angerHere’s another sermon transcript from the Seven Deadly Sins sermon series preached at Belmont Chapel last year sometime. If you’d like to view the PowerPoint slides that accompanied my talk then you can find them by following this link …

PPT : Seven Deadly Sins – anger

(SLIDE 1) If you’ve been a regular here at Belmont Chapel over the past few Sunday evenings you will know that we have been working together through a series of talks grouped under the title Seven Deadly Sins. (SLIDE 2) This evening we’re going to tackle the third on the list of these seven aspects of character that exemplify and typify humanities sinfulness – and so its anger that we going to spend time thinking about this evening.

(SLIDE 3) One of the resources we’ve been recommending throughout this series is a recent book written by Graham Tomlin entitled The Seven Deadly Sins : And How To Overcome Them, and it’s from that book that I quoted in the introduction to this series a few Sunday’s ago and I’d like to remind you of how Tomlin concisely describes sin – he puts it like this, (SLIDE 4) “… sins are destructive habits … they are patterns of life which if we let them take control of us, will unravel all that is good in our lives, and will lead us to destroy everything around us …” (Pg.11)

So, with those thoughts fixed firmly at the front of our minds lets jump right in and consider the nature and scope of anger as well as thinking about how we can handle anger correctly in our lives day by day.

I think there is the distinct possibility that for some people there is a secret enjoyment in moments of anger. After all, to be in that moment is to feel powerful, to feel in control, and to feel absolutely in the right. Maybe the enjoyment of that moment is for others not an altogether secret one because they view anger as normal and natural, and when others complain about their emotional outbursts they attribute their behaviour as being part of who they are and so their simple advise to others is to back off.

(SLIDE 5) It’s true of course that our society notices angry people : recently in a readers poll sponsored by a TV magazine viewers voted the Michelin starred chef Gordon Ramsey to head up the list of TV’s angriest people mainly because of his outbursts of fury on his TV show Hell’s Kitchen. But not only are angry people noticed but our society also holds a fascination with the destructive power of anger : (SLIDE 6) Zinedine Zidane’s infamous unprovoked head-butt to the chest of Italian Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final was a moment that many football pundits commented was ruinous to his reputation and left an irremovable scar on an otherwise brilliant career. (SLIDE 7) Increasingly too anger is being associated with ill health. Ruth Ostrow an Australian newspaper columnist and life coach wrote recently, “… anger is worse for our immunity and wellbeing than anything we can ingest … it is internally and spiritually corrosive …”

(SLIDE 8) So what are we to make of anger ? Are we to view all anger as destructive and every expression of it evil ? Should we internalise our anger and never give it room to vent ? Should we remain ambivalent about anger, knowing that whilst we might be strangely drawn to it’s power, we are also violently reactive against it’s excesses, or, should we have a constructive view and take a look at what the Bible has to say to us ?

(SLIDE 9) Let’s read together a few verses from Matthew’s account of the life and teaching of Jesus verses that form part of the section that we commonly title the Sermon on the Mount. If you’d like to follow the reading you’ll find a church Bible on the rack of the seat in front of you and we’re going to read from Matthew Ch.5 starting at vs.21 which you will find on Page 917.

Read : Matthew Ch.5 vs.21-26

Anger, of course, is an emotion; it is a natural passion that alters us physically. Anger triggers a whole range of physiological changes within us. Adrenalin is released, hunger is dissipated, we experience clearer and better focus definition in our vision, the supply of the male hormone testosterone is increased and glucose is released from the liver – all, it could be argued, with positive affect.

(SLIDE 10) Martin Luther, the great reformer, famously commented that, “… when I am angry I can write, pray and preach well, for it is then that my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened and all mundane vexations and temptations depart …”

So is anger always wrong, or is there such a thing as constructive anger ?

Let’s take a look at what our passage in Matthew Ch.5 has to say to us and see what can we learn from what Jesus has to teach His followers on this subject ?

Let’s consider and develop too straightforward questions that need addressing when we start to feel angry …

(SLIDE 11)

  • Why am I feeling angry …?
  • THINK … what is the real cause …?

Look again at vs.22, near the beginning of the passage we read together, and now glance down to the bottom of the page and read the footnote corresponding to the letter b in the main text. If we now re-read the verse, taking into account this footnote, we get the following, (SLIDE 12) “… I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgement …”. This translation, whilst not based on the wording in all of the earliest manuscripts, does makes consistent sense in the light of all that we know to be evidenced from scripture about anger. The Bible gives us almost 600 references concerning God’s anger and we know from the gospel records that Jesus Himself got angry – so it’s clear that not all anger is sinful. When we speak about anger in relation to God we discover it to be His personal reaction against sin, and as such, it’s a component part of His love. Now it’s important that we get that idea right since God’s love and God’s wrath – his anger, aren’t separate components of God’s character but rather they are inextricably entwined together. We know that’s true because we never read that God is wrath, or God is anger, but rather, of course, we do read that God IS love – so anger is an expression of God’s love.

