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Topical - More than ice cream - the seven deadly sins - Part One
STEVE CREE looks at how the Bible tackles the seven deadly sins
Source: Perspective Vol10 No1 ©Perspective 2002
Aim Of The Series
The aim of this series was to present the church with specific challenges about godliness. Of course, all these challenges surface from time to time through expository preaching, but often more in an incidental way. Whether it’s lust or laziness, greed or gluttony, the Bible has plenty to say, but often in interwoven amongst other themes. The aim of this series was to isolate each theme in order to deal with it more thoroughly. A bit of a biblical theology shape was given to the series by spending some time in Genesis in the first few weeks (pride in Genesis 3, anger in Genesis 4, and envy in Genesis 37). Also, the ‘dying and rising with Christ’ theme ensured that the series wasn’t just moralising, but about being transformed by Christ. Rather than rabbiting on here, however, the introduction to the first talk best sets out the logic of the series. Finally, no ice creams were harmed in the making of the series (it was done last year before the Magnum promotion). The same can’t be said for illustrations, and sermon ideas from various sources including previous issues of Perspective – which have been pillaged at will!
Talk 1—Dying to Pride; Rising to Humility (Col 3, Gen 3, Phil 2)
1.1 God Bought Us To Change Us
Have you ever bought something and then not used it? Well, there’s at least one sort of product where that happens all the time, and the marketers know it. It’s the world of home-gym equipment. This is the world of the ‘tummy trimmer’, the ‘fat-fighter’, the ‘gut-gouger’, the Orbitrek, the Physitron, the Ab-cruncher, the Ab-slide the Ab-doer. In this wonderful world of television shopping, never have so many, paid so much, for something they will use so little. Tummy trimmers sit in their boxes in the corners of garages while Ab-crunchers used once gather dust under beds. And Physitrons used three times now sit behind the Trinitron, rusting away in the corner of the lounge room. The intentions were there when you first bought your Bodyflex. Back then you’d never dream of not using it. Bodyflex: “where losing is winning!”, “where results are now!” “Burn 5 times the calories than on a treadmill! – and do it all at home, right in front of the telly!”. But of course Bodyflex’s resting place is behind the telly.
This is another way that we are not like God. When God pays for something he really wants it. God never loses interest in something he’s bought. God has bought us and the price of that purchase was the blood of his Son. Is God an impulse buyer, who has bought us only to lose interest in us? No! God cares about us, about how we live and he bought us for a purpose. The price was high—it’s one thing for you to pay $199 for an Ab-cruncher you’re never going to use but it’s totally absurd to think that God would pay for us with the precious blood of his Son (1 Pet 1:18-19) and do the same. There are hundreds of unused Ab-crunchers sitting in garages—that’s a waste. But Christians sitting around in churches unchanged by God’s mercy and love and forgiveness—that’s worse than a waste that’s offensive. That’d be continuing in the very sin we’ve been saved from.
God hasn’t just saved us from something, he’s saved us for something, an intimate relationship with him and a life spent honouring him (1 Cor 6:19-20) This series is all about honouring God who bought us at a price. As a church we need to realise that he didn’t buy us just to sit around but to make us into his people. He didn’t just save us from something, he’s saved us for something— he’s saved us from the penalty of sin for an intimate relationship with him.
Sometimes I think our thinking is a little wrong. We say that Jesus died on the cross so my sins can be forgiven and that means that, when I die, I’ll go to heaven. This, of course is true, but does that mean nothing changes now? Is the time between becoming a Christian and Jesus coming back just a kind of limbo? Is our church just a corral for Christians, a holding pen for heaven? Like God’s bought us and just shoved us here in the garage and one day in the future he’ll get interested in us again, as if his return to earth is picking up a toy he put on lay-by? Of course not! The New Testament says that God has forgiven our sin but now he wants to kill it! He’s removed the penalty for your sin but now he wants to remove the presence of sin as well.
1.2 Dying and Rising With Christ
The Bible says that we need to put sin to death (Col 3:5) because that stuff was then and now we belong to God. Colossians also says that we don’t just die a death, we rise to a new life too (Col 3:1). Being a Christian is all about dying to sin and rising with Christ. When we become a Christian one life ends and a totally new one begins (Col 3:9-10)—one with new priorities and one in which we follow God’s way. You’ve seen the Larson cartoon: first pants then your shoes? In the Christian life we must first put our trust in Jesus and be forgiven. Then we must put on the character of Jesus and be transformed (Col 3:12).
In Christ there’s an ‘Under New Management’ sign sitting over our lives and there’s countless changes God wants to work in you. He definitely bought us for a reason—to truly make you his—and this series is about going under the knife, opening ourselves up to the living and active word of God to do some serious work deep in our hearts. Are you ready for some radical surgery on your sinful nature as you let your Creator become your surgeon? What is it that most needs treatment for you? What death and resurrection is needed most in your life?
- dying to pride: rising to humility?
- dying to anger: rising to patience?
- dying to envy: rising to kindness?
- dying to impurity: rising to purity?
- dying to gluttony: rising to self-control?
- dying to laziness: rising to zeal?
- dying to greed: rising to generosity?
We could use any list of sins from the New Testament but these seven are a pretty good summary. My guess is that at least one or two stand out for each of us. You see, you’ve become a Christian, you’ve put your trust in Jesus, you’ve opened the door to Jesus and let him into your life, but maybe you’ve kind of left him standing in the hallway and there’s all sorts of rooms you’ve locked the door to. God doesn’t just want to forgive your sin, he wants to kill it as well and as we submit to his Word, God’s Spirit will change us.
