As partakers in consuming of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we humans have a strong tendency to mix evil with good, then call it good. In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul describes some fruits of the Spirit, which all Christians must strive to produce, but not before he explains the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21. We must be careful not to mix evil with good and call it good.
What do the following celebrations have in common: Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Halloween? What do those things all have in common? Let me further pique your curiosity by adding some additional things to this list: some birthday celebrations, some types of dancing, and some types of sushi. Kind of a strange list, isn't it? Perhaps you can chew on that a bit. I'll keep you guessing and we'll come back to it in just a few minutes.
In Matthew 19, we have a very interesting dialogue that is recorded for us. I'm sure you've read and heard many times this dialogue go back and forth. You've no doubt heard this. I'd like to read through it and talk about it just for a few minutes by way of an introduction to the message this afternoon.
Matthew 19:16 Matthew 19:16And, behold, one came and said to him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
American King James Version×"Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" This is an ongoing question. "I'm living this way of life, I'm committed to this religion, so what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?" We all want to be god beings, we all want to live forever; we all want to get rid of this decaying, falling-apart, aging body. What things are we to do to inherit eternal life? It's the question maybe that even brought you into the church. In Verse 17 Jesus responds, "…if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." Pure and simple, right? Pure and simple. This man continues on as if to ask, 'do I have to keep all of them?' 'Which ones?' And so, Jesus Christ kind of summarizing some of them: Verse 18 "…"You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not bear false witness,"" Verse 19 "Honor your father and mother and you shall love your neighbor as yourself."' This young man is essentially asking, "What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus answers essentially with one word: OBEDIENCE. This young man, I wonder as he ponders this next question if he regrets asking it, but nonetheless he did ask it. Verse 20 "The young man said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." He obviously grew up with this way of life; he was all for it and somewhat committed to it. He had kept all these laws; he was familiar with them. He was obeying these. He said since he was a young child he had been doing these things, obeying these laws. Verse 20 "..What do I still lack?" Verse 21 "Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me."" Jesus is saying here to live a godly way of life, live 'agape'; show this godly love one toward another. It's the idea of giving to one another; being selfless for each other, sacrifice for the good of other people. This is what He is saying here in verse twenty-one, to love your enemies. Maybe all these other concepts in other verses are filling your mind. Do good to those that hate you; give your tunic to anyone who asks; turn the other cheek -- those sorts of concepts. It's this doing what is best for the other person. JESUS CHRIST HERE SAYS THERE IS SOMETHING IN ADDITION TO OBEDIENCE. He's not saying to skip the obedience factor. This section of scripture doesn't begin with what do I need to do and then jump right to verse twenty-one. Jesus Christ demonstrates that obedience is absolutely critical! But… He follows up and says living this godly mindset and having godly love in your life is also a component in entering and having eternal life. That phrase, "IF YOU WANT TO BE PERFECT," is different from what we think of. When we think of the word perfect, what do we think of? We think of the word 'flawless', right? For example: Every hair is in place; the knot on my tie is perfect, it has the right shape, it has a little dimple in there, it's perfect. My shoelaces are equal on both sides, beautiful loops; it's perfect. Right? That's what we think of. If we perfectly shave our face, there's no stubble, we didn't miss a spot anywhere. It's perfect. It's flawless. Jesus says if you want to be perfect, “do these things.” When we think of perfect, we think of flawless …is you want to be flawless, go sell what you have …and the rest of the verse. But it's interesting that's not the word that Jesus Christ used. The word that He used here for the word 'perfect' is the Greek word 'teleios'; the way it's translated in most of our English Bibles is the word 'perfect', but it can also mean 'complete' or 'mature'. If you continue to dig deeper with this word, it means even more than that. This word that Jesus Christ chose to use here speaks to being fulfilled for the purpose that it was created. So Jesus Christ isn't saying, 'If you