Practical Application of the Word of God
The title of this post is the beginning of Matthew 15:18, which goes on to talk about the garbage stuff that we can put in to our minds (the Greek word kardia is the word translated as heart here and it means the mind, the seat of thinking and verbal and written expression of those thoughts).
In other words, as Proverbs 23:7 indicates, we are what we think.
But what determines what and how we think? Quite simply, it is whatever we put or allowed to take up residence in our minds, consciously or subconsciously.
Do we even know what we have put or allowed to take root in our minds? Do we know whether it’s good or evil? Do we even care? Have we become such automatons that we take repeated phrases on unconsciously with their subtexts and insinuations and repeat them, acknowledging the issues with them, but spinning our uses as “okay?”
I’ve discussed the vile part of Matthew 15:18 in another post, but today I want to look at a more subtle, but equally revealing aspect of the words we say and how we use them reflecting what we believe deep down. We may be surprised at how much pride and arrogance actually resides in our hearts still and how we reveal that through our words.
Words matter. Our choice of words, our use of words, and the context behind those words. I personally believe that if we talked less and thought more about our words before we say them (this goes for the written word too, because too many people put their hands on the keyboard before any kind of thinking/critiquing process goes on in their minds), we’d know more about the state of our hearts than it seems we actually do. And the less we would actually end up saying because of that.
That revelation of our hearts would be quite humbling and we’d chose silence instead of spouting off either the first thing that pops in our heads or letting the deep-seated, perhaps unconscious, programming come out in the words that we choose.
But sadly most of us don’t do that.
The example of the subtle shading of this propensity that we humans have that I want to bring out today is a good area for us to be examining thoroughly continually (typically, we hear that the few weeks before Passover are the time of thorough self-examination, but in reality all the time we breathe for a living is the time of thorough self-examination; the few weeks before we partake of the Passover should be our annual spiritual performance review that summarizes how we have progressed with our lifetime spiritual objectives followed by goal-setting and a new spiritual performance plan that we work on daily with God’s help).
While these spiritual goals should be an integrated part of our daily lives, as we review before we renew our commitment to God at Passover, they should be front and center on our minds. If they are not, then we should ask God to help them to be. It’s foolish to rely on our own ability to see ourselves honestly and truthfully. We cannot do it without God’s help.
Human beings have and human nature has – influenced by Satan – a strong desire to be special, to somehow be better, more of this or more of that, above our fellow human beings. That’s hardwired into us and Satan starts working on that as soon as the neurons start firing in our brains after birth.
We see Satan behind this in his words in Isaiah 14.
And from our earliest memories, we begin not only thinking in terms of being special, the best, the greatest, and elevated above other people, but also having them reinforced by the world around us, including educational institutions, religious organizations, sports teams, academic organizations, social organizations, and even the adults among our family and friends.
Most of our lives are defined by how “special” or “better” we are than anyone else. This is true in the home, in church congregations, in school, in sports, in clubs like 4H or the Scouts, and in the workplace.
A lot of this is unconscious, but our language and our lives are geared toward specialness and being better than everyone else. Valedictorian. Most valuable player. Employee of the month. Employee of the year. Higher calling. Best behavior. Highest grade. Top of the class. Highest achiever. Crème de la crème. Cream of the crop. The greatest. The best. Above average. Exclusive. Discriminating taste.
You get the idea. So we think that way and it gets reinforced everywhere we turn all our lives.
But here’s the craziness of that. If everybody in a group is the best, better than, or special, then nobody is the best, better than, or special. Those terms imply onliness, so in effect it’s the same thing as 0+0=0.
In spiritual terms, though, it’s a form of deception and is not in sync with God’s word. And that, frankly, is where a lot of us Christians are not using discernment.
Here’s an example. And I know the person who wrote this and I know the intent behind it was good, so I’m not critiquing the intent, but instead the propensity that we all – including me – as Christians have to tend to think and speak in these kind of terms.
There are several things to note about this example and I will briefly point them out as examples of what we need to be examining in our own thinking, words, how we present them, and our application of scripture:
“I’m sure you have heard of being part of an ‘exclusive’ club or society. That usually means an elite group who carefully screen or restrict those who can belong to it. Often this brings with it the appearance of arrogance or being a “snob”. You’re thought of as presenting yourself as better than others and will only associate with those of similar social status. That’s not a good thing. However, we should consider that being exclusive might also be a good thing. We try to exclude negative influences on our lives that would bring us down. For example, Romans 16:17 reminds us: ‘Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.’ In addition to this we should avoid and seek to exclude those who would have us join in sinful conduct and activities. Therefore, as we associate with those of high moral standards and those with like-minded beliefs, we can be classified as ‘exclusive’. This behavior can be offensive to some as our example of honorable conduct convicts their wrongdoings. 1 Peter 2:12 ‘having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers…’ Yet the truth is that as God’s called individuals, we are indeed an exclusive group. Notice back in Verse 9: ‘But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light’. Further, Colossians 3:12 calls us the “elect of God”. There is no doubt we are ‘exclusive’ in regards to our relationship to God and each other at this time in history.”
What the writer is trying to point out, which is accurate, is that being called by God now is unique in the experience of humanity in general now. So that sets us apart for the converting process and the fulfilling, humanly, of the purpose God has for each human that has, does, and will ever live now instead of at another time.
However, the writer’s use of the term exclusive, which the writer realizes is a red-flag word that generally points to pride, arrogance, and vanity, is problematic because it implicitly sets up the better, higher, elevated idea that most Christians seem to have when they compare themselves with the rest of humanity now.
What’s wrong with that?
Well, several things.
The first thing is who we compare ourselves to. Our standard of measurement is not other people, but instead Jesus Christ. And compared to Jesus Christ, none of the superlative words we have absorbed throughout our lives to think of ourselves in terms of even remotely apply.
God’s calling is a gift that we didn’t ask for, we’re not entitled to, and we don’t deserve.
God’s calling is humbling and sobering because through God’s spirit we learn just how immense the gap is between us and Jesus Christ (as well as God the Father) and how much responsibility we have for participating in, cooperating with, and working with God this calling entails.
Every time we fail, we should be reminded of just how limited and helpless we are on our own (because when we fail, we do what is right in our own eyes, not what is right in God’s eyes). There’s nothing all great and wonderful about that or us.
Paul was inspired by God to remind us of our actual position, even within the realm of humanity, in I Corinthians 1:26-31: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’”
Why? Because God and Jesus Christ get the glory and the credit for transforming us through their direct intervention in our lives.
I have often thought that God called me so that when all the people that my life has intersected with see the transforming work of God in me, they will have no doubt about God’s power and ability to do anything with anyone and the finished work by God in me, at least from a human perspective, will be all the convincing they need.
We have a unique calling and this a gift, no doubt, but it is nothing that should make us somehow believe we’re exclusive, special, better than, or higher than anyone else. God’s word says the opposite.
Another point here that I want to make is the misapplication of scripture in the phrase “We try to exclude negative influences on our lives that would bring us down. For example, Romans 16:17 reminds us: ‘Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.'”
This sentence about negative influences is generic and widely-applicable to all humanity. It is also implies a minimalist cause – “negative influences” and a minimalist effect – “bring us down.”
The verse the writer cites, however, is specific to the ekklesia and it’s about way more than negative influences and the effect is much more sobering and serious. It’s a spiritual battle that we will face many times in this spiritual war toward the kingdom of God. To cast it in any other context is misapplication.
The last point is why the writer chose, despite recognizing the red-flag nature of the word, to use “exclusive.” The other part of the passage that is missing is where the writer talks about being “inclusive” with regard to the body of Christ. Again, the intent behind that part was accurate too.
So, why is this an issue? Because the writer could have made the accurate points without using these two words to draw a comparison between. Especially when the writer recognized there could be a problem with one of the words.
There is an imprecision here in the words chosen and how they are presented (as well as the misapplication of one of the scriptures) that seems to indicate this piece of writing was not as well-thought-out (it uses the “better” mentality so common among most Christians as its tone) as it could have been and the impact of the words used were not fully considered nor were they carefully crafted.
In other words, it is very likely this this was something on a weekly checklist that needed to be done and it was left until the last minute and hurriedly thrown together to mark that item done.
And that is the problem. Many people may end up reading this and what will they take away?
Will they have the understanding and the discernment to understand the intent (if they don’t know the writer, that’ll make it even harder)?
Will they know that there is a misapplication of scripture? Will they, not knowing that, believe that this is an accurate reading of this scripture?
Our words have a longer life and a wider audience than we can possibly imagine. And they reveal all the things that are in our hearts and minds, whether we’re aware of them or not, in our rush to get them out without considering whether we should and, if we should, how we should.
When we get to the “whether” and the “how” part of this analysis, then we are getting to an important part of understanding why we need the Passover. And, like David, in Psalm 51, we understand the need to continually ask God to create a clean heart in us.