A 20th century author once defined Puritanism as “The haunting fear that somewhere, someone may be happy.”
In the media Puritans are often portrayed as unhappy, unfriendly, wearing mostly dark, boring clothes…trying to spoil everyone’s fun.
In reality they wore brightly colored clothes, they didn’t get drunk, but they drank alcohol (it was often safer than the water).
They were against things such as sex outside of marriage but it’s because they highly valued intimacy and romantic love in marriage…you can see this in their writings.
And they were “for” things…much more than they were against things.
They set up a university (Harvard) just six years after arriving in America in 1630.
Historically they were English Protestants who wanted to purify the Church of England and make it more, in their minds, fully biblical.
They believed the best model for Christian practice was the early church or what they called the “primitive” church.
We should, as Christ’s church, aspire to be thoroughly biblical in our beliefs, values, and behaviors.
But this will require us to be, in many ways…more mature, more aligned in beliefs and behavior than the early church often was.
There was greatness in the example of the early church…people often lived sacrificially and some gave their lives for their faith.
But there was also a lot of mess…they often didn’t live what they confessed.
And they sometimes didn’t confess what was fully true.
The NT letters were by and large written to deal with the mess…to correct problems…to get things back on track.
So, in that sense, we are much like the early church…we continually need to get back on track.
In fact,the best description for a life well lived (in actual practice not just theory)…is a life of continually getting back on track.
This year and next we are going to work through most of the NT letters chapter by chapter to focus on biblical Beliefs/Values/Behaviors.
Beliefs: Head (what we think)…we want to believe what is true
Values: Heart (what we love)…we want to value what is most important
Behaviors: Hands (what we do)…we want to do what God wants us to do.
The letters were written to specific individuals, churches, and groups of churches to address these very issues.
So, we will look at these letters over the next two years (which is quite short for so much material)…with some goals in mind.
To Continually realign our beliefs with that is actually true.
-ideas have consequences
-We want to believe true ideas
-WE are surrounded by lots of ideas…coming at us from inside and outside.
-We want the Bible to shape our thinking…what we believe.
*This means we will always be a “step ahead of culture” and therefore to a degree “out of step with culture.”
Culture is broken…because it is made up of people.
The church is not tasked with chasing culture but changing it…by sharing the gospel with the individuals who comprise culture.
So, we do seek to understand our times…but not to try and imitate them…but to transform it.
We are to chase Christ…not current cool.
Transformation does not come primarily through politics and protests…but through evangelism, discipleship…loving God and others.
This was Jesus’ plan to change the world…he loved God, he loved and invested in others.
So, we want our beliefs to align with what is actually true about God, us, the world we live in.
BELIEFS…THEN WE WANT…
To Continually shape our hearts around what is truly valuable in life.
-What we are learning to treasure is the key to joy, peace, contentment, impact…becoming like Christ…living a truly good life.
FINALLY, WE WANT…
To Continually build our choices around that which is true and most valuable…WE WANT BEHAVIOR THAT ALIGNS WITH TRUTH.
-It is with our choices we actually, practically love God and other.
So, we are focusing on the NT letters…to continually adjust our heads, hearts, and hands.
We are working through the same content in small groups for the same reasons…if we go through the Bible together, we will naturally encounter balance.
All the main issues of belief, values, and behavior will be addressed over time…as we work through the various books of the Bible.
On the other hand,if we chase “felt” needs or “current events”…we will become, over time, biblical stunted…imbalanced.
Again…we are called to change, not chase culture.
This involves understanding both the timeless truth of Scripture as well as the times God has placed us in.
So, it important to stay “current”, as much as you can, on the times…I try to read broadly to be faithful in my time.
But it is essential that we stay “eternal”…that we know what God has said is true and valuable.
IMPORTANT: We do all this so that we will love God and others better.
In church history (and history at large) there is what is called the Pendulum effect.
Where over time the church has moved, like a Pendulum past center (balance) to imbalance.
Then it becomes self-correcting…moves back towards center…but then momentum swings past center to an opposite imbalance.
This is clear as you study important movements in the church.
I saw this in real time when I was in seminary in the 80’s.
There was a swing away from historical biblical truth in some centers of higher education that were formerly orthodox.
Some leaders began to push things back to center…and were successful in bringing necessary corrections…then some swung past center and became, in some cases, unkind…mean spirited.