want to be flawless', no He's saying, 'If you want to be 'teleios', IF YOU WANT TO FULFILL THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH YOU WERE CREATED, then do these things.' Jesus Christ isn't telling this man to be perfect as in flawless or even sinless, He's telling him to simply fulfill the purpose for which God created him. That's a beautiful concept. Perhaps one of the greatest keys to unlocking the Kingdom of God is here in this dialogue, here in this section of Scripture. Two great keys for unlocking the Kingdom of God are right here. ONE KEY IS SIMPLY OBEDIENCE; JESUS SAYS IT IS NECESSARY TO OBEY THESE LAWS BUT THE SECOND IS THIS IDEA OF TRANSFORMING... as mentioned in verse twenty-one. TWO GREAT KEYS TO UNLOCKING GOD'S KINGDOM IS ONE: OBEDIENCE AND TWO: TO TRANSFORM YOUR MIND TOWARD GODLINESS. It seems pretty straightforward for us; we can read this section of scripture and see the emphasis on obedience and we can see the emphasis on doing what's best for others. There aren't a whole lot of options there, are there? Jesus Christ isn't saying, 'Well, you could do this or you could choose to do that or whatever else comes to mind.' That's not the way He chose to answer this young man; no gray area, no confusion. This man understood exactly what Jesus Christ was saying. Verse 22 "But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." He was okay with the obedience. He was okay with going to the synagogue, keeping the Holy Days and paying his tithes, and all the other laws and commands. He was okay with obedience, but he didn't want to change. He didn't want to transform his mind.
During the summer of 2003, the Alabama Chief Justice made a decision to put a stone monument containing the Ten Commandments on display at the Judicial Building. That ended up causing a gigantic controversy to erupt. In December 2004 the United Church of God wrote in "The World News and Prophecy": "The resulting furor not only highlighted the cultural divide, but also brought up the fact that many pay only lip service to the idea of the Law, rather than looking deeply into its precepts and critical self-examination." This young man in Matthew nineteen was guilty of that; he was paying lip service; he was doing the obedience, but when it came to the idea of having to change his mindset and do what's best for the other person… That's where the brakes went on and his heels dug in and he ended up going away sorrowful. He wasn't “jiggy” with the idea of having to change, he did not want to transform. He was okay with the obedience, but nothing more. The young man in Matthew nineteen simply paid lip service to Christ. He was saying, 'I'll do what is relatively easy, obedience, but don't ask me to change my lifestyle, don't ask me to transform" Do you know what this man's problem was? We can read about it just a few chapters previous to Matthew nineteen. Quoting from the prophet Isaiah Jesus states:
Matthew 15:8-9 Matthew 15:8-9  This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
American King James Version×
"These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the
Commandments of men."
This is the challenge this young man had. He accepted the teachings as doctrines the various commandments and laws that man had set up. It's the idea of something incorrect being taught as something correct and he had latched onto that. He was latched onto the idea and the hope that all he had to do was obey, that no change was necessary. That's essentially what was being taught to him as a young child and he grabbed hold of that as something valid in his life and Jesus Christ came along and challenged that concept and said, 'No there's more to it than just obedience; obedience is necessary, but you also have to change. You also have to repent, you have to overcome and transform that mind.' The young man in Matthew nineteen had a challenge; He was taught that obedience was 'it', the 'end all'. Christ said, “It's not entirely correct, there's more to it.” But, even after he was corrected, he still refused to change, and he went away sorrowful. This should be a powerful lesson for us, a powerful dialogue for us to consider.
Satan is sneaky; he's very sneaky. He's described as a lion. he's described as a snake… animals that are very stealthy. He loves the idea of something incorrect being taught as something valid; it feeds the emotions, it feeds the feelings, it feeds the selfishness of human nature. God's law, though is black and white, it's plain; it's simple. There's no gray area. God says, “Do this, don't do that. Live this way; don't be like that. Treat other people this way." There's no variation, there's no spinning of our own interpretations. But, from the beginning, Satan has been about the gray, he's been about the mixing a little right, a little wrong; a little good, a little evil, a little godliness, a little sin …mixed all together and rolled up nice and tight.
In the sermon this afternoon, I want to explore the concept of blending black and white and living in the gray. The title for the sermon is "Evil Wrapped in Good".
