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The Positive Pursuit of God's Best

The Positive Pursuit of God's Best

Readings: Psalm 25 Ephesians 5:1-14 St. Luke 11:14-28

By Johann W. Vanderbijl III

It has been said that the Christian's all absorbing interest should be the positive pursuit of God's best. This is obviously a true statement...however it is equally true to say that no one will engage in this positive pursuit successfully if they do not face the demand to abandon the practice of the worst...or even the 'not so bad'. If we are to be serious in our profession to follow Jesus and if we are to avoid having the label of "hypocrite" applied to us, then we need to learn that there are certain associations and certain actions in both conversation and conduct that we must simply give up completely.

It really is such a simple principle. If you join any group, be it a country club or the Boy Scouts or a college fraternity or a swim team or whatever, there are certain rules and standards which govern that group as a whole. The breaking of those rules or the disregarding of those standards may result in disciplinary measures or even complete disqualification and eventual expulsion from the group should the disciplinary measures fail to achieve conformity.

Why then should we who claim to be part of a group which professes belief in Jesus be any different? Why should we think that we can claim to follow Jesus when we either have no clue of where He is going or what He expects us to do or, if we do know where He is going and we do know what He expects us to do, we simply do not care to follow Him or refuse to obey Him? If we break the rules of His Kingdom or disregard His standards of what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior should we not be open to discipline or disqualification as well?

Listen to how Jesus addressed this sort of mindset. "But why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.

BUT he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great." In other words, why do you call Him 'Lord' if you are not willing to obey Him? As Jesus said in our Gospel lesson for today, "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters." A kingdom - or a house - or a life - divided against itself will fall eventually. Or as St. John said, "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." This is because no one can serve two Masters - it is impossible - you will either hate the one and love the other of be devoted to one and despise the other. No rather, as Jesus said, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.

In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul put forward a pressing and practical challenge to his readers to make a clear break with all wrongdoing. In our passage for today, he addressed a number of specific topics such as sexual promiscuity, all uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, coarse jesting or crude jokes and he made it very clear that those who continued to practice such things would not inherit the kingdom of Christ and God. I think a number of Christians today often soft pedal sin to their peril as St. Paul made it very clear that we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that we will be treated differently from those whom he calls the "sons of disobedience" if we choose to be partakers with them.

We are children of the light, dearest brethren. Why on earth would we want to behave as children of darkness? Why not rather stop playing the hypocrite and quit calling ourselves by the Name that is above every other name? If we refuse to live holy lives, let us at least stop pretending to follow the holy God...

Here in this passage St. Paul gave his readers five basic ways in which they might positively pursue God's best while facing His demand to abandon the practice of that which is not His best.

Firstly they were to be imitators of God as children are imitators of their parents. This really should be easy for us to understand because this is the way we all learned to do things and say things at the beginning of our individual lives. Babies learn through imitation...or mimicking...they watch and they listen and they imitate what they see and hear. Here St. Paul used this common imagery to illustrate the manner in which we can all put on the good and put off the bad. If we say God is our Father, then the family resemblance should be evident by what we say and do - that is, if what we profess to believe in is really true. Again, I can't say this enough, read the Scriptures and whatever you see God do there...whatever you hear God say there...do that and say that. Especially when it comes to the Gospels. Do not rely on the words of others...rely on God's Word for yourself.

The great Indian Mystic, Sadhu Sundar Singh learned how to be a Christian simply by reading the Scriptures and imitating what he learned from them. When he later went to seminary, he was shocked by the lifestyle and the behavior of his fellow students who had learned from others rather than from the Word firsthand...they had inherited the idea that the Scriptures were not to be taken at face value, a thought that had not even crossed Singh's mind...but sadly this is not something new...this is exactly what St. Paul was saying in verse 2. "Walk in love, JUST AS Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." St. Paul expected us to follow the example of Jesus' love for us quite literally.

True, the imitation will take on different forms from individual to individual and from situation to situation, but the general principle remains the same. We are to love just as Jesus loved...read the Gospels, dearest brethren, and see how Jesus loved both God and man... look at how He prayed to the Father...look at the people whose lives He touched...look at these examples and then ask Him to show you through His example how you can love like that in your own context. Serious and devout engagement in self-giving and loving selfless service and self-sacrificial behavior towards others will result in a pursuit of God's best...and the abandonment of what is not God's best. Which leads to the next point...

Secondly St. Paul's readers were to break with the habits of self-service and self-indulgence. Look at the Apostle's list in verses 3 and 4, dearest brethren, and ask yourself whether or not you are guilty of any of those things. Sexual impurity...whether in thought or in deed. The word translated 'fornication' here, by the way, is the Greek word  (porneia) - the word we get 'pornography from- it is a more general word indicating any and every form of sexual sin outside of the biblically accepted norm of marriage...Jesus was very clear on the matter. Remember what He said in the sermon on the Mount? Even the man who simply looked at a woman (other than his wife, of course) to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Now, think about how easily such stuff circulates on websites and in emails and now even on cell phones. Our standard, as followers of Jesus, should be higher than the world's standards and such things are simply not fitting for us, so if you are guilty of any form of sexual impurity, stop it because your deed denies your faith in Christ regardless of what you may be saying with your mouth and where you may park your rear end on Sundays.

