This morning we speak about spiritual gifts and finish up our bible study on our stewardship of money.
How Should I Use My Gifts?
Can he be a Christian? When you graduate from high school and begin to move off on your own, it can be an exciting time. But it can also be a challenging time. It’s challenging because, for the first time in your life you are on your own and you are meeting people who are not like you. They don’t act like and don’t believe the same as you believe. I remember meeting a guy who said he was a Christian, and yet he also believed many, many strange teachings. He believed in conspiracy theories and that if you got a Social Security number, you were receiving the mark of the beast and then wouldn’t get into heaven. I was confused. So I went to my pastor and asked him that question: can he be a Christian? Can a person pile up that much false teaching and still be a Christian? The pastor read to me these words—the words that Paul begins with this morning: “1 Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you used to be enticed and led astray by mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:1–3 CSB17)
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord” (and mean it) unless the Holy Spirit created faith in that person. And when that pastor said that, it was so very comforting to hear. Whenever someone says, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”, we need to stop, pause and rejoice in that. For there is only one reason that happened: The one Holy Spirit gave that person faith. But as Paul continues notice what he emphasizes. The one Holy Spirit gives faith. But then with that faith he gives a variety of gifts. We read: “4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different activities, but the same God produces each gift in each person.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–6 CSB17)
Now you’ll notice the word that Paul uses here. The word is service or ministry.1 Here Paul is speaking about spiritual gifts. He is speaking about gifts that have to do with God’s word. He is not speaking about gifts that everyone on the face of the planet has. And yet, even though he is speaking about spiritual gifts, what he says next could be said about any gift that a Christian has. Paul tells us: “A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good:” (1 Corinthians 12:7 CSB17)
Before Paul goes into detail, outlining the sort of spiritual gifts the one Holy Spirit gives, he first answers a question: how should we use our gifts? As Christians we use our gifts, whether spiritual gifts or not, for the common good. With that in mind we can walk through some of these spiritual gifts: “to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:8 CSB17) Here Paul is speaking about the spiritual gift of preaching and teaching. Next Paul writes: “to another, faith by the same Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:9 CSB17) Here Paul is speaking about the strength and power of faith. For there are those out there in the church that when God makes a promise to them, they simply, humbly, and strongly hold onto that faith without doubting or sometimes even wavering. That is a spiritual gift. 2 And Paul concludes the list this way: “9 to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another, the performing of miracles, to another, prophecy, to another, distinguishing between spirits, to another, different kinds of tongues, to another, interpretation of tongues. 11” (1 Corinthians 12:9–10 CSB17) What is fascinating about the remaining items on this list of spiritual gifts is that these are gifts that have faded away. After all, when I was called to be your pastor, “working miracles” was not on the list of duties.
But with all of these, notice the point that Paul is making. He keeps coming back to the main point. There are many different gifts. But there is one Holy Spirit. And we use these gifts for the common good. All of us have spiritual gifts. But each of us has different gifts. And even the gifts that we have that are not spiritual can be used in a godly, spiritual way. There is nothing spiritual about cleaning the church, counting money, mowing the church lawn, and bringing food for a potluck. But these gifts can be used in a very beautiful and spiritual way. They can be used for the common good.
But right there is where we see our very own sin, don’t we? As we grow up, we can ask the question, when will I have a gift? And then, when the one Holy Spirit follows up and gives us a gift, our next temptation is to say, “Look at me, I have this gift—and it’s a gift that you don’t have.” And then, the final temptation we face is that, instead of using our gifts for the greater good, instead we use them for ourselves, by ourselves.
And we might say, “look at my gifts.” But instead of looking at your gifts, look at your Savior Jesus. Look at the great, amazing gifts that he had. He raised people from the dead. He healed people. He preached. He taught. He healed. All these gifts he had. But how did he use them? He used them in line with his Father’s will, for the greater good. And because of this, when your Father above looks down, he does not see the times you pridefully said, “where are my gifts, O Holy Spirit?” He does not see the times you said, “Why don’t people appreciate my gifts?’” He does not see all the gifts that he gave you and you used for yourself, by yourself. Instead he sees his Son using all his gifts perfectly for the common good, even giving up his very life on the cross. And all this he does for you to pay for your sin.
