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Weekly Word

Entries in America (3)

Tuesday
Jul172012

Unalienable Rights

Today we are going to continue to look at the part in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America that contains the words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Specifically we will be talking about unalienable rights.  This phrase basically means that the rights cannot be legislated away by governments, or disregarded by individuals without offending God, who is the giver of those rights.  So the rights may be practically severed from a person, but those who do so will give account to God himself.  In that sense, they are unalienable (inseparable) from each person.

Now as our text we are going to look at 1 Corinthians 9.  Here Paul is dealing with their need to drop their rights for the sake of their brothers and sisters.  He does so by giving an example of his own rights and how he had not exercised them when he was with the Corinthians.

Rights And Freedoms Are Very Real

Paul first of all affirms that there are certain rights that God gives to men.  In verses 4 and 14 he establishes that those who preach the gospel have the right to make a living from those to whom they are preaching.  Of course, this right can be abused.  But those who do so will give account to God.  The second right is in verse 5.  Those who make their living by preaching also have the right to marry a believing spouse.

Now the rights listed in the Declaration of Independence are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Are these legitimate rights that have been given by God?  The founding fathers’ belief that these rights were from God was derived by reasoning from the Scriptures.  They used the history of the Bible and the Laws that God gave to Israel to discern what rights God intended men to have.  Let’s look at each of the three briefly.

Life is clearly given by God in Genesis 2:7.  If God gives life then it is wrong for another man to take it away.  Also, in the Law murder is banned: “Thou shalt not kill.”  We see God judging Cain for killing his brother Abel and many other places judgment is shown and described.

Liberty can be found in the Law through the laws limiting slavery and promoting Jubilee.  However, the most powerful expression is found in the purpose of the Law and the giving of Grace.  The gospel was not plan B.  It was the plan all along.  The Law was only given to show mankind their need for freedom from our sin nature.  The Laws are not wrong, but they become chains that keep us in bondage.  The Gospel shows another way; the way of freedom.

The Pursuit of Happiness is another way of saying “enjoying life.”  It doesn’t mean a mere attempt, but rather the journey of experiencing the many joys of life.  Again this is throughout the Scriptures, but a specific verse can be quoted in Ecclesiastes 3:13, “Every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.”

It is important to remember that though something is a right, it can be refused by those in power.  Thus the British empire that refused to recognize the rights of the colonists subsequently lost the revolutionary war and continued into decline and deterioration.  Whether it was a sign of the judgment of God or not, God will hold all nations and individuals accountable for how they treat others.

Choosing The More Excellent Way Of Love

There are times, however, when we need to choose a different path.  Fighting for our rights may help us, but it may harm others.  This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 9.  He is not arguing against rights altogether.  Several times we see Paul insisting on his rights as a Roman citizen.  However, he does so for reasons other than saving his skin.  Thus love needs to be our ultimate motivation.  In 1 Corinthians 12:31 and chapter 13, Paul describes love and how it acts.  You can see from the list of what love is and isn’t that love would not always insist on its rights.  Here is a general rule of thumb: It is best to fight for the rights of others and to trust your own to God. 

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19 that though by right he is free, he “freely” chooses to be a slave to all men so that he might save more.  He could insist on his rights, but that path would lead to less people saved.  So he chose a tougher route that would lead to more people being saved.  His rights weren’t taken from him, rather he sacrificed them for people’s souls.  Thus Love is willing to sacrifice for the sake of a greater good and to save souls.  In verses 20-23 Paul makes this clear.  Though he was no longer obligated to keep the Mosaic Law, he would freely do so around Jews in order to get a platform on which to share the gospel.  When he was among Gentiles, he didn’t continue to do “strange” things from the Law of Moses.  This would just ostracize him and take away any opportunity to talk to them about Jesus.  In both cases love constrains him to exercise or not exercise his rights.