1 Kings eighteen, especially the last two-thirds of the chapter is a really exhilarating read; maybe if you haven't read through this lately, you can read through it in this next week and read this story in detail. Here the God of Elijah is essentially challenged. There had been some deaths of prophets leading up to this. Elijah ends up assembling twelve stones, builds an altar and has this challenge between his God and the Baals. Water is dumped on Elijah's altar; he calls for more water, more water and more water until his altar is essentially standing in water. He prays to God, gives thanks to God and God comes down and consumes that offering and the adherents of the gods of the Baals are left kind of stunned. The Israelites had been wavering. In verse twenty-one before all this happens we see Elijah's challenge to them. 1 Kings 18:21 1 Kings 18:21And Elijah came to all the people, and said, How long halt you between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
American King James Version×"And Elijah came to all the people, and said, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people answered him not a word." Here Elijah discusses this way of life with Israel and he poses this very straight-forward question: "How long will you falter between two opinions?" "How long will you try to blend this?" "How long will you claim to be God's nation but then worship these other gods?" "How long will you kind of mix these two and muddle it up?" He simply says, "If the Lord is God, follow Him, if you think Baal is god, follow him, BUT STOP TRYING TO MIX IT." We can ask it in a different way and ask the question, "Are we following God's religion, God's way of life or are we practicing our own variation?" We can't have God's religion and our religion--it's one or the other. God tells us not to mix them. Here Elijah was crying out to the people of Israel, Who are you going to follow?"
Let's go back to my beginning: What do the following celebrations have in common: Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Halloween? We can add to that list some types of birthday celebrations, some types of dancing, and some types of sushi. Again it's a very strange list; maybe you have some guesses by now as far as what those things have in common. ALL OF THOSE ARE BLENDED BLACK AND WHITE… they're evil at the core, but wrapped in something good. They're evil wrapped in good. Christmas, for example: is it wrong to give gifts? Is it wrong to acknowledge that Jesus Christ lived? Is it wrong to have a family meal together? Those things by themselves aren't wrong, are they? What about Valentine's Day? Is it wrong to show affection and love to your spouse? No, it's not; it's not wrong to show affection to your spouse. Is it wrong to buy her chocolate? Probably not, unless she doesn't like chocolate. Then you're not going to want to buy her chocolate. How about St. Patrick's Day? Is the color green a bad color? Should we avoid the color green… no green carpet, no green ties, no green dresses, no green tablecloths, no green anything? How about Halloween? Is it fun to dress up in a costume? I remember as a kid, we had costume dances at church and it was fun. You came as some character. Is it wrong to eat candy? Thankfully, no. I love sweets. I have an incredible sweet tooth; in fact I think most of my mouth is sweet. I'm very thankful it's not wrong to eat candy, desserts or brownies or pies or cakes or any of that. I'm very thankful that it's not wrong to eat those things. But these holidays are evil wrapped in good. They are pagan at the core. Satan has wrapped otherwise innocent traditions around them so that they appear to be harmless. Valentine's Day seems to be good even though it is rooted in some evil pagan traditions about cutting out the heart of your lover and doing horrible things with it. But people think, 'It doesn't matter. Just send your girlfriend, your husband, your spouse some chocolate and take her out to dinner." It's evil at the core and Satan has wrapped it in something that is otherwise harmless; evil wrapped in good.
Let's continue with my second list: some birthday celebrations. Is it wrong to celebrate life? When someone reaches some milestone age, is it wrong to say, "God has really blessed your life and He's really been with you. How great it is that you've been able to live to this age and look at all the things that God has blessed you with"? Is it wrong to celebrate life? What about some dancing? King David danced. Should we not dance? My family and I love sushi. Many of the disciples were fishermen; they ate fish. Is it wrong to eat fish? These are not quite as obvious as talking about the holidays, but these things can sometimes follow the same traits as the holidays. Sometimes they can be evil at the core wrapped in something good; birthday celebrations where selfishness abounds and it's an, 'all about ME party' is not what God wants. That's not a celebration about life. That's a celebration about you being who you are and 'hey look at me' and 'hey bring me gifts' and bring ME all this stuff and you go stand over 'there' because this is all about ME and don't I look good. Those types of celebrations are not good. There's dancing that is not appropriate- extreme motions below the waist- those are not good dances to be doing. Dancing itself is not bad. David danced with such great joy when the Ark of the Covenant was brought back that he embarrassed some people. David embarrassed some individuals because his dancing was so happy, so joyous that the Ark of the Covenant was being brought back. Satan has polluted dancing and some types are not good--they're very vulgar and very evil. In Wichita we have a great sushi restaurant that is just a few miles from our house and some sushi is unclean on the inside. It's made of some sort of mussel or some sort of crab or some other fish that God says don't eat, but it's wrapped in seaweed paper and wrapped in rice. To me, that's a perfect visual. It's something evil on the inside- some sort of crabmeat wrapped in rice. It's evil wrapped in good, evil wrapped with good.