This has perpetually been the case…we as individuals and we the church at large are always in need of getting back on track…
My point is…don’t pursue truth for any purpose other than to love God and others.
Be humble…apart from God’s grace we would not have access to revealed truth.
Be humble…we are all swinging towards or away from center at any given time…do not come to believe you have arrived…we are all, in this life…arriving.
Orthodoxy: which means to believe what is true about God is a word that means literally “straight praise”.
We don’t pursue truth to become self-appointed “heretic” hunters…there is truth but truth ought to make us more patient, kind, loving.
Paul said that “those who opposed you must gently instruct.”
So, truth matters…but “mean truth” is out of sync with Scripture.
In fact, the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness grow on a life lived in communion with the “Holy Spirit”…who is also the Spirit of truth.
“John 15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”
We don’t pursue truth to look smart, or to win arguments, or to impress whoever it is we want to look “right” to.
We must continually check our hearts (our values)…so that we are pursuing truth out of a love for God and others…no other reason will do.
Listen to what Paul told young Timothy.
1 Tim. 1:3-5 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Paul told Timothy to correct false (wrong beliefs)…but pay attention to the stated goal of correct beliefs…LOVE
1 Tim. 1:5 is an important verse as we begin…the goal of correct beliefs…is love (for God and others) which comes from a pure heart, good conscience and a sincere faith.
Beliefs…shaping values…shaping behavior.
Now for an Important point as we move into this new year
We are often going to be inconsistent in living out what we believe.
So, I like to say…direction not perfection.
We aim for perfection…but we are to live a life of settled direction…with lots of course corrections along the way.
Again…that’s what we find in the NT letters:
-Beliefs, Values, Behavior…given in the context of a church needing continual course correction in all of them.
BY WAY OF ANALOGY:
- In my head…I believe I must keep my vows I made to Christy. I believe she is a wonderful, kind person.
-I believe God wants me to stay married to her, that my vows are a covenant commitment
- In my heart…I value our relationship more than any other human relationship.
-I want to keep my vows because I really love her…my affection has followed my investments in her.
- Yet I can make choices where I say unkind things, or I am impatient.
So, I am imperfect in the application(behavior) of what I believe and value…so does that mean I am lying about what I say I believe and what I say is most valuable to me?
“See, right there…you were unkind to Christy…you don’t really love her, cherish her.”
No…I really do…my behavior doesn’t align perfectly with my belief and values…but more and more alignment is happening.
*Don’t over apply this…there are those who say they love someone…but there is no evidence they do and much evidence they don’t…I’m not talking about wicked, manipulative people.
*I’m talking about people who are sincere, who do believe something…but don’t always act perfectly in line with that belief.
This lack of perfection in action can be confusing…it can seem like we don’t actually believe what we say we believe.
Or we can wonder… “If I can’t live this perfectly, is it really true?”
Truth doesn’t depend on our ability to live it perfectly…but the quality of our lives depends on how much we are growing in living it out.
Gandhi famously “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” Or some variant of that.
But the reply to that is “Of course”…Christians continue to need Christ after they become Christians…we all like Christ better than Christians.
Fortunately, our Christ died for and loves Christians…even when we don’t act like Christ.
Our lack of consistent behavior doesn’t change what is actually, factually true.
But the fact that it’s true…means we want to continually lean into aligning our behavior with beliefs and values.
I asked my four-year-old grandson last week what he wanted to be when he grows up
-He said he wants to “work”…that covers a host of possible professions.
-But it is a good goal
He then asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up G?”
I said “kind”…and not as a joke.
I want to be consistently kind to Christy and others from the inside out…I’d like for this to happen sometime before I die.
But when I fail to be kind…I refuse to stop confessing my sin and moving forward in what I want to be true…keep on closing the gap on where I am and where God wants me to be (and I want to be)
I believe being kind is true and good (God is kind) and it’s possible…I can change because the gospel works.
CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity…gives a brilliant illustration that addresses the issue of “Sanctification” or why progress in Christlikeness is not the same for everyone.
He asks the question…“If Christianity is true why are not all Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians?”
He says the question is both partly reasonable and yet unreasonable.
The reasonable part: “If someone remains completely unchanged in outward actions after professing faith in Christ…just as snobbish, spiteful, envious, or ambitious.
He said we are right to think their conversion is “imaginary””
Because any supposed “progress” in spiritual growth means nothing if it doesn’t make our actual behavior better.