How then should you use your gifts? Use them for the common good. This the sort of reading from God’s word that moves us to go home and ask the simple, but powerful question: what gifts has God given to me? And whether we take out pen and paper or make a mental list in our brains, we first of all, pause and pray to the one Holy Spirit who gave these gifts to us and thank him. Then we ask the one Holy Spirit to give us both a joy in using our gifts and opportunities to us them.
How will you use your gifts? Use them for the common good. But the final words in this part of God’s word read this way: “One and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:11 CSB17)
Notice those last few words: “as he wills.” One of the other temptations we can fall into is to yearn, pine away, and envy the gifts that the one Holy Spirit has given to others. What helps us use our gifts with contentment is knowing that the one Holy Spirit is the one who chose to give us our gifts. Those other gifts that others have do not fit us. It’s like having to return shoes to a store because they didn’t fit. They looked nice on the website. They had all the qualities that you wanted in a shoe. But they didn’t fit. It’s the same with the gifts the one Holy Spirit gave you. The one Holy Spirit knows perfectly and exactly what gifts fit you. He chose them for you. He custom tailored them for you.
With all this in mind, when you ask the question, how will I use my gifts, Hear the one Holy Spirit speaking to you from God’s word. Use your gifts for the common good. And use them with contentment. Amen.
1 “ⲇⲓⲁⲕⲟⲛⲓⲱⲛ” (1 Corinthians 12:5 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲉⲧⲉⲣⲱⲇⲉⲡⲓⲥⲧⲓⲥ” (1 Corinthians 12:9 GNT-ALEX)
In this session we walk through the stewardship of money.
Where Will I Be Welcomed?
Wealth can be used for wickedness. If you open any newspaper or follow any news feed, you will quickly realize that this is true. Graft, greed, bribery and embezzlement—it’s all there. The same was true in Jesus’ time. In Luke 16, Jesus tells us this story: “1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’” (Luke 16:1–2 NIV11-GKE)
In this story there’s a slave who is the manager of a household. This is a little out of our understanding today. But, while there were horrible examples of slavery throughout history, there are also examples of how, sometimes, people would choose to be slaves for a wealthy master rather than be on their own and be poor. So here, that’s what we have. He has used his master’s wealth for wickedness. And he is about to be called on carpet and held accountable. What’s he going to do? Is he going to run? Is he going to rise up and rebel against his master? Is he going to beg for mercy? Jesus tells us: ““The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—” (Luke 16:3 NIV11-GKE)
As we put ourselves into the shoes of this servant, the first detail we see are problems. He doesn’t want to lose his position and be kicked out of his master’s house. The first problem is his health—he is not strong enough for manual labor. The second is his pride—he is too ashamed to beg. Now, we would expect him to work from the problem to the solution. But that’s not what happens. Jesus says: “I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’” (Luke 16:4 NIV11-GKE)
Notice that before the servant thinks about a solution, he thinks out a goal. At the end of the day, what does he want? He wants to be welcomed into people’s houses if he’s kicked out of his master’s house. Right away we’re amazed and astonished at how thinking and smart this man is. We might think in terms of problem → solution. This man thinks in terms of problem → what do I want? → Solution. Smart indeed! But then what does the servant say? “5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’” (Luke 16:5–7 NIV11-GKE)
His goal is that, at the end of the day, he would be welcomed into other people’s houses even if he’s kicked out of his master’s house. So what is his solution? He calls in the people who owe his master money. He decreases their debt and then demands that they sign their name to it. Notice what he’s doing: he is making them complicit. They are joining in the crime with him. And if he gets caught, he is taking them down with him. So, finally, he is done. He has acted wickedly. So then, what will happen when the master shows up and calls him to account? We read: ““The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” (Luke 16:8 NIV11-GKE)
