Thursday, September 03, 2015

Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue



One Year Old!

Resisting Gossip was released on September 3, 2013 by CLC Publications.

Learn More

Preview, download, and read the endorsements, table of contents, foreword by Ed Welch of CCEF, introduction, and first chapter here.

Follow the story of the publishing or Resisting Gossip and discover many of the ways it's being used around the world by subscribing to the email newsletter.

Order Today

Resisting Gossip is available through these and other booksellers:

     Amazon

     CLC Book Center

     ChristianBook.com

     WTSBooks.com

     Next Step Resources

and in a growing list of e-book formats.

Now Even More

Go deeper into Resisting Gossip with the new participant's guide and Bible study Resisting Gossip Together, the corresponding video teaching series, and the Spanish version, Resistiendo el Chisme.

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Resisting Gossip" in Sudan

This Summer, I received this eager note in my inbox:
Dear Pastor Matt,
I read your book Resisting Gossip this season and was overwhelmed again with the details, the challenge of this insidious vice as highlighted in the book and the very practicable study that goes with it.
I'm a missionary in South Sudan, working among the youth, to raise a new generation of God lovers, whose overriding priority will be Jesus and all He paid for and deserves to get.
Sir, I'd love to use this book to instruct the churches and disciples within my network in South Sudan.
Uche Izuora
South Sudan? How did he hear about my little book?  More importantly, how do we get some low cost books over there? I put Uche in touch with the great folks at CLC Publications, and it took a while, but they found a way.

Just this week, I learned this week that 50 copies of Resisting Gossip are making their way to Brother Uche Izuora and his ministry in South Sudan by way of a church in California who is sending a missions team with books distributed through their luggage. How exciting!

***

Uche wrote this post about gossip this Summer: How To Poison Someone Successfully.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ"

“A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ”
All Roads Lead to Romans
January 25, 2014 :: Romans 7:1-25

I’ve entitled this message, “A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Does that phrase sound familiar to you?

Just last month, our church family decided to officially change our purpose statement for Lanse Free Church to include that phrase:

“Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.”

It used to say, “a love relationship with Jesus Christ,” and we still believe in that–being loved by Jesus and loving Him back.

But for some people the phrase, “a love relationship” might sound kind of romantic, and we don’t want to give people the wrong idea, so we’ve changed it to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s what we are about.

And as I was reading and re-reading and re-re-reading Romans 7, that’s what jumped out at me the most. Romans 7 (along with the rest of Romans!) is about how God is in the process of changing our lives forever because we are related to, connected to the Lord Jesus Christ.

And in Romans 7, there are two main ways that being related to Jesus has changed and will change our lives which I want to point out to you today. And those two changes will serve as our main applications for this chapter.

Romans 7 is about the Law.

You and I don’t tend to give much thought to the Mosaic Law, but as we’ve seen again and again, it’s never far from Paul’s mind in the book of Romans.

Paul has said a lot of short but powerful things about the Law so far.

Romans 2 was about how those who have the law don’t keep it and are under sin at least as much as those who do not have law.

Romans 3 said that the gospel of Jesus proclaims that a righteousness from God has come apart from the law even though the law pointed towards it.

And Romans 3 also said that “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”

Romans 4 said that Abraham was justified before the Law and therefore apart from the Law and that law brings wrath.

Romans 5 said that law was added to the story of the world so that sin might increase which was probably shocker for the Christians who had been Jews to hear.

And Romans 6 said that sin will not be our ultimate master because we are now not under law but under grace.

And I think that Paul wants to get a couple things clear about the law because of these things that he’s said, especially those last two.

What is the relationship between us and the law and is the law good or bad?

Those are the big questions. And the answers can be a little surprising (and complicated).

So let’s see what he has to say.

The first thing he’s going to say is that we, as gospel-believing Christians have been released from the Law.  Look at verse 1 of Romans chapter 7.

“Do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to men who know the law–that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.”

Paul is obviously using an analogy.

If a woman is married she is bound to husband for life. “Till death do us part.”

So if she goes and marries someone else while he’s right there, she’s an adulteress.

But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is free to marry another.

So, what are we? V.4

“So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”

That, my friends, is a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ!
We have died to the law.

Remember how we learned a few weeks ago that we had died to sin?

Well, it turns out that when we died to sin, we also died to the law. The Mosaic Law no longer holds the same authority over us that it did.  Including, especially, the condemnation that we deserved because we did not measure up to it!

“So, my brothers, you also died to the law [how?] through the body of Christ,” I think that means through His crucifixion. When He died, we died. And we died not just to sin but to the law.

And that was to free us to be bound so something else, someone else.

“[Y]ou also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another [to whom? To the dead guy?], to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”

We were released from the law to be wedded, united, joined to the Risen Christ so that we might fulfill all of God’s good plans for God’s people. So that we might bear fruit to God.

That’s not what had happened before. V.5

“For when we were controlled by the sinful nature [Greek “sarx” or “the flesh”], the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. [Not fruit for God but fruit for death. Yuck! That was us! V.6] But now, by dying to what once bound us [the law], we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”

#1. WE HAVE BEEN RELEASED FROM THE LAW TO SERVE IN THE NEW WAY OF THE SPIRIT.

How’s that for a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ?!

We Have Been Released from the Law to Serve in the New Way of the Spirit.

The old covenant is gone, and the new covenant has come.

Now, Paul is not going to mention the Spirit again until chapter 8. We’re going to have to wait until the next chapter to really dig into this idea of the newness of the Spirit.