(SLIDE 13) The writer and theologian C.S. Lewis puts it like this, “… such an anger is the fluid that love bleeds when you cut it …”.

That means, of course, that our capacity for anger is one of God’s good gifts and it’s not contrary to love but rather it’s complimentary of it. So then, if we consider anger within its right framework, could it be that we have reason to ask ourselves if we get angry enough. We live in a world that is distorted and twisted by injustice and sinfulness. God’s loving reaction to what He sees in our world is a righteous anger – an anger that comes as a direct and appropriate expression of His love. But does that kind of anger characterise my reaction to sin ? Unfortunately, so often, the answer is no ; since my reaction often reveals a detached complacency derived from a poorly considered notion of the need to be tolerant – I simply shrug my shoulders and accept the sin I see around me, and within me, as an inevitable result of being part of a fallen humanity.

As is so often the case, what sin does is it takes something that is good – in the case of anger, that appropriate outrage against evil and injustice – and it twists it into something distorted and destructive. (SLIDE 14) The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “… anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy …”. And so it’s clear that there is a difference between correctly focused anger and anger that is simply misplaced and misused, there is both rational and irrational anger, constructive and destructive anger, and the dividing line between the two lies in the understanding of the cause.

How often do we justify our anger by comparing our response to a given situation with the response being made by others around us, and giving no thought as to the cause ? How often do we allow our own ego to be bound up in our anger – where selfishness becomes the driver – and consideration of cause becomes irrelevant because our anger is all about us ?

Jesus Himself, as we’d expect of course, provides for us the supreme example since if we look at the recorded instances of Jesus’ anger we discover that it is always directed against sin and focused against unjust situations in which others are suffering. Nowhere do we find Jesus’ own ego wrapped up in His anger – when He was arrested, unfairly tried, exploited, oppressed, hurt, rejected and eventually crucified He didn’t say, “… I have a right to be angry …”, but rather He said, “… Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing …” (Luke Ch.23 vs.34)

(SLIDE 15)

  • What should I do with my feelings of anger …?
  • PAUSE what is the right action to take

Two of the characteristics of God’s anger are that it is consistently applied and it is never hasty delivered. The writer of the book of Numbers records these words, “… the LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion …” (Numbers Ch.14 vs.18). And such a measured response is in such stark contrast to other passages of scripture that warn against impetuous, hot-headed, self-righteous out bursts. (SLIDE 16) The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes says, “… do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, because anger resides in the lap of fools …”, and the writer of Proverbs says these words, “… do not make friends with the hot-tempered, do not associate with those who are easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared …” (Proverbs Ch.22 vs.24). Unfortunately of course we can have the tendency to move from the position of mildly annoyed to the position of fuming rage in one giant leap without any consideration of the steps in between, but rather we should follow the example of any of NASA’s shuttle launches, where there is always a lengthy countdown, during which vital checks are made, before ever blast-off occurs …!

The truth is that when we sense that building of anger within us we are required to take a step back and carefully consider what we are about to commit ourselves to. (SLIDE 17) When faced with the injustice of unfair taxes being imposed upon his fellow Jews we read that Nehemiah’s response was this, “… when I heard their outcry and their charges I was very angry … I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and the officials …” (Nehemiah Ch.5 vs.6-7).

Even Jesus Himself took time out to consider how to react. In John’s gospel we read of Jesus finding the temple courts over-run with inappropriate and unjust commerce, and whilst He may not have counted to ten, John records that Jesus did pause long enough in order to braid together a knotted cord before scattering the coins of the money changers and overturning their tables; “… get these out of here …”, he said, “… how dare you turn my father’s house into a market …” (John Ch.2 vs.16). Paul writes to his friends in Ephesus, “… in your anger … do not sin …” (Ephesians Ch.4 vs.26)

Jesus, in the passage we read together reminds his hearers that an ill-considered response to feelings of anger often leads to badly chosen words and the real possibility of actions that will lead to seriously damaging outcomes. Look again at what we read, “… I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgement … again … anyone who says “Raca” is answerable to the Sanhedrin … and anyone who says, “You fool” will be in danger of the fire of hell …” (Matthew Ch.5 vs.22-23). Surely the point that Jesus is making is that words of abuse are very powerful and they can be extremely damaging to the user and very damaging to the quality of relationship we share one with another. The whole thrust of the thinking here is that ill-chosen words are steps on a journey towards ill-judged actions, in just the same way that anger is a step on the journey towards murder.