We read this parable and we’re waiting. We’re waiting for the hammer to be dropped and justice to be served. But the master comes back and commends the wicked servant. And this is so strange for us to deal with. But the motivation from the master’s perspective is this: If this servant is so smart and driven when it comes to cheating me out of money, how much more so will he be when it comes to making me money. A guy that is that smart might steal from me, but just imagine how much money he will make for me! So there’s the story. But how do we make any sense of the story? Jesus tells us: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9 NIV11-GKE)
When thet servant got caught, what what was his goal? His goal was to be welcomed in other homes when he was kicked out of his master’s. And to get at this goal he used his brain to work with wealth. And that is what Jesus is asking us to do in these words. If wicked people can use wealth to get at their goals of having a home to be welcomed into at the end of the day, shouldn’t we? The servant used his brain to use wealth for bad. Can’t we use our brains to make use of wealth for good? And notice the pattern that Jesus lays out for us: First, we work hard enough and be wise enough to get and keep money. Second, we spend that money in ways that we gain friends. Third, as time goes by, we have the opportunity to share our faith with them. Finally, they die. And then we die. And even though the money is gone, our Christian friends welcome us into heaven.
But here is where we see our very own sin. For Jesus tells us: “10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”” (Luke 16:10–13 NIV11-GKE)
How do you think about money? Years ago, when I first studied these words, they struck me like a hammer. I thought of wealth as the way you get food for myself or for my family. I thought about wealth as a way to have fun. But I did not think much more about it than that. I did not think to even ask the question, “how can I use worldly wealth to gain friends and then, when they die, and I die, they will welcome me into heaven?” The servant used his brain for wickedness. And my sin was that I didn’t use my brain for that much at all. And if we don’t think it through we can very quickly end up where our words conclude here, that we end up serving money instead of God. We end up having our money use us instead of us using our money.
Where will you be welcomed? The same Savior who spoke this parable to his disciples is the same Savior who promised to them that he was leaving them to prepare a place for them. And because of this, as each of them looked forward to their own death, they could know that they would be welcomed in heaven. And the same is true for us. And all of this is true because Jesus died and payed for the times we didn’t think it through. We didn’t think through much beyond food and fun. And our money used us instead of us using our money. Those sins are covered and forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection. And because of this, we will be welcomed into heaven.
But let’s not finish here. Jesus invites you to go home today, and whether it’s on your commute to work or when you’re falling asleep at night, think this though. Use your worldly wealth. Don’t use it wickedly. But instead, think it through. How can you use your wealth and make friends? A few weeks ago, when Karin and the girls were gone, I went hiking up to the north shore to go hiking. And I met a guy there who saw my motorcycle. And the next thing I knew, I had a friend. He asked if mine was an “R”. He had a “G” version of that motorcycle. 20 minutes were spent just talking about motorcycles. And all it took was for me to buy, have and own a motorcycle. The irony, my dear friends in Christ, is that there are times that our possessions do the work for us. You go to a baseball game or to a gym or start a hobby and when people find out, they naturally talk to you. And if given more time, you have the opportunity to be their friends. And if what you have bought with your money is important to you, what eventually you can share is what Jesus bought with his own blood: their salvation. For all the stuff we have will go away. But the real question is: where will I be welcomed when it is all gone? So be wise with your wealth. Use your wealth to make friends—real and true friends out there in the world. And then when it is gone, they will welcome you into heaven. Amen.
