Why do we talk about relationships and values as we have been this week? It is not that God is going to zap us with a lightening bolt if we don’t strictly follow His ways. God is love, and He loves each of us more than we can possibly understand. It is because of His love that He has given us values by which He calls us to live. He created us. We are His idea, made in His image. The values He has given in His Word, the Bible, simply tells the way in which we find the best life He desires for us. So when we talk about gender issues, sexual morality, basically those things outlined in the ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, we are not setting laws, things we must do to be right with God. Rather, we are saying that God, in His love, designed the way of life in which we would find the greatest satisfaction and joy in life, and would come more deeply into a relationship with Him. In love God always seeks to give us His best.
What parent has not been the brunt of a child’s anger when they have had to discipline them or deny them of something they wanted to do? The parent is accused of being hateful or unloving. Or sometimes its the response, “everyone else is doing it, why can’t I?”. We know the very opposite is true. The parent is not being hateful or unloving. It is because of love that the parent sets boundaries, and denies certain things that can be harmful. We want the best for them. The same thing is true when we, as Christians, speak out against behaviors and actions that Scripture says are harmful, particularly those involving human sexuality. Many centuries ago King Solomon wrote, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”(Proverbs 14:12) God is our Father. When He has set boundaries for our lives in his Holy Word, He has done it out of love and for our best good. When we uphold those values it is because of His love we desire all people to know.
Any project takes a plan, the right materials, and good labor. If one skimps on any part the finished product will not turn out well. Scripture uses this image of a building project a number of times, and particularly in relation to what God is doing with us. Psalm 100 has declared “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture….(vs.3) You are the perfect material God has chosen to use for His creation. Peter wrote, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood,…(IPt.2:5) Even Abraham understood this 2000 years before Christ. In his relationship with the Lord it says “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”(Hebrews 11:10) This makes a tremendous difference in how you look at yourself. Not in being puffed up with pride, but understanding that you loved by God, and precious. God has a real and special purpose for your life. I wish more of our young people could understand themselves this way rather than by the values of what the world calls beautiful and good. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,…”(Ephesians 2:10)
We talk a lot about freedom. It is part of our fallen nature to dislike someone telling us we can’t do something. In one sense this is good. I’ve told my kids not to tell me they can’t do some task. They should at least give it their best try. But freedom must be within boundaries. Many years ago Solomon wrote that “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”(Proverbs 16:25) There must be a guide, a standard, a set of values that guides our use of freedom. Civil governments set laws for this purpose. Various Ethics Commissions set standards in government, and industries. In theology we talk about the “third use of the law” which basically means a right understanding of the Ten Commandments as a guide for a Christian’s behavior. Freedom cannot be unlimited, or as Solomon taught, “it leads to death”. The best guide, if we would head it, is attributed to a sermon of St. Augustine, the 4th century bishop. Paraphrased he said, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” We would do well to follow that.
Many today deny the existence of absolute values, things that are always right for all time. Rather, each individual decides for themselves what values they follow, and aren’t to impose those values on others. OK, I understand that. Each person does make a choice of the values they follow, and we don’t make laws for each other saying that one must do this or that. However, that does not change the truth that Christians proclaim. We declare that Almighty God created us. That because we are His idea, His creation, He has established a way of life that is for our best good. This way of life is not a law that say you automatically go to hell if you don’t follow it precisely. It is an invitation to find the best life within the plan for which we were created. Even further, God came among us Himself in Jesus Christ to provide the way for our life in Him. Finding God’s good life is not being required to follow some set of laws, but yielding to the One who loves us and gave Himself that we might know the true life for which we were created.