We have to be careful here to understand that Jesus isn’t condemning the action of loving confrontation where we might step in, quite forcibly at times, in order to tell the truth about a particular situation that needs to be addressed, a situation, for instance, where telling the truth is most certainly preferable to an artificial and unsustainable peace, and where confrontation is necessary in order to correct a wrong that will lead to harm But rather Jesus is warning against us acting out of anger, the kind that usually stems from us feeling hurt or aggrieved, the kind of anger that has lost sight of proper cause and takes the immediate route to retaliation and insult – the kind of anger that loses all perspective and seeks to dismiss the image of God that is inherent in all individuals.

(SLIDE 18) The writer to the Proverbs again has valuable advice, “… a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger …” (Proverbs Ch.15 vs.1).

James, from the letter we’ve been looking at together during our Sunday morning teaching series here at Belmont Chapel has something to add when he writes, “… take note of this … everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry … because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires …” (James Ch.1 vs.19b-20)

But, whilst scripture warns us about over-reacting and speaking without thinking through violent, inappropriate outbursts we are encouraged to deal with our anger quickly through the twin routes of forgiveness and reconciliation. (SLIDE 19) The remainder of the verse in Ephesians Ch.4 follows the words, “… in your anger … do not sin …”, with these words, “… do not let the sun go down whilst you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold …” (Ephesians Ch.4 vs.26-27) – because resentment builds over time which in turn enrages a simmering anger that can explode at any time. Don’t let things get out of hand say Jesus in Matthew Ch.5, “… settle matters quickly … go and be reconciled to that person …”

(SLIDE 20) May God continue to work in us, through the power of His Holy Spirit that increasingly we may become more and more like Jesus Christ. May we, when faced with rising anger, consider the cause and be resolved to stop long enough to ensure our response is appropriate. But yet, when faced with injustice and sin let’s resolve to ask God to remove any complacency we may harbour so that we might be affective in standing up and defending the One who came and died for us, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

(SLIDE 21) Take a look at this slide – this is what the Spirit is doing in your life and mine if we continue to let Him have space to move and work, all of these things on the LH side fuel and fan anger within our lives – but God is looking to change us from the inside out.

Indifference replaced with love

Contempt replaced with respect

Frustration replaced with patience

Envy replaced with acceptance

Resentment replaced with forgiveness

Revenge replaced with reconciliation

Let’s make it our aim that as individuals and corporately as a church here we may continue to see tangible evidences of these transformations taking place …

If you were here for the first of this series I finished with a quote from Don Carson concerning possible attitudes towards sin and godliness, and it’s with this same quotation that I’ll finish this evening.

(SLIDE 22) “… people do not drift towards holiness … apart from grace-given effort people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to scripture, faith, and delight in God … but rather we drift towards compromise and call it tolerance … towards disobedience and call it freedom … towards superstition and call it faith … we cherish the indiscipline of lost self control and call it relaxation … we slouch towards prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism … we slide towards godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated …”

wall-streetI promised to post the transcript of another sermon in the Seven Deadly Sins series, so here it is. If you’d like to follow the PPT presentation that accompanied the sermon below then please follow this link …

PPT : Seven Deadly Sins – greed

(SLIDE 1) If you’ve been here at Belmont Chapel over the past few Sunday evenings you will know that we have been working through a number of talks grouped together under the series title Seven Deadly Sins. (SLIDE 2) This evening we’re going to tackle the sixth on this list of seven aspects of character that exemplify and typify humanities sinfulness – which means that its greed that we going to focus on this evening.

(SLIDE 3) Oliver Stone, the screenwriter and director, in his 1987 film Wall Street gave film-goers, the world over, the chance to glimpse the somewhat impenetrable world of stock market trading that beats at the financial heart of corporate America. The film’s plot revolves around the character of Gordon Gekko, a wealthy but unscrupulous corporate raider, portrayed by Michael Douglas. And in one, now oft quoted speech, given to a group of fellow stock brokers, Gekko vigorously defends the style of trading that he adopts. He says, SLIDE 4 ‘… greed is good … greed is right … greed works … greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit … greed in all its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind …’.

And whilst we might flinch from such a forthright and uncompromising mantra for living we do however find ourselves in a society that in the majority condones and encourages personal and societal greed. For many people greed could hardly be classified as a sin, let alone a deadly one.

(SLIDE 5) The psychologist Dorothy Rowe puts it like this, ‘… deploring greed and its effects is a treasured occupation for those who like to feel virtuous … doing it is about as useful as deploring the fact we need air to breathe … I think the only way to give up being greedy is to die …’

Yet, in stark contrast, in the chapter on greed from Graham Tomlin’s book, The Seven Deadly Sins : and how to overcome them, the book we’ve been recommending to be read alongside this series, we find the author quoting Thomas Aquinas, the 11th century monastic theologian, who wrote this, (SLIDE 6) ‘… greed is a sin directly against ones neighbour … since one man cannot over-abound in external riches without another man lacking them … it is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, inasmuch as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things…’.

So, in the face of these quite contradictory statements how are we best to consider greed and especially the greed that accompanies the misuse of money and possessions ?