Be On Your Guard Against False Prophets
How do you know the difference? When I was a child we used to visit the ranch where my mom grew up. So, if you want to know what this ranch is like, picture rugged hills, sage brush, dry sun and dust. And mom would send us outside to play. But she would say, “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” And then, we’d begin to run out of the house and then she’d say, “Watch out because they can look like the sage brush and dirt.” And we were so happy to get out of the ranch house and play that we didn’t ask the simple but important question: how do you know the difference between the snake and the dirt? We have the same sort of challenge here what Jesus says to us this morning. In Matthew 7, we read: “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 CSB17)
Jesus lets us know that there are false prophets out there. And the problem is that, you’re supposed to take note of them and avoid them, but they blend in to their surroundings. They look like sheep, but on the inside they are hungry wolves. So how do you tell the difference? Jesus tells us: “16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16–20 CSB17)
Be on your guard against false prophets. And how do we know the difference between the wolf and the sheep? Jesus says, look for fruit. So what then is the fruit Jesus is speaking about? Is it figs, dates, cantaloupe, or watermelons? No it’s his relationship to what he is here to share. A prophet’s fruit is his love for God’s word. If you ask a plumber about pipes, his face will glow with joy. If you ask an electrician about lighting fixtures, you’ll hear more than we ever wanted to know about candlepower and wiring problems. If you speak to a pastor and a prophet, what should you expect to find: a love for God’s word.
And that love for God’s word should show itself in two ways. First, does he know God’s word. A prophet’s and a pastor’s life is dedicated to knowing and growing in God’s word. That’s not just his job—that’s his joy. Years ago I heard a sermon where repeatedly in the sermon, the pastor said, “well, I’m no theologian, but…’” That’s like hearing your doctor say, “Well, I’m no physician, but your heart looks too big.’” You would go to a different doctor, wouldn’t you? The same is true of prophets and pastors. The fruit you look for is not just a deep learning, but also a deep love of learning God’s word.
Look for fruit. Does that prophet or pastor love God’s word enough to know it? But also, does that prophet or pastor love God’s word enough to share it? The false prophet is the one who avoids clear questions. Now, here is where I need to give some more background and context. A pastor’s life is a little different than your own. When you get to know people, they ask what you do for a living. But I would guess that when you tell them what you do for a living you then don’t get asked a whole bunch of questions about theology. A pastor and a prophet does. And usually you get asked twelve questions in the span of of 30 seconds. So you cannot answer all the questions. But you do have to pick the one question that person needs an answer to and tackle it. And if the person who asks the question needs correction because they are wrong about a theological topic, you don’t dodge the issue, but instead you address it. And as a pastor and a prophet, you do this for two important reasons. First, you do this to warn them. In bible, the Lord pictures it this way when he is speaking to the prophet, Ezekiel: “17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, give them a warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but you do not warn him—you don’t speak out to warn him about his wicked way in order to save his life—that wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. 19 But if you warn a wicked person and he does not turn from his wickedness or his wicked way, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have rescued yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:17–19 CSB17)
Notice the point that God makes to us in these words. The prophet’s role is to warn people against their wicked ways. And the Lord tells Ezekiel that if he doesn’t, then the Lord will hold him responsible for their sins. Notice how that changes how we view the pastor. The pastor is not the life-coach. The prophet is your friend, but he is not your buddy. And he is not your motivational speaker. He is the watchman who has to warn you of wickedness. The same is true with doctors, isn’ it? If a doctor knows that you have cancer and then hides the fact, he will get sued, and you might die. Much worse can happen if the prophet and pastor does not love you enough to warn you.
So the faithful prophet shares God’s word by warning. But the faithful prophet also shares God’s word by saving people through it. God’s word tells us: “13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:13–16 NIV11-GKE)
Notice what the faithful prophet does. With God’s word he warns people. But what does he also do with God’s word? He saves them. And that’s what happens here Sunday after Sunday. Week after week you come here, like me, with so many sins—so many times God’s word said, “do not!”—But you did. And there were so many times God’s word said, “do this!”—but you did the opposite. And what have all of your pastors done? Each of them has said, “as a called servant of Christ, I forgive you of your sins.” Each of them has baptized you and reminded you of your baptism, where in those waters of baptism God saved you from your son. Month after month, your pastor gave the Lord’s supper to you, where along with bread and wine, you received Jesus’ true body and blood. And why was that given to you? It was given to you for the forgiveness of sins.