But it sure sounds good, doesn’t it?

Because we are released from the law, we no longer serve God in the old way of the written code that really wasn’t working for us.  It was external to us and it was basically condemning us because of our sinfulness.

All those who tried to find salvation through obedience to the commandments were finding condemnation instead. Not only was the law not designed for that but no one could live up to it. Those who centered their lives on the commandments of the law were always coming up short.

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”

That’s a humongous change because of Jesus Christ.

And the application is simply to rejoice and to serve God in the new way of the Spirit!

We’ll talk more about what that looks like in the next chapter.

But first, we have to understand the concern that all of this teaching is raising for Paul.

It’s not a big deal to us because we don’t think about the law that much. We are always ready to sing, “Free from the law, O happy condition!

But it really raises some questions for Paul and for Paul’s Jewish readers.

Look at verse 7.

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not!”

Do you see his concern? Remember, chapters 6 and 7 are about answering questions that are raised once you’ve hear Paul’s gospel.

Chapter 6 was all about “Should we sin?”  Should we sin because it increases grace? Should we sin because we’re under law?

And the answer was, “No way!”

But here the question is, “Is the law sin?”

Is the law bad? Is the law the problem?

Paul, you sound like you’re saying that God made a mistake with Moses!

That God gave His people something bad, something sinful, the Law.

Is that what you’re saying, Paul?

We died to the law? Is that a good thing? Was the law sin?

Should we blame the law?  That’s the question.

And how does Paul answer it? The same way he answers all crazy questions, “May genoita! May it never be! God forbid. No way, no how. The law is not bad!”

The Mosaic law is not the problem.

The problem is me.

The problem is us.

Paul is saying, “Don’t get me wrong. The law is not to blame for the mess we’re in. We are to blame. Sin is to blame for the mess we’re in. Not the law.”

Now, it’s interesting how he does it. He does it by showing that there is a relationship between the law and sin. So, he’s not going back on anything he’s said about the law so far. He’s just clarifying. V.7 again.

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.”

Now, that’s a little confusing, but I’ll tell you what I think he means.

He says that the law was like a bridge that sin used to take him down.

The law wasn’t bad. It was good. It revealed what sin really is.

When God said, “Thou shalt not covet,” then it was really clear like never before that coveting was sinful.

But it was also never more tempting.

When Mom says, “I’m going out for an hour. Whatever you do, don’t eat that plate of brownies I just baked.”

Now, is there anything wrong with that command. No. It’s probably good, good for me, and good for others.

But I never wanted that brownie like I do now.

Is it Law’s fault? No. It’s my fault, but the law has given my sin an opportunity to express itself as a transgression.

Paul looks back at his experience. V.9

“Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.”

Now, I don’t think that Paul would have said this about himself back when he was a Pharisee, but he sees it clearly now.

His sin lived out the sin of Adam all over again.

Life with no law. The commandment comes. Sin sprang to life. Then there was death.

It’s not the commandment’s fault! It was sin’s fault. Sin ran across the bridge of the commandment and took me down.  Took us all down.

So, what’s the bottom line? V.12

“So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.”

That’s the answer to the question in verse 7. The law is not sin. It’s holy, righteous, and good. V.13

“Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.”

That’s the main message of Romans chapter 7, right there.

The Law is good. It is not bad. Don’t blame the law! It is not the problem.

Sin is the problem and sin used the law, but the law itself was not the problem.

The Law is good. But sin is bad and is utterly sinful.

And because of the law, we feel that.

And that’s a good gift, too! We should feel the sinfulness of sin.

So God used the law, as well, even while sin was using it. God had a better plan for it.

And now, He’s freed us from it.

Now that we feel it, we have been released from it to serve in the new way of the Spirit.

But we don’t always, do we?

“Prone to Wander, Lord, I Feel It
Prone to Leave the God I Love”

The rest of the chapter is a soul-searching meditation on the struggle with indwelling sin.

As I’ve said, the interpretation of this passage has been disputed by wonderful faithful Bible scholars for a long time.

Many many see it as Paul describing what it was like to live under the law before his conversion to Christ. And I think there is a lot of evidence that points that way.

But many others see it as Paul describing what it is like right now for himself as a Christ follower who still can fall into sin, still feel the powerful grip of sin trying to pull him back down. I think there is a little more evidence for that point of view.

And no matter which position you take, the point is still the same that the Law is not the solution–Jesus is.

The Mosaic law itself was not the problem. Verses 7 through 12 prove that.

But verses 13 through 25 also prove that the Mosaic Law was not the solution to the problem, either.  V.14

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.”

We know that the law is spiritual. It’s good. It’s perfect. It’s pleasing to God. There is nothing wrong with it.

But for all of Paul’s exposure to the Law, he is unspiritual, literally, “fleshly.”

The law has not transformed him. The law has not brought about the life-change that God desires.

It’s not a life-changing relationship with God’s commandments.

That way never works!

Not as a way of salvation. Not as a way of being the righteous person that God requires.

Go down that road and there is only sin and death.

Paul says, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.”

Now, I don’t think he means that he is positionally a slave to sin. He just said in the last chapter that we are dead to sin and it’s no longer our master.

But it feels like it sometimes, doesn’t it?

When we fail?
When we give up?
When we give in?
When we’re going backwards.

V.15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.”

Ever feel that way?

GOOD!

Because that’s how a Christian is supposed to feel when they fall into sin.

NonChristians, they don’t care. They don’t hate it.