The sin that our surgery needs to start with is pride. In fact pride is really at the heart of all sin—confidence in ourselves instead of God, a focus on ourselves instead of others. That’s where all sin flows from. In understanding this first sin you’ll understand the nature of all sin.
Pride is behind the birth of sin in the fall in Genesis 3 is pride. Adam and Eve have been placed in the garden of Eden by God. Life is perfect, i.e. it is lived under God’s word. It’s a life where God knows best because God is God and they obey. God says that they can eat from any of the trees they like except this one tree in the centre of the garden. [Because they don’t belong at the centre—only God belongs at the centre.] This tree is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and that’s why Adam and Eve have no business eating from it. The idea of ‘knowing good and evil’ really means to determine good and evil, to decide for yourself what’s right and what’s wrong.
That’s God’s job, not ours. By eating from this tree you’re saying that you want God’s job. That’s exactly what the serpent offers Eve. The serpent casts doubt on God’s word (Gen 3:1), the first step to sin. This is followed by denial of God’s word (v 4), the next step to sin. The final step to sin is making the decision to make the rules ourselves (v 5), that’s the appeal to sinful pride. The temptation’s not just to become a lawbreaker, the real temptation is to become the lawmaker. What do Adam and Eve do? They take and they eat (v 6) and in doing so they declare that from now on we’ll make the rules, from now on we’ll be God. This is sin, this is pride: ascending to the position of ruler of the universe, grasping for the crown, the power. Sin grieves God (v 13), his law isn’t the only thing that is broken here, his heart is broken too. So he measures out his judgement on his rebel creatures—not just the judgement and future destruction that sin brings but the present destruction as well. What happens next? They become pretend gods, proud rebels, self-centred to the core accusing each other and soon killing each other. No holds barred as we scramble for the controls trying again and again to ascend God’s throne. The pride principle is rampant. My first thought is me and my desires. Just like the compass needle points north, the needle of the human heart points to getting your own way.
Jesus brings the great reversal in human history (Phil 2:3-8). The answer to sin, the answer to pride, comes in Jesus. Where Adam and Eve grasped, he did not grasp. Where they reached for God’s crown, he surrendered his. He reverses their ascent with his descent. He replaces their ladder with his cross. Instead of proud grasping hands, grabbing for self, here are humble, nailed, outstretched hands – dying for us. Total reversal of our future as he takes the penalty for our sin, replacing our judgement with forgiveness.
Jesus also reverses our present as well because not only does he take our death and judgement but he also gives us a new life to live, a new attitude, a new self. Our attitudes should be the same as that of Jesus—this is the huge attitude reversal God wants to work in us. Jesus climbed down the ladder of humility: rung after rung after rung, he gave up the majesty and glory of heaven and comes down to the sweat and dust of the earth, not as a king but as a servant. He doesn’t just give up his comfort, he gives up his life. Not just dying, but crucified. Not for friends, for enemies.
The model we are to follow is in verse 7: he made himself nothing. He wasn’t pushed, it wasn’t an accidental fall. Step by deliberate step Jesus chose this path: this path from the peak of creation to the shame of the cross. He embraced a life of giving, serving, losing and dying. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
The attitude reversal we need here is – quite simply the difference between up and down as we die to pride and rise to humility. In an upwardly mobile world we follow a downwardly mobile Saviour. We give up our pathetic pretensions to be God. We confess he’s at the centre and seek to revolve around him. As we grow as a Christian we keep climbing down. Dying to pride means taking up your cross as Jesus commanded – being so dead to yourself, to your own wants and desires, that you become alive to the needs of those around you. Turning from self-centredness to other-centred people.
1.5 Attitude Reversal
Look at how different we should be as God’s people. We should be counter-culture people (v 15-16):
So that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.
Pure amongst the depraved, light amidst the darkness, life in a world of death … and doing what? Holding out the word of life. Not reaching up to be God but reaching out with His Word. Not hands trying to grab for me but turning out to you. Open hands, hands prepared to get nails in them, hands just like Jesus, and an attitude just like Jesus. It’s a huge reversal isn’t it? Honestly we’re far too much like the world, aren’t we? Same priorities, same selfishness, same pride.
It’s drastic surgery by God’s Word we need isn’t it? The only thing the world will teach you about sin is how to do it. The only mention of sin you’ll find out there is on a dessert menu: wicked cake, chocolate sin. An American newspaper ran a headline recently: ‘why nothing is wrong anymore’. Couples in marriage preparation don’t have problems with sin anymore – they have growth areas! And pride isn’t seen as a sin. Songs celebrate it, adult education courses teach it. The actress Kirsty Alley said in an MTV interview: ‘I don’t think pride is a sin, I think some idiot made that up’. But how different are we? How different are we prepared to be? A Christian satire magazine asks: if there was a Christian convention called “Humilityfest 2001” who’d actually come? Who’d sign up for seminars: ‘God needs you … to wash feet’; ‘learning to shut up and listen’; ‘take up your cross but don’t make a big deal about it’.
h3. Talk 2—Dying to Anger, Rising to Patience (Gen 4, Lk 23, 1 Pet 2, Rom 6)
2.1 Burning Anger
I love baseball. But let me tell you about one particular game of baseball that I’m glad I wasn’t part of. In spring 1894, over 100 yrs ago, when the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a routine baseball game. But what happened that day was anything but routine. The Orioles’ John McGraw lost his temper, got angry, got into a fight with the Boston 3rd baseman and before you knew it – the anger spread. Within minutes: all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl: letting off steam. The warfare spread to the grandstands, as the anger spread like fire – literally in fact: because someone set fire to the stands and the entire ballpark burned to the ground. Not only that, the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well. Because of one man’s anger half a town was destroyed! And to think that it all started with a little altercation at third base. John McGraw couldn’t even remember later just why he got so angry yet the damage from his anger spread and just about destroyed a whole city.