God has given you one pastor after another to share God’s word with you, so that you would be saved from your sins. But if you reflect on that fact at all, you end up where these next words lead us. What about all the false teachers? What about the snakes that blend into the dust, the wolves in sheep’s clothing? Who will bring them to justice and deal with their destruction? Jesus tells us: “21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matthew 7:21–23 CSB17)
Jesus asks you to look for fruit. What will he look for from every prophet on the last day? He will look for faith. Does he know them and do they know him—that’s what Jesus will look for. These are words of comfort for us when we look out and see that the biggest obstacle in the way of people getting into heaven is false teaching and false teachers. Who will bring them to justice? Who will deal with them—especially if they look so squeaky clean on the outside? God will. And these especially are words of comfort for those who have come out of false-teaching churches into faithful churches. And they are thankful that they are in solid, faithful churches. But they can’t help but look back. Who will guard God’s church against the false prophets in the church they left? Jesus will. For he tells us to be on our guard against false prophets. So we look for fruit. But he watches over his church and protects them. And on the last day, he will look for faith. Amen.
You Have Been Set Free
But what does it mean? One of the interesting parts about speaking english is that you can say and use perfectly legitimate words in english, and yet, if you asked the question, “what does that mean,” you can’t really get an answer to that question. For example, if I say, “that was a redoubtable speech in every way,” you can be impressed with my words, but yet still end up asking yourself, “what does redoubtable mean?” What we love about the Holy Spirit is that he doesn’t just move the biblical authors to say a statement. No, instead, he also urges them to carefully explain what they say. So, in these words we learn that God has set us set us free. And then, Paul so carefully and eloquently explains that statement. In Romans 6, we read: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:18 NIV11-GKE)
You have been set free from sin. You have been set free for righteousness. But look at the time and care that Paul takes in explaining those facts to us: “19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” (Romans 6:19–20 NIV11-GKE)
There was a time in your life when you were not a Christian. And in that time you were completely enslaved to sin. But even now as Christians, each of us has a sinful nature. And that sinful nature wants us to enslave ourselves to sin. And Paul wants us then to look at the kind and sort of slavery this is. He wants us to see the willingness of that slavery. He uses the picture of a free person who goes to another person and says, “Here I am; I want to be your slave and continually do what you want.” That’s what your sinful nature does to sin. Because of our sinful nature we go to sin and we say, “Here I am, I am willing to do what you want.” And in the words that follow Paul shows us what our lives look like when we go down that road of willingly, gladly following the urging and voice of our sinful nature: “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (Romans 6:21 NIV11-GKE)
Our willingness to enslave ourselves to sin leads to the results of that slavery. The first result is shame. Our sinful nature leads, urges, drives, and entices us to sin. And it so quickly leads to shame. And it’s the sort of shame we remember years later. Each of us can look back in our lives at times we lied, gossiped, and broke confidence. And it makes us ashamed even still to this day. That’s the first result. But the second result of this slavery is death. If we do not see this slavery for the sin it is then it leads and drags us to death—and not just physical death. If we do not repent of our sin and instead rejoice in it, it will lead to the eternal death of hell.
And that’s why it’s so important for us to remember that we have been freed from the slavery of sin. Our sin does not own us and we do not want it. Jesus freed us from the slavery of sin by enduring the consequences of our sins in our place. We gossip. We lie. We break confidence. But Jesus is the one who had all these sins committed against him. Jesus is the one who paid for them with his own death. And because of this we are free—really, truly free from sin. But Paul shows us another way in which we are free: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Romans 6:22 NIV11-GKE)
We have been set free from sin. But notice what Paul teaches us here. We have been set free for righteousness. When God created faith in our hearts he gave to us a new nature alongside the old nature to wage war with it and to cling to God. And just as willingly, gladly, and joyfully as our old nature enslaved itself to sin, so also, our new nature willingly, gladly, joyfully serves God above.