In Isaiah 5:20 Isaiah 5:20Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
American King James Version×I'd like to start with just the first word here so we can set the context of what we're about to read; The prophet begins by using the word "WOE". This word in the Hebrew is a lamentation, it's an, 'OH, NO' kind of expression. It's this exclamation of grief. It's not 'hey look they brought brownies!' It's not a happy exclamation, it's not even like a 'whoops' as in 'whoops I slipped' or 'whoops I did that again'. That's not the word here that Isaiah uses; it's this exclamation of grief, of sadness.
Isaiah 5:20 Isaiah 5:20Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
American King James Version×
"Woe unto those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"
This is not a happy verse. This is a sad verse. Isaiah here is lamenting; he's struck by grief over what these individuals are doing. These people, he sees, are mixing the two. They're taking a little good, a little evil and they're blending it and they're calling it good. "Woe to those who call evil good". It's evil at the core; they've wrapped something good around it, they've justified it and they present it as something valid, something good. Isaiah is sad; he is lamenting that. This verse is interesting to me, especially in the context of the sermon today because it is rare that I find an outright evil person. I don't know about you but I've rarely come across someone who is just evil to the bone, just evil to the core. I know when I worked for corporate America, there were people I worked with whose morals maybe weren't quite so high or maybe they struggled a bit with ethics or they'd kind of cheat the system here or there… but that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about someone who is just downright evil to the core, down to their very bones and existence, just a bad person. Satan has masked that and he has taught society 'you don't have to be necessarily outwardly evil; you just have to wrap some good things around evil. For instance: send your loved one a card, take her out to dinner, buy her roses." Evil is now called good; and now it's considered okay to do those things even if they're on Valentine's Day. Satan says, 'Celebrate this holiday, but do it by doing these other things", things that otherwise would be good to do for your spouse. Sending her a card to say you love her is a good thing to do, but Satan has taken something evil at the core and wrapped it around with something that seems good.
These people who call evil good are people who are sucked into the idea of evil wrapped in good. Is it wrong to cheat on your spouse? Society largely says, "No, because in the end it could help you love your spouse even more. It could even, maybe help keep the family unit together, after all, it's for the kids. Right? Having this happy family environment"? That's what Satan promotes and so we have all kinds of challenged relationships. People go both ways and try to come back and it ends up not working. Satan has taken something evil: adultery and fornication and cheating on your spouse and he's wrapped it in good. "Do it for the kids so they can have some semblance of the other partner," …something evil wrapped in something good.
God in Isaiah chapter five is grieving. Oh! The grief because of what God was seeing at that time and He inspired Isaiah to write about the individuals who were taking something evil and justifying it, saying that it's okay. This idea of something evil wrapped in good is the brainchild of Satan himself. He's the one who came up with this idea, with this concept and he has been teaching it to humanity since the very beginning.
Genesis 3:4-5 Genesis 3:4-5  And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die:
 For God does know that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
American King James Version×"Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die." Verse 5 "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."" Satan tells her, "You're not going to die, and nothing bad is going to happen to you. You'll be like God. You're going to know these things, you're going to understand more." Satan presented to Eve the idea of eating something forbidden, something evil, and something that God said, 'Do not do, do not eat of this fruit.' Satan presented Eve with the idea of eating that, but that it was okay because in the end she was going to be like God. This was something evil: disobedience to God; wrapped in good… 'God wants you to be happy, He wants you to be like him'. Satan, before he rebelled and got kicked out from God's throne was no doubt privy to some of the conversations that God and Jesus Christ were having about creating mankind and certainly the first man and woman and understanding to a certain degree what God was looking to do with mankind… the great purpose that mankind had. I'm sure to a certain extent, Satan played on that a little bit. He could have said at one point, 'You know Eve, God wants you to be a part of his family, He wants to make you a god, so why not take that now, why wait?' He ends up playing with Eve, encouraging her to do something evil and he justified it and wrapped something around it.