Mockers stir up a city, but wise men turn away anger (Prov 29:8). Anger sure stirred up the city of Boston 100 years ago. But God’s word knew all about it 1000s of years ago. God knows the destructive power of our anger and His Word warns us to control it (Prov 29:11). If only John McGraw had kept himself under control the destruction that would’ve been prevented. And if only you didn’t unleash your anger on your friends, or people you live with, or people you work with, or… if only we could control our anger. If only we’d treat seriously the commands of God’s Word (James 1:19-20):
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Our ways are not God’s ways and we need to change from being slaves to sin to being servants of God, we need to die to anger and rise to patience. How can we die to anger? Count to 10? Hold our breath? Bite our tongue? No, we’ve got to go deeper than that. We need to let God’s Word do radical surgery in our lives, as we seek to live new lives with Jesus as our boss.
2.2 The Problem
Where does our anger come from? We see the birth of anger in Genesis 4. Anger hits the landscape of this fallen world very early. Sin is born in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve decided to reject God, decided to put themselves at the centre of the world instead, decided to grasp for God’s crown and become their own boss. God’s good creation was intact for just two chapters. Now we see anger being born in Genesis 4. If pride comes before a fall, it’s anger that follows hot on its heels. And, as surely as Eve now gives birth to Cain, pride gives birth to anger. In some ways this is a surprise isn’t it? Genesis 3 ended with a promise of a good birth. With the birth of sin, a hideous and terrible birth, came the promise of a great birth a wonderful birth (Gen 3:15), the birth of one who will crush the serpent. Her offspring will defeat Satan and will put right all that’s gone wrong with God’s perfect world. If you were reading Genesis for the first time, what are you thinking as you turn to Genesis 4 verse 1? Eve has a son you see, could this be the one? But if our hopes rise with the birth of Cain, they are soon dashed because he is definitely not the one to reverse sin. Instead of Cain crushing the serpent he’s taken captive himself. Cain’s life is far from a reversal of sin. In fact, we see sin spreading like the Aids epidemic, it’s out of control. Sin grows like a hideous monster bringing destruction and death wherever it goes. A few contrasts between chapter 3 and chapter 4 show us just how destructive the spread of sin is. Eve had to be talked into taking the fruit (Gen 3) whereas Cain needs no persuasion (Gen 4). He thinks up his anger at his brother Abel all by himself because it’s in his nature. He needs no temptation to play God because he’s already ascended to the throne. Cain’s anger at his brother comes from his rejection of God.
God has favoured Abel’s offering over Cain’s. We don’t know why – but that’s the point – we don’t need to know why, and neither should Cain because we’re not God – and Cain’s not God and he should accept that God is God, that God’s at the centre. But Cain’s a sinner and from his pride comes anger. His anger at Abel comes from his defiance to God. He wants to be at the centre – he wants things to go his way, he wants to call the shots, he wants to be the judge, he wants to play God. In Cain we see the sinful angry heart inside all of us. Eve was visited by Satan to talk her in to sin but now not even a visit by God will talk Cain out of sin (Gen 4:6-7).
Cain thinks he’s God, he rejects the true God’s Word, and self-centred and angry, he takes matters into his own hands. Do you see how sin has grown here? Eve had to be coaxed forward to sin but her son, Cain, can’t be turned back. Adam and Eve trembled with fear after their sin but there’s no hiding in the bushes for Cain he’s not quaking in his boots. Instead it’s defiance, back-chat, insolence. Confronted by God with his brother’s blood on his hands he fobs off God. He’s rejected God’s way: he’s rejected God’s Word, and now he even rejects God’s right to question him. But the contrast keeps going. Adam and Eve didn’t question the judgement which God handed out to them but Cain grumbles that God’s judgement is unfair. He’s rejected God’s right to be God so completely, hasn’t he? Not only does he wilfully and brazenly reject God’s way but when God calls him to account and passes judgement he turns around and files for unfair dismissal.
So sinful, so self-centred, so convinced he’s got rights. This is the man of sin and, without Jesus, this is us. Consumed by sinful pride, convinced we’re at the centre, we will unleash destruction on others. Parents might sometimes be disappointed if their child doesn’t become a lawyer or a doctor but Cain’s a really disappointing son. Where’s the son who’ll crush the serpent? Where’s the offspring who’ll reverse evil and fix the world? Who reverses pride, reverses self-righteous anger? If it’s not Cain, and we’ve seen that, who is it?