In order to provide some shape to our thinking this evening we’re going to read together from Luke’s gospel – a passage in which we find Jesus responding to a request to arbitrate in a personal matter of financial inheritance. Jesus replies, as he often does, with a parable. (SLIDE 7) The reading is found on Page 986 in the church Bible, a copy of which you can find on the rack of the seat in front of you, and we’ll start reading from vs.13 of Luke Ch.12.

READ : Luke Ch.12 vs.13 to 21

It’s interesting to notice the context into which Jesus interjects this parable since it comes as a response to an interruption from someone in the crowd that, as we learn from the beginning of the chapter, had gathered to hear Him teaching His disciples. The topic of this particular teaching session revolves around the need to be God centred and God focused in everyday living. So clearly the man who interrupts in vs.12 hasn’t been listening carefully, because if he had he would have recognised that his question to Jesus was quite out of sync with Jesus’ teaching. Of course, it’s true that Rabbi’s were routinely petitioned to arbitrate in domestic disputes but Jesus looks past the detail of the dispute in order to talk about a much broader principle – a principle that finds its focus in vs.21, ‘… this is how it will be for those that store up things for themselves but are not rich towards God …’ (Luke Ch.12 vs.21).

We’re going to focus our thoughts this evening around two simple statements that I trust will help us shed some light on the nature of greed and it’s consequences as well as hopefully helping us to look again at some counteractive measures – things that we can take on board and utilise day-by-day.

Here’s the first statement … (SLIDE 8)

1. Greed means … we become get-centred rather than give-centred

If you were here two Sunday’s ago you may recall that when looking at the subject of gluttony we read some verses from the book of Ecclesiastes, and it’s from that same book that I’d like to quote again. The writer of the book, the teacher, says this in Ch.5, ‘… those who love money never have enough … those who love wealth are never satisfied with their income … this too is meaningless …’ (Ecc. Ch.5 vs.10). The word meaningless in Ecclesiastes has everything to do with frustration and futility and the failure of something to achieve genuine satisfaction. And yet despite the warnings, we see all around us clear evidence of an impulse to possessively and selfishly pull in towards ourselves those things that in reality we should be sharing.

The very nature of the society in which we live tends to have a bias towards getting rather than giving and we see evidence of it in the consumerist outlook on life.

Consumerism is simply the advocacy of a high rate of consumption and spending as being the only means to achieve economic stability, and it encourages overspending and high debt amongst individuals. It’s probably fair to say that in our diverse and shrinking commercial world, that consumerism is the religion of the twenty-first century and it’s the major player in the globalisation process that reaches into every corner of our world. Never before have we had such a wide breadth of consumer choice, choice about what to purchase, when to purchase it, and crucially, when to pay for it. And there is an implicit use it and discard it tag on virtually everything we buy, and the consumerist fuelled desire for newer and better things threatens constantly to drive us towards greed.

Let me stop there for a moment and just pose a few questions for you to consider. What are the ‘must haves’ for my life ? What are the things that I greedily hold onto in a futile belief that they provide security and status for my existence ? What is it that I’m determined to possess ?

(SLIDE 9) One of the saddest life stories of the twentieth century is the story of Howard Hughes – writing about his life for Leadership magazine, Bill Hybels says this about Hughes, ‘… all he ever really wanted in life was more … he wanted more money, so he worked tirelessly building up his business portfolio … he wanted more fame, so he moved to Hollywood and became a filmmaker … he wanted more sensual pleasure, so he paid out handsome sums to indulge his every sexual urge … he wanted more thrills, so he designed and built the fastest aircraft in the world … he wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favours with two U.S. presidents … (SLIDE 10) he was absolutely convinced that more would bring satisfaction … unfortunately history shows otherwise … since Hughes concluded his life emaciated, colourless, drug addicted and a eccentric recluse … Howard Hughes died believing the myth of more … he died, insane by all reasonable standards …’ (Bill Hybels – Leadership, Vol. X #3 – 1989).

(SLIDE 11) The consequence of being get-centred rather than give-centred is that we are in danger of destroying the relationships we share one with another. Those words of Thomas Aquinas again, ‘… greed is a sin directly against ones neighbour … since one man cannot over-abound in external riches without another man lacking them …’. The rich landowner in Jesus’ parable saw the provision of an abundant harvest as being an opportunity for him to please himself, and we have only to notice the amount of times he mentions the personal pronoun I to see clearly that he had little or no thought for others. So, just before we move onto the second statement we’re going to consider, it’s worth pausing to think about what the Bible has to say by way of an antidote for this get-centred disease.

As we look into scripture we soon discover that much of what it teaches – whether through God’s dealing with his people in the OT, or through Jesus’ teaching worked out in the NT – is often counter-culturally orientated. It routinely focuses away from the accepted norm of the society in which God’s people find themselves living. And two principles that we find taught and practiced have, I’m sure, something to say on the subject of being give-centred rather than get-centred.

