Are you Spiritually Codependent? The Wisdom of Godly Boundries

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids

In our Gospel reading this Sunday from Matthew (25:1-13), we are challenged to compare and contrast the behavior of the wise and foolish bridesmaids.  As with the parable of the wise and foolish builders, Jesus is encouraging us to emulate the behavior of the wise while eschewing the behavior of the foolish.  The key question to ask ourselves is:  which bridesmaid is representative of my life?

The Wise and Foolish VirginsWilliam Blake, 1826Matthew 25:1-6

Key Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13

At a basic level, the parable is a lesson in the importance of being prepared for the Day of the Lord. The foolish bridesmaids did not bring extra oil. They failed to plan for the possibility of a delay of the coming Bridegroom.  The wise bridesmaids, however, provided themselves with an extra flask of oil, anticipating a worst-case situation.  As a tool for self-examination, we might reflect on the threat to holiness of procrastination; or the human tendency to live for this life only rather than eternity; or the importance of short term costly sacrifice for long term security.

However, I would like to focus on another major theme in this parable:  the issue of spiritual codependency. Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s faithlessness, sin, bad habits, immaturity, or irresponsibility. The wise (and spiritually healthy) person does not allow another person’s immaturity to drag him down into folly.

Here are the key verses (Matthew 25:7-8):

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

The foolish bridesmaids expected that the wise bridesmaids would give them some of their reserved oil. The foolish bridesmaids did not ask. They demanded. They did not take into account the grave damage which their demands would cause to their wise counterparts.  Their only focus was on their own crisis caused by their own personal short-sightedness, laxness, and foolishness.

Many of us have people in our lives who make demands on us which might cause grave damage to our own relationship with God.  No person has the right or authority to demand or prevent us from truly living under the Lordship of Jesus.  He is the King.

Sadly, there are marriages, where one spouse demands of the other spouse that he or she give up the very things that lead to a vital and thriving Christian life such as, church participation, a ministry using the spouse’s spiritual gifts, or spiritual growth in study groups.  Indeed, any relationship can become an occasion where one person sacrifices that which is precious to them in order to appease the self-centered demand of a foolish person.

A wise bridesmaid knows not to give away her precious oil reserves.   In the parable, the wise bridesmaids refused to help the other bridesmaids by sharing their oil because to do so would jeopardize their own secure places at the wedding banquet.  The wise refused to jeopardize their attainment of the prize of the Bridegroom and the banquet.

The key behavior in this parable is personal responsibility.  Wise bridesmaids will not compromise their own place at the groom’s wedding banquet to help anyone who refuses to take personal responsibility for her own relationship with the Bridegroom.  The wise bridesmaids establish boundaries. They say, “No”.  They encourage the foolish to take responsibility for their own lives: “Go buy some for yourself!”

Learning to say “no” at the right time is healthy.  So, when I allow a foolish bridesmaid to have some of my oil, not only does my apparent generosity not help them to become wise, it makes me as foolish as they are.

Ultimately, each person must be responsible for his or her own relationship with the Lord.  Faith cannot be outsourced or delegated.  No one can be or will be saved by riding on “coat tails” of another’s faith.  One person’s faith cannot make up for another person’s lack of faith.

The idea of saying “no” to a fellow bridesmaid may seem a little harsh.  Aren’t Christians supposed to share, give and sacrifice for others?  After all, Jesus taught us to give to those who ask, to go the extra mile.  Yes, that is true with respect to the material things of this world.  But Jesus never asks his people to give away either their salvation or their personal relationship with God.  Indeed, we Christians are actually forbidden to compromise or capitulate in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

So when another person asks us to give up the things of our faith in order to enable his or her lack of faith, the answer has to be “No”.  The wise bridesmaids recognize that foolish bridesmaids do not take either the Bridegroom or the wedding banquet seriously.  That is to their detriment– do not make it yours as well.  The wise bridesmaids will not let anything or anyone prevent them from being a part of that heavenly banquet and their secure relationship with the Lord.  Say “no” to the foolish person when a “yes” would cost you your soul.