What they want to do, they do.

But Christians have a love/hate relationship with sin.

“...what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.”

Why is that? Because the conflict in me shows that God’s commandments are good even when I don’t choose to follow them. V.17

“As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”

Now, don’t get Paul wrong here. He’s not saying that he’s not responsible for his sin. It’s his own sin that’s living in him. But he’s saying that there is something deeper and truer that is the real him, the truer him that isn’t his sin.

Sin is still resident but not president, right? V.18

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

Have you ever felt this way?

Yeah, we all have.

Sin is still powerful even when we know that it has been defeated.

Sometimes, we lose a battle even though we know that Jesus has won the war.

In ourselves we are weak. There is nothing good in us and it is so easy to keep on doing what we did when we were under the law and under sin. We are often divided people, pulled both ways and feeling like we’re losing.

V.21  “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”

Feel it! Do you feel the tension?

Do you ever feel like these verses?

GOOD!

That points to the fact that you are a Christian.

Because the nonChristian doesn’t want to do good, not at a deep level.

I don’t think a nonChristian delights in God’s law in their inner being.

And hates it when they see this competing law tugging at their hearts and making war in their hearts and actually taking you prisoner at times.

Sometimes it feels like a losing battle. And you just have to cry out with Paul verse 24.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

I take comfort from Paul saying that, because I think he really felt it.

Everything Paul knows about the gospel, and he still sometimes feels like a wretched man that is trapped in a living death.

But at the same time that’s no reason to give in to sin. There is no excusing sin here. There is no getting comfy and cozy with sin.

If you get comfy and cozy with sin, you might not be a Christian.

Paul wasn’t comfy and cozy with sin. He was hating it. He frustrated with himself. He was mad himself and bewildered by his own behavior.

But he wasn’t giving up the fight.  He was longing for fight to end.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

And he knows the answer. V.25

“Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

A life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s how he’ll be rescued!

#2. WE WILL BE RESCUED FROM THE WAR WITHIN.

Because we are in a relationship with Jesus Christ, we will be rescued from the war within.

Notice the future tense?

“Who will rescue me?” (V.24)
“Through Jesus Christ!” (V.25)

We aren’t there yet.

We have been saved from the penalty of sin.
We are being saved from the power of sin.
But we are not yet saved from the presence of sin.

That doesn’t come until the resurrection.

When our body of death is turned into a body of resurrection life.

So, the battle right now, still rages. V.25

“Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

Just because I know that the rescue is coming, doesn’t mean that I don’t have to struggle now.

We struggle now.

And we can win. We’ve learned that. We need to live out the truths of the gospel.

We are no longer slaves of sin.
We are no longer bound to the law.

And we need to live like it.

We’ll see more about how to do that in chapter, through the Spirit.

But for now the war still rages on and some of those battles will be lost along the way.

Salvation is Already But Not Yet.

It’s already here but not yet here in its fullness.

And we’re going to feel that.

That’s no excuse for sinning. Sin is awful here in Romans 7. There is nothing in sin to get cozy about.

But it’s also still around. It’s still living in me. Still to be dealt with daily.

And the answer to sin is not the law.

As good as the law is it is neither the problem or the solution. It doesn’t fix anything.

But Jesus does and Jesus will.

Let’s trust and follow Him.

***

Messages in this Series

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You

My 2015 Annual Report for Lanse Free Church

Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God
by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ
through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2014

Dear Church Family,

I love being your pastor. Some people might say, “A bad day hunting is still better than a good day in the office,” but that’s not how it is for me. Aside from spending time with my own family, there isn’t much I enjoy more than serving my church family, and I know that is an unusual privilege. Thank you for being an unusual church!

Stretching Back Into 2014

Last year, I said that the key word for 2014 might be “stretching,” and I think that’s exactly how it turned out.

The Lord certainly stretched our Oaxaca Mission Team as a number of them had never been out of the country before, much less on a missions trip. They brought back lots of enthusiasm, some great stories, and some new perspectives. I’m glad that we are connected to Oaxaca now in a new way.

The 2014 Challenge Conference was a stretching experience for our youth ministry (new experiences, 20 hour drives, inner-city missions!), and also for me as I took on the challenge of speaking to over 1000 students about resisting gossip and also same-sex attraction. Thanks for praying for me!

In 2014, we finished the “Great Clean Out” and “Great Move Around” reorganization that began with the remodeling project we did in 2012. Soon, the upstairs will also be finished and we can use these new spaces to minister in new ways.

We were stretched as we reached out to our community through big events like the Wild Game Dinner, the Gray Havens concert, the Good News Cruise, Family Bible Week, the Durocher Family Concert, and the Good News Gospel Hour Concert. It seemed like we were trying something “big” every few weeks this year!

The Lord stretched our abilities to memorize with our Hide the Word verses for 2014. Psalm 139:23-24, 1 Peter 2:24, 2 Samuel 7:22, Acts 3:21, Romans 1:15, and Romans 3:23-24. Can you recite these passages from memory?

We were stretched to meet and enfold new people into our church family. While our average Sunday attendance stayed around 145 (the previous year was 149), we met lots of new people including several new families in the last month of the year. The highest attended service was Resurrection Sunday with 262 people. We also added a new member in Amy Jo Belko. And the Crumrine’s family stretched to four with the addition of Simon.

Each of our ministries stretched themselves to serve the church family and the community. Read their reports in the front of this document to see what God was up to!