And that leads us to ponder a profound truth: How can serving others be fulfilling? As Christians, we lead a life of service—or to use Paul’s words here, a willing slavery.1 For us, as Christians, we gladly give up our freedom to follow ourselves solely and exclusively, because, to us, it’s actually fun. When I think of this I think of the guy who had a little girl. And he wanted to spend time with his daughter. But he didn’t have enough in common with her. So what did he do? When he realized that she needed someone to braid her hair, he went “all in” and went to cosmetology school. And before he had a daughter he would have never thought of doing this. But after he has his daughter he gives up his time. He gives up his life. He gives up his freedom, for one reason: He loves his daughter. And the same is true with us. When the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts; When we see what Jesus has done to pay for our sin and what our Father has done to care for us, his great love for us moves us to serve him willingly, gladly, and joyfully. And that service—that slavery becomes fulfilling and even fun.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, it is so easy to throw those words around, “you have been set free.” But look at what they mean. Paul summarizes all these thoughts with these familiar words in verse 23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV11-GKE)
What you get from sin is death. But what you get as a gracious, undeserved gift from God is eternal life. With all this in mind, continue to run away from sin because you have been set free from its slavery. And continue to serve God by serving others. For you know the God who has set you free. Amen.
1 “ⲇⲟⲩⲗⲱⲑⲉⲛⲧⲉⲥⲇⲉⲧⲱⲑ̅ⲱ̅” (Romans 6:22 GNT-ALEX)
Can My Wrath Be Righteous?
There’s always someone who does it better. If you put on your best shirt to and come to church, there always seems to be that guy who not only wears a shirt, but it’s the sort of shirt that has some fancy bible passage on it. If you make it through catechism class and barely memorize the Apostle’s Creed, she has both the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene memorized. If you bring a box of donuts to the potluck, that other person always seems to bring the homemade cake, made from scratch. There’s always someone who seems to do it better. That’s the place where these words begin in Matthew 5. We read: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20 CSB17)
It was hard to beat the Pharisees. If you fasted, they fasted longer. It was hard to beat the Scribes. If you memorized a part of the bible, they had vast portions of the bible already memorized. And in these words, Jesus was telling his people that their righteousness needed to go way and above the righteousness of the Pharisees and Scribes. And with these words, Jesus was showing them that the right attitude was far, far more important than the right action. What happens in the heart is far more important than what is done with the hands. And in all the words that follow he makes the point with a real-life example. We read: “21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire.” (Matthew 5:21–22 CSB17)
Can my wrath be righteous? That’s the question that Jesus makes us ask ourselves. Can we ever be angry and be right at the same time. And the simple and clear answer is: yes. I remember when I was in catechism class. And we public school kids hadn’t memorized anything before we entered catechism class. And week after week for about a month we put in half-hearted work with sad results. And our pastor, who was this kind and amazingly patient man, one day lost all that patience. And in a rare outburst of anger told us that we needed to learn our parts of the catechism. His anger burned. And what made it burn so brightly and why I still remember it today is because every word he said was right and righteous.
Can my wrath be righteous? The answer is: yes. But notice that here in these words, the answer can also be no. The Pharisees and Scribes did not murder with their hands. But they did murder with their hearts. They would not lay a hand on those around them to hurt them or harm them. But they hated them. And so, Jesus teaches them that righteousness is first and foremost a matter of the heart, not a matter of the hands.
And where does that leave us here this morning? It is impossible for us to look at these words and not see our sin. There have been times in our lives when we should have had righteous wrath. But we didn’t. And, yet, there have been times where the opposite was true. There have been times when we had wrath—so much wrath. But it wasn’t righteous wrath. There were those times when we murdered—not with our hands, but instead, with our hearts.