Related Sermon: “The Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids” (sermón en español)

Guard the Deposit of Faith

Paul’s final charge to Timothy is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you”(6:21) As a minister of the Gospel, Timothy is being sent into a battle on to the frontlines for the very Gospel itself. He needs strong encouragement to see the importance of the task and ministry with which he has been entrusted.

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He repeats the encouragement in his second letter to Timothy:

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. 2 Timothy 1:13, 14

The need for Paul’s letter to Timothy was occasioned for two main reasons: geography and time. First, Paul was simply not able to be in more than one place at a time. The delegation of leadership to others was an essential task for Paul if there was to be a geographically broad gospel movement. As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys moving from region to region, city to city, town to town, many new congregations were planted. New leadership had to be developed in each region, city and town. Coordination and support of those various congregations also became mission critical for the gospel.

The second issue was related to time. Paul was always keenly aware that his days of “fruitful ministry” were numbered. The issue of succession was critically important to Paul as he empowered Timothy to lead and then to identify and empower more leaders for the churches.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:1-2

In this way we see, the first examples of succession and delegation at work in the church in the personal and pastoral relationship between Timothy and Paul. For Paul, the issue is not merely the passing of a torch humanly speaking, but for him it was critically important that the content and character of the gospel be guarded in order that it may be passed on faithfully to the next generation of leaders.

As each generation considers its own faith, it must also keep in mind the needs of the next generation of believers. We are given a sacred trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ, a trust to be guarded that it may be faithfully conveyed.

In what ways are you delegating and passing on the deposit of faith which has been entrusted to you? Do you have a Timothy in your life?

Guard the deposit of faith!

Not Dressed for the Party?

Related Sermon: Matthew 22:1-14 “The Wedding Feast” (sermón en español)

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

In this week’s gospel (see below), we learned about a man who came to the party at the King’s invitation but ultimately was thrown out for not being properly dressed. What does this man signify for the kingdom of God, and how do we avoid facing the same embarrassment?

All Come
Earlier in the story there was a group of people who were invited first to the King’s son’s wedding banquet, and yet they rejected the invitation. In the original context of Jesus’ story, these were the unbelieving Jewish people who were unresponsive to the announcement of the Messiah. The day of the Lord’s visitation was upon them, only they were too focused on their own lives and businesses to give any heed to the invitation of the Gospel.

In our day many people are so focused on the things of this world, such as building their careers or retirement lifestyle, that they miss the incredible invitation offered in the Kingdom of God. To them the question is rightly raised, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

As the story continued, the party’s heralds went out to the streets to invite others. Again, in Jesus day this could include people from other nations other than Israel, Gentiles. Interestingly, Jesus’ story mentions that the new invitees were both “good and bad”. Truly the offer of the Gospel is an invitation of forgiveness and grace. No one is truly worthy or deserving of an invitation to the King’s party. As Paul says in Ephesians, “it is by grace we have been saved”. (Ephesians 2:5)

Evangelists call this the free offer of the Gospel. The kingdom of God is offered to everyone on the planet regardless of ethnicity, race, creed, gender, age, or social status. Someone might say, “I am not worthy to go to the party, you do not know how bad I am or what I have done.” The invitation is even to those who have sinned greatly. The offer of the Gospel is to everyone.

The man with the wrong clothes was a person who responded affirmatively to the invitation of the Gospel. He had come to the party and was included among its participants, but something was amiss.

Come as you are? 