Genesis 2:9 Genesis 2:9And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
American King James Version×"And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." There were lots of tree options, lots of fruit options… two specifically are mentioned here. Verses 16-17 "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;"" Verse 17 "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."" God did not present Adam with the tree of life and the tree of evil. It wasn't the tree of evil. It was the tree of good and evil, this mix, this combination of the two. God warned Adam not to mix the two. This tree bears the fruit of an evil core that's wrapped in something good. Sadly, that's exactly where Adam and Eve went and Satan introduced the first humans to the idea that evil can be good if it's wrapped in something good. "Therefore know them both and mix them often", Satan would end up teaching society. "Know them both and feel free to mix them, because if it's good on the outside, it must be good all the way through.' God says, 'NO, eat of anything but this tree." Let me make a clarifying statement here: good doesn't always mean a godly good. We can take something evil and wrap it in good but it can be a perception of good by that person. We can justify that this evil thing happened, because I want some specific outcome. We can take something evil or wrong and can justify it and to me, it becomes 'right', it becomes okay, it becomes good. So good doesn't always mean a godly good. It can also mean this self-perceived, justified kind of good.
Paul was battling this concept, this blending of the two, this self- justifying that this evil, this law breaking was okay in certain circumstances. 1 Corinthians 3:3 1 Corinthians 3:3For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men?
American King James Version×"…For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" These men were justifying these actions, in the church they were justifying these actions: envy, strife, divisions… things obviously against God's way of life, breaking God's laws. Yet, they were justifying it. It was evil at the core and these individuals in Corinth had wrapped it with something they perceived was good. They felt justified in what they were doing, but Paul calls them carnal. He doesn't call them right; he doesn't say they've rightly divided the word of God. He says these things are evil, you call them for what they are--don't justify your way out of them and if you do, you're carnal… you're behaving like mere men. Paul summarizes this 'evil wrapped in good' concept as carnality. "You're carnal", he says. Take away the outer layer and see what is at the core. This is what he is trying to teach them here to take away the outer layer, to take away the justification and is what you're doing evil at the core? Paul came to the conclusion that it's evil, it's selfishness, and it’s satanic. Envy, strife, divisions… that's not God's way of life. These can be excellent areas for us to evaluate ourselves. Are my responses appropriate? Are my emotions, my feelings, my beliefs, and my actions in line with God's way of life or are they evil at the core but wrapped in this self-justified good?
The end part of Galatians 5 is very unique. This is a chapter that we have portions of memorized and often when we turn to Galatians 5, we jump right to verse twenty-two and read of all these happy, pleasant things… the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, and so on and so forth--abilities God gives to us in order to live his way of life; fruits that our Christian life should be reflecting. But, there's something interesting before these verses and it's something we oftentimes tend to just skip right through. These are all the bad things; the works of the flesh and all these horrible things. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and we end up preaching this and talking about this and looking at the good things we should be. Critical self-examination is always difficult for humans. For me, historically I've struggled to find where I fit in verses 19, 20, and 21. I'm sure I'm there someplace. I think if we're all honest, we'd wonder, "Do these things really apply to me or do these things apply to THAT person?" Do we think, "Me, I'm down in the fruits of the Spirit, surely those other verses don't apply to me." For me personally, I struggle with finding the 'me' in those verses. I'm faithful to my wife, I don't mingle with the spirit world, I'm not a hateful person, so how do these verses apply to me?
