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Feb 09, 2020

A Personal Problem: Put It Away

Passage: Psalms 37:3-8

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: Problem-Solving

Category: Problem-Solving

Keywords: anger, bitterness, fret, envy, malice, coveting

Summary:

We can experience life as unfair. Thru no fault of our own we’re faced with disappointments and burdens and losses.It sometimes seems like God is looking with favor on my friend, but not on me. In Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 2, Paul and Peter notice our default responses to the pain and sorrows of life tend to be envy, jealousy, strife, malice, and bitterness. We may voice spiteful words or intend ill-will towards others. We may be bitter towards God. We may rage against the church or choose to be angry towards life and those who live it differently than we get to. We may even mock any spiritual belief out of envy because if I’m not graced then you shouldn’t be graced either. Paul and Peter tell us to get rid of such behavior. Put it away. Bury it. But how do I do that when I grieve, suffer the hurt or pain of my sorrows, it looks like I am ignored,I feel beat up, unloved, stuck in misery? Our response to our envy, fretfulness, bitter thoughts, and malice is to gladly hear Paul and Peter, and thru them the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

Detail:

Click to download sermon slides

Listen now to the Word of God found today

in the book of Psalms, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and in Peter’s letter to the scattered Christians suffering exile:

 

Psalm 37:3-8

3 Trust in the Lord and do good;

    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Take delight in the Lord,

    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;

    trust in him and he will do this:

6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,

    your vindication like the noonday sun.

7 Be still before the Lord

    and wait patiently for him;

do not fret when people succeed in their ways,

    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;

    do not fret—it leads only to evil.

 

Ephesians 4:31-32

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

 

1 Peter 2:1-3

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit,

hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 

This is the Word of the Lord . . .

--

Human beings have always felt

what Aristotle called “pain at the sight

of another’s good fortune,”

agitated by “those who have

what we ought to have.”

And the vice of envy would make it on the list

of the seven deadly sins.

 

In Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 2,

Paul and Peter notice our default responses

to the pain and sorrows of life tend to be envy, jealousy, strife, malice, and bitterness.

 

1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

What is this like?

In Othello, Shakespeare’s Iago, says of Cassio:

“He hath a daily beauty in his life /

 That makes me ugly.”

We compare our lives

with the success, blessing, or happiness

we see in others.

And we feel we are missing out:

FOMO – fear of missing out.

So much so cultural commentators

are calling this generation the

post-happiness generation:

We compensate with all the things Peter and Paul

caution us against.

Or we photo-shop our lives.

Or we brag whenever we can in order to

feel we are better than others.

Even churches brag today:

I’ve heard radio commercials touting things like,

“This ain’t your grandma’s church.”

Our grandmas are some of the best Christians

we know.

But there’s judgment there.

Malice.

Slander.

Hypocrisy.

A postcard comes in the mail

advertising a new church:

“Our people are real… we are authentic.”

What does that mean?

Are you saying every other church

is full of fake people or hypocrites?

And ill-will is sown even amongst us.

 

We are surprised when these show up in our hearts:

you get Christmas photos from your friends:

there they stand with their big extended families,

3-4 generations of smiling, happy people.

And all of the sudden envy, jealousy, or bitterness

knocks at the door of your soul

because you are alone . . .

all because of an innocent Christmas card.

 

You are thankful for the good news that

someone you have been praying for

has experienced physical healing.

But your condition is chronic.

You aren’t getting better.

Your pain becomes more than physical.

You are envious, jealous, perhaps a bit bitter,

perhaps bitter towards God.

Why am I not given the mercy of healing?

 

Couples that remain childless

also fight these feelings.

Those who live with addictions

keep it quiet, ashamed,

while they long for the freedom of those

who don’t have to fight such battles.

 

Someone else got the promotion.

Your classmate got the job,

but you can’t even get an interview.

 

You witness to a neighbor or co-worker

and see her coming to faith in Jesus,

but your own son seems far from the Lord

and you can’t reach him.

 

After sin broke the image of God in us,

it introduced malice, anger, fret and the like

into human rleationships.

Cain and Abel is the first story of these pains.