There is an old evangelical hymn entitled “Just as I am…” It is often played at altar calls as a way of encouraging people to come to faith in Jesus. It is a bit of a miss-invitation. The invitation to the king’s party included a line about “proper attire”. Today at church, I did an inspection of the attire. Some were dressed in suits and ties; others were wearing flip-flops and tee-shirts. But that’s not the type of attire mentioned here. We are not called to a dress code of externalities; it is an internal dress code. Consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians. He was addressing the problem of the new Gentile converts who were continuing “to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” He writes: “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17-23)

Paul reveals for us the wardrobe change required before coming to the party. God calls us to “put off” the “old self”. There is a false Gospel making its rounds in the church again that trumpets inclusivity without conversion. The invitation of the Gospel is a call to obedience of life. Jesus would see us transformed into his likeness and holiness. The unconverted heart may make it through the doors of the church building and into the fellowship of the people of God, but it has no place in the Kingdom of God.

For Paul, the transformation of our minds overcomes the natural carnal desires of our hearts. A new mindset leads to a heart reset. Yes, this man came to the party, unlike those who refused the invitation. Unfortunately for him, he still had the same heart condition as those who had outright rejected the invitation. His heart was enamored with the things of the world rather than with the King and his Son. Even though he was at the party, his heart wasn’t there. This fact was made obvious by his lack of appropriate attire, and the King was not impressed.

The man without the party clothes represents a person in the fellowship of the church who is continuing “to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” Yes the King says, “come all” but not “come as you are”.

Proper attire required!

As we consider our own response to the King’s invite, make sure you notice the wording about “proper attire”. The King is not merely expecting our presence at the banquet; he wants us to come as fully dressed participants. Parties are much more fun anyway when we dress up and get with the program. So put off the old self, put on your new party clothes through the renewing of your minds. Let’s celebrate and have a great time at the King’s Son’s wedding party!

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 

Words are powerful.

The words of Jesus, especially so.

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How to Deal with Sin in the Church

Whenever two or more sinners are gathered together, conflict is in the midst of them. Jesus called people from all manner of life into the Kingdom of God. He was criticized for welcoming tax collectors, prostitutes, the demon possessed, lepers, gentiles, gluttons and drunkards into the kingdom of God! With such a motley band of brothers and sisters, it does not take much imagination to envision that the full range of bad behaviors and habits would manifest within the community of the early church in short order. One of the critical challenges for Jesus’ “little flock” was to sort out how to maintain a holy, growing, united community made up of broken hurting sinners. Jesus provided direction to his church.

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Related Sermons:

Matthew 18:15-20 If your brother or sister sins against you 9/4/2011 (sermón en español)

Matthew 18:21-35 Debts Forgiven 9/14/2014 (sermón en español)

A hospital for sinners, not a refuge for saints

Are the relationship dynamics in the church any different in our day than they were in Jesus’ day? The church is not a refuge for saints but a hospital for sinners. As sinners, we inevitably will hurt one another. When (not if) that happens, what are we to do? How are we to respond? Often I see that when a person is hurt by a brother or sister in Christ, they quietly withdraw from the relationship. Jesus would not have us separate because of sin, rather to pursue restoration and be sanctified.

In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches us that conflict and the occasion of transgression is an opportunity to grow in relationships and in holiness of life. We are accountable to one another. The occasion of sin within the body of Christ becomes a moment where we manifest to one another the grace that God has abundantly given us.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” –Matthew 18:15

Jesus gives us several values in Matthew 18:15-35:

Value 1: Respect the dignity of the sinner

Do not tell church first; that would be gossip and slander. Rather, Jesus would have us first deal with sin as a private matter. This allows the unity of the body to be protected. A private conversation allows the sinner to recover quickly without having a “big deal” made of their transgression. The vast majority of sins within the body can be dealt with privately in a one-on-one communication.

Notice Jesus says, “go to your brother”… Email and text messages are not the appropriate medium to have these types of discussions. They are best held face to face, person to person—just between the two of you.