In the OT book of Leviticus we discover details of the remarkable concept of jubilee. We read there that every fifty years the Israelites, commanded by God, were to free slaves, cancel debts, return land to their owners and allow a period of rest for the countryside. These radical actions were, in part of course, a graphic and costly reminder to the people that all they had was, in reality, only theirs to hold because it had been granted to them in trust from a generous God. (SLIDE 12) The Psalmist understood where true ownership rights resided only too well, when he wrote, ‘… the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it …’ (Psalm 24 vs.1), and despite whatever your views on the politics of Margaret Thatcher she certainly got this right when she commented, ‘… no generation has a freehold on this earth … all we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease …’. The year of jubilee helped to address the extremes of wealth and poverty inherent in society and it was a searching spiritual and profound social event, helping the poorer members of the community to find a new start. The parables of Jesus contain jubilee concepts too, not least the ones referring to release from debt and stories talking about the redistribution of goods to the poor. And of course, Jesus Himself came to proclaim the ultimate year of jubilee – sins forgiven and salvation through faith in His death and resurrection.

Now you may be forgiven for thinking that the jubilee concept does, at first glance at least, have little or no relevance for us today as individuals, and yet I believe it’s important that we routinely take stock of our attitudes towards getting and giving and in doing so it’s important that we consider taking on board radical steps to re-appraise what we do in the light of God’s grace. Realising the potential for jubilee in our lives is different but complimentary to another Biblical concept, that of tithing – and whilst both shouldn’t be mechanistically and remotely applied in our lives, both can make a dramatic difference towards combating greed. When was the last time I stopped to consider what my attitude towards money and possessions reveal about my priorities and about my relationships with others ? Is it time for a radical shake-up such that jubilee type effects can bear fruit in my life to counteract any tendency I might have towards greed ?

The other idea that scripture offers as an antidote comes through understanding the ideas contained within the NT word fellowship. This word has many dimensions, including partnership, joint participation, communion and community. Its root meaning is commonness, as in when we share communion together, for example, where it refers to the joint participation we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. But the word fellowship also has an economic side to it too, that sense of practical sharing one with another, the sharing of resources and finances. Such an ideal was the hallmark of the NT church, SLIDE 13 Luke writes in Acts, ‘… they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer …’ (Acts Ch.2 vs.42). Such mutuality, in the kind of attitude we see to money and possessions in the NT, is very radical and it reveals the essence of jubilee.

We’d be short-sighted however to merely encourage this kind of mutuality amongst ourselves, since fellowship in a broader sense is wonderfully productive in building relationships with those aren’t yet Christians. The gift of hospitality and the opening up of our homes to evangelistic use is a expansion of this same idea.

Secondly from Jesus’ parable we learn this … (SLIDE 14)

2. Greed means … we become self-centred rather than God-centred

And here is the second problem that Jesus highlights in his parable, since not only does greed harm our relationships with one another but also greed destroys our relationship with God. Thomas Aquinas, in the words we quoted earlier said, ‘…greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, inasmuch as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things…’, and those words are an echo surely of what we read in Luke where Jesus says, ‘… life does not consist in an abundance of possessions …’ (Luke Ch.12 vs.15). Greed creates a spiritual problem since it affects our relationship with God.

As we scan through the parable we could be forgiven for thinking that here is the story of a self-made man, who is a success in every sense of the word. And yet, when we get to vs.20 Jesus describes this man as ‘… a fool …’ (vs.20). And why is he a fool ? Well, he’s not a fool because he is wealthy – the Bible doesn’t condemn wealth, and he’s not a fool because he has invested and saved – since the Bible encourages good stewardship, and he’s not a fool because he’s chosen to take early retirement either. But the reason he is a fool is because in all of those things he has neglected and rejected God’s rightful place in his life.

Jesus’ point is very simple, and the warning surely, for us, is that we need to be careful to always remember that there is more to life than getting as much as we can for ourselves. Life has a different, far more important purpose, and that is, that we need first and foremost, to be found in a vibrant, living relationship with God.

I’ve never met a Christian, who has opening acknowledge being materialistic, probably because in reality it is a mutually incompatible concept to the Christian faith, and yet, I’m sure; we all have materialistic tendencies within us that affect adversely our outlook on life. Materialism at its heart denies the reality of God, and because of that it will if we allow it to, erode our faith and have a dramatic negative impact upon our lives and upon our effectiveness for God. Materialism fosters amnesia concerning God’s provision, it destroys our spiritual life, our relationship with God, it makes us proud, and it distracts us away from our core responsibilities towards God and one another.

In order to counteract that self-centredness and self-sufficiency that materialism fosters the Bible offers us the antidote of the Sabbath, and whilst we haven’t got time to consider the potential of Sabbath keeping for our lives I would recommend you stop and re-think your way through it’s implications for you and it’s intention as prescribed by God.