The brothers each offer a sacrifice to God

from their agricultural labors.

Abel’s offering is accepted.

Cain’s is not.

And no reason is given why.

Cain becomes angry not just towards

his brother,

envy, jealousy, bitterness lead to malice

even towards God.

And he kills his brother.

The first recorded murder,

because of these fretful responses

we are warned against.

 

Sometimes life is unfair.

Thru no fault of our own we’re faced with disappointments and burdens and losses.

It sometimes seems like God

is looking with favor on my friend,

but not on me.

Why is her prayer answered

while I continue to pray mine

for a long time thru many tears?

He looks forward to seeing his son in heaven

with him someday.

You just hope you never see your son in jail.

They are praising the Lord for all his benefits.

You remember God’s baptismal promises

but wonder if the Heavenly Father is keeping them.

 

Sometimes the biggest threat to our faith

is the person for whom everything

seems to be going well.

And we envy them and are bitter towards God

for those blessings we only see secondhand.

There are times when

what looks like a good thing,

not a selfish thing,

but a God-honoring, God-glorifying,

what God promised thing,

is denied you.

 

Saul pursuing David is another such story.

Saul is King,

but David is loved and adored.

Saul is great,

but David is greater.

Saul loses favor with God,

David is a man after God’s own heart.

Such experiences can lead to malice –

ill will

envy – pain over another’s success.

the pain you feel when someone else

has what you want.

Envy is directed towards those

who receive the favor of God

while you feel passed by.

Saul desires above all to kill David.

 

We may voice spiteful words

or intend ill-will towards others.

We may be bitter towards God.

We may rage against the church

or choose to be angry towards life

and those who live it differently than we get to.

We may even mock any spiritual belief out of envy because if I’m not graced

then you shouldn’t be graced either.

 

The author of Envy in Everyday Life, Patricia Polledri, says,

“Envy is wanting to destroy what someone else has. Not just wanting it for yourself,

but wanting other people not to have it.”

 

Jesus suffered this destruction.

MT 27:18 some versions:

out of envy Jesus is arrested and crucified.

Bob Sorge - envy killed Jesus,

it is killing his body the church even today.

 

There are various definitions for

this whole range of ill-will:

envy, jealousy, coveting, bitterness,

fretting as Psalm 37 calls it.

These are all wrapped up in our desires,

healthy and unhealthy ones.

In the end, these get directed at God

and the people of God.

 

So can we start peeling back the layers

of our souls

and be honest to God?

Larry Crabb confesses:

My real problem with God becomes apparent

when long-held and deeply cherished dreams

are shattered and he does nothing.

And these are good dreams,

not self-centered dreams of riches and fame,

but dreams of decent health for those I love

and for good relationships among family and friends and neighbors and God.

Your dreams are good.

And you’re trusting God as best as you know how. But nothing is happening.

Maybe nothing will happen until heaven.

We despair:

‘Couldn’t God get glory by just once

doing what I want him to do?’

We lose trust that God’s love

makes a difference in our lives.

 

Henri Nouwen shared once:

After acknowledging my woundedness,

how the wrong comment, a single look,

one piece of bad news

can throw me into an instant funk

of insecure and angry neediness,

I said that I don’t expect the wounds

to ever heal till I reach heaven.

I have given up on healing,

if healing means a repair job

on what is wrong inside me

that will lessen my struggles.

I am now searching for a path to maturity

that doesn’t focus so intently

on what’s wrong with me,

on all the unsatisfied longings of my heart

that seem to require

a self-protective style of relating.

 

This is a first step in what Psalm 37,

Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 2 counsel:

Paul and Peter tell us to get rid of such behavior.

Put it away. Bury it.

But how do I do that when I grieve,

while I suffer the hurt or pain of my sorrows,

when it looks like I am ignored,

and I feel beat up, unloved, stuck in misery?

Start by acknowledging it.

Entrust our wounds and failings

to our Heavenly Father’s graces.

Let the Word of God have the last, transforming

word in you,

not your angry, bitter reactions

to what’s broken in your life.