This sermon for me began nearly seven months ago. I was having a conversation with someone and they made this passing statement and I wrote it down. I've kind of been mulling over it for the last seven months until just a couple of weeks ago, this message came together and I finally found 'me' in these verses, verses 19,20, and 21 and it was this idea of evil wrapped in good. It's the self-justification, we sometimes say, "It's okay if I do this because of what that person did to me" or "it's okay that I have this response because that person clearly is having some problems or he caused this emotion to come out of me". We can say it's okay for whatever reason. The sermon for me was the answer to my question, the long-standing question: "How do these verses apply to me?" Do I justify these actions for the 'good' of something? For me, I was asking myself, "Am I wrapping something evil, something God hates, with something I approve; something I deem okay in a certain situation?"
I'd like to share some of that study with you. Let's walk through these verses that we typically just skip over and go to the fruits of the Spirit. I want to talk about these things that God hates, these things He wants us to move away from and see if we're maybe doing a little something here and we're justifying these actions and we're calling it good, we're calling it okay. The first couple here kind of play off each other. Galatians 5:19-21 Galatians 5:19-21  Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, jealousies, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
 Contentions, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×"Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: ADULTERY, FORNICATION…” (These are not just the physical type, but also from a spiritual perspective: are you committing spiritual adultery?) Many of us have committed to this way of life, we've been baptized, we've made a promise to God that we'll put him first in our lives and this is my first and foremost commitment. Are we committing adultery with that commitment? Are we allowing something else to come into our lives to challenge that commitment? Do we have a conflicting priority in our lives? God says He wants to be the priority; He requires that of us. We've committed to it; we've agreed to that, but is there some conflict in our lives so that maybe God is not always the priority? The next word Paul uses here is "UNCLEANNESS"; in the Greek this word means an impurity specifically concerning your morals. Are your morals symbolically built on sand, are they wishy-washy, can you kind of kick at them and they all fall down? Can you build up that sand castle, and a wave comes in, and it's all flat again? Are your morals built on sand? Can they be swayed? Do they change from day to day? Do you have situational morality? Do you have morals based on whatever situation you find yourselves in? Such as: at work, when presented with 'this' situation, these are my morals; when I come home, these are my morals; when I talk to 'that' person, these are my morals. Do your morals change based on the situation you find yourselves in? The next word is 'LEWDNESS' or lasciviousness, this means “an absence of restraint” …again, we're looking for evil wrapped in good… times in our lives we justify doing some of these things. Are we ever lewd? Do we ever exhibit this absence of restraint? It's the opposite of self-control. Self-control is found a few verses later in the fruits of the Spirit. Lewdness and lasciviousness is the opposite of self-control. This can also mean a general perversion. But it's the inability to restrain ourselves whether it's through our speech, through our eyes, through our thoughts… an absence of restraint. Again, we're looking at how we wrap these traits in a perceived good… with us justifying that it's okay to do this 'when'. The next one is IDOLATRY. How many times do we put something before God? Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×gives our marching orders "Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God". That's our first priority: God first, putting his Kingdom first, looking after that change, repenting of our sins, seeking first his righteousness; having that priority in our lives. Any priority placed before God is spiritual idolatry. It can be a wide range of things. It can be our job, our career… maybe trying to shift careers or change careers or get it going whatever it might be… "I've got to get to the office at a certain time, it doesn't matter that I slept in or overslept my alarm, I'm just going to have to pray and study the Bible when I get home, I've got to get to the office." Exercise is something that some people struggle with from the spiritual idolatry perspective; it becomes such a focus in their life that it ends up challenging their relationship with God. What are though, our daily priorities and do they cause us to slip into this spiritual idolatry. The next one is interesting, it's the word WITCHCRAFT, and some translations may use the word sorcery. Obviously none of us do this right? Whenever I think of witchcraft and sorcery, if you're like me, I think of things like Ouija boards, tarot cards, palm reading, and things like that. The word Paul uses here is the Greek word "pharmacia"; does that ring any bells in your mind? The modern word 'pharmacy' comes from it or pharmaceuticals… kind of sounds familiar doesn't it? The word pharmacia in the Greek means: the occult, sorcery, witchcraft, illicit pharmaceuticals, trance, or magical incantation with drugs. This in some ways is some of our modern- day pharmaceutical industry… "Just take this one pill and you'll be free of all your worries, take this one pill and it will help you calm down and relax… it will kind of 'open your mind". Paul is saying to be careful with that. What we're not talking about here is medically necessary drugs, so don't make that leap. That's not where I'm going with all this. The word that Paul uses here is this drug that puts you into a trance, this mind-altering type of substance. If you want a proof verse for staying away from marijuana… here's your verse. Witchcraft, Paul says to stay away from. This is a proof verse that we teach our teens at camp. Last year in Hye Sierra we talked about marijuana use. Some states now are legalizing it, they're saying it's okay to use this and smoke this, but pharmacia, Paul says is wrong. Pharmacia is the mind-altering substances whether legal or illegal, depending on your state. It's evil wrapped in good. The excuse is 'it's okay to do this because it will help you to relax, it'll help things feel better'. Paul says witchcraft, sorcery… pharmacia is wrong because it opens our minds to Satan's influence.