The answer of course is Jesus and the reversal is illustrated perfectly in Luke 23. Look at the great reversal Jesus brings: they plied him with questions, they hammer him but Jesus doesn’t answer. He’s not going to take matters into his own hands. Pilate can see Jesus is innocent (v 14, 22) and has done nothing to deserve death (v 15) but they hate this innocent one (v 18). It is the hatred and anger of Cain that leads the crowd to cry “crucify him” (v 21). But Jesus doesn’t take matters into his own hands. You’d think he’d have every right to be angry but we’re people who want to put ourselves at the centre, who want to play God, who go the way of Cain. Jesus doesn’t take matters into his own hands. Instead he allows his hands to be nailed to planks of wood. He submits to God’s will even to death. They hammer him again – this time not just with accusations but literally (v 33) as they crucified him. We sing: “Hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered”. Not grasping but giving, not angry but forgiving, not murdering but murdered. Jesus is the total opposite to Cain. And with Jesus’ prayer (v 34) the reversal is total. Instead of anger, the most extraordinary patience. You see how he doesn’t put himself at the centre? And of course he had the right to be there. But he’s here to reverse sin so he cops the mockery. He turns to God – trusts in God – prays to God. Instead of retaliating, he cops our pathetic anger at him. Yet Jesus’ anger would be righteous anger, not the selfish anger of Cain and of us. The Son of God being nailed up by pip-squeak sinners is well within his rights to crush us. But he’s the one who’s here to crush the serpent, he’s the son of Eve the world’s been waiting for to reverse the sin of Cain and of us. So he prays down not the fire of God’s wrath but forgiveness. In fact the fire of God’s wrath comes down on him so that his prayer might be fulfilled. Here is the son of Eve who mastered sin. Who, at the cross, paid for our sin. Who, at the cross, was bitten by the serpent and died, but who became the antidote to the serpents bite to put an end to the disease, to put an end to sins power. Jesus reverses sin through being a role model for us (1 Pet 2:21). Jesus is the one who doesn’t take things into his own hands but puts them in God’s hands, who doesn’t get angry but shows patience. Jesus didn’t consider himself at the centre but God (v 23). That’s the example for us: to turn from anger and all sin. Second, Jesus is much more than just a model. He didn’t just show you how to turn away from sin, he turned away God’s anger at your sin (v 24). He bore your sin, he paid the penalty for your sin. Marvel at his example but be grateful he paid the price for your sin and your anger.
We need to understand what happened on the cross. ‘Jesus died for me’ we say – yes but specifically, Jesus died for you, for your anger, for the way you’ve run others down, for the way you’ve gossiped about people, for the way you’ve plotted revenge in your heart, for all the ways you put yourself at the centre and played God. They’re the things that murdered Jesus, that’s how we shed his innocent blood. He died for your pride – anger – envy – lust – impurity – greed. That’s what drove in the nails. He’s an amazing model, he’s an amazing sacrifice we need to see both and put them together (1 Pet 1:22). Your hearts are pure now he says, we’ve been forgiven, so now you can love from the heart. Now we’re fixed with God we can be fixed with each other. So we don’t relate in pride, we don’t fester with anger but we love one another deeply. Purified hearts are loving hearts, hearts willing to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. The price is paid now you can follow the example. Jesus is your saviour, now you can make Jesus your character. He’s forgiven your sin and now he wants to kill it. He’s paid for your anger so now you can turn to patience.
Romans 5 explains how Jesus reverses the sin of Adam. In Adam we’re sinners, under God’s judgement. Cain’s problem was that he was in Adam. But we’re in Jesus, we’re forgiven with God back at the centre. We don’t go the way of Cain, we go the way of Jesus. We’re not in Eve’s son Cain – ruled by Satan – we’re in Eve’s son Jesus – the serpent crusher. We don’t go the way of Cain, we go the way of Jesus. It’s all about dying and rising with Christ, living new lives in him. Jesus has replaced Adam (Rom 6:11-14), we’re in him not Adam. We’re in the one who’s cancelled sin not under sin, and we’re to live in Jesus mastering sin not being mastered by it. God is back at the centre, and our self-righteous anger dies with that.
2.4 Learning Patience
But we enjoy anger, don’t we? We sometimes want to be back with Adam. Like driving home earlier, from North Coast Christian Convention, thinking of applications for this talk, but getting frustrated by the driver in front of me, “Oh come on, where did you get your license anyway…”. Oops, me at the centre again. Now where was that patience? Anger comes from putting me at centre even in self-righteous ways: I haven’t been served, I’ve been gossiped about … and I want justice! No, I don’t want the justice. I want the cross!! If I stay at the centre I die with Adam. I want to put God at the centre and rise with Jesus! I want to die to anger rise to patience, accepting Jesus as my saviour and following him as my example.
h3. Talk 3—Dying to Envy, Rising to Kindness (Gen 37, Mk 15, Acts 7, 1 Jn 3)
3.1 Make a wish...
I want you to imagine two greengrocers. Two men who are bitter rivals. Their stores are right across the street from each other, and they spend each day with an eye on each other, keeping track of each other’s business. One gets a customer and he smiles in triumph at his rival. But when the other makes a sale he snarls with bitterness. Two greengrocers: green with envy. But now imagine the story takes a twist, a turn of events that shows just how deep the envy runs. Say one of these men gets an opportunity like on the Tim Tams ad, to make a wish and it’ll be granted. But here’s the real twist, because here’s how the offer’s put to him: “I’ll give you anything you ask, but whatever you get, your competitor will get twice as much. Maybe you’d like to be massively rich? You’ll get it, but he’ll be twice as wealthy. Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier? What is your desire?” The man frowned, thought for a moment and then said, “Here’s my request … strike me blind in one eye”.
A heart of peace gives life to the body but envy rots the bones (Prov 14:30). Resentment of others, jealousy of their success, envy – says God’s Word – rots the bones. In the last talk we saw that, just as surely as Eve gave birth to Cain, pride gave birth to anger as the proud heart becomes a destructive heart. But see how envy takes its place in the sin cocktail: Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? (Prov 27:4) Who can stand before jealousy. Envy rots the bones. The Bible couldn’t sound a stronger warning—the sin of envy is deadly.