Notice that Paul is not motivated by his own pleasures.  He does not “sin” when he is among the Gentiles.  But neither does he worry about ritual washings, unclean foods, and proper dress.  In verses 24-27, Paul makes it clear that his desire is to please God.  Thus Love chooses wisely when to assert or sacrifice personal rights in order to please God.  Here the image of a runner is used.  The runner who wants to win the race must restrain themselves from drink and food that will be a hindrance.  It is not that it is wrong for them to drink or eat certain foods, but those things will hinder them winning.  So a choice must be made.  Do I want my rights or do I want something better?  Paul said that he “disciplined” his body.  Though Paul had a right to make a living from the ones to whom he preached, he generally didn’t.  Most of the time he worked as a tent-maker to cover his own expenses.  This was a difficulty and required him to burn the candle at both ends.  But he did it so that the gospel would not be hindered. 

Now here are some practical thoughts for us as believers in Jesus.  First, Christians should be a strong voice for the rights of people of this society.  We should be the first to warn our country that if we trample the rights of the citizenry then we will follow the path of all great nations before us.  However, as Christians we need to be identified more by what we sacrifice than by what we demand for ourselves.  Jesus is identified with the cross and laying his life down.  The apostles were identified with difficult lives and ultimately being martyred.  Similarly the founding fathers laid their fortunes and lives on the line for the sake of the colonies.  May God give us wisdom to see what we should sacrifice in order that others might be saved.

 

Unalienable Rights Audio

Tuesday
Jul102012

All Men Are Created Equal

Today I want to look at the phrase, “all men are created equal.”  You should recognize it as being from our Declaration of Independence.  A fuller quote is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights;…”  I believe it is important for Christians to be biblical in how they view this statement.

Clearly the equality that is being recognized is not that of strength, wealth, or abilities.  When we compare these things there seems to be great inequality.  So the founders had something more fundamental than our physical nature.  That said, it was commonly expressed that even these physical differences were not so great that they couldn’t be overcome by the mental prowess or collaboration of the weak.  In other words the differences were not enough to elevate the strong, rich, and able to a higher status (gods among men),  Despite the differences we are still all humans and must deal with the realities and limitations of what that entails.

In Acts 17 Paul is waiting in Athens, Greece for Silas and Timothy to join him.  He had fled the northern area of Thessalonica and Berea due to violent opposition to his teaching.  While he was there he began to talk with his fellow Jews in the synagogues and with Gentiles in the marketplace.  At some point he is invited to speak further about his teachings at a special forum in Athens where the philosophers of that day would pit there views against each other.  In verses 22-32 we have an address that Paul gives in this forum.  I believe it will be quite instructive in regard to our topic.

All People Are Equal In Origin

In verse 24 Paul points out that there is a God who created all peoples and all things.  This Creator is being referenced in the phrase, “all men are created equal.” Thus the Creator is the God of every nation, peoples, or individuals, whether they understand that or not.  The Greeks worshipped a multitude of gods, but Paul points out that they do not know their Creator.  This God is in no need of anything from us.  However, He does receive worship from those who will worship Him from the heart and in Spirit.

Now, the foundation of evolution rejects the idea of a creator.  But putting that aside, evolution has always contended that some species are more advanced than others.  Historically this has included what we call “races” today.  Thus it promoted the idea that some races are more superior then others.  The Bible rejects this idea.  All men come from the same Creator and through the same creation.  Let’s take this a bit deeper.

All People Are Equal In Their Humanity

Paul goes on to say at the end of verse 25, that God is the source of everyone’s life, breath, and all things.  Thus humans are all dependent on God for everything.  In verse 26 he points out that we are all from one blood.  The Bible traces all mankind back to a single couple, Adam and Eve.  Though time, environment and procreation have developed variations within the human species, we are still of one blood. In our modern scientific age we have been able to determine that most differences between “races” are cultural and not biological.  Only .2% of the DNA code differs among peoples of the world and only .012% has impact upon those things we label as race.  On top of this a person needing an organ donor may be a better match with a person of another race than another of his own.