(SLIDE 15) Graham Tomlin, in the same book I’ve already mentioned, says this concerning the Sabbath, ‘… Sabbath is a crucial antidote to greed because it is a regular weekly reminder that the purpose of life is not career, work, money, deals, degrees and all those things we fret over … it is the enjoyment of God and the good things He’s given us …’

Let me close with a story … (SLIDE 16)

I’m reliably informed that one of the most difficult animals to capture in the wild is the ring-tailed monkey, unless, that is, you adopt the practice of the indigenous Zulu tribesmen who use a unique method to attract and capture these creatures. One of the favourite foods of the ring-tailed monkey is the seeds contained in the centre of a melon, so, in order to catch the monkey the tribesman cuts one hole at the end of the melon in order to attach it by a rope to a tree and another hole through the side just big enough for the monkey’s hand. The tribesman waits patiently and when the monkey sees the fruit he slips his hand inside and opens its fingers to grab a whole fistful of seeds, but, because his fist is now larger than the hole through which the monkey’s hand first entered it can’t get free – the monkey is easily captured because of a resolute refusal to let go of the seeds – the monkey is captured because of greed.

I wonder if I’m so focused on money and possessions that I’m unaware as to the danger of the sin of greed that lurks close by to capture me ? What do I need to release my grip on in order to enjoy the freedom that God gives – that joy of knowing and living a life in relationship with Him – a life characterised not by self and greed, but by generosity and God’s grace.

During last year I was asked to preach at church Belmont Chapel for part of a series entitled the Seven Deadly Sins. Just the other Sunday I was asked for my notes and PPTs from the four talks that I contributed to the eight part series so I thought I’d post them here for others who may wish to read them too. The first talk was an introduction to the series and you’ll find references to the slides on the accompanying PPT presentation as you read through what I wrote. You can find my PPT file here … PPT : Seven Deadly Sins – introduction

7ds-bookAlso, you’ll notice that Graham Tomlin’s book The Seven Deadly Sins : and how to overcome them was suggested as reading to accompany the preaching series. It’s a worthwhile read and I’d recommend it to you.

Here’s what I said …

(SLIDE 1) Dr Karl Menninger, the renowned psychiatrist, recounts in his journal the story of once having seeing a stern faced, plainly dressed man standing on a street corner in downtown Chicago. The man, so the story goes, would stand statue like for a considerable length of time, and then slowly and deliberately he would lift his right arm and, pointing to the nearest passer-by would shout, ‘… guilty ! …’. Then, without any change of expression, he would resume once again his rather awkward stance until, in obedience to some apparent internal prompting, he would raise his arm again and, pointing to another hapless, and no doubt bewildered pedestrian, he would once again shout, ‘… guilty ! …’ . Dr Menninger took special notice of the reaction of the people in the street. More often than not the man’s unfortunate victim would stare at him in disbelief and then would quickly hurry on. But this was not always to be the case, since one man immediately upon being verbally accosted by the guilty cry simply turned to his friend and said this, ‘… I don’t understand it, how did he know …?’.

The answer is simple of course, since, odd as he was, the man standing on the street corner clearly understood one of the universal basic truths of humanity : we are all guilty of something.

(SLIDE 2) Over the next few Sunday evenings under the series title Seven Deadly Sins we’re going to explore together seven aspects of character that exemplify and typify humanities sinfulness. As we consider them together I’m expecting that we will at times find what we uncover about ourselves to be uncomfortable, since, if we’re being honest enough to spend time looking at the subject of personal failure, we know we won’t always be looking at ourselves from the most flattering angles. The purpose of this series however is neither to demoralise or criticize but rather it is to challenge. And I trust, that together we will not only learn to have a correct perspective about sin within our own lives but also we will learn the important lesson that sin, by it’s very nature is damaging, not only to ourselves, but also to those with whom we share our lives with. Let’s pray that where there is a need, whether as individuals, or corporately as a church community here, to confront and deal with sin we may do it by seeking God’s help in weeding out the destructive traits that these seven words describe, and in doing so ask God’s help to re-populate our lives with constructive ones in their place. It’s my prayer for my own life that I might see humility in the place of pride, love in the place of envy, patience in the place of anger, generosity in the place of gluttony, faithfulness in the place of lust, contentment in the place of greed, usefulness in the place of sloth.

(SLIDE 3) If you’d like to take up the challenge to continue to think through these issues over the next few weeks I’d recommend you get hold of a copy of Graham Tomlin’s latest book, The Seven Deadly Sins : and how to overcome them which makes ideal additional reading to accompany the bible-based studies we will be following through Sunday by Sunday.