Christ himself told us to judge results…a tree is known by its fruit.
Now to the other side…how demanding results is unreasonable.
He uses the example of a toothpaste advertisement
If the toothpaste is true (as advertised)…then all who use it will have better, whiter teeth than those who don’t use it…right?
If the toothpaste is true as advertised…then the one who uses it should have better teeth than he did before he used it.
One person could have fantastic teeth to begin with…and even though he doesn’t use the toothpaste…he still has better teeth than the one who began using it but who had bad teeth to start.
So, you don’t compare one set of teeth to another in order to test the toothpaste truth claims.
You compare one set of teeth now as to what it was before the toothpaste was used.
So, the person who began his faith journey full of anger, hurt, bad habits…will likely look less like Christ (externally at least) than the non-Christian who has no faith but a long history of better habits.
“We must, therefore, not be surprised we find among the Christians some people who are still nasty. There is even, when you come to think it over, a reason why nasty people might be expected to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones. That is what people objected to about Christ during his life on earth: He seemed to attract ‘such awful people.”
This is not to excuse bad behavior among believers…but to explain how aligning behavior with beliefs and values is a lifelong process…and we all begin that process (habit wise) in different places.
So, here’s a description of what is true about us and also what we want to be truer about us.
- What is true about us: We all do what makes sense to us.
- What we want to be true about us: We want God’s will and ways…to more and more “make sense” to us…head, heart out to choices.
A frequent question parents ask children:
“Why did you do that?”
The answer is almost always… “I don’t know.”
(Kids love to plead the 5th)
But the answer is in fact, almost always, “Because I wanted to.”
It made sense at the time.
*It’s making less sense to them as an angry parent questions them.
Who doesn’t have a story…or lots of them…of choices made that made sense at the time…but later makes no sense at all.
Recently a water sensor on my home alarm went off…I received a call from the monitoring company.
I rushed to the basement…no leaks (I have the water monitor because my basement has flooded in the past)
The toilets likewise were not leading.
I couldn’t find the problem…until I quizzed two of my grandsons who were rushing outside to play.
Turns out the alarm was set off by them missing the toilet…dramatically so.
Keep in mind this was not an honest case of poor aim…the sensor was a long way from the toilet bowl.
So, I asked that great question…“Why did you do that?”
Which means I asking “That makes no sense to me…Why did that make sense to you?”
They said “We were in a hurry…we wanted to go outside and play.”
Probably true…I don’t think they were aiming for the sensor.
I said “Well, now…you will take this cleaner and rag and clean it up…so being in a hurry was a bad choice because you are going to get outside much slower.”
God’s ways…always make the best sense…but we, like Children, often fail to see it that way.
*We are impatient, unkind, ungrateful, demanding (and we and those around us…are so much more unhappy because of it).
*It makes sense to us…or we wouldn’t do it…but it makes no sense…not really.
We do something that feels good (for a minute, then feels terrible or has lasting consequences)…it made sense…but it really makes no sense.
I ate some cookies the other night when it was too late do so…it made sense at the time
Then my stomach churned for hours and was it uncomfortable the next morning.
It really made no sense…took a couple of minutes to eat cookies (I also eat too fast)…for hours of stomach discomfort.
We really want to continually align our heads, hearts, hands with the will and ways of God.
We want what makes sense to him…to make sense to us more and more.
Because Big “Why”…for all this….is that we would live for the glory of God, the good of others, and our own great joy…those three things go together.
This year we are after growth in believing, valuing, and doing…what God knows is true and good…we want all three to align.
Because head, heart, hands…alignment is what it takes to become like Christ.
Let’s use another illustration…
You know the old parable of the man who put his ladder against the wall, spent his life climbing the ladder and at the end of his life realized it was the wrong wall.
Belief: Which wall do I place my ladder against?
-Super important you pick the right wall, there are no life do overs.
Values: The internal perspective that says “It is important that I climb this ladder and here’s why…this is how I will spend my life”
-you could have right wall…with a wrong heart…live outside happiness, joy, impact.
Behavior: The actual effort expended to go out day by day and climb that ladder.
-Right wall, right heart…more and more leads to right choices.
Behavior is shaped by what we believe is most valuable which is shaped by what we believe is actually true.