We are all part of the same human family.  It is difficult to hold a family together once it goes past 3 generations.  There is a part of us that laments this and tries to work against it.  But the sheer size and geographical spread work against us.  In a sense all of us, no matter how different in looks and customs, come from the same Great, Great, …..Grand father/mother.  The sheer size makes it impossible to be close.  But it doesn’t mean we have to see the others as somehow less human, or inferior to us.

Paul points out that it was God who appointed the nations and set their limits.  Now the term nation here is not associated with skin color.  It is a term that points to those who have common culture and customs.  Even the term “race” in the English language was not associated with skin color until recent years.  It was used to describe the differences between the Brits, Normans, Irish, Scots etc…  These were all different races thought they had the same skin color.  Why?  Because their culture, history, and customs were different.  Biblically speaking it is language that makes the biggest difference among mankind not skin color.  All people regardless of where they come are equally human and have an equal right to exist upon this planet.

All People Are Equal In Their Need

In Acts 17:27-31, Paul points out several needs that all mankind have.  First, we all have the need to find God.  As much as we may disagree with God’s decision to confuse the languages, its intent is that those differences might cause us to search for him.  The term “grope” conjures the image of a blind man feeling for something.

Secondly, God is not far from any of us.  Yes, he is far in light of our limitations.  But he is not far from us in the sense that everything we have comes from him.  He is our source of everything.

Thus in verse 30 he points out that we have all been ignorant of God’s way.  Even Israel, who had been given much light, as a whole was ignorant to God’s way.  Thus God, knowing our blindness and limitations, comes near to us in Jesus Christ.  He makes himself known to not just one race, but to all.  Thus the Gospel through men like Paul goes out to the groping nations.  All nations need to repent of their ignorant ways and customs and turn to God in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

In fact, all nations will be judged by Christ at an appointed future time.  God has assured us of this by raising Jesus from the dead.

Let me close with these thoughts.  Modern technology has not only made the world smaller but it has made culture go global.  Kids from all over the world are beginning to have the same music interests, movie interests, and fashion styles.  How ought we as biblical believers live out this statement that “all men are equal?”

First, we should drop any sense of racial or cultural superiority.  All of our cultures have ungodly things within them.  Let us learn the lesson from Israel that pride and superiority always leads to a fall.  This does not mean that we should blindly accept all aspects of other cultures as worthy of respect.  But neither should we be blind to the aspects of our own culture that are not honorable.

Second, we should recognize the need of all people to know God.  God is not the white man’s god.  Nor is there a black god, red god, etc…  There is one God over all nations, no matter how far their culture may have gone away from him.

Third, refuse to be baited into ethnic rivalries through bigotry or politics.

Lastly, do not focus on non-moral differences between cultures.  They are irrelevant.  Grace and Peace in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

 

All Men Created Equal Audio

Tuesday
Jul032012

O, Say Can You See?

This week we have much to celebrate and great reason to be thankful.  First, we recognize the many men and women who have served this country by volunteering to defend it and the debt that is owed to them by society.  Further we recognize that those who serve as police officers and fire-fighters also serve us in ways that should cause us to give thanks.

Among Christians there is a concern for America because, more and more, we find ourselves surrounded by a culture that wants nothings to do with the righteousness of God.  This concern generally leads to a call for the Church in America to repent and pray from the Scripture in 2 Chronicles 7:14.

I do want to affirm this message.  The churches and Christians of this land do need to repent of following our own thinking, turn back to God, and pray for our nation.  However, when you look closer at this passage, you find that the challenge goes deeper than just Christians getting their act together.  Let’s look at 2 Chronicles 7:12-22.

Repentance Is For The Nation As A Whole

The context of this passage is the completion of the Temple in Jerusalem by Solomon.  The whole nation had turned out to celebrate and had now gone home.  God appears to Solomon with a promise and a warning for Israel and its leaders.