Let’s be honest – it’s in all of us. From the cradle to the grave envy’s in our hearts and you see it come to the surface in the things we think and say. ‘Its not fair, Tommy gets to stay up till 8 o’clock and I have to go to bed at 7:30, I wish I had his parents.’ ‘I wish I could look like she does, she’s so popular.’ ‘I wish I was a muso, I’d be appreciated more – like she is.’ ‘I see Bob’s got a new car, latest model! It must’ve cost him a bit – I wish I had the cash for that.’ ‘Now that’s a job I could handle: short hours, long holidays – he gets money for nothing while I slog my guts out.’ ‘Why can’t you be more like Rita’s husband? he’s so caring and a good handyman – he’s well… useful!’ ‘Everything seems to be so easy for them, God seems to bless them so much, it doesn’t seem fair.’
Envy you see, perhaps more than we realise, is deep in our hearts and we need to come to God’s Word today to cut it out. God’s word warns us that “where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (Js 3:16). God’s word challenges us not to “become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Gal 5:26). But how can we do that? How can we die to our envy and really change?
An article from the Herald I read was all about envy. It’s called “taming the green-eyed monster” and it said that ‘jealousy can burn you up: these tips will help you cope’. The article is all about feeling better about yourself. Is that it? Thinking positive thoughts about ourselves? Or is there a better way to deal with envy? Well, only God’s word takes us to the heart of the problem, to where our envy comes from. And only God’s Word takes us to the real solution, and how we can really deal with envy.
3.2 The Problem
Where does our envy come from? We say pride born in Genesis 3 with Adam and Eve. This quickly spread to anger in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel. And this spreads to envy by Genesis 37 with Joseph and his brothers. Did you see the overseas news last week the runaway train? This train got going with no driver and without a driver, it was out of control, destructive. That’s what we’re seeing here in Genesis with the effects of sin. Sin has made the entire world like a runaway train. God was meant to be the driver but we ejected him and thought we’d take the driver’s seat. Here we’re seeing that we’re hopeless drivers of this world. Sin’s running rampant and we just can’t find the brakes. Genesis, the Bible, doesn’t hide the ugliness of sin from us. Sin spreads: from pride and anger to incest and murder and rape. Don’t let anyone tell you the Bible’s old and out of touch. All the issues faced in our world today are right here in the first book of the Bible.
As the Bible story rolls on from sin to sin to sin, the classic story of envy is Joseph and his brothers (Gen 37) where we see envy in all its ugliness. Joseph is a shepherd boy, just seventeen years old, the second youngest of twelve brothers (v 2). And Jacob, his father, loved him more than any of the others because he was born when Jacob was old and he was the first son born to Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel (v 3). Jacob had a special place in his heart for Joseph and he showed it by making him a richly ornamented robe. Because Joseph was his father’s favourite his brothers hated him deeply and they showed it firstly with their words. After Joseph’s dream (v 5) his brothers begin to show their hate with their actions as well. Envy is deadly.
But we don’t like tall poppies do we? Showponies? Or shepherd boys that get around in ornamented coats! And I don’t know about you, but let me take a risk here: I reckon we relate to the brothers here pretty well. Sure, we might draw the line at murder, but we reckon they’ve got a right to feel a bit miffed. Because in one way or another we’ve been there. We’ve had this profound envious feeling. It’s not fair! Why is he getting treated that way? Why not me? But who made us the judge? Who appointed us to decide what’s fair and what isn’t? Well, we did of course! Because we’ve decided to play God. This is the heart of sin: we make the rules, we hop into the drivers seat, we put ourselves at the centre of the universe. We decide who gets what, we decide what’s fair, we even decide: someone should be dropped down a peg. We’ve got the right to mow down the tall poppies, got the right to the blood of the one in the special coat. So what if Jacob favours Joseph? So what if God plans to use Joseph in some special way? And so what if your neighbour has it better than you? We might not understand it but why do we need to? We might not like it but why is what we like the issue?
Why is envy the way we respond? I mean, before Joseph got his coat, do you think one of his brothers ever even thought, ‘Gee, I wish dad would give me a decent techni-colour poncho to get around in’. No. It’s like Paul says: ‘I wouldn’t even know what it means to covet, if I hadn’t heard the words “do not covet”’. Or put it this way: if my neighbour didn’t have it, I probably wouldn’t even want it because I wouldn’t know what I’m missing. But for some reason, that’s how envy works. Happiness in others produces sadness in me. Favour on others, produces resentment in me (remember Cain?). Just like favour on Joseph produces hatred in his brothers. You know, a song we sing – ‘Brother, let me be your servant’. It says: ‘I will weep while you are weeping, when you laugh I’ll laugh with you’. Seems to me we find it much easier to weep with the weeping, than to laugh with the laughing. It’s easier for me to sympathise with your suffering than to celebrate your success. Why is that? Well, here’s the really sick thing about envy. Here’s why envy is even more deadly in some ways than greed. If greed say “I want more”, envy says “I want you to have less”. All sin is selfishness, but envy is so insidious, so gross. I’m not just obsessed with my own happiness, I resent yours. Somehow your blessing is my curse. Why? Because I’ve put myself at the centre of the universe. So, everything’s about me. Which means I can’t just say, ‘Good for you’. I find myself saying, ‘I wish that was me’.
