A recent sermon as part of our church’s series, “Come Live the Church’s Vision.”
Listening to Gary preach on Philippians 3 I was reminded of one of it’s central themes: confidence. Paul mentions it several times.
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more (vv. 3-4).
Now our society is brimming with admonitions toward self-confidence. In fact that seems to be a lot of what people are looking for. They want to feel good and feel confident. They want some stability. Most admonitions toward self-confidence tell you to “look inside” for all that you need. The myriad of voices in our culture falsely shout the lie that “deep inside you is the power to do whatever you want.” So we go digging and find that at our core we are never enough.
Many people have reason to be confident. Some are confident in their ability, their resumé, their accomplishments. Others are confident in their looks or personality. Maybe it is pride in one’s heritage and upbringing.
Paul has met some of these people. They are mainly proud of their special calling as God’s people. They think their religious observance gives them confidence before God. Paul is blunt. He says that he has more reason to be confident and proud than any of them! Paul lists his accomplishments (vv. 5-6). What is striking is that many of these things would have been viewed as really good things. He even lists his sincerity and zeal!
All of these things (even the good ones!) are no true source of pride and confidence. If I am standing on anything other than Christ, I am destined to fall. Even my sincere morality and religious adherence are nothing without Christ. At the end of the day, if my confidence only comes from within then it is not enough. I am not strong enough or good enough or faithful enough or sincere enough. If I dig too deep in my heart, I find out that the well of confidence is dry.
That is why I need a source of confidence that is overflowing, unending, and perfect. Paul says that such a confidence can never be based on one’s own abilities or accomplishments but only in the “righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God” (v. 9).
I find it a much more freeing concept to know that I don’t have to conjure up strength and confidence. I am relieved to know that I can turn to God rather than to myself. My confidence is not within, it is in a far better place—the finished work of Jesus Christ. That is a true confidence that never fades or fails when I come up short in my own strength.
It seems that everyone is so easily offended. I’ve watched from the sidelines as comedians navigate which words are in and which words are out (sometimes at the expense of honesty). Political correctness dominates the cultural conversation but usually without a careful understanding of language and morality. Instead, arbitrary preference and magical words restrain truth-telling.
The same seems true in the church. So many people are looking for an opportunity to be offended. Often they are offended on behalf of other people (an odd phenomenon). It just seems that a lot of amateur referees are waiting to blow their whistles. As a result, those who are called to lead and challenge are often forced to mute the force of their message for fear of upsetting or unsettling. There is no room for pandering in the church (2 Tim. 4:3).
There are clearly things in the Bible that are offensive. In fact, God’s Word intentionally offends and disrupts (1 Cor. 1:18, 21, 23; Gal. 1:10, 5:11, 6:12-14). Jesus was anything but politically correct. Paul was far from gentile in his speech. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible are not the kind to invite to a formal dinner party.
Sometimes, to expose sin and make room for truth it takes a disturbance. Maybe this comfortable ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude is hampering our growth in Christ. In my life, my greatest times of spiritual growth come in the midst chaos. I’ve learned more from the teachers that have challenged me than the ones who let my complacency suffice.
Recently, I read this interesting quote: “the easily offended are missing the point.” If I am on guard (always critiquing, always judging) then I am not listening, gleaning, discerning, or participating. As the same author reminds, “Learn how to glean good lessons from bad teachers.”
Here’s a sermon I preached at Nansemond River Baptist Church in July from Acts 9 and the famous conversion of Saul.
You see, this is Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian church. A church that occupied the majority of his last missionary journey and where his protégé was an elder. His farewell to the Ephesian elders is filled with tears and heartache. He is convinced that he will not see his friends again and his conviction proves true.
In his farewell I am reminded of true gospel ministry. A ministry that is sacrificial rather than demanding, honest rather than flattering. It is rooted in humility and thoroughness. Such ministry has a deep foundation in truth and is developed in meaningful relationships: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
All that to be said, I find it interesting that the very last words Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders regards the dangers from within the church that will come. Communication in that day and age was spotty and travel was dangerous, there was a high likelihood they would not receive any future instruction from Paul and he left them with these words:
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
As I thought about these last words I was reminded that the danger for Christians is more frequently from within the church than without. This is no excuse to abandon the church but rather a call to guard the health of our faith community.
Dangers from without are easier to spot. They are different and distinct. Such is the case with many “overt” sins. Maybe this is why Christians often point to “outsider” sins (e.g., homosexuality, drunkenness, etc.). They’re easy to spot! But just because they are more visible does not mean they are more dangerous.
Sin that grows within the community of faith is much more difficult to identify because it takes Christian language and even Christian scripture and cleverly mixes it with false teaching. I finally settled on two major dangers that are present within the church that often receive Christian justification: traditionalism and existentialism.
Imagine a wide, asphalt highway with two great ditches on each side. If the highway is the firm sure ground of Biblical truth, then two ever present dangers are the lure of traditionalism on one side and the elevation of feeling on the other. The difficulty in navigating the highway of truth is that we are often tempted, by distraction or danger, to swerve off of its sturdy path.
When you ask people to make godly decisions they too often have no Biblical foundation on which to base their choices. As a result, the default mode is often traditionalism. Such traditionalism is seen in the kind of thoughtless repetition of doing things a certain way because they’ve always been done that way. Much like Einstein’s definition of insanity, traditionalism is unable to look outside of personal experience to find a better option.
On the other extreme is the particular modern lure of “feelings.” Most people have no solid criteria by which to discern right from wrong and good from bad. As a result, they are at the whim of their feelings. They tell me they “feel” like they’re in love or it just “seemed” like the best thing at the time. That tickle in your stomach is probably just gas. This too shall pass.
I think tradition can be a vibrant connection to our Christian heritage and feelings directed toward God are lovely but both our traditions and our feelings must serve in submission to the truth of God’s word. “We have the prophetic word made more sure” (2 Peter 1:19). Our feelings and our traditions can easily be co-opted by suave communicators. They can quickly make you think that God is all about making you feel good or the Bible is a book that justifies the way things have always been done. The only light in such darkness is the revealed word of God, to which we would “do well to pay attention” (2 Peter 1:19).
Next time you have to make a decision ask yourself, “what does the Bible say?”