(SLIDE 4) So why Seven Deadly Sins ? What makes them so infamous ? In order to try and answer those questions I’d like you to pause and consider with me the list we have in front of us … pride … envy … anger … gluttony … lust … greed … and sloth. Close your eyes just for a moment and concentrate on the words … let me ask you a question … when you considered some or all of the words in this list where were you in your mind’s eye ? Where did you go in your imagination ?

(SLIDE 5) The philosopher Simone Weil wrote this, ‘… imaginary evil is romantic and varied … real evil is gloomy and barren … imaginary goodness is boring … but real goodness is always new, marvellous and intoxicating ..’. And it’s rather like that with this list of seven because if we’re completely honest with ourselves when we look at them on paper and we picture them in our minds they can appear strangely provocative and mildly alluring.

(SLIDE 6) Soon after the death of the actor John Belushi in 1983 from an lethal self-administered cocktail of heroin and cocaine one leading New York magazine wrote this concerning drug addiction, ‘… it can do you no harm and it can drive you insane … it can give you status in society and it can wreck your career … it can make you the life and soul of the party and it can turn you into a loner … it can be an elixir for high living and the potion of death …’. The contrasts are stark and like all sin there’s a marked difference between the appearance and the reality, between the momentary high and the lasting destructive effect. And that just goes to highlight something of why it is that despite the passage of several centuries since this list, or at least something like it, was first drawn up by Evagrius of Pontus, a Greek monastic theologian, that every intervening generation, possibly without exception, has at some point in time sought to reference and consider this list.

(SLIDE 7) References have been varied; some have chosen to depict the seven through visual art, such as Hieronymus Bosch’s famous work The Seven Deadly Sins and The Four Last Things, painted in the 13th Century. (SLIDE 8) Others have used literature, such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s the Parsons Tale, one of the Canterbury Tales, or more recently others have woven this same septet into children’s literature and we find them in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and in Garth Nix’s book series The Keys to the Kingdom. (SLIDE 9) Others have used the medium of film, such as David Fincher, who’s taut and visceral thriller Se7en paints a grim portrait. And even more up to date, the world of Playstation gaming, through such titles as Devil May Cry have taken up the theme. The fascination continues. But today, does this fascination reflect the reality of sinfulness or does it in reality parody it, or at worst, ridicule the notion that these seven are anything other than minor character flaws.

(SLIDE 10) The answer is, I would suggest, all bound up in how society today views the word sin. Isn’t it the case that sin has long ago lost its impact, because the notion of sin is not something that our culture and society buys into ? Sin doesn’t fit into our modern world-view, because for so many people, sin harks back to a bygone age where rules abounded and where there was a constriction of thought and a repression of the right to be individualistic, where there was no space for what we now know to be the contemporary post-modern expressions of free thinking and liberal self-styled morality. How can a culture that holds nothing absolute and everything relative have within it’s construct a place for sin ?

And so we discover that the word and the understanding of what it means is ridiculed and belittled. On the high street perfumery counters have leading brand fragrances named Temptation and Sin, – and a leading confectionary manufacturer chooses to name a range of ice creams after all of the seven sins – and so it is that sin is turned inside out and portrayed as something enticing as something provocatively alluring that seeks to draw us in and have us explore. It’s worth noting that not much has changed since the Garden of Eden.

In one sense part of the problem is that in the pervading definition of sin has been, and probably continues to be, centred around the idea of breaking rules – but, in reality, that view goes only a little way towards understanding what sin is, since if we are to understand the truth about sin, as revealed for us in the Bible, then we need to take on board a far more comprehensive definition.

As I’ve already suggested finding a comprehensive definition of sin is not that straightforward. One expression finds us considering sin as going beyond the bounds, of doing something we shouldn’t do, of colouring outside of the lines, and yet also sin is a failure to reach a required standard, a standard that’s set and expected of us, of missing the mark and falling short, like an arrow that fails to find its target – and all of these ideas, and others, need to be considered as we try and get to grips with what sin is.

(SLIDE 11) And its important too when thinking about sin, that we get the right perspective about ourselves, since we need to remember that you and I are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin, because we are sinners. That is, we were born with a bias towards sinfulness. The Bible is clear on this point, Paul writes to his friends in Rome, ‘…therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned …’ (Romans Ch.5:12), and the whole thrust of the good news of the gospel is that Jesus’ intervention on our behalf provides the antidote to that verse in Romans, since, as Paul writes elsewhere, ‘… God made him who had no sin (that is, Jesus Christ) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God …’ (2 Corinthians Ch.5:21)

(SLIDE 12) In his book, Not The Way It’s Supposed To Be, Cornelius Plantagina describes sin as the violation of Shalom, he writes this, ‘… in the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed … a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder … shalom is the way things ought to be …’, and then he goes on to write, ‘… God hates sin, not just because it violates his law but more substantially because it violates shalom …’

In a nutshell sin is a mixture of three fundamental elements …

(SLIDE 13)