So…I understand that is a long introduction for a sermon…but it is really an introduction for two years of sermons…so from that perspective, it’s not really that long.
Let’s conclude by a quick look at Paul’s introduction to 1 Corinthians, where we will be for the next four months or so.
Let me read it to you.
1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
After his greeting…He gives thanks for the grace of God given them in Christ Jesus (4)
-Paul had a complicated relationship with the Church at Corinth
-We will talk more about that in the following weeks but he visited there three times.
- When he founded the church
- During what he called a “painful visit”
- After he wrote and sent 2 Corinthians
-He wrote…four letters…we have two of them.
- The previous letter (mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9)
- 1 Corinthians (this letter)
- What is called “The Severe letter” (2 Cor. 2).
- 2 Corinthians
Things were not great when Paul wrote this letter…but they got worse.
We will see that in 2 Corinthians when get there.
But here, he knows where they started (far from God)…so he has a clearer view of where they are now and how much it demonstrates the grace of God.
To use Lewis’ analogy-Their teeth are not shiny white…they are dingy yellow…but they are also not rotting and falling out of their mouths…God is clearly at work.
Here’s what he sees in their lives: “God has enriched you in every way…particularly in you speech and Knowledge”
-This stands out because these Greek believers came from a culture that treasured “great oration and speculative knowledge.”
They loved to take pride in their own ideas and they loved to hear themselves talk…or other great talkers talk.
So, they went from priding themselves on and idolizing…human speech and philosophical thoughts to being people who spoke the gospel and saw it as true wisdom.
*Actually, they were in process…they would regress and then resume progress…we will see that this winter/spring.
He said this Gospel was confirmed among you…it has proven true in the fact that it works.
-If it is true, the gospel should work…again, we are a work in progress so it works as we apply it…but it works.
*I thought a lot this Christmas season about how the gospel works…I turned 62 on the 17 and was reflecting on my friends, family, our church…myself.
*I was full of joy and gratitude that the gospel…works.
It works as advertised…when applied as advertised
So, Paul knew they were they were not a perfect church…but there was clear confirmation of the gospel at work in them.
-God had confirmed his activity in their lives by giving them all the necessary Spiritual gifts within the church…so that they had what they needed to be his faithful and fruitful people.
Then he cast an encouraging and compelling vision for them…
Christ will sustain you to the end, you will be found guiltless in the Day of the Lord.
-No charge will be made against those that Christ has redeemed
God, not you, will ensure this will happen.
THIS IS OUR GREAT HOPE: Our lack of imperfection will not keep God from saving us.
God is faithful, and he has called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
-Fellowship is word that is the exact opposite of the word used in the next verse to address a big problem in the church…divisions.
-Before he addressed the behavior and values causing division among them…he casts vision for the foundational belief of their fellowship with Christ…and one another.
Christ has lived in eternal fellowship within the Trinity…Father, Son, Spirit…three persons, one being.
This Triune God who lives in eternal unity in diversity…has called his people into fellowship.
We see that Paul in these introductory verses is setting the “belief” foundation for what will follow in terms of “values” and “behaviors.”
He will address division in the church.
He will address practical applications what wisdom really is.
He will talk about the purpose and proper utilization of Spiritual gifts.
He will talk about worship, marriage, relationships with those outside the church.
He will give the foundational belief of the resurrection of Christ and it’s implication for our futures.
All this is together is being “teed up” here in his introduction.
Beliefs…set Values…determine behavior.
NOW TAKE AT LOOK AT THESE FIRST 9 VERSES…WITH SOME HELP OF HIGHLIGHTING WHAT DO YOU SEE?
9 times in 9 verses he uses the name of our Savior.
Normally when you are writing or speaking…this level of redundancy is not recommended.
But he is focusing our attention on what is to be the foundation for our beliefs, values, behaviors.
Jesus Christ, the Savior.
In all the teaching, rebuking, correcting, encouraging…in all the problems within and between individuals…the focus will be on Jesus Christ.
This year and next…and the next and the next…the center or attention, affection, and actions are Christ…to know him better, to reflect him more consistently is to truly live life.
His actions for us and in us…are what brings transformation.
*So, we will talk about beliefs, values, behaviors…a lot
But in all of it…we need to emulate Paul’s redundancy.
Jesus Christ filling our heads
Jesus Christ shaping our hearts
Jesus Christ direction the work of our hands
It’s going to be fun.