I probably should apologize for some of my comments in my Good Morning message this past Friday. I was talking about the expressions on the faces of soap opera actors, and the people on the fashion runways in New York. I know nothing about the individuals who earn their living in those lines of work. I certainly do not know any of their hearts, and it is not my place to judge any of their motives. But we do see what is portrayed, which in greater or lesser degrees is a reflection of the values of the world in which we live. We must make judgments about those values, and seek to guide our lives by all that God has give us for our best good. Our Lord always wants so much more for us than what can be found in seeking worldly peace and prosperity. He has given the life of His Son so that we could have life to the fullest extent (John 10:10) both now and eternally. That is something the world cannot give.(John 14:27)
There is a great outcry today against so called hate speech coming from various groups. There are demonstrations and protest on college campuses against certain invited speakers. A local college in our area had an outcry from students over a bulletin board the Republican Club put up with material they felt was offensive. Certainly there have been some terrible crimes that have happened because of deeply held hateful attitudes, like the murder of a young black Army lieutenant just a week before his college graduation. These acts must be condemned, and punished to the full extent of the law. But we are a nation founded on the principle of freedom, and especially that of speech, press, and assembly. We must be willing to listen to one another even if we don’t agree with what is said. An opposing view, especially to society’s currently held standard of diversity, is not in itself hate speech. Christians are committed to the truth of God’s Word, the Bible. We do speak in opposition to the accepted values of the LGBT community. But we do not, we must not, hate anyone. We are all sinful beings for whom our Lord Jesus died. Yet there are values and standards for life that our God has given for our best good. As believers in Christ, and in the truth of God’s Word, we must uphold these God-given values. By so doing we are not bigots. We are simply trying to speak the truth God has given for the good of all mankind. I would hope it is possible, at least is some areas, to listen to one another without having to shout and demonstrate.
On one wall of my office I have four shelves of antique radio parts. There are capacitors, variable resistors, meters and a variety of other items. One variable capacitor is 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. By today’s standards these 100 years old parts are gigantic. Everything today has been miniaturized. But one thing has remained constant, the laws of physics that govern the flow of electrons in devices we build. We’ve learned how to make things smaller and more efficient, but we can’t change the governing principles that make the devices work. Of course, this has its counterpart in life and society. Our God, the God who devised our being and brought us into life has established the laws by which we function best. We may manipulate all manner of things in society, but we can’t change the laws God has established for our best good. Perhaps we should look again at the Designer’s schematics.
In our modern culture, when one holds to certain standards and values, about marriage for example, they are often called “old fashioned”. Many are so taken with the idea of progress that they believe anything older than 50 years is long out dated, and must be discarded. But there are certain values given by our Lord for the good of the people He created. These do not change. When we speak of the sanctity of marriage as God intended, sexual relations only within its heterosexual context, and all of the values coming from the Ten Commandments, these are not old fashioned. They are the way God intends that we find the best life for ourselves, and in harmony with Him. God’s word to our world through the Prophet Jeremiah is fitting. “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”(6:16) As much as people would like to remake the world by their modern values, there are some things that cannot be improved. “I the LORD do not change.” (Malachi 3:6)
I used the word tolerance a couple of days go. It is important how word usage and language has changed over the years. Looking back in a dictionary from the 19th century tolerance meant “the power or capacity of enduring or acting”. In the early 20th century it added “endurance of the presence or actions of objectionable persons, or of the expressions of offensive opinions”. The first definition in modern dictionaries states that tolerance is “the willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own”. The meaning has changed from endurance to acceptance. This has given Christians a serious problem by bringing on the charge of bigotry when we oppose certain behaviors accepted in modern society. Being bound by God’s holy word we cannot accept sexual practices contrary to God’s design. We cannot accept the human sacrifice of killing the unborn. But at the same time we are not against anyone. Our Lord died for all mankind, and it is not our place to condemn anyone, and we don’t. By not accepting actions contrary to God’s word, we are simply trying to say that, within God revealed will, He is offering the fullest life possible. People are very complex beings. That’s the way God made us. So, each person has individual cares, and needs. Each must be treated with God’s love and compassion even if we don’t agree with their manner of life. Our opposition in areas that God declares to be wrong is not bigotry. It is love seeking to share God’s best.