This week's Bible Study - September 18, 2016
One Great Problem
Quotes of the Week:
If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
Have you ever experienced a problem? Of course you have. We all have all sorts of problems every day. Some people seem to be problem solvers and actually enjoy facing a problem. Others seem to fall apart when they come up against problems. This can be especially true for any of us if we encountered one problem after another. However you deal with problems, they will keep coming at you. The problems we face vary in difficulty and outcome.
Having ALS has brought many problems to my life that were never problems before. This may sound weird, but since I no longer have the ability to walk without assistance, it amazes me how people can walk and run and balance and so forth. Yes, walking normally is a problem that I will never be able to solve, short of a miracle occurring. Child proof caps on medicine containers are a problem that I am getting less able to deal with, and even Zip Lock bags are getting harder to open. And, there are a slew of other problems that I have that the vast majority of humans will never deal with. For those of you who have ALS, you can relate. For those who don't have ALS, be thankful for all that you can do and never take it for granted!
There are work related problems that are different based on different types of jobs. There are problems that may be similar in our houses (plumbing, electricity, heating and cooling), but the solutions are different in almost every house. I could keep going, as could you, in describing different kinds of problems that exist. However, there is one problem that is universal to all people. It doesn't matter where you are from or the line of work you are in. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor. We all have this same problem and there is only one solution.
In our present day, as I write this lesson, America is in full swing of a Presidential campaign. There have been conventions and all types of speeches that have sought to appeal to different groups of people. If you are on facebook, you likely have been inundated with all sorts of stories, some real and many more that are contrived. There is little focus on issues as problems, as both sides seem to focus on their opponent as the primary problem. Unlike political candidates, Paul, the author of our text in this lesson, appeals to all mankind and he addresses the problem that is common to all. So, what is that problem? Hang on, we will get there.
Paul had a Jewish background and was a very zealous Jew until he was in his mid to late thirties. He knew about Jewish rituals and obligations before he was converted to being a believer in Christ on the Road to Damascus. Incidentally, there was a period of twelve years or so before he ever started going on his missionary journeys. I believe during that time, he spent a lot of time examining Scripture from a different perspective. It was as if his eyes were open and he saw that though the Jews were God's people, they had the same problem as anybody else. Before his conversion, Paul would have surely said that the problem existed for only non Jews.
I believe that we would each do well to grasp that same concept that Paul grasped. Although we may have been raised to be believers in Christ, we have the same problem as anybody else. Too often, people within the church look at those reprobates outside of the church that are involved in all sorts of debauchery and deplorable sin. You may want to buckle your spiritual seat belt, because you and I are the same as the worst of them. We all have the same problem.
What is the problem? Each of us, all of us, are under the power of sin. Even when we are believers, we can never shake the power of sin. As much as we learn to despise it, it always have some sort of innate attraction. Certainly, we can harness it somewhat, but who among us has totally made themselves perfect? None. As Paul wrote in verse 10, referring back to passages from the book of Psalms, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
Some may object to Paul's statement. Some who object may be unbelievers, thinking that their lives are anything but worthless. In truth, they may seem like good, upstanding, moral people in comparison to others. I have been amazed that often Atheist groups are prevalent among those helping when tragic storms hit a community. That is certainly a good thing, right? Some who object are believers, who try and do everything right and avoid any hint of anything wrong. You know, (believer or not), we all tend to get in this situation where we compare our goodness to other's badness. On a human scale, we may appear to have it together. But Paul is saying that we are not judged on a human scale, but before God. He is perfect and He demands absolute perfection to be in His presence. One incident of one sin in a lifetime disqualifies us from perfection. While you may be 'gooder' than others or even 'gooder' than most, don't misunderstand God's standard.
As an analogy, I have often thought about contests to see how high people can jump. There have been high jumpers who have jumped as high as 8 feet and pole vaulters who have gone as high as 20 feet. I have played a lot of basketball in my life and I have seen some who can almost touch the top of the backboard (they were never on my team). Anybody who can jump at all now amazes me, as with ALS, my feet seem glued to the floor. Imagine for a second that how high people could jump was symbolic of different people's goodness. The ones who could jump high might laugh at the rest of us, but it is as if God's requirement would be to jump to the moon. Which jumper got closest? Just for grins, you could jump about 6.5 times higher on the moon, so the 20 foot pole vaulter could jump about 130 feet high, Just for reference, the St Louis Arch is 630 feet high, but even at the top of that, do you feel closer to the moon? So, while you may be a world class jumper, you really aren't any closer to touching the moon than I am with my feet on the ground. And my goodness is no better than yours or worse than yours. We all fail. That is our common problem.
If your experience is like mine has been, you may go through periods where it seems like you are doing all the right things and avoiding all the wrong things. However, even then, if you were to monitor your attitudes and thoughts, or the words you use when nobody is around, you likely will have to re-evaluate your standing. Or, if you consider relationships that are out of whack, either because of what you have done or what you are unwilling to forgive, you would have to say it's true, there is not one perfect.
The Jews thought that they were special, because they were given the Law. Certainly, God was with His people throughout the Old Testament. However, all the law really did was to convict people of sin. It is like a mirror that exposes dirt that, try as you may, you cannot wash away. The law was meant to expose a need that no person can meet. Throughout history, people have tried to do things better or to better align themselves with God's law. The analogy still stands that they might train to jump a few inches higher, but they will never touch the moon.
We all like to defend ourselves when we've done wrong. Who among us have not answered with butů when we've been caught? I believe that most everyone wants to be seen in a good light by others, but we are all incapable of righteousness. So, when we have been exposed, we either ignore it or we tend to deflect the blame elsewhere. Some people can convince themselves of some doozy of stories, as they justify one wrong thing after another. When our response points the finger at someone else, some think that they exonerate their own deeds. This describes many in the church who seem to delight (in some way) when they speak of the evil that is in our world, believing themselves to be much better than that.
For many people, knowledge of their own wrong doing will invoke a sincere desire for religion. It will make people seek after something, but not necessarily God. Some want to find the Ten Commandments or some other set of rules, so that they can have a measuring stick. Finding those are good, but the truth is our inability to even meet those on the highest level exposes our need for something more.
This problem leads each person to the place where saving faith can be found. We realize that we have the problem which is sin, and that we all have fallen short of the glory of God. It is the entry criteria to become a Christian. As long as anyone thinks that they can be good enough on their own, they will never subject to anything different. Certainly, there may be times when people have engaged in reckless behavior that they know to be wrong and they seek help through counseling or coming clean about what they have done. This can be a good thing, but until any person realizes the chasm that they have between themselves and God, they are simply trying to jump higher on their own.
When we seek true righteousness, the righteousness of God, we will only find that in Christ. All have sinned and all need Christ. For many people who have been in church for much of their lives, they may know the stories and the history and some of the theology, but that have missed Christ. It becomes too easy to mimic other church people and never truly place one's faith in Christ.
Problems, yes, there are lots of them. Some problems you may solve on your own, while others you may need the help of others. Some problems are shared by a lot of people, but there is one problem that is universal. As stated earlier, this is the beginning place of being able to find resolution. So many people want to play comparison games with others and as long as they are relatively 'better' than others, they are reluctant to accept their own problem. After all, they jumped higher, right?
We all have sinned. The answer is not to simply quit sinning. While that may seem logical, it is impossible. Have you acknowledged that you have sinned, and have you sought God? The answer is in accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your sin. Don't spend your life trying to jump higher. Spend your life seeking the Lord while He may be found.
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