Pastoral Ministry

I tend to summarize my pastoral role in three main areas: preaching, equipping, and shepherding.

Preach the Word

For most of 2014, we were in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel with the twin sermon series, “A Heart for the Heart of God” and “The LORD is My Rock.” Then in the Fall, I began our current series “All Roads Lead to Romans.” I also got to speak about Resisting Gossip in several churches, seminars, and conferences, talk to the West Branch Bible Club a few times, open the Word at a West Branch Lenten luncheon, and preach at the Windy Hill Nursing Home.

We had more guest preachers than usual this year, many of which I got to be present to hear myself: Spencer Folmar, Cody Crumrine, Steve Sorenson, Sean O’Brien, Alex Ilease, Mark Carpenter, Kim Cone, and Taylor Thomas.

Equip the Saints

In some churches there is an “80-20 Rule” where 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, but LEFC is an exception to that rule. We have so many people who volunteer to run the ministries, and it’s my joy to work alongside them as a coach to equip them for ministry (Eph 4:11). In any given month, I might attend as many has 5-10 committee or ministry leadership meetings. My favorite thing is when a ministry team takes off on their own and multiplies its effectiveness.

I continued to be heavily invested in the EFCA both in the Allegheny District and in the broader national ministry. My district ministries include serving on the District Board, heading the AD Constitutions and Credentials Board, coordinating the Stay Sharp Theology Conference, and leading a regional pastors group for Central PA. My national ministries include serving as the book review coordinator for EFCA Now and as a new member of the EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee which works at maintaining the theological health of our association. In 2014, I was able to write an article for EFCA Now entitled “Whisperings,” and I got to attend the national phone conference that officially affirmed David Dockery as the new president of Trinity International University.

Shepherd the Flock

One of my favorite parts of my job is being in your lives. Thank you for welcoming me into your homes and at difficult places like a counseling room, a hospital bedside, and a funeral parlor. It is a high privilege to be with and pray with you.

It was a special joy to baptize five great young men on Resurrection Sunday, especially because three of them are my sons!  I got to baptize Isaac Mitchell, Peter Mitchell, Andrew Mitchell, Ben Schiefer, and Dalton Kristofits.  I also got to dedicate Landen Dobo with his parents on Mother’s Day. Sadly, it was also big year for funerals, especially of some of our most faithful older saints. In 2014, I led services for Beatrice Johnson, Lloyd and Dora Hampton, Brenda Plisco, Tom Kerin, Dianna Moore, Barry Bonsall, and Walter Mucha.

Personal Highlights and Thanks

Last year, I was rejoicing in the release of Resisting Gossip, and that celebration really hasn’t ceased. I get regular notes from people who are reading the book and being helped by it. Resisting Gossip has now come out in Spanish (Resistiendo el Chisme) and will soon be translated into French, Korean, and Russian! This year, we also released a participant’s guide and Bible study called Resisting Gossip Together and produced a set of teaching videos that correspond to each chapter. Thank you for setting me free to create these resources for the broader body of Christ.

As I said last year, I’m enjoying being a published author (especially now that the hard work is all done!), but I enjoy simply being your pastor even more. Thank you for listening to me each week, following my leadership, and especially for loving my family. We found out this year that our daughter Robin has Celiac Disease. Thank you, all, for your support throughout this life-changing diagnosis and steep-learning curve of a diet. Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for paying me so generously and giving me time off. Thank you to our hard-working staff and faithful elder team for your faithful and loving service. I’ve been your pastor for nearly seventeen years, and I still love it and love you. It’s a joy to be your pastor.

Vision for 2015

The phrase I want to emphasize this coming year is “life-changing.”

Last month, we officially changed our church’s purpose statement to include those  words–“Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.”

Our church has always been about that life-changing relationship, but now we’re even more specific in articulating it.

I see us trying to introduce people Christ in 2015 through large events like our “God’s Not Dead” movie night, upcoming Last Supper Drama, Family Bible Week, and Good News Cruise. Hopefully, we’ll be doing it in small but powerful ways in our every day lives, as well.

I’m hoping that our 2015 ministries of service such as the projected Pittsburgh Ministry Trip will also be life-changing for those  who participate. I expect our many discipleship ministries and worship gatherings to be life-changing as the Lord increasingly de-conforms us from the pull of the world and increasingly conforms us to the image of His Son (Romans 12:2, 8:29).

How are you praying for God to change your life this year?  How do you see yourself joining in what God is doing at Lanse Free Church in 2015?

May the Lord change our lives and use us to change others’ in 2015!

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "Answer a Fool?"

“Answer a Fool?”
January 18, 2015
Proverbs 26:4-5

Roper Houston, Matt Modzel, Lucas Kristofits and I teach the Youth Boys class on Wednesday nights.  We’ve get between 7 and 15 boys each week for that class.

And each Wednesday, we have been memorizing a Proverb and talking about what it means for our lives today.

The Proverbs are jam-packed with wisdom for skillfully living in this world, and we’ve been having a great time talking about them on Wednesday nights. Ask any of our boys to quote a proverb and tell you what it means. They’re learning how to analyze a proverb and to apply it directly their lives.

Well, in Proverbs chapter 26, there is a lot there about fools.

Proverbs basically divides people up into two categories, the wise and the foolish.  There are other fine ways to slice it, but those two categories carry a lot of weight in the Proverbs.

Wise and Foolish.  The wise live by God’s word and make skillful, right choices in various situations–and because of that, they are blessed.

The foolish suffer from what some have called “Character Deficiency Syndrome.”

