Monday, September 23, 2013

Empty-centered arguments

I have the great privilege of serving as associate pastor at Union Hill Baptist Church.  I get to preach there quite bit and yesterday I had more sermon than I could get preached!  This blog post is, in part, a continuation of that sermon.  You can listen to the whole thing here (the sermon starts at 13:20) but I'll give you a quick summary.  Many of us are guilty of evaluating our marriage based on our own happiness.  We can be guilty of considering our spouse's happiness only as it affects our own happiness and we only occasionally consider how God is glorified in our marriage.  To be fair, this last criteria is only a reasonable expectation for Christians but that's who I want to talk to for a minute.

God's glory and others' benefit is the primary filter that all our actions should run through to determine whether or not they are good or right.  It is easy, however, to fall into the trap of calling whatever makes me happy good.  Nearly every commercial, ad, and billboard appeal to our personal satisfaction and happiness as the greatest good.  This plays to our natural tendencies.  Every one of us is a natural-born fulfiller of our own needs and wants and we frequently elevate the latter category into the former.

This is not to say that the things that make us happy are necessarily bad.  An illustration from food might help.  We've all heard jokes and dieting instructions based on the idea that no food can taste good and be good for you so anything that tastes good must be bad.  Happily this is not true.  Some of you probably like broccoli of all things!  Similarly not everything that makes us happy is bad but you can imagine what trouble we would get into if we assumed that everything that tasted good was good for us.

Our tendency to misjudge what is good is made worse by our ability to do things that we know are not good just because they will make us happy.  Back to food:  I know that a half bag of potato chips is not good for me but I eat them anyway because I like them.  Sin is an old-fashioned word to some but it is alive and well in our daily habits.  Most of us are not going to steal, kill someone, or commit adultery but we have a lot of little ways to put our own wants first and gently push others out of the way

These tendencies put us on shaky ground when we try to tell others what God has said about what is good and right.  They make our arguments sound hollow to our hearers.  There are lots of areas where this crops up but none more prevalent today than in the subject of same-sex marriage and the LGBT community.  I have taken this subject up before but I want to tackle a new piece today.

Arguing for what God says in a secular culture will always be difficult.  No one likes hearing that something they are doing is wrong.  Everyone, religious or not, has an impulse to defend their own actions and refute or reject the correction being offered.  When the correction is based on what God says through the Bible, non-Christians will, naturally, reject the validity or relevance of the scripture.  There is nothing we, as Christians, can do about that.

The problem we can help fix is the agreement of our lives with our argument.  When we make many (most?) of our own decisions based on our personal happiness and then tell others they should do "what the Bible says" in spite of what makes them happy, our argument sounds hollow.  In fact our argument is hollow.  Not because it isn't right, what God says is always right but, when we ask others to do things we won't, it makes us hollow.  You see, being married to my beautiful wife makes me happy.  That doesn't make it wrong but, if that is my primary reason for being married to her, then I lose my footing to make any argument to someone else that they can't marry who makes them happy.  Pointing at a verse in Leviticus invites others to point at other verses that I don't follow.  Worse, speaking against homosexual behavior while silently or openly condoning heterosexual lust (or greed, gossip, or bitterness) opens the floodgates of charges of hypocrisy.

If, on the other hand, my life is characterized by making choices that put my short-term satisfaction under what God wants and that bless others around me rather than taking what I want, then I have something to stand on when I say "God's way is best."  This certainly does not guarantee that everyone will take the advice.  Remember, nobody likes correction!  It is, however, the first step to being heard.  I wouldn't trust a cook who doesn't eat what he prepares or a doctor who won't take his own medicine.  Neither will anyone trust a Christ-follower who follows their own desires while asking others to ignore their own.

P.S.  None of this should be taken to mean we (Christians) shouldn't address what the Bible says about homosexuality or any other sin.  We absolutely should speak about this.  Love for others demands that we speak.  Speaking with integrity requires that we line up our lives with God and then speak from our experience.

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