My Musings – According to the above text, there are at least two reasons that Christians encounter trials: to prove that our faith is genuine and bring praise to God.
For someone whose faith is not genuine the fire becomes a consuming fire. For someone whose faith is genuine, the fire becomes a refining fire, consuming only the impurities of our sin nature. When Christians endure trials it brings praise to God. For as the impurities are consumed by the fire, what is left reflects the glory of God.
There are at least two reasons that this faith worth more than gold: “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8, NIV 1984).” For though all else is consumed by the fire, if love and joy survive, that is indeed priceless.”
So priceless that “even angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12, NIV 1984).”
My Advice – Give praise “to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV 1984).”
My Musings – It’s easy to dump on the Pharisees. After all, their name has become synonymous with self-righteous hypocrisy making them easy marks for criticism and condemnation. But what if we substituted the word Pharisee in the above verses with the word Christian? Is that how the world sees many of us? Are they justified in seeing us that way? We want to scream that they are way off base. That we are under attack and being unjustly persecuted. But we need to be very careful before we dismiss it outright. For you see, “the problem with self righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to almost any other sin. but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because you see, grace is only for sinners.” ― Jerry Bridges, evangelical Christian author, speaker and staff member of The Navigators.
We might think, why should we care what the world thinks of us? Well, if they are wrong, and perhaps they are in most cases, we need not care. Jesus did say, after all that in this world we will have persecution, and that if the world hated Him, we should not be surprised if they hate us too. But if they are right, even about a minority, we should care very much. For Jesus also said they (the world), will know we are His followers if we have love for one another. And if they do not see His love in us and from us, then the truth that we are proclaiming will not seem very much like the truth.
Another reason we should care is because Jesus cares. He had nothing but condemnation and anger (yes, anger) for the teachers, scribes and teachers of the law that exhibited such self-piety and hypocrisy. His attitude was not a casual “well actually,” but a very much heated “woe to you!“…”You snakes! You brood of vipers!” Whoa. Let’s take a closer look at these “woes” from Matthew 23, NIV 1984, and learn from them. We do not want to become 21st century Pharisees.
- Hypocrites – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.“
Sons of Hell – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.“
Blind Guides – “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?”
Neglectful – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.“
Greedy and Self-Indulgent – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.“
Whitewashed Tombs, Dead Men’s Bones – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.“
Full Measured Sinners – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!“
My Advice – I am sure that the vast majority of Christians are not this way, or at least not blatantly. But are there times we “deny” God’s grace to those whose sins seem greater than our own? On occasion, is the way we behave on the outside inconsistent with how we are on the inside? Do we overly focus on certain evils (“strain out a gnat“), to the exclusion of others (“swallow a camel”)? Are we so self-absorbed by the “injustices” that we must endure that show no mercy to others? Let’s just say whoa to woe.
My Musings – “I suppose my best attribute, if you want to call it that, is sincerity. I can sell sincerity because that’s the way I am.” – John Wayne (my all-time favorite actor). Sincerity is being free from pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy. Not a bad attribute to have. You cannot “sell” it, if it’s not the way you are. You cannot script it, because it comes more from the heart than it does from the mind.
My musings come from my heart, and I do my best to avoid pretense, deceit and hypocrisy. They are in a sense a script, but not “scripted.” Not everyone will buy what I’m selling, but I trust that it’s not because I am being insincere.
My Advice – Do your best to be sincere in all your dealings. There are no regrets in sincerity.
My Musings – Can one be Godly without being content? Or, content (really content) without being Godly? I cannot imagine the first, and find it hard to imagine the second. Paul measured his contentment by being satisfied with the bare necessities of life, food and clothing. Apparently he modeled his contentment after the Master (who owned no place to lay His head), as he did not even list a place to stay as a requirement.
Why would Paul be content with Godliness? Food, clothing, possessions – we’ll leave this world with none of these. Godliness, character, fruits of the Spirit – they’ll come along for the ride. These are treasures to “lay up” for ourselves. Treasures in “clay jars.“
My Advice – What are you working for? Will it bring contentment? Or once you have it will you find yourself asking “is that all there is?” Don’t become addicted to “things,” that only leave you craving your next “fix.” Pursue the only way to Godliness with content – a relationship with Jesus Christ.
My Musings – A wise former pastor of mine (now with the Lord) once said, “when you read the word therefore, you need to see what it’s there for.” Paul had just recounted the life we used to walk (anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language, to name a few), “since [we] have taken off [our] old self with its practices and have put on the new self.” That’s what it’s there for. A change of clothes. From the “filthy rags” mentioned above, to the renewed wardrobe that is “in the image of its Creator” woven out of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.“
My Advice – We are chosen and dearly loved. “Therefore,” “over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” That’s what we’re here for.
My Musings – “People primarily respond not to what we do but how we’re being. It’s not that we do the wrong thing necessarily, but that we do what we do – maybe even if it is the ‘right’ thing – the wrong way.” (Leadership and Self-Deception, The Arbinger Institute).
My great fear for the Church today is that a lot of us spend a lot of time and energy “doing” Christianity, while failing to “be” Christ-like. We pride ourselves with saying, supporting and doing the right things (the modern-day equivalent of a tenth of our mint, dill and cumin), but neglect to be those things (the all-time equivalent of, “justice, mercy and sacrifice“). In the process, we are well on our way to alienating an entire generation from “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Given the appropriate “salt and light” there are many who would love to “be” like Christ, but are afraid of “doing” like “Christians.” But unfortunately, the “salt” in many of us leaves a bad taste, and the “light” shining from us artificial and not a true reflection of its Source.
My Advice – There is nothing wrong with saying, supporting and doing the right things. But we must practice these without neglecting “justice, mercy and sacrifice.” Otherwise, we are merely a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Distracting noise and “fake news” in a world searching for the truth. Woe to us, the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge.
Don’t just do, be. People still might not acknowledge the truth, but what they are rejecting will be plain.
My Musings – This was a familiar pattern in the Old Testament. God delivers the promised land into the hands of the Israelites. They get complacent and fall into sin. God brings judgment through their enemies. The Israelites call out to the Lord. He provides a deliverer (called a Judge). And the cycle starts all over again, and again and again. They seem to never have learned from their failings.
Are we any different? Are there cycles of failure that we repeat time and again, never seeming to learn from prior experiences? Of course it is better to not fall into sin in the first place. But when we do, once we are delivered and restored (following confession and repentance), we should learn from the past failure and be on guard lest we repeat it in the future.
Of course, not all failures are the result of sin. “Failure in and of itself is not a bad thing. But failing to learn from it is inexcusable.” (Alison Levine, On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership). In our journey of discipleship, God will take us through failures (not sin) so that we will learn from them. For it is on the journey that we learn the most and see our character develop the most. “The journey is where we find perspective.” (Alison Levine, On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership).
My Advice – What are we learning? It would be a pity to go through the struggle and not reap the benefit of learning from it. So pay attention.