Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.
We are talking about growing spiritually. We have a goal. In Ephesians 4 the apostle writes that we are to grow until we attain to mature personhood, until we reach, “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Now, as Christians, growing spiritually means paying attention to what is important to Jesus. Last week we saw how a scribe came to Jesus and, asked, “Which Commandment is first of all?” And Jesus answered:
29 The first commandment is this…. ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as your love yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
If these two commandments are the greatest, it follows that these commandments are the first commandments we ought to keep.
Last week we talked about the heart: In the Hebrew scripture, the heart stands for the whole person. What the heart is the whole person is. A brave heart is a brave person. A willing heart is a willing person. A generous heart is a generous person.
For example, those older persons at New Philadelphia who are living on fixed incomes, and who have seen their fortunes reduced by the economic downturn, and who have continued to give at the same level, have generous hearts—-and they are generous people.
The heart is also the seat of the mind, emotions, and will. The heart stands for the whole that keeps all the parts in balance.
Last week I gave you a graphic word picture. We considered the example of the heart as a wheel made up of three perfectly sized and joined pie-shaped pieces, the soul, the mind, and the strength. If pieces all grow at the same pace we roll smoothly down the road of life. If one piece grows and the other do not, or if one pieces shrinks through neglect, the ride we call life becomes bumpy and the road far more difficult. I know this is a cartoon like image, but consider it an editorial cartoon. It makes a critical point.
Now, today we want to talk about the soul. In the Scripture, the soul, like the heart, can stand for the whole person. It is the life force. If the soul lives, the person lives. If the person dies, the soul dies.
That is not the whole picture. The soul has particular association with the emotions, or the feelings. Consider these few examples.
In Genesis 34:3 “And (Shechem’s) soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the maiden and spoke tenderly to her.” The soul falls in love.
In Leviticus 26:43 God speaks about rebellious Israel saying, “Their soul abhorred (or hated) my statues.” The soul not only loves, it hates.
In Psalm 42 the Psalmist says:
1 As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
In the same way, in Genesis 34:8 Shechem’s father said that the soul of his son longed for Dinah.
The soul also “longs” for God, or for someone, and the soul wants to be in the presence of God, or someone. Finally:
In Mark 14:34 Jesus says to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.”
The soul is the seat of the emotions, the feelings. If we are to love God with all the soul we must master our emotions.
This is not easy. It is not easy because it is possible to feel our way into a new way of acting.
When good people are making great progress down the highway of life, and suddenly take a detour, most of the time, it can be blamed on the emotions, aka feelings. Peter said that he would follow Jesus to death if need be. Then Jesus was taken captive and Peter was fearful and afraid. That is why he denied Jesus, not once but three times. In Colossians, Demas is a companion of Paul mentioned right alongside Luke, the beloved physician. Sometime later the bright lights and the big city blinded Demas. In 2nd Timothy 4:10 St. Paul writes one of the saddest lines in the New Testament. He writes, “Demas, in love with the present world, has forsaken me.”
Sometimes we act on a feeling and get off easy. When our feelings run amuck we often buy automobiles, and houses, and expensive vacations that we cannot afford.
Sometimes the penalty is more severe. Out of control feelings have turned the lives of some good people upside down. All of us can think of politicians, and preachers, and people from all walks of life that have made shipwreck of their families, their careers, and their lives because they fell in love even though they were already in a marriage.
Let me point out that love and falling in love are two different things. Falling in love is a feeling that leads us into a new way of acting. Love is an action that leads us into a new way of feeling.
Falling in love is the emotional equivalent of the sex urge. It is a feeling and it is not completely rational. It involves the collapse of the ego boundaries. Each person gets inside the head of the other. Each does crazy things. That is why the old song sung by Frank Sinatra says,
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,
And so I come to you my love,
My heart above my head.”
Feelings can be so powerful that if allowed to run unchecked they exercise an almost demonic control over their victims. I shall never forget a woman that I married to an unlikely groom several years ago. Several weeks after the marriage, she came into my office and said, “It was not me who married that man. I don’t know who it was, but it was not me.” I was reminded of another song by another Sinatra. I think it was Nancy Sinatra who sang:
“We got married in a fever,
Hotter than a pepper sprout,
Bout the time we hit Jackson,
That’s when the fire went out.”
As great as it is, I believe that God meant for the feeling of “falling in love” to be experienced in short doses. Khalil Gibran the Christian mystic was right when he advised two lovers saying:
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness,
for the pillars of the temple stand apart,
and the oak and the cedar do not grow
in one another’s shade.”
According to the New Testament love is not a feeling at all, it is an action, or a series of actions. In 1st Corinthians 13 we read:
4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Does that mean that Christian marriage is incompatible with “falling in love.” No it does not. In the best marriages the husband and wife fall in love, in small doses, over and over again. If you want that in your own marriage then you need to know this:
Not only can we feel our way into a new way of acting; we can act our way into a new way of feeling.
I have a friend who came to me saying that he had fallen out of love with his wife. He said they were empty nesters, and with the children gone, they did not have a good reason to stay together. He told me there was nobody else, and I believed him. My friend was a very successful man. I asked him how much time he was spending with his wife. He said, “Not much.” I said, “Why don’t you spend time with her? Why don’t you send her flowers, and ask her on a date, and write her notes telling her how much you love her?” He said, “It would be a lie.” I said, “It might be a lie in the beginning, but you can act your way into a new way of feeling. If you act like you love her, you still will. If you say you love her often, it will become a reality.”
The wonderful thing about love is, that we can act our way into a new way of feeling.
And what about our relationship with God?
Some people feel that love. They are like Zinzendorf when he stood before the picture, Ecce Homo, and saw the Artist’s depiction of the crucified Savior, and read the inscription, “All This Have I Done for Thee, What Hast Thou Done for Me?” Zinzendorf said from that moment on he belonged to Christ and Christ alone. He felt his way into a new way of acting, and the heroic Moravian mission followed.
Some people must act their way into a new way of feeling with God.
Scot Peck says, “We spend time with the people and things that we love. ” The reverse it also true. “We love those people and things with whom we spend time.”
How do we show our love for God? Let me suggest these things.
First, we can spend time with God in prayer and in the reading of scripture. I have a friend who has a theory about reading the scripture. He said to me:
“I read one chapter and find it boring. I read two chapters and it is not as boring. I read three chapters, and I am interested. I read four chapters and I cannot put it down.”
Several years ago, I determined to read straight through the Bible in a year. I wanted to finish the Old Testament by September, and the New Testament by Christmas. I finished the Old Testament by the end of May, and the New Testament by the end of the summer. Once I started reading it was hard to stop. It drew me closer to God. It was a remarkable year.
Second, we can spend time with God’s people. I love that line from the 8th Psalm.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea I have a goodly heritage. As for the saints in the land, they are the noble in whom is all my delight.
Spending time with God’s people is a great way to spend time with God.
OOPS! This sermon comes to an abrupt end because I often rewrite my sermons on the fly as they are preached. I took vacation on Monday following the preaching of this sermon, and can’t remember the changes. It will be rewritten when the audio becomes available.