Both Peter and Paul invite us to different responses. Responses that focus on

the care and comfort others need,

and that focus on receiving

the grace of salvation Christ Jesus gives. 

 

Here’s an encouragement:

In Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton:

A friend speaks to a devastated man

facing a wrong he never ever anticipated

he would have to face let alone carry

When the storm threatens,

a man is afraid for his house,

answered this friend.

But when the house is destroyed,

there is something to do.

About a storm he can do nothing.

But he can rebuild a house.

At my age, asked the one suffering.

Look what has happened to the house I built

when I was young and strong. 

What kind of house shall I build now?

The friend says:

No one can comprehend the ways of God.

The hurting man responds:

It seems that God has turned from me.

His friend comforts him:

That may seem to happen, but it does not happen, never, never does it happen.

But then this -

Then this devastated man receives this humbly.

He says: I am glad to hear you.

 

Our response to our envy, fretful, bitter thought

is to gladly hear Paul and Peter,

and thru them the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

To listen to these verses exposing our fret

and drawing us out of our bitterness

as we say, I am glad to hear this.

Thank you Spirit for inviting me to new life.

 

Then his friend directed him

in the spirit of our Bible reading:

We spoke of amending the lives of those hurt.

This must matter to you more than anything else, more even than your own suffering.

That is, your hurt and sorrow

is not the main thing about you

nor the most important thing in your life.

Your trust showed in being kind to others,

giving compassion in the name of Jesus

is what matters for who the Lord

is making you to be.

 

There is something better than envious thoughts:

Replace such feelings and responses,

with holy responses, life giving, life producing acts:

as Psalm 37 invites us:

3 Trust in the Lord and do good;

    4 Take delight in the Lord,

    5 Commit your way to the Lord;

    7 Be still before the Lord

    and wait patiently for him;

    8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;

    do not fret—it leads only to evil.

 

There is no place in God’s kingdom or Christ’s church

for the angry Christian.

I know anger comes easily,

but it should be just as quickly dismissed.

Christians are perceived today by nonChristians

as angry:

angry at Hollywood,

angry in politics,

angry at homosexuals,

angry at illegal immigrants . . .

Unbelievers are puzzled by our anger.

Why aren’t you angry about gun violence,

or pornography,

or the persecution of Christians, they wonder?

We seem to be angry at all the wrong things.

How do we change and choose holiness?

Paul writes:

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate

to one another, forgiving each other,

just as in Christ God forgave you.

 

Are you able to confess your struggles?

And then receive with gladness

this invitation to new life?

  1. S. Lewis wrote that

during one of the most painful times of his life,

he cried out to God and got…

a door slammed in [my] face,

and a sound of bolting and double bolting

on the inside.

After that, silence.

You may as well turn away.

The longer you wait,

the more emphatic the silence will become.

He confessed that this heavenly silence

made him doubt

whether there was even a God at all:

There are no lights in the windows.

It might be an empty house.

Was it ever inhabited?

It seemed so once…

Why is God so present a commander

in our time of prosperity

and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

The same thing seems to have happened to Christ: 'Why hast thou forsaken me?'

I know.

Does that make it easier to understand?

Not that I am (I think)

in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.

The real danger is of coming to believe

such dreadful things about Him.

The conclusion I dread is not

'So there's no God after all,'

but 'So this is what God's really like.

Deceive yourself no longer.'

 

He confesses his struggle with this.

We’d rather hide our struggle with envy,

coveting, bitterness, or malice.

 

Larry Crabb writes,

If I wanted to share the battles going on in my soul, could I?

Do I know what they are?

I know how to complain.

I know how to tell others what I don’t like.

I can easily be unmoved or uninspired

or choose to remain unaffected,

but can I express in words

the most significant war I’m waging in my soul,

in my connection or lack of it with Jesus

with grace with salvation and with God’s people?

 

What is that battle?

Psalm 37 teaches:

It is the battle to trust God

when he doesn’t seem trustworthy,

to hope in him when complaint seems more justified, to draw near to him when he seems indifferent.

It’s a battle because I want to trust Jesus,

but I want other things as well,

and I am easily convinced

that other concerns are more pressing.