Value 2: The aim is always to regain your brother or sister

Often people avoid tough conversations because they are afraid of what will happen to the relationship. Sometimes we may have to be willing to lose a relationship to a loved one, in order to regain our brother or sister in a healthier relationship. While it is to a person’s credit to overlook and offence (Proverbs 19:11), at other times to not confront is to not care. Sin is destructive of people, relationships and the church. Our goal in any confrontation is to “win our brother or sister.” Notice he does not say, “you have won the argument!” The highest value is winning the person.

Value 3: begin with gentleness and gradually work toward a more severe mercy

Doctor’s don’t choose the most invasive surgery first when treating a patient. And we should be gentle in our approach to dealing with sin in another’s life. Jesus teaches the steps; first confronting one-on-one. Then, if that doesn’t work, take along one or two witnesses. If that doesn’t work, involve the authorities of the church.

Some people attempt the one-on-one and find the confrontation ineffective. That doesn’t mean it is time to give up. Jesus gives us a range of assisted approaches to help restore the sinner and the broken relationship. When individual attempts at reconciliation fail, enlist the help of others in the church or your pastor. Some sins are as deep as a person’s childhood, some are due to severely hardened hearts, and a more severe mercy is needed to see heart change.

Value 4: Don’t write off a brother or sister in Christ as a “lost cause”

Again, the goal is always to win our brother or sister back to a reconciled relationship. Our heart toward the sinner should be like that of the good shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the one.

Even in the extreme, when we read about an excommunication of a brother in 1 Corinthians 5, the goal is salvation. While Paul encourages the congregation that the man should be “put out of their fellowship” for his immorality, the church discipline was done to hand the man over to Satan to experience the consequences of sin, “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:5)

No one is a lost cause. We never know how God will work in a person’s life and heart. Do not be surprised if God calls us to forgive another as a testimony to the power of the gospel.

Value 5: The sweetest moments of Christian fellowship come after sin and reconciliation

Jesus promises that he is present in the midst of “two or more” who gather in accountability. While these conversations are difficult, they are also holy, sacred ground. Jesus desires to see the people who he has called together become healed and restored by his grace. We have been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation as the church.

Value 6: We are to demonstrate God’s grace with one another

As the disciples contemplate Jesus teaching about speaking the truth in love to the sinner, they wonder how many times must they be willing to go through this process of restoration? Is there a statute of limitations or a seven strikes and you’re out rule? That would seem reasonable! But Jesus does not accept such a small display of grace. Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

Jesus goes on to tell the story of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a debt he could never repay. Incongruantly, the servant was then unmerciful to a fellow servant who owed him a not insignificant amount of money, though nothing in comparison to the debt he had been forgiven. God expects us to be ambassadors of his grace to one another, in light of his abundant forgiveness to us.

The Dangerous Prayer

As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is a dangerous prayer! That line in the Lord’s Prayer is a contingency prayer. We are asking God to treat us the same way we are treating others. If we are in a posture of grace, we are asking for grace. However, if we have a judgmental heart toward another, we are petitioning God to judge us! Yikes! The continuous pattern of weekly (even daily) reciting of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us to breath grace in and out of our lives on everyone. We are to be the most forgiving people in the world, because we are the most forgiven people in the world.

How sweet it is!

Is there someone in your life with whom you have a problematic relationship? How would Jesus encourage you to respond to the challenge? Sadly, in this sinful and fallen world not every relationship is salvaged and restored after sin. But one of the sweetest promises in the Bible is the promise of Jesus’ presence when two or more come together in unity and restoration. “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20) In the most difficult relational moments of life, Jesus will do his greatest redemptive work. Invite him into the mess! Ask his help with the challenge you are facing right now!

Prayer: Search me, Lord. See if there is any ounce of malice or deception in my heart toward another person. Show me where I am holding another person’s sin against them. Reveal to me where I have a need to repent and ask for forgiveness. Give me the grace to leave my hurt and need for retribution at the foot of the cross. Help me to have the difficult conversation-help me to forgive. Guide me in the path of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Use me to be an instrument of redemption and salvation in others lives. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen!