Wouldn’t it be nice if being sorry for something was enough to ensure that you never did it again! My thoughts could easily go to children for examples (how many times have we parents had to repeatedly discipline our children for the exact same thing even after they genuinely said “I’m sorry”!) … but the reality is, I don’t have to. I wish it were just children who struggled with this, but there is no doubt that I am guilty as well. Perhaps you can relate to this discouraging pattern: sin, conviction, sorrow … and then a return to that same sin, conviction, sorrow… and on it goes.
What’s the problem? Why do we have to find ourselves in this maddening cycle? Is a Christ-follower resigned to the same sin-slavery as the unbeliever, just with an added dose of conviction?
If you have read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, you know that he definitely didn’t propose this sad existence as an unavoidable reality. In his first letter to Corinth he thanks God because of our “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:57). That sure doesn’t sound like someone who is resigned to failure! So where is that victory found, and why isn’t sorrow enough to give us that victory?
Paul’s second recorded letter to the Corinthian church describes this very issue in chapter 7 verses 9-10.
“Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”
The reality that the Holy Spirit used Paul to describe is this: there are two different kinds of sorrows. There is a sorrow that produces death, and a sorrow that produces repentance. The first is a natural feeling that comes because of many reasons (many of them selfish): lost opportunities, lost relationships, the pain of consequences… But this sorrow has no power to do anything but make us feel pain, regret, and worthlessness. There is no hope in this sorrow alone.
What Paul describes as a much better option is a hopeful sorrow. There is a godly sorrow that leads to victory over sin because it leads to repentance. Repentance is more than feeling sorry … it is a response to the knowledge of the person and work of God. First of all, it is a realization that my sin is a violation against a holy God. We must realize that the gravity of our sin is not primarily found in the pain that it causes us or the ones around us, rather in the reality that it is rebellion against God.
But this realization of the person of God could still result in hopeless despondency unless we also remember the work of God. Victory and hope requires remembering and relying on the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection that ensured victory. It is in this gospel that we find the hope that our sorrow must lead to. The gospel of a mercy that endures forever. The gospel of a grace that knows no bounds. Mercy in forgiveness, and grace in the power to change. It’s no wonder that our sorrow leads to more failure when we fail to let it take us to the cross and the empty tomb. It is only in the transformative power of Christ that we will ever find any hope. If He can transform your soul, He can surely transform your flesh! (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24)
So how do we let our sorrow move us in a hopeful direction? By responding to three things:
So when you are made aware of your own guilt, please don’t stop at sorrow. Let that sorrow point you to true repentance! That repentance leads to a resting in the mercy of God and a grace-driven pursuit of Christ-likeness. And when you are helping others become aware of their guilt, don’t think you have done your job just because they feel sorry … show them the hope that is found in the mercy and grace of a loving God!
The beginning of Matthew chapter 7 is a familiar passage to many. Between Christ’s warning to “judge not” and the analogy of the speck and the log, these verses have a way of fairly comfortably working their way into our thoughts and perhaps even our conversations. But along with familiarity comes the tendency to limit application. We can become so at ease with a singular application of the truth that we often find ourselves failing to consider other results of Christ’s teaching.
For example: the speck and the log. Many of us who have grown up in Christian circles have probably heard a notebook full of sermons about the hypocrisy of trying to remove someone else’s splinter while a tree trunk is sticking out of your eye! Perhaps right now we can picture a rather comical cartoon sketch of the doomed-to-fail attempt. But I wonder if we have allowed that image to dominate our thinking so much that we have missed another aspect of the analogy.
Have you ever understood this passage to say, “If my sin is as big as a log, then I won’t be able to help others with their splinters”? Although that understanding of Christ’s teaching is true, the application of this text is broader than that alone. If we base our need or ability to deal with sin on the apparent size of sin, at some point we will inevitably think, “So-and-so is the one with the log in his eye, and my sin is only the splinter.” If only that were the point, we could all rest easy … because obviously, everybody else’s sins are worse than ours! However, if we were intended to measure our sins against someone else’s, there would be a problem … because we call that ‘judging.’ And Christ just dealt with that very thing in verses 1 and 2 of this same chapter.
So if the motivation behind this text is not the need to compare our sin to someone else’s sin, what is it? To answer that question, there is a reality that we must understand: the sin we have in our eye is the log, not because it’s worse than another’s, but because it’s ours. Our first responsibility towards sin is, by God’s grace, to deal with our own. And, by the way, if we ever find ourselves thinking of our personal sin as splinters, we have forgotten our own depravity, God’s holiness, and the terrible price that both demanded.
By continuing this train of thought, there will actually be two logs and two splinters in this illustration. Each individual will see his own sin as the log and the other’s sin as the splinter. Imagine the impact it would have in today’s church if each believer was willing to see his own sin as the log! Imagine the impact you could have in today’s church if you were willing to see your own sin as the log! But let me warn you, this application of truth is much easier agreed with in theory than in practice. The natural response to seeing ours and others’ sin is to compare the two, and we tend to be much more lenient with ourselves.
So the next time you think about this passage (or you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else), remember that the only person with a log in their eye is you! And then don’t leave it there!
I was sitting on the couch downstairs facing the wood burner this evening working on Sunday’s message, when the changing color of the coals reminded me that I needed to put more wood on the fire. As I sat back down, a realization occurred. There is a parallel between the pieces of wood that I just put in the fire and the passage I just read today from John 21. That connection has to do with unique insignificance becoming wonderfully significant.
Each piece of wood in itself is both unique and insignificant. They are rather dirty, oddly shaped, and rough enough to easily give your hand a splinter…. not much to look at. But I have a purpose for each one of them. And not only do they each contribute to the warmth of my house, each one seems to be able to contribute at just the right time. Each oddly shaped piece seems to coincide with another oddly shaped piece, both contributing to just the right combination that allows a healthy fire.
Peter (in John 21) had to be reminded of this same truth as it applies to Christ’s followers. At the end of the book of John, Peter had never before felt so low. I’m sure that certain scenes from the past few days keep playing over and over in his mind. His arrogant claim to follow Christ even to death, and his failed attempt at defending Him. The movement of his own mouth saying, “I don’t know him!” immediately followed by the unbearable look of knowing disappointment in Christ’s eyes as they met his own. Even though the shock of seeing Christ take His last breath had somewhat dissipated (Christ had thankfully proven His resurrection several times to the disciples by now), Peter’s memory seemed to slip back to the days and hours just before that. I imagine that every morning at dawn, the rooster’s crow was an agonizing sound to hear.
And there on that lake, just as Peter’s failures played through his mind one more time, the Savior graciously appeared to teach him something that will change him for the rest of his life. What was this lesson? I think it can be summed up by this phrase: ”I don’t need to use you … I want to use you!”
This happens through some similarly focused reminders found in verses 9-23. As soon as the disciples arrive back at the beach, the lesson begins as Christ is cooking breakfast. Notice what He asks them to do… “Bring some of the fish that you caught and I will cook those too.” He wasn’t asking them to do this because He realized that the fish He was already cooking wasn’t going to be enough. His point seems to be the truth that will become the theme of these verses: ”I don’t need to use you … I want to use you!”
In the verses that follow, Christ narrows His focus specifically to Peter, and the lesson continues. As Christ engages him in what is now a very familiar dialogue, the point becomes clear. While Peter seems to be struggling with the possibility of Christ still being able to use him, he is told very pointedly, “I want to use you!” “Feed my sheep.” God doesn’t use us because we have earned the privilege, He uses us simply because He delights in using us!
But Christ’s call for Peter to follow Him didn’t just follow Peter’s look back at his own failures, it also follows Peter’s looking around at others. Peter saw John walking over to them and immediately compared himself to that “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Christ didn’t waste any time debating which one of these disciples had an edge over the other … He just once again tells Peter, “Follow me.” Peter had to realize that it didn’t matter what anyone else did or didn’t do, God had chosen him for the greatest privilege man can have: to serve his Savior.