The battle to preserve my life 

conflicts with the call to trust Christ with it,

to let the Father be the potter of the clay of our lives, molding and shaping for his purposes and glory.

 

Our fiercest battles are fought

when we seek with all our heart

to trust God so fully

that we see every misfortune

as something he permits and wants to use,

to know him so richly

that we turn to no one and nothing else

to experience what our souls long to enjoy,

to love him so completely

and with such consuming passion

that we hate anything

that comes between us and eagerly give it up.

To be happy in Jesus.

 

Getting rid of ill-will like envy, jealousy, malice, bitterness, coveting, and the like

makes room for more joyful living, happy desires –

Jesus took joy in others coming to salvation

tho he would sacrifice his life for such grace,

he took joy in granting forgiveness

tho his holiness was offended,

He not only blessed,

but he was blessed and loved by the Father

in and thru suffering,

for the joy set before him he endured the cross.

 

1 Peter 2 –

2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,

so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,

3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 

The revelation is that we are free in Christ

to experience the goodness of God.

We do not have to submit to feelings of envy

or bitterness or malice toward God.

We sometimes doubt this

because our sorrow is so bitter

and envy and jealousy come so easily.

Remember God is good.

Remember the Lord has your best interest in mind.

Remember we are made for eternal life,

and heaven is the place of final resolution

of all that is evil and wrong and painful.

 

So to get rid of our bitter habits.

There are things that matter more

than our suffering or want.

Out of his suffering Jesus saved you.

Growing up in our salvation

thru suffering we bring that grace

into another’s life,

maybe even really experience it ourselves

for the first.

Focus on God’s goodness,

celebrating it even in the lives of others.

Do not shy away from joining in another’s joy.

We are taught not only weep with those who weep but also to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Celebrating another’s blessing

is also a way to be kind and compassionate.

 

Don’t Hesitate–Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,

don’t hesitate.

Give in to it.

There are plenty of lives and whole towns

destroyed or about to be.

We are not wise, and not very often kind.

And much seems never to be redeemed.

Still, life has some possibility left.

Perhaps this is its way of fighting back,

that sometimes something happens

better than all the riches

or power in the world.

It could be anything,

but very likely you notice it

in the instant when love begins.

Anyway, that’s often the case.

Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid

of its plenty.

Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate

to one another, forgiving each other,

just as in Christ God forgave you.

 

Everything in the church of Jesus

is reversed from the world’s order:

It is our weakness, not our competence,

that moves others;

our sorrows, not our blessings,

that break down the barriers of fear and shame

that keep us apart;

our admitted failures,

not our paraded successes,

that bind us together in hope.

 

The devotion to kindness, compassion,

mercy, forgiveness

replaces the temptation to envy and bitterness

with godly living.

 

Our Bible readings today

invite us to admit this personal problem

of envy bitterness, fretting, and malice.

Is this you?

In you in some way?

Maybe you are surprised

because at first you didn’t think so.

 

Are you hiding it?

Preferring instead the easier speech

complaining,

talking about what I don’t like,

photo-shopping your days,

silent or withdrawn?

 

David admitted it.

Peter and Paul don’t hide it.

But all remind us

this is not the way to live well

and in faith.

Envy, fretting, coveting, bitterness,

these are not the Heavenly Father’s intention

nor do these give God glory.

The Father gave you life.

gave his Son to redeem you.

Jesus rose from the dead

so that nothing can separate you

from the love of God in him.

The Spirit powerfully plants

the finest goods of earth and heaven

within us:

love, joy, peace, faith, hope

kindness, goodness, wisdom . . .

 

So how could we go thru life angry,

fretful, full of ill-will?

On this earth,

we have such a limited view of "the end."

We think that our end is the end

when it's really just God's story unfolding

to show His lavish love on us

when the true end comes.

We'll look back and understand all He did,

and we'll be grateful.

 

Perhaps the circumstances in your life

have been devastating.

But the cross is not the last thing;

resurrection is.

The sorrows may last for the night,

but joy comes in the morning.

Be still before the Lord

and wait patiently for him.