That is, being foolish doesn’t mean being “silly.”  It means being morally dull.

Unwise.  Picking the wrong things.  Rejecting God’s truth as the guide for living.

The fool consistently makes wrong choices. Not just “mistakes” but bad choices. Our boys will tell you that a synonym for “foolish” is “wicked.” Not just dumb but wicked.

And the Proverbs, especially chapter 26, teach both (how to be wise) that is, how not be a fool and also how to relate to those who are unwise–how to relate to those who are foolish.

Verses 4 and 5 are two proverbs about how to relate to a fool.

And they seem, on the face of it, contradictory.  In fact, someone who doesn’t believe the Bible might point to these verses as an example of how the Bible is supposedly full of errors.

But that’s foolish itself, because the compilers of the Proverbs were no dummies, and they put these two verses right beside each other!

These verses are right next to each other to be provocative and to get us to think.

And if we do, then we’ll be come wise in how to relate to those who are not.

Proverbs chapter 26, verses 4 and 5.

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.  Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

So, should you or should you not answer a fool?

Let me give you a few fer’instances.

Kids, you are in the lunchroom at school this week, and a table-mate says to you, “I think you’re dumb for believing in Jesus.  He was just a good teacher and not the Son of God. And he’s not still around now answering prayers!”

What are you going to do?

Guys, you’re at work and the discussion turns to “philosophy.”  And a co-worker says, “I think there is no such thing as absolute truth.  Truth is what you think it is.  And I’m tired of other people telling me what to believe.  I’ll believe what I want to believe.  There are no absolute truths!”

What are you going to do?

Ladies, this is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  You have a friend or a family member who just found out that she’s pregnant.  And her boyfriend is pressuring her to get an abortion.  The boyfriend doesn’t want the responsibility of a baby.  And somehow you’ve gotten dragged into the discussion.

You say that you think that abortion is wrong–all the time.  And that she should keep the baby–anything else would be unthinkable.

And the boyfriend turns on you and says that you’re stupid.  And that this is a free country.  “Abortion is a woman’s right to choose.  Abortion is a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body.”

What are you going to do?

In all three of these situations you are dealing with a fool.

How, if at all, are you going to answer them or any of the foolish things that you are going to actually encounter this week?

Proverbs gives us two pieces of wise counsel:

#1.  DO NOT ANSWER A FOOL ACCORDING TO HIS FOLLY.  V.4

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.”

Proverbs says, “Don’t go there.”

In this verse, “according to his folly” must mean something like “playing by his rules.”

My wife’s take on it was “Don’t answer a fool in kind.”

Don’t start with his or her presuppositions.
Don’t mimic his or her attitudes.

If they come at you with foolishness, don’t answer back with more foolishness!

Because, if you do, you’ll become like them.  You’ll become a fool.

Have you ever heard an argument between kids say 5 and under?  It goes something like this:

Uh huh!
Nuh uh!
Uh huh!
Nuh uh!
Uh huh!
Nuh uh!

And it just gets louder?!

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.”

It’s better sometimes to say absolutely nothing.

Remember how David made this mistake?  We learned about it last year.

David, when he was on the run before he was king, and his men were providing some protection to some neighbors’ property and they asked their neighbor for some reward–financial and nutritional as a payback.

But this neighbor’s name was ... Nabal.  Anybody know what Nabal’s name means in Hebrew?

His mother named him “Fool,” and he didn’t want to let her down!

Nabal insulted David and his men.

What should David have done?

I think, he probably should have walked away from that one.

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.”

But David got hot-headed himself, saddled up his horses to go teach Nabal a lesson, and it took the wisdom of Abigail to diffuse the situation.

If she hadn’t intervened, by God’s grace, David would have become a Nabal himself.

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.”

And some of us love that answer!

Why?  Because we don’t want to talk with a fool.

It’s like mud wrestling with a pig.  You both get really dirty, and the pig enjoys the whole thing!

But Proverbs 26 also gives us this:

Counsel #2.  ANSWER A FOOL ACCORDING TO HIS FOLLY.  V.5

“Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

Sometimes, often, we’ve got to say something!

V.5 says that if we don’t, then it looks like there is no answer for what the fool is saying.

The puritan Charles Bridges writes about this verse, “Silence may sometimes be mistaken for defeat.  Unanswered words may be deemed unanswerable, and the fool become arrogant, more and more wise in his own eyes” (577-576).

So, sometimes, we have to say something to pop a fool’s bubble.

And we have to do it, “according to his folly.”

And here, I don’t think that means “playing by his rules” or “in kind.”

But something more like “showing how his folly works.”

Or pointing out “the folly in his folly.”

The Apostle Paul did this really well.

At one point in one of his letters, he says, “I’m talking like a fool!”

And what he’s doing there is using his opponents’ own line of reasoning and then showing how foolish their conclusions really are.

Sometimes, we have to take the battle to them and play on their own turf–even if we play by our own rules.

Does that make sense?

“Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

So, which is it?

Do we ANSWER or NOT ANSWER?

Most of us like to lean towards one or the other.

Some of us love to argue.

And we want to point out the problem with the other guy’s thinking.

Isn’t that one of the biggest problems on social media today?

Have you seen this comic?


Isn’t that how it is?

Lots of pointing out what’s wrong with someone else’s position.

And we’ve got to do it! We can’t let this go. We’ve to make our opinion known.

Well, sometimes, that is needed.  But the problem is that we might become a fool ourselves.

