The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 3, 2016
In last week’s sermon, we considered how God can liberate us. With this week’s sermon, we start a series to consider how we can liberate God.
The thought that we can liberate the Almighty and thus utterly free Ruler of the universe might strike some as odd, or even heretical.
But what if God has freely chosen to create a situation in which His freedom to act can be restricted or expanded by the choices we make?
Let us never forget that at Calvary God allowed Himself to become weak and vulnerable at the hands of mere mortals.
Let us never forget that God has bound Himself by a commitment to respect our self-sovereignty and to preserve our freedom of choice, and that that commitment puts us in a position in which we are able to lock God out of lives and to hinder His working in the lives of others, or to let loose His power by opening doors through which He might pass and work His wonders.
We can, the scriptures themselves tell us, prevent God from doing what He longs to do. For example, Mark 6:5 tells us that Jesus “could do no deed of power” in Nazareth because of the Nazarenes’ “unbelief”. We can, other scriptures tell us, grieve the Holy Spirit and quench His fire amongst us.
On the other hand, we can submit to God’s leadership and give Him opportunity to fulfill His loving intentions toward us. That’s why Jesus often said to those He’s just healed, “Your faith has made you well”. That’s why God the Father repeated many times some variation of what He said in Leviticus 26, “If you … keep my commandments … I will … make you fruitful.”
We can in the short-run – and in reality all of us are alive just for the short run – bind God up or set God free. Our choices affect how much we are able to enter God’s life and impact thereby how much God can bless us.
How much God can do for us hinges on how much of our life we turn over to Him, and we all struggle with holding back some part of our life from Him.
Today’s scripture tells the story of a man who can’t bring himself to let God go of something. As a result, when Jesus invites him to enter a new life with Him, he turns Jesus down.
This man is anything but a bad person. He is earnest and humble. He runs up to Jesus, kneels before Him and addresses Him with a title worthy of God alone. Furthermore, this man can honestly claim to have kept from his youth all the Ten Commandments which Jesus mentions in their conversation.
Yet, this virtuous man has a problem. He is very wealthy, and He has allowed His possessions to possess the core of his heart, and has come to love his riches more than God and God’s plans for his life.
Jesus was expert at reading hearts. When Jesus cites to this man those of the Ten Commandments that pertain to our relations with other human beings, Jesus knows better than to cite the last of the Ten, the one that says “You shall not covet”. For Jesus, I believe, discerns that this man has been coveting. To covet is so to want something that you value it too highly – in fact, to such an extent there’s nothing you wouldn’t do or sacrifice to get it. It is so to want something that it becomes a god to you, and maybe even a god you value above the one true God. Thus, the commandment not to covet brings us back around to the first and foundational commandment of the Ten: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
This virtuous man has locked God up in a certain, limited portion of his heart, and filled his heart’s core with a covetous, idolatrous love of wealth. That’s why Jesus asks of him what He might not ask of everyone: to give away all possessions, that the love of them might leave the space in his heart that belongs to God alone.
Though it might not be our wealth, each of us is tempted to displace God at the core of our heart with something. Each of us has an inclination to hold on to something even at the expense of losing touch with God. The price for admission to eternal life is to repudiate our false god and to give back to the Lord the core of our heart. For it is only from that deepest part of us that He can bless us as He wants.
Jesus does not reject this rich man for his poor choice. Jesus, verse 21 says, looks at him and loves him still – and the word for love there is agapein, the strongest and fullest word for love in the Greek language.
However, while the man’s choice doesn’t cause Jesus to condemn him, it does prevent Jesus from helping him. Eternal life (that is, salvation) comes through a friendship with Jesus, and the man is choosing to walk away from Him rather than to walk with Him. By putting that distance between them, he puts Jesus in a position where He is incapacitated from blessing him as He might.
The closer we are to Jesus, the more He can do for us. To be close to Jesus, we have to meet the terms He has set for the friendship: He has to be absolutely first for us, or He really can’t be much at all for us. Saving our heart’s core for Him alone saves us. It is the means by which we enter, and enjoy, the new life of salvation.
Conversely, keeping something from the Lord keeps us from the Lord and the fullness of His bountiful grace
For some of us, like this man, what we’re tempted to keep to ourselves is our finances; for others of us, it’s a pet pastime or a certain relationship; for still others, it’s some cherished comfort or our status in the eyes of a particular group of people.
For Matt, one of my best friends in graduate school, it was his sexual life. Matt had just struck up a friendship with Jesus, and the Lord was doing some great things in his life. But Matt wasn’t about to give up being a player. As a result, his spiritual growth eventually stalled out.
Then Matt met Angie, whom he almost immediately recognized as the woman for him, and he sought to nurture their relationship toward marriage. One night, as he was praying, he got the message that, if he wanted a better relationship with Angie, he had better quit playing the field and have eyes for Angie alone. He also got the message that he needed to do a parallel thing in his spiritual life. If he wanted a better relationship with the Lord, he had better quit being a spiritual player, and let God be first and foremost in every part of his life, even his pleasures.
Mike’s repenting and making God and Angie his first and second top priorities gave the Lord the freedom to lift up and advance Matt’s life as never before.
Let us liberate God in our lives by surrendering everything to Him. Let us pray.