Jesus preaches these words to us destructively and deliberately. These words are not soft punches. These are hammer-blows meant to crush us. Jesus preaches these words so that each of us would realize that we cannot win. We cannot manage our anger appropriately. There are times that we should have righteous wrath, and it’s not there. There are times that we have wrath—but it’s definitely not righteous.
We look at ourselves and we see how much and how often we have sinned in both ways. And if, like me, you look at your soul and ask, “how can I get out of this trap,” then lift your eyes up and look to Jesus. There are times I should have had righteous wrath, but didn’t. But Jesus, he is the one who had perfect wrath in our place. Do you remember the time when he drove the money changers out of the temple. What always amazed me most about those words is the time involved. This wasn’t a sudden outburst of anger. No, it was a slow boil. He took the time to walk through the temple courtyard. And he took the time to slowly weave a whip. And when he saw how God’s people could not worship his Father anymore, he unleashed his wrath. But his anger was perfect. And what gives us so much comfort and hope is that his wrath was perfect in our place.
But what about the times we were full of wrath. But it was not righteous wrath? Then look to Jesus on Good Friday. Here in these words Jesus mentions that whoever hates his brother enough to say, “moron” to him is in danger of hellfire. But who is the one who endured the hellfire for all those people he was speaking to? Jesus was. We so very often cannot manage our anger. And even more so, we cannot master it. But Jesus had righteous anger in our place. And Jesus endured the righteous wrath that we deserved in our place to pay for our unmanaged and unmastered anger. But where do these words go from here? “23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him to the court, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:23–26 CSB17)
Can I have righteous wrath? As repentant children of God who know our sins are forgiven, notice what Jesus does. He gives us perfect and practical advice for our daily lives. So if we ask the question, “can I have righteous wrath,” the answer first of all is, yes. years ago I went to a wedding. And the pastor conducting the wedding gave one of the most muddled and confusing wedding sermons I had ever heard. And so, after the sermon, he offered up a prayer. And by that point I knew that from the lack of substance in the sermon the prayer wouldn’t be much better, so when all the others bowed their heads in prayer, I sat there in the back studying the people in the pews. The pastor opened up his prayer by calling on the “God of our many understanding.” In other words, he was saying that we all have different views of who God is and each is equally valid. Yikes! But it got worse. He told us, the congregation, to gather up our positive memories and energies and pool them together as a wedding gift to the bride and groom. And it only got worse from there. And what was amazing to see was one by one, Christians of different denominations lifting up their heads and refusing to pray with that pastor. I remember a dad looking up with this look of wrath and anger in his eyes and then reaching over to grab the hands of his children to make them stop praying. Those Christians, all at once, together, were so angry at what the pastor prayed, they all stopped together. But my friends in Christ, how did they know? How did they know that they had the right to be angry? How did they know if their anger was righteous anger? They heard the Good Shepherd’s voice speaking to them in his word. They read their bibles. They heard solid Christian sermons. And so they could be sure that their wrath was right and righteous. And the same is true for you. How do you know if your wrath is righteous? Read your bibles, come to church as your are right here.
But, my friends in Christ, what if the opposite is true. What if you lash out in wrath, but your wrath is unfounded? Then, take the advice Jesus gives here: be reconciled to your neighbor. And notice the urgency in these words. Jesus tells them to leave their gift right there and be reconciled to their neighbor. What does that mean for us? If you have wronged someone—you are in the wrong. And if you hold wrath and anger in your heart, then what should you do? Be reconciled with the person you have wronged. And when that happens, you will face the temptation to delay. You will want to find the right words. You will want to find the right time. No, instead, rush to be reconciled. Lay your sin at their feet. And, let me tell you as one who has had to do this more than once in my life, there is such shattering vulnerability in that action. But know this: The same Savior who died for your unrighteous wrath will be there for you and with you when you repent and try to reconcile with your brother or sister in the faith.
Can my wrath be righteous? Read God’s word and then the answer will be, “yes.” And for those times you fail, reconcile with the one you harmed. For your Savior who forgives you will shelter you and watch over you too. Amen.