For the solution to envy we need to turn to Jesus. But it’s not enough for us just to say, “Jesus died to forgive my envy”. We need to say this as well: “Jesus died because of my envy”. My envy lifted Jesus up on that cross. Just as his brothers’ envy murdered Joseph, our envy murdered the son of God. If we face in the cross of Jesus the reality of our sin, if we see in the death of Jesus the judgement we deserve, if we realise that our envy drove in those nails, the conviction of God’s Spirit will start to drive our envy out. Because here is Jesus, more innocent than Joseph, the holy, perfect, sinless, Son of God, the one with total favour of his heavenly Father but also the one who is despised by his own, rejected, misunderstood and falsely accused.
A re-run of Joseph’s life: Jesus’ death was plotted (Mk 15:1), envy was the motive for the murder (v 10), and, just as God used Joseph’s suffering to save Israel, so God used Jesus’ death to save sinners from all nations. But as striking as the similarities are between Joseph and Jesus, there’s one massive difference: although Joseph offers forgiveness to his brothers, just like Jesus prays for forgiveness for his murderers, and although his brothers do indeed bow down to Joseph, just as Jesus’ disciples bow down to him the difference is that Genesis ends with the announcement of Joseph’s death but the gospels end with the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection. Here in Jesus, is the one who doesn’t cheat death but beats it. Here is the one who doesn’t bring temporary salvation but salvation that is permanent, one who doesn’t relieve famine and feed our stomachs but who brings forgiveness and feeds our souls.
In Acts 7 Stephen gives an amazing history lesson in how God’s people always killed off God’s messengers. Joseph even gets a mention (v 9) because he copped it out of jealousy, and God rescued him. The history lesson ends with “you even betrayed and murdered Jesus – the Righteous One” (v 52). But where’s Jesus now? Jesus is standing at the right hand of God (v 56). Not just rescued from envy but victorious over it! Here is the one who was killed by our envy, for our envy, to deal completely with our envy. He died to forgive our envy. He died to kill off our envy. And he rose to bring us to lives free from envy. He rose to give us new lives to live: lives not of envy, but of contentment, kindness and love.
The problem with envy, like all sin, is that it puts me at the centre. So you’re forever looking at people and saying: ‘I wish that was me’. The truth is: there’s only one place we can look and say that. Only one place where we can say, ‘that should be me’ and that’s the cross of Jesus. Forget your neighbour, your brother your workmate, your friend. Look at Jesus – hanging there on the cross and say, ‘that should be me’.
Christians are people who have surrendered what we deserve, not people who claim what we deserve. We are people who are glad we don’t get what’s fair. Rather than calling out “it’s not fair” over what we haven’t got, we should be stunned at what we do get from God, that we don’t deserve: forgiveness. You know the title of that Herald article was a good one – “envy: taming the green-eyed monster”. That is the problem. But they got the solution all wrong. The solution’s not about me, and feeling better about me, the solution’s about Jesus, and feeling better about him, being convicted that our envy put Jesus on the cross and being overwhelmed that right there he forgives it.
3.4 Rising to Kindness
As we trade in our green with envy lens for looking at the world for a Jesus lens to look at everything through everything changes. For starters, looking at life through Jesus, I will never envy the person who doesn’t know Jesus. We can rule that one out straight away. Because what could be more precious than forgiveness? What could be more precious than eternal life? What could I count better than that? What about us who do know Jesus? How should the Jesus lens change the way we view each other? The answer’s in 1 John 3:16-17. John says that because Jesus died for us we should die for each other. We’re not rivals or competitors, we’re fellow beggars at the foot of the cross. If we hang on to our envy we’ll never be a team, we’ll destroy each other because “from envy comes every evil practice” (Js 3:16).
Envy is not just a deadly sin it gives birth to all sorts of other sins. Envy divides us, and sets us apart and against one another. Rather than focus on serving God and rejoicing in how the talents of another help us do that, we are jealous of them. Envy leads to competitions, put downs, gossip, hatred. It stops us from working as a team, rips apart the family as we walk around in our sin. But we died to that, we said “no” to that. By accepting Jesus’ death we said we didn’t want to stay there. And when we do that, when we look at everything through Jesus’ death, we’re driven out to serve others not ourselves, we turn from selfishness to “otherishness”. We die to envy and rise to kindness.
More than that, we acknowledge that God is in control. We simply quit trying to play God. “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 Jn 3:20). Why would we play God? Why would we be at the centre? We died to that and have been set free from ever having to envy. And in that, what we gained was being set free to serve others. Through Christ we have died to envy, rising to kindness.
h3. Talk 4—Dying to Impurity, Rising to Purity (Gen 1-3, 2 Sam 11, Ps32, 1 Jn 1)
4.1 The Chase … and the Kill
In 1875 three balloonists left Paris with one thing on their mind: to set a new altitude record. Tissandier, Spinelli and Sibel wanted to rise higher in their balloon than anyone before them. They’d been warned to take pressurised oxygen and so they loaded their oxygen gear for the flight. But as their balloon rose and rose as they gained altitude, hypoxia set in making them delirious. By the time they reached 7500 metres, they were in serious trouble. Tissandier sat helpless on the floor of the basket. Worse, the lack of oxygen had affected his mates’ reasoning. Not only were they still dumping ballast to gain more height, but they also threw their oxygen equipment overboard. By the time the balloon landed, Sibel and Spinelli were dead. Only Tissandier survived. He said, ‘towards 7500m the numbness you experience is amazing, you become indifferent; you no longer think of the danger, you just want to rise and rise’. Chasing the thrill beat their logic, with deadly consequences. They literally threw away their lives.