But then, dearest brethren, look at what is right next to the sin of sexual promiscuity. Covetousness. The unhealthy appetite for more - greed, in other words, which leads to materialism and idolatry and all the bad habits that goes with that...shop till you drop...spending more than you earn...plastic, plastic, plastic. And nothing left for the extension of God's Kingdom. The Queen of the Netherlands, otherwise known as my mum-in-law, has a great little saying when it comes to shopping. "Do you like it?" "Yes." "Do you want it?" "Yes," "Do you need it?" "Well, no, not really..." "Well, then don't buy it." I think we should add "Can you afford it" to that list. Howard Eyrich suggests working on the 10-10-10-70 after deductions budget. 10% for the Lord, 10% for savings, 10% for a contingency fund and 70% for a cost-of-living budget...if you can't do it, he says, chances are you are living beyond your means. Covetousness draws us away from seeking God's best because it is a focus on seeking the temporary rather than the eternal...it really is idolatry. And then there is the list of mouth problems...filthiness, foolish talking and coarse jesting - the unworthy joke. I know, ten fingers pointing right back at me as far as the unworthy joke thing is concerned. I know this is an area I need to work on....I really need to follow St. Paul's advice here - look at what he said at the end of verse 4. He suggested there that one way of combating mouth problems is by spending our time and energy speaking about the goodness and the greatness of God and expressing our gratitude towards Him for the many wonderful things we all too often take for granted. That way we will keep our focus on the pursuit of His best.

Then thirdly they were to be weary of being deceived by empty words. Now, this is a very important point. It is so easy for us to make light of sin by using clever sounding arguments. I know that not all things in the Scriptures are to be taken literally - there are poetic forms and figures of speech and symbols and so on - but all too often we go too far in saying, "Oh, you really shouldn't take the Bible literally". Or by using the "that was their culture" argument. True, there are some manners of dress and codes of cleanliness and so on that no longer apply to us, but many people have used this argument to sanction their own sinful lifestyles or to advance their own social agendas.

We need to be weary of this sort of intellectual "backdoor" because any form of flagrant disobedience to God's Word has two grave consequences - it excludes from heaven and it incurs the wrath of God. In many ways those who practice that which is contrary to the revealed will of God virtually disinherit themselves...their conduct demonstrates that they have no part of Christ and His kingdom. And the wrath of God is still operative as many clearly reap what they have sown.

Now, I know we don't like to think of God as an angry God...a lot of ink has been spilled on the subject of the "Father Heart of God"...and a lot of that is true. God is love. Indeed, God defines love. But love without righteous anger or righteous indignation over that which destroys our relationship with God and with others and indeed, that which destroys us as human beings made in the image of God is not love. Imagine a parent who just let their child run wild without any consequence to their behavior.

What would you say about that? I've heard some say after observing the bad behavior of an undisciplined child that now they understand why some species eat their offspring. It is not good to let children get away with bad behavior in spite of what Dr. Spock said. So, we simply cannot dismiss the wrath of God because we prefer to think of Him as a syrupy sweet Santa Claus...if you do wrong, shall the righteous God not discipline you? So, be careful that your own so-called cleverness or the so-called cleverness of others does not deceive you into thinking that "well, it's ok, God will understand". What a slap in the face of the One Who sacrificed Himself for you.

Then fourthly they were to break with bad company. You know the saying, "bad company corrupts good morals". Oil just doesn't mix with water - you can shake it up all you like, but in the end the two will separate and the oil will dominate. St. Paul reminded the Ephesians (as he reminds us today as well), that although we might have been darkness at one time, we are now light and therefore we need to walk as children of the light. As the great hymn we just sang says, the light of our lives is Jesus - in Him there is no darkness at all - and consequently, if I say I follow Him, there should be no darkness in me either. The only reason we should ever come in contact with darkness is so that we might dispel it and this leads to our next and final point.

Fifthly, they were to be true reflections of the Light of Jesus. Things done behind closed doors ought to be exposed...especially if they are done by Christians. One thing that is hard to understand is that while we are afraid that other people may see what we are doing and so we do things in secret, it never seems to occur to us that God sees us regardless of how secret we try to be. No secrets are hidden from him. He sees all - even that which is in our hearts and minds...

But because we have this weird idea that as long as "no one" sees us we can get away with what we are doing, it is to our advantage when what we are too ashamed to do in the open or even talk about openly is exposed by the light of the truth because then we can deal with it either through counseling or some or other form of being held accountable by our fellow believers.

To keep things in the dark is to risk being exposed by the world as a hypocrite and that not only damages the one doing the secret stuff, but also all of us who are then presumed "guilty by association". Because of the undisciplined life of one believers, all of us are denounced and defamed by the world. Like some like to damn the whole Anglican Church because of the wicked ways of Henry VIII...or because of the habits of the modern revisionist Bishops.

Besides, anyone living a life of dual or double standards will never be able to pursue God's best as the worst or the 'not so bad' will stifle any growth towards godliness. Jesus made that very clear in the parable of the Sower and the Seeds...the weeds will choke the seedlings. We cannot live as we ought to live unless we quit the darkness and walk as children of the light.

And thus St. Paul sounds the alarm. "Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." This is a clarion call for those of us who profess to know and to follow Jesus to cease from insensitivity and to embrace the great spiritual value of living pure lives.

As we are once more reminded today of what it cost to purchase our deliverance from sin, death and the devil - what it cost to secure our redemption - what it cost to pay the penalty for our sins - let us resolve never to make light of what was dealt with at the cross.

Let us not partake of His sacrifice for us and then crucify Him afresh once we leave His Table by doing the very things that nailed Him to the cross in the first place. Let us be done with our dualistic lives today - let us live for Jesus and live for Jesus alone - and then let us strive to abandon the practice of evil by always pursuing nothing but God's very best.

---The Rev. Fr. Johann W. Vanderbijl III, is Rector of The Anglican Church of St. George the Martyr in Simpsonville, SC

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