Have you ever played in a team sport where there were some who didn’t take the game as seriously as you did? I remember one year, after playing competitive basketball, I played in our church youth basketball league. Our team consisted of a bunch of guys from the youth group, guys that were out there to have “fun.” On a side note, losing is not that fun! Even though they were great guys, they were not that skilled in basketball, so if we won, great, if not, no big deal. We were coached by our youth pastor who wanted to be fair, wanted to have fun, and wanted to teach us “competitive” people patience. Needless to say, given the make up of the league, our team, and our coach we experienced quite a few losses. At the end of the day, it really wasn’t a big deal if we lost or won—it was just a Saturday basketball game where all of us got to exert energy, have fun, and play with our friends.
It seems there lies a tendency for some believers and churches to treat God—his glory and his mission—as some Saturday morning church youth league basketball game. It seems to many that God’s glory and his mission in the world is not that big of a deal. If I play, I play; if we win, we win; if we lose, we lose—no big deal. In other words, if we reach people great, if not, no big deal; if we see people come to faith in Christ great, if not, at least we are paying our bills. In fact, some approach God’s glory and mission in the world with a mentality similar to church league: we are here for ourselves, we are here to have fun, and here to enjoy one another.
In all honesty, if we treat God’s glory and mission in the world like a church youth league basketball game, our lives and churches will be flippant, dispassionate, loose, and unfocused. We will give the Lord what we want to give him, when we want to give it. We will do for the Lord what we want to do, when we want to do it. And we will be towards the Lord what we want to be, when we want to be it. In other words, we will make Jesus—who he is and what he is accomplishing in the world—about us.
Throughout Scripture, we see how God viewed and responded to people who made it about themselves rather than about his glory, his purpose, and his mission in the world. Here are four examples.
In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it (Gen 4:3-7).
Cain offered to God what he wanted, what was acceptable to him; Abel offered what was acceptable to God.
II. Nadab and Abihu.
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD (Lev 10:1-2).
Nadab and Abihu’s sin was to flippantly approach their duties as priest, as mediators between God and his people. We have to keep in mind this was early in the established priesthood. With Nadab and Abihu God was setting the precedent that his priests, the mediators between him and his people, should approach their service in the manner and way that God would have them serve—not in the way they wanted to serve.
And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the LORD. And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The LORD brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor (Joshua 7:20-26).
Achan thought that his secret personal sin would not affect God’s glory, nor did he believe that it would affect the mission to which God had called his people—namely at the time to conquer the Promised Land.
IV. Ananias and Sapphira
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband (Acts 5:1-10).
Ananias and Sapphira had lied about the amount they were going to give to the church, which ultimately was the way they gave back to Jesus. Instead of giving what they said they would give to the bride of Christ (the church), they “kept back” for themselves some of the proceeds for the land. In other words, they selfish, self-centered, and dishonest.
My prayer is for believers and churches to be serious about the glory of God and the advancement of his gospel. Everyday is “NBA Championship/Super Bowl” like, in the fact that God’s glory and the lives of individuals (and their eternity) are on the line. This should really change the way all of us view our lives and our churches.
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