Many of the rest of us, I imagine, are prone to not give an answer.

To just be quiet and walk away.  Afraid of a fight instead of itching for one.

And sometimes that’s needed, to walk away.  But the problem with that approach is that the foolishness can often go unchecked.

Imagine if every parent left their children to remain in their foolishness.

Some children grow up thinking that they know it all.  Because their parents didn’t love them enough to answer their folly.

Commentator Donald Hubbard writes this about these two verses together:

“That situation poses a problem to the wise: how should one ‘answer’ the fool? The opposite bits of advice—‘do not answer’ and “do answer’—show that there is no automatic formula to be applied. Each situation calls for a response that the wise must have confidence to discern on the spot. In one case, to answer would lead to prolonged argument in which the wise might be trapped into babbling like a fool. Where there is a chance of that, silence is the prudent way…In another case, one prick of the fool’s balloon may bring him back to reality and burst the bubble of his conceit (‘wise in his own eyes’). To answer in that circumstance does a favor to everyone, including the fool…both proverbs are valid, each in its own setting,” D. Hubbard, Mastering the Old Testament: Proverbs (Word 1989), 398-99.

It calls for wisdom, which is a gift given through the Holy Spirit.

You know who was awesome at this?

The Lord Jesus.

Jesus encountered a lot of foolishness in His ministry.  From Pharisees to Disciples to Kings.

And Jesus never made the mistake of playing the fool-game back to the fool.

He didn’t even give an answer to King Herod when he was asked a stupid question.

He asked questions sometimes to change the rules.

But He didn’t miss a chance to point out someone’s folly so that they couldn’t think that they had confounded Jesus in all of His wisdom.

Jesus was perfect at this.  And we can learn a lot from His example.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly.
Answer a fool according to his folly.

Both, properly understood, are right and true.

Let’s think how that might play out in our 3 fer’instances.

The kid at the lunch table.  “I think you’re dumb for believing in Jesus.  He was just a good teacher and not the Son of God.  And he’s not still around now answering prayers!”

What do you say?

“I think you’re dumb for not believing in Jesus!  He rose from the dead and He’s coming back to bring judgment on you, fool!”

How’s that sound?

In our family, my brother is famous for saying in frustration to an atheist teenager back when he was in high school, “Have fun in Hell!”  We call that the “Andy Mitchell School of Evangelism.”  You don’t want to go there.

But should you say nothing?

Maybe you could say, “Believing in Jesus is the best thing I’ve ever done.  If He said that He was God in the flesh, and He wasn’t, how could He have been a good teacher like you say?  I believe that He rose from the dead and is still alive today.  And I’ll be praying for you that you believe it, too!”

Kids, could you say something like that?

The Lord will help you to.

Don’t Answer a Fool According to His Folly, But Answer a Fool According to His Folly!

I think that’s the theme of the movie we’re going to show here on Saturday night. “God’s NOT Dead.” It’s about a college student who runs up against a wildly atheistic professor and tries to give a winsome answer for the hope that is within him (1 Peter 3:15).

How about that second fer-instance?

The guys around the water-cooler at work.

“I think there is no such thing as absolute truth.  Truth is what you think it is.  And I’m tired of other people telling me what to believe.  I’ll believe what I want to believe.  There are no absolute truths!”

Do you answer them?

Maybe you just let that one go.  There’ll be another time.

Just because someone says something foolish doesn’t mean that you have speak back, especially if you’ve got nothing good to say.

Or you might say, “Are you saying that there are absolutely no absolute truths?”

And you just let that sit there.

Or maybe you go personal.  You say something like, “I’m sorry that you think that Christians think they know it all.  Sometimes that’s how we act.  But it’s not that we think we’re right about everything.  We believe that God is right about everything.  So, we believe what He says.  And that means that some things are right and some things are wrong.  Absolutely.”

Because if you don’t say anything, they might think they’ve got you.

Don’t Answer a Fool According to His Folly, But Answer a Fool According to His Folly!

Ladies, you’re caught in between the boyfriend who wants the abortion and the girlfriend who wants your opinion.

“You’re stupid.  This is a free country.  Abortion is a woman’s right to choose.  Abortion is a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body. Roe vs. Wade.”

You don’t get bent out of shape.  You don’t start ranting and raving or threatening to blow up an abortion clinic.

That would be becoming a fool yourself.

But you’ve got to say something!

What might you say?

Can I recommend a book for everyone to read?

If you don’t know what to say about pro-abortion arguments, I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book, ProLIFE Answers to ProCHOICE Arguments. Or this littler one that we have out there for free, Why Pro-Life?

Alcorn understands Proverbs 26:4&5!

And we can’t be silent on this issue in our culture.

It’s too important!  It’s a matter of life or death!

Maybe you say to the boyfriend, “I don’t think you can be very objective in your position.”

Or maybe you say, “I believe that abortion is child-killing.  Would you do the same thing to a 2 year old?”

“It’s not just a blob of tissue, it’s a human being.  Shouldn’t this be a free-country for him or her, too?”

I know that it’s easier said than done.

I know that it’s a lot easier for me to throw out hypothetical foolish attacks and then give you crafted wise answers than it will be to answer fools in real life.

But God, through the Holy Spirit, will give us the grace to answer folly where we need to, if we trust Him.

Because God has supplied, in Jesus, the greatest answer to folly there ever could be!

Jesus died for our foolishness.

He paid the penalty in His body on the Cross for all of our rejecting God’s truth.

