteer hours, all the niceties to strangers, all the service of loved ones - all of this accumulates over a lifetime and when you breathe your last, you enter heaven.
As you think about your life - the good life you've lived - have you been good enough?
You might say, "Well, I think so." Or "I hope so."
How? How do you know you've been good enough? Are you sure the standard for charitable giving isn't 5% higher than what you have given? Are you sure the standard for volunteer hours isn't 10% higher than what you've done? How do you know you've given strangers enough niceness for God to let you enter his kingdom? How do you know?
For the person who believes living a good life is enough to warrant entry into heaven, the above questions are a big problem. Why? Because there are no clear answers to those questions. None! So if you're holding your breath hoping the life you've lived will be good enough, I want to offer you a different way of thinking about this.
The cross plays a significant role within biblical Christianity for a reason: it shows us the results of our best efforts at a life well-lived. Even the most pious among us fall short of God's acceptance. Consider this: if we could gain entry into heaven by living good lives, why did Jesus have to leave heaven, come to earth, and die? It doesn't make any sense, unless the best we could achieve on our own came up woefully short.
Your best good works still come up woefully short of earning God's approval. That's why we have Jesus. Jesus lived the life you could never live and earned God's acceptance for it. Jesus also died the death your imperfect life deserved. When you say to God, "God, I can't earn salvation. I'll never be good enough. But I know Jesus has done everything for me. I want to trust him and follow him" - the moment you say that to God, a significant event takes place: God adopts as you as one of his children. Heaven awaits you.