1. Sin is … the rebellion against God’s plan … where vital relationships are broken

The story of the Garden of Eden brings into sharp focus this aspect of sin, since it was there that our ancestors chose through a deliberate act of their will to go against God’s will. Adam and Eve led a rebellion against God’s plan believing that the experimental knowledge of evil as well as good would make them like God. But the result was disastrous since sin brought separation and death – sin is not simply a matter of breaking God’s laws, although that’s part of it as we shall see in a moment, but primarily sin is a breaking of a relationship, that vital relationship between creator and created without which you and I can never be the kind of people God intends us to be. And that relationship wasn’t simply lost, it was renounced, humankind deliberately chose isolation. And that is a crucial point to take on board as we journey together through this series because sin is destructive of relationships and it leads invariably towards isolation. Sin seeks to isolate you and me from God and you and me from one another. It eats away at everything that unites.

Graham Tomlin, in the book I’ve already recommended, puts it like this, ‘… sins are destructive habits … they are patterns of life which if we let them take control of us, will unravel all that is good in our lives, and will lead us to destroy everything around us …’ (Pg.11)

But secondly … (SLIDE 14)

2. Sin is … the refusal to follow God’s law … where the penalty for violation is death

Not only does our sin constitute a rebellion against God’s rule and a rebuffing of God’s love but also it is a refusing of God’s law. Whilst the post-modern society in which we lives kicks against any notion that there is any such thing as a certainty and no such things as absolute truths – but merely perspectives and relative positions – absolute laws do exist within God and they are revealed to us through our conscience and through God’s word, the Bible. It was God who created us, and He holds within Himself the blueprint for our lives and the instruction manual for our day to day working and maintenance.

If we have a desire to really get a right perspective on sin we need to be clear that all sin is directed against God, it is His law we are breaking, his authority that we are despising, His rule that we are refusing, His love that we are denying. How often do I try to demote my sin as being a minor matter between me and the person I’ve sinned against ? (SLIDE 15) But the truth isn’t like that at all, but the returning prodigal son in Jesus’ poignant parable in Luke Ch.14 got it right, where we read that that the young man sunk to his knees before his father and said, ‘… I have sinned against heaven and against you …’ (Luke Ch.15:21a).

The Bible is clear about the penalty for sin and just as clear about the rescue plan as well. Whilst on the one hand God’s holiness demands that you and I are condemned to an eternal separation from Him, the other hand reveals that God’s love has made provision for us to be restored and forgiven through the work of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection – His death in my place. That makes all the difference, since I no longer struggle with sin on my own, but I have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to help me, and remarkably I know that whilst I may lose many battles against the sins that invade every area of my life I can be assured that the final victory is already won on my behalf, because of what Christ has done for me.

And thirdly … (SLIDE 16)

3. Sin is … the renouncing of God’s Kingship … where self-centredness usurps the throne

It’s always worth remembering that there lies right at the centre of sin the letter I – and that speaks volumes about the nature and the focus of sin. When we choose other than God we cease to be God-centric – and we choose to deliberately remove God from the centre of our lives. In God’s place we put ourselves and we make puny attempts to manipulate and dominate others as we seek to make life, and them, orbit around ourselves: around our goals, our ambitions, and our desires. We have usurped the throne and chosen self over God. And this aspect of sinfulness reveals a bias towards the desire to dominate and it leads us to question not only the rule of God but it sees us trying to fit God into the confines that best suits our own ends, and it finds us exchanging harmony and submission for strife and dominance – it sees us breaking shalom.

Such is the nature of sin, and, as we’ll discover over the next few weeks as we spend time considering these seven aspects of character that exemplify and typify humanities sinfulness, that the Bible is littered with examples of men and women just like you and I who struggle to come to terms with the nature of sin and it’s effects.

And yet, the wonder of the story of humankind is not that we are fallible but rather, that despite our fallibility God continues to love us – He forgives us and restores us, he invites us back into relationship with Him and He seeks through his Spirit to change us from the inside out, to increasingly help us to reflect and mirror the character of His Son, Jesus Christ. We are part of an amazing community of grace that has a passionate desire to see sinful people, just like ourselves, drawn back into fellowship … is that true ?

If I’m honest with myself then I know I struggle with a whole multitude of sinful thoughts and actions and yet I know God’s love and care. May God help us all as we spend time with Him and one another to recognise the steps we need to take in dealing with sin, may He take us from crisis through commitment and confession and on towards co-operation as we turn once more to Him in faith and trust.

(SLIDE 16) Don Carson puts it like this, and with this I’ll finish, ‘… people do not drift towards holiness … apart from grace-given effort people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to scripture, faith, and delight in God … but rather we drift towards compromise and call it tolerance … towards disobedience and call it freedom … towards superstition and call it faith … we cherish the indiscipline of lost self control and call it relaxation … we slouch towards prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism … we slide towards godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated …’

Let’s pray …