And then He came back to life to give us Himself and His wisdom.

The book of Colossians says that in Jesus are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

If we have come to trust in Christ alone, we have free access to all of the wisdom we will ever need–for all eternity!

Don’t Answer a Fool According to His Folly, But Answer a Fool According to His Folly–and Jesus will help you to do it.

***

Long term readers of this blog will recognize that this message is based upon a sermon from January 2008. I'm grateful to be able to teach this material again but sad that the world needs it more than ever before.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Resisting Gossip Triplets Turn 70

Remember the Resisting Gossip Triplets?

Yesterday, their local newspaper ran a neat story about them for their 70th birthday and the story includes a picture of them with the official large canvas version of this portrait with them and Resisting Gossip.

Happy birthday to Margaret, Christine, and Charlotte!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "Slaves of ...?"

“Slaves of ...?”
All Roads Lead to Romans
January 11, 2015 :: Romans 6:15-23 

Last week, we resumed our study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians about the good news of Jesus Christ–the gospel about which Paul is unashamed.

Paul has laid out the gospel, the bad news of God’s oncoming wrath against our unrighteousness and then the good news about the gracious righteousness that has come to us through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

And Paul has now begun to defend this gospel of grace against objections. The questions that pop up when you explain how good the good news is.

Last week’s question was, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”

What was the answer to that?

Absolutely not! God forbid. No way on earth.

Why? Because we died.

Remember that?  Because of our union with Christ, you and I have died. And that means that we are freed from the penalty and the power of sin. And we have been made alive spiritually and one day will be raised from the dead physically like Christ was. And because of that, we have been freed from sin.

Remember that?

Well, in these next few verses, Paul takes it one step further.

Here’s the question he’s going to ask (v.15), “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”

And the answer to that one is the same as the last one.

Absolutely not! God forbid. No way on earth. Unthinkable. You’ve got to be kidding me. “May genoita.”

And the reason he gives for that answer is all about slavery.

Slavery.

Slaves of what?

That’s the question that Paul reminds us to ask ourselves every time we are tempted to give the wrong answer to the question, “Shall we sin?”

Well, it depends on whose slave we are.

In verse 14, Paul gave his readers a major promise. We just glanced at it last week, but it’s a major promise. V.14 “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”

Now, that “under law” thing is going to be the subject of the next chapter. Paul is going to teach that not only are we freed from sin but that we are freed from the Mosaic Law. Free from its power and condemnation. We’ll learn more about that next week.

But because of that freedom from the law, and because of the power of grace, Paul confidently promises that sin shall not be our master.

But some people only hear the “free from law part,” and say, “Oh, that sounds good. If I don’t have the Law any more then maybe I can do more sinning?” v.15

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

I don’t think so. As they say in New York City, “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

Do you see the drift of this question?

If we are not under law, can we do some more sinning?

I think that a lot of people answer that question the wrong way.

Have you ever heard anyone justify sin by saying, “Hey! We’re not under law any more.”

Have you ever heard anyone justify sin by saying, “Well, we’re under grace now.”

I certainly have.

But that’s the exact opposite answer that Paul gives.

Here’s the question, “Shall We Sin?”

No matter the reason that it’s asked, that’s the bottom line question of verse 15.

And how do you answer that in your own life?

How did you answer it this week?

“Shall I sin?”

Shall I gossip about that person who offended me?
Shall I steal office supplies from my employer?
Shall I cuss out my co-worker who drives me crazy?
Shall I access internet pornography?
Shall I get drunk on the weekend?
Shall I watch that movie I know I shouldn’t watch?
Shall I jealously drool over my neighbor’s car?
Shall I yell at my kids in anger?
Shall I give myself to anxious worry about the future?
Shall I take the Lord’s name in vain?

Shall I sin?

How do we answer that question?

Paul says to answer it with another question. “Whose slave am I?” v.16

“Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Paul believes that they know this. If you constantly give yourself to someone as a salve then you are their slave!

And there are only two options here. Slaves of sin (which leads to death) or to obedience (to God), which leads to righteousness, justness.

And here’s his point #1.

Shall we sin?

1. NO, WE HAVE BEEN SET FREE FROM SIN'S MASTERY! V.17

“But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin...”

Paul gives thanks to God that the Roman Christians have experienced freedom from their sins.

He says they used to be slaves of sin, but then they embraced the gospel. V.17 again.

“[Y]ou wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted...”

You heard the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and you believed it. And it changed your fundamental relationship with sin.

“You have been set free from sin...”

We’re going to sing in just a few minutes, “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free, My God my Savior has rescued me.”

Should we sin?

No! We’ve been set free.

We aren’t freed to sin, we’re free from sin. Sin’s mastery.

Sin is no longer our Lord.

Why would we want to keep obeying our old Lord?

What’s the answer to that?

Why would we want to keep obeying our old Lord?

Well, we’re used it, right?

That’s been our habit until we met Christ.

Sin said, “Go here,” and we went there.
Sin said, “Come here,” and we came there.

It’s what we’re used to.

And everyone else is doing it.  It’s hard to swim upstream.

And we can still hear the voice of sin, saying, “Follow me.”

And there’s still a part of us that wants whatever sin promises, so we’re prone to wander, Lord I feel it.

But that’s not the deepest truth about who we are.

The deepest truth about who we are (if we are in Christ) is that we are free from sin.

We have been set free from sin, why would we ever want to go back?

Should we sin?

#2. NO, WE HAVE A NEW MASTER NOW!