If you’re struggling with the sin of lust, that’s the danger. Lust is that deadly. Just about all Christians face sexual temptation at some stage. If you are you’ll see yourself in that story. Not because you’ve ever been ballooning, but because that’s the perfect picture of how your lust consumes you, drives you, and clouds your thinking. The grip of lust on your heart, it’s just like starving oxygen to the brain, it leads to thinking just as irrational, actions just as foolish and consequences just as deadly. “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life” (Prov 6:26). They say the chase is better than the kill. Well, with lust, not only is the chase foolish, but the kill is you.
4.2 The Problem
Make no mistake as we hear God’s Word on lust, this sin is deadly. It destroys lives, it destroys families, it destroys children, it destroys you. Proverbs 6 concludes that “a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself”. But what is the problem? What is the sin we’re to turn from? Is it just sex – full-stop? Does the Bible saying sex is wrong? That’s the impression some Christians give you. In fact some people even came up with the silly idea that sex was the original sin. And as for the world, they think they invented it! Magazines like Cleo and Cosmo seem to think sex was only discovered in the 1960s. But we find a very different story in the Bible. We find that God made sex and that it was part of the world he called good, it wasn’t an accident. Adam and Eve didn’t think it up! They didn’t have to hide it from God. In Genesis 1 we see that God made the great gift of sex. God makes Adam and Eve male and female, sexual beings. And he says to them “be fruitful and increase in number”. The first command from the God of the universe to humankind is … have sex! God is very pro-sex, he commands it! Sex between the man and the woman is a good and proper thing. Don’t believe the lie that God’s some kind of cosmic killjoy. From page one of the Bible, God says of sex, go for it!
But there’s a pattern isn’t there? There’s a context, there’s a place sex belongs. Go for it – yes, but in this way: one man and one woman, in relationship together. That’s where sex belongs: one man and one woman in a lifelong, monogamous, committed, exclusive, relationship. That’s God’s chosen place for the expression of sexuality. You can read more about God’s design for sex in 1 Corinthians 7, it’s a great chapter about marriage. It’s about how a husband and wife are to look after each other. They’re to serve each other. And because they’re sexual beings, a big part of serving each other, is serving each other sexually (1 Cor 7:4). The wife’s body belongs to her husband – for his enjoyment. The husband’s body belongs to his wife – for her enjoyment. She’s to serve him sexually. He’s to serve her sexually. It’s not just so children can be born, it’s also for pleasure, for satisfaction. Sex is for a man and woman to express their love for each other, to give to each other, in the context of marriage. It’s a great gift from God, that’s how it’s to be used.
Which brings us to the real sin of impurity. The sin of impurity isn’t sex itself but the wrong use of sex, taking the good gift of sex and treating it like its worth nothing. The original sin of Adam and Eve wasn’t sex, or anything to do with sex originally. It was disobedience against God and His Word. The management revolution came first, followed by the sexual revolution. First we rejected God then we rejected his plan for sex. Sex, like everything else, turned bad very quickly. We now use God’s good gift in all the wrong ways. Shows like Big Brother celebrate promiscuity. Music “videos” are glorified pornography. Bill Clinton can do what he likes with a junior staffer and people say, ‘it’s a private matter – it didn’t make him a bad leader’. What’s the message? ‘It doesn’t matter how you use sex!’. A media release from the National Council on Aids this week renewed the call for homosexual men to use condoms. That’s all our world’s got to say on sex: use a condom!
Society’s got plenty to say about making sex safe but absolutely nothing to say about making sex good. Any fool can have safe sex but only God’s Word shows us good sex, right sex. Sex belongs in a committed, lifelong, marriage relationship but we live in a world that has rejected God and his Word. Nowhere is that seen more than in the area of sexuality. You’re told it’s okay to sleep with your girlfriend/boyfriend before s/he’s your wife/husband – when God says it’s not. You’re told it’s okay to commit adultery because we just call it an affair, a fling, just finding space – but God says it’s adultery and it’s wrong. And you’re not only told lust is okay, you’re beckoned to feed it, to feast your eyes and feed your mind with all kinds of images. The lures, traps, the temptation is everywhere. Billboards, TV ads, newsagents, movies, video clips, and worst of all now: the Internet. Lust is always hungry but now there’s so much more to feed on. Pornography’s always been there but more than ever you don’t have to go looking for it, instead you have to fend it off. And that’s the call because God says it’s wrong. They’re images that God says you shouldn’t be looking at because intimacy, even like that, even with the eyes, only belongs in marriage.
Our instinct, however, isn’t to fend it off so much as cover it up. It’s kind of awkward just talking about it isn’t it? It’s not a subject we find it easy to be honest about. But it’s such a public issue, it’s everywhere you look, but we want to make it private, and not talk about it. This is the great cover up. And it’s been happening since Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve after they sinned, hid in the bushes, trying to hide their sin and accused each other instead of confessing their sin, pathetically using fig leaves to cover their shame. Lies, accusations, deception: anything but the truth. The great cover-up begins. It’s interesting isn’t it? Sin ruins everything, As sin enters the world, it ruins sex straight away. You can see how sex is ruined through Adam and Eve’s shame. It had been so pure, but through sin but suddenly their nakedness becomes shameful. They’re no longer for each other but against each other, not trusting but deceiving, not serving but using, not open but hiding. The great cover-up. That’s how we try to deal with sin, especially sexual sin and temptation.
Shane Warne is esteemed as a role model, but he epitomises what we’re talking about. Here’s a man that lives by only this rule: thou shalt not get caught. Only if you get caught do you admit to something, and even when you do get caught, you don’t admit it’s wrong. Listen to Warnie, when he had to admit he’d engaged in phone sex with an English woman: “it was probably the wrong thing to do but I thought it was a private matter. I didn’t think it was going to become public and now that it has become public I suppose it’s a mistake. If it had stayed private then it wasn’t a mistake”.