In verse 13 God warns of future punishments or disciplines that will come upon the nation.  There is no “if” in the verse.  Just as Moses did in Deuteronomy, God lets Solomon know that discipline “will” come upon Israel in the form of extreme weather, crop damage, and pestilence.  Pestilence is a general term that means destruction and death.  Generally it referred to a plague of some sorts, but could be used generally to refer to raiders or foreign armies.  It is easy to day to be afraid to recognize that these things could be God’s discipline.  But throughout the Bible we are taught to see God’s discipline in all calamities that come upon us.

Now in verse 14 the phrase “My people” is not a reference to a select group of people within Israel, but rather to the nation as a whole.  I am not saying every person in Israel was a true believer.  But God himself had made the nation of Israel, and had given them his name (Israel means prince with God).  He is not calling for the repentance of true believers or any select group of Israel.  He is calling for a wholesale national repentance.  I am not saying that means 100%, but it is more than just a part of Israel.  In fact wouldn’t you agree that the prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel, all repented and turned towards God in prayer?  However this did not save their nation.

Here it is.  Even if Christians repented and turned towards God in prayer, this and this alone will not save America.  It is a foundational step, but this passage is not saying that all God wants is for Christians to live for him.  God is incrementally holding America more and more accountable for casting Him off in all we do.  This will not change until there is a greater awakening than just Christians.  The nation as a whole needs to repent and pray.

In verse 19 God tells Solomon that if he turns away it will have an impact on the nation.  Leadership is critical and does have an impact on a nation.  In fact, God raises up the leadership that our actions as a people deserve.  So the Leadership of America needs to repent and pray in a public way.  We used to have leaders who would do such a thing.  One of the most famous is the declaration of Abraham Lincoln that stated the pride and arrogance of America and how we needed to repent and pray for God’s help.  You see, the ultimate problem is stated in verse 22 of 2 Chronicles 7; we have forsaken the God of heaven and his Son Jesus.  This is the same God who has raised us up.  This is the same God who has blessed us greatly as a nation.

We are in the middle of great calamity economically, politically, socially, and with many natural disasters and weather extremes all over the place.  God is trying to get our attention.  Can you hear?  Can you see?

Our History of Awakening

Though historians don’t always agree, most state that there have been at least 3 great awakenings or revivals in America.  The first was roughly from 1730 to 1750.  This move was mainly within churches and had an emphasis on a personal relationship over the top of ritual and tradition.  Personal salvation was the focus.  Names like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield are associated with this awakening.  Many point to the importance of this event (240 years after people started coming from Europe) in preparing for the societal ideals that would arise during the Revolutionary War.

The 2nd Great Awakening was from 1800 to 1830.  This had an emphasis that anyone could be saved, even the worst of sinners.  This began an explosion of people coming into the Church and the number of denominations.  Alongside this was the social change groups that surfaced from within churches: temperance groups, abolition of slavery groups, and women’s rights.  Names that are connected with this are Alexander and Thomas Campbell and Charles Finney.

The 3rd Great Awakening was from 1857 to 1910.  There was an emphasis on the life of the believer after salvation.  Within this period was the rise of the Holiness groups and the Pentecostal groups.  Dwight Moody was associated with this period along with others. 

Although some would argue others, none seem to have impacted society as a whole like these three did.  It is clear that we need revival in America.  But it cannot be a revival of Christians having a good time in church.  It must be a revival that breaks out into the non believing population and impacts society.

So what should Christians do?  First we must make sure we have repented of any wicked ways (as the Bible defines it) and pray for God’s mercy.  Second we must focus less on saving institutions and society and more on saving individuals.  Sure, perform your social duty with passion, but society only changes as people’s hearts are changed.  Thirdly, we must live a life that trusts God’s Word instead of giving lip service to it.  This world needs people who are truly willing to die to themselves in order to love it.  But better than that, the people around you who don’t know Jesus need Christians who are truly willing to pick up their cross and follow Jesus.  Will you be the one?