Catch the end of verse 18.

“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

There’s our word “dikaosunai.”

We have a new master now, and his name is righteousness.

That’s interesting, you know.

Most of us get the first part of that verse to some degree but we don’t get the second part.

It’s not that we no longer have any master, but we have a new master.

Our ownership has been transferred.

“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Meet the new master.

Check your dog-tags. Check your uniform. Check your identification papers. To whom do you belong?

“Slaves of ... whom?”

There is no neutral in this world. There is no living without a master.

The great theologian Bob Dylan said it this way, “You Gotta Serve Somebody.”

The question is not are you a slave. The question is whose slave are you?

And the gospel has answered that question. V.18, you “have become slaves to righteousness.”

Now, that’s potentially confusing, isn’t it? Paul knows that. That’s why he says, verse 19, “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves.”

The slave analogy breaks down at significant points. It’s inadequate. Because slavery to obedience, to righteousness, to (v.22) God is not confining and it’s not coercive like so much other slavery is. Slaves to God are not like unthinking zombies acting against their own will.

But Paul feels the need to use the human analogy of slavery to explain our relationship to God because we’re weak in our flesh.

We need to be reminded that obedience is not optional. That grace does demand things. And that we are owned.

Americans don’t like to be owned.

"Don’t tread on me.
Live free or die.
Give me liberty or give me death."

Well, that’s one thing when it comes to our freedom from human slavery and human tyranny.

But it’s another thing when it comes to God.

We have a new master now. We have become slaves of righteousness.

Not that we unthinkingly or coercively obey righteousness now. It’s not automatic.

But that on my identification papers, it says, “Matt Mitchell belongs to righteousness.”

Who’s your master?

I am a registered slave of righteousness because of the grace of Jesus Christ.

Does that make sense?

So then verse 19 says to live like it. V.19

“Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Live out the truth of who you really are.

Have you heard of football players who recover a fumble and then run towards the wrong endzone?

They get turned around and forget which was is towards the goal.

I’ve heard of basketball players who get traded from one team to another, and then they end up passing the ball to the other team by mistake.  The face and the uniform was so familiar.

Paul is saying you have a new master now, don’t play for the old team.

“Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now [play for the new team] offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Now, I want focus on this verse because it’s the application of the passage.

Not only should we not sin, but we should offer the parts (members) of our body in slavery to righteousness.

The application of today’s passage is to give our bodies over to right living.

I think it’s interesting that he emphasizes the body.

Offer your body parts to righteousness.

What does that look like?

Well, what are you body parts?

Your eyes. Offer your eyes to righteousness. Why do you look at? What you do gaze upon?

Your tongue. Offer your tongue to righteousness. What do you say? What comes out of your mouth?

Your ears. Offer your ears to righteousness. Righteousness is your master. You belong to righteousness. What does righteousness want you to listen to?

Your sexual organs. Offer your genitals to righteousness. Righteousness is your master. You belong to righteousness. What does righteousness require from your sexuality?

Your feet. Offer your feet to righteousness. Where does your master require you to go?

Your hands. Offer your hands to righteousness. What does your master require you to do with your hands?

“Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

"Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to thee."

Your brain. Offer your brain to righteousness. Righteousness is your new master. What does righteousness require from your brain? What will you think about?

Do you see how comprehensive this slavery is? It’s not confining. You will find true freedom in living out the Lord’s will for you.

But grace brings obligation.

Grace does not lead us into more sin but into holiness.

“...so now offer [the parts of your body] in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

And you’ll love the result. V.20

“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness [righteousness held no sway over you]. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Should we sin?

#3. NO, WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN ETERNAL LIFE!

Paul wants to make this clear.

No misunderstanding.

This slavery to righteousness (to God) is not a contract where we obey Him and then we earn eternal life as a paycheck.

No, sin pays a wage. If you want a wage, you can turn to sin. Sin pays. But it pays in death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And because we’ve been given that eternal life by God’s grace, we say no to sin in the here and now.

Does that make sense? Are you following me?

Paul is asking the Roman Christians to weight in the balance the two masters.

“Slaves of .... whom?”

What did you get when you were a slave of sin?

Uhm, shame and freedom from righteousness and death.

How’s that working for you?

What do you get when you are a slave to God? V.22

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”

Life that goes on and on forever in blessedness.

Weigh those two masters in your hands.

Which one do you think is better?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”

That’s crazy talk. We have been given eternal life. Why would we want to live like we used to?

Some of you may not have yet received this free gift from God.

I urge you now to receive it.

Jesus Christ paid for our sins when He died on the cross.

He did what we could not do.

And He offers eternal life as a gift to all who repent of their sins and put their faith in Him and Him alone.

“The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It is not something you earn, it is something He has earned and offers freely to you.

I invite you to receive Him and His gift right now.

And when you do, you become a child of God. We’ll talk more about that in a few weeks. What a glorious thing to be adopted into God’s family!

But you also become God’s slave. You belong to Him. And You belong to His righteousness. It gets stamped on your ownership papers. His name goes on the title of your life.

And He is calling all of us to offer up the parts of our body (the whole of our bodies) in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness for His own glory.

Is there an area of your life where you have been answering the question wrong.

“Shall we sin ... because we’re under grace?”

Is there a body part that you have been offering in slavery to impurity and ever-increasing wickedness? Like you’re playing for the wrong team?

Remember that you have been set free, yo uhave a new master now, and you have been given eternal life.

Live like it.


***

Messages in this Series

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You