God hasn’t blessed us with the privilege of serving Him because He needs us, because we earned it, or because we are better than anyone else. God chooses to use us because He wants to! We all have painful memories that cycle through our minds from time to time. We all have feelings of unworthiness … and we should. We are unworthy! And that is why it is all the more wonderful that God has said to you and to me, “Follow me!”
Each of us are both unique and insignificant. We all have our lists of reasons why we can’t be considered well-suited for ministry. We all (if we are honest) know that we are insignificant and weak. Yet, just as those pieces of dirty, splintery, oddly shaped pieces of wood, we have been chosen to be a part of the work of God! God has a purpose and a place for each one of us to serve Him in a way that is greater than we deserve. Don’t sideline yourself because you don’t deserve to be used … none of us deserves to be used. None of us can say “God needs to use me.” But all of us can say “God wants to use me!”
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
God’s blessing. Something we look for, pray for, wish for others. At times we hope for it, and at times we might even expect it. It is not uncommon for us to recognize God’s blessing once in a while after an extraordinary need has been met …an unexpected bonus, or deliverance from an illness … but our normal recognition of God’s blessing seems to be in regard to singular, temporary advantages. A thoughtful reading of Psalms 1 will help us to understand that this description of God’s blessing, while at least partially accurate, is definitely not complete. There is a difference between receiving a blessing and being a blessed man, and this chapter is dealing with more than simply receiving blessings. I believe this is a distinction worth noting, because “a man who is blessed” is a very different reality than “a man who gets blessed.” And wouldn’t we all agree that we would rather be a person who God inclusively describes as “blessed,” than a person who receives a blessing now and then?
The Psalmist attributes two descriptions to the blessed man: fruitfulness and endurance. Notice that these descriptions aren’t as much about what he has as who he is. His fruitfulness is described by comparing him to a tree growing on the bank of a river. Remembering that this description was initially given to a people living in an arid climate, this description suddenly takes on another degree of meaning. The picture is of a tree flourishing because of the continual presence of life-giving water. It is not dependent on the occasional blessing of a rain shower… its regular fruitfulness is assured because of its perpetual access to that one essential element. And this tree is doing more than surviving as a result … it is prospering!
But not only is the blessed man fruitful, he is also said to be enduring. His leaves don’t wither, he is not blown away, he is able to stand through judgment, he has a place in the people of God, and his way is known and approved of by the Lord. What a contrast to the alternatives of withering like a dying leaf, being blown away as worthless chaff, falling in judgment, having no place with God’s people, and ultimately perishing!
So now the question remains, “How can I become that blessed man?” I think it comes down to our answer to this question: “Where are you planted?” The ungodly (the non-blessed man) has chosen to plant himself alongside the world. He listens to their counsel, he participates in their way of life, and he joins himself to them. Now, before you are too hard on this man, remember that this is the popular way. Most people (even most Christians) will go along with this. They listen to the world’s counsel, they act like the world, and are concerned about fitting in with those around them … and many often do that quite well.
In contrast, blessed is the man who has planted himself alongside the river of the Word of God. This is what he delights in … it is his joy to learn and obey. He doesn’t just occasionally read it, he consistently meditates on it. He sees it as the most important aspect of his life, so much so that he finds himself thinking about it hour by hour. As he continues to draw nourishment from God’s Word, he finds himself needing the world’s counsel less and less. And as he loves and lives God’s Word, he finds himself producing fruit that he didn’t know was possible! Even when the world around him is screaming for his attention, he is perfectly content to remain in the congregation of the righteous, knowing “God knows my way.”
There is a way to not only hope for, but expect God’s blessing: consistently allow the Word of God to saturate your mind and penetrate your heart. It is only then that you will be able to find fruitfulness and endurance. It is only then that you will truly find God’s blessing.