The great cover up. Fig leaves 21st century style. Still trying to hide in the bushes, still trying to say that sin is ok. Just the same as Adam and Eve—reject God’s Word, do what you know is wrong , don’t confess it just cover it up because the only real problem is getting caught! That’s exactly the story of the life of David (2 Sam 11) where he attempts the same cover-up. David who was “a man after God’s own heart”, yet he fell into sexual sin and thought his only problem was how to cover it up. His slide into sin starts with a lingering look (v 2). He allows a glance to become a gaze – he feeds the lust. He makes enquiries (v3) – fantasy becomes a plan. Even when he’s told that Bathsheba is a married woman, it doesn’t matter. Lust has replaced listening to God. He’s only thinking of now: just the thrill, just the chase. Like the balloonists, he doesn’t think of the consequences, he doesn’t think the kill will be him. That’s the way the devil’s temptation works: he shows you the beauty, the excitement, not the destruction, heartbreak, pregnancy, or herpes, or the total destruction of your family. So David has sex with Bathsheba. But then of course, he has a problem because she’s pregnant. And that’s when the cover up begins. Trying to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba, so his sin won’t be discovered, getting Uriah drunk and finally having him murdered. One thought: cover-up, hide the sin, don’t admit guilt, hide in the bushes. It’s the Shane Warne approach: sin but don’t get caught.
If we’re honest, it’s you and me because we cover up too. We try to hide our sin from everyone else but there’s a problem with the cover-up— it doesn’t work because it doesn’t take away the real problem of sin. The real problem isn’t just the unwanted pregnancy. The real problem is the sinful heart that caused it, the broken relationship with God. Covering up the consequences, doesn’t take away the sin. Trying to hide your sin from God, is as pathetic as Adam and Eve trying to hide in the garden. Your lust, your impure thoughts and desires can never be covered up from God.
David finds this out (2 Sam 12:9) and the real sin is made clear, he’s despised the Word of God. That’s the heart of sin and there are consequences for sin. David will be punished (v 11) just as God punished Adam and Eve. David’s punishment is that he will lose his son. David’s tried to hide his sin, his lust and its consequences, but God wants to bring sin out into the open (v 12). God drags it out in the open, judges it, deals with it but he doesn’t just pass judgement on David’s sin, he forgives it too (v 13). David confesses his sin against the Lord, and then the promise, “the Lord has taken away your sin”.
4.3 The Solution
David’s confession is found in Psalm 32. About how he turned from cover-up to confession (v 5) and he celebrates God’s forgiveness at the start by saying “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered, whose sin the Lord doesn’t count against him”. He stopped covering up and God covered over his sin. But how does God cover over his sin? How is David forgiven for his lust and his adultery? Did David pay for his sin himself – through the judgement of losing his son? No but through a judgement passed on the true son of David. Forgiveness came when God really put an end to the cover-up, where he really brought sin out into the open, where the sin of the world was truly exposed in broad daylight, where Jesus hung on a cross naked and in shame, murdered for our lust, crucified for our impurity.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
4.4 Rising to Purity
We need to end the cover up and let God truly cover over your sin and forgive it. There’s no sin that God won’t forgive, no sin the blood of Jesus isn’t powerful enough to cleanse but you must end the cover-up. Come to God in confession. That’s how we become a Christian and that’s what it means to live as a Christian. Being a Christian is all about ending the cover-up. Paul says “God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life”, “flee from sexual immorality”, “you are not your own: you were bought at a price, therefore honour God with your body”. We don’t just come to the cross for forgiveness, you come to the cross for a changed life as well. We’re not people who cover-up sin anymore. We’re glad it’s out in the open because Jesus has paid for it. Now we’ve got to keep it out in the open, for God to work on it.
If you’re trying to fight a sin like this on your own, you’re foolish. There’s plenty of applications we can make in this area: the need to focus deeply on all we have in Christ; to look ahead to the great place we’re going so we’re less enticed by the temptations of this world; the need to fill our minds with God’s Word, to think pure thoughts, because the world is sure filling our heads with rubbish; to look at how Jesus fought temptation with God’s Word. God also gives us each other to fight sin. Dirty Harry says “A man’s got to know his limitations” and so do we. We can’t fight this sin alone. The Bible couldn’t be clearer, fighting sin is a team game (Heb 10:24-25, Js 5:16). If there’s something I pray about for this church, particularly I’ve got to say for the men in this church, it’s this area of sin. You’ve seen it in friends. Marriages destroyed. Children abandoned. But how did it start? With a drift from fellowship with God’s people. It started with spending less time in God’s Word. And so the world’s messages won – his own lusts won. And so here’s my question: if that’s you, if you’re not taking God’s word and Christian fellowship seriously, if Christian fellowship is just a bonus for you, what makes you think temptation won’t destroy you? If you’re not committed to hearing God’s Word, not meeting with others to study God’s Word through the week, if you don’t have someone you can confess your sin too, to be honest with, pray with, be accountable to each other … well, are you stronger than King David? You need another Christian you can talk to. Ask these questions of each other: what did you look at on the internet this week? what videos did you rent? what TV shows did you watch? when did you look at someone the way you shouldn’t? Not easy is it? Rather cover up? Well: no we wouldn’t! When we asked Jesus for forgiveness, we said, ‘my sins out in the open – no more hiding, please forgive it – please kill it off’. If we’re going to do that, we need each other.
See part two of this article here
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