The next word here is the word HATRED. Hatred means hostility toward someone and it similarly refers to defamation of character or giving some evil report about someone. How careful are we when we refer to someone else? When we use someone else's name in a sentence, how careful are we when we use that name? Do we harm their character and then justify why it's okay? For instance: "Oh, I wouldn't tell so and so anything you wouldn't want told, they'll just blab it to everybody in the church; I don't mean any disrespect, I'm just trying to protect you." Are we damaging the reputation, are we giving an evil report about someone and then justifying it? It's evil wrapped in a perceived good, something that we justify. Maybe what you're saying is true; maybe that person does have a tendency of talking. That's something between them and God, something they have to work out. It's never our job to blemish their character, though. The word hatred here, speaks to that action. VARIANCE is the next one (contentions may be what some of your Bibles state). This is a quarrel, a wrangling, a debate or some sort of contention. You might consider how you can justify this; when you do, you are graying the middle; you are mixing good and evil. You say, "But I'm right and they just don't get it." In the end it ends up being this conversation where we're not yielding to the other person, we're not giving the floor. We're pushing our idea, our thought, our philosophy and almost demanding that the other person accept our point of view. It's another justified evil. We justify it by saying we're just trying to get the other person to see things our way. Paul calls that evil. “EMULATIONS or jealousies” is the next one. This is a Greek word that literally means jealousy or anger. It's a wrong emotion, an emotion that we can sometimes let get away from us. It's an evil emotion, but we justify it, don't we? We say, "I deserve that, I worked hard for that; I should be rewarded for my effort." It's a justified evil, though. The jealousy at the core is wrong; it's against God's way of life. Just because we think we deserve it doesn't justify the wrong. WRATH is the next one. This is literally a burst of anger, but it's not just one. The word Paul uses here is a plurality of bursts. It's not just one sudden outburst and then you realize, "Oh, I'm sorry… I'll back down." This is an ongoing… you just hit it and you hit it and you hit it and you hit it… this plurality of bursts of anger, multiple bursts of anger. Again, it goes to a lack of self-control. Remember our topic here. Do we have these repeated bursts of anger and then justify it? Do we say, "Yeah, well he deserved it”. Are we wrapping it in 'good', justifying why it's okay? The next one is STRIFE, or selfish ambitions. This represents a motive of self-interest. It implies a canvassing for public office, that type of mentality. It's a self-promoter. It's the badge: "Vote for Me". It's the self-promoting of ourselves. This isn't to say we shouldn't take a valid evaluation and see if we could fulfill some role; but this is completely ignoring everyone else because we want that so bad. It's a self-promotion, self-interest… we want that title, that position, that responsibility. We want whatever it is so bad that we don't care who else also is maybe qualified for that. We don't care about them; we're promoting our self. It's about fulfilling the self-interest.
The next one is a biggie it's, SEDITIONS. Some translations will say, dissensions. In the Greek this means splitting the one into multiple parts or simply separation. Divisions, is this ever evil wrapped in good? Always. Divisions and separations are always wrapped in good. Divisions are always justified. People say, "I understand this concept better; I can preach that better; I look better on TV; I can handle the finances better; I'm a better leader; I'm more Christian." Divisions are always wrapped in good. It's a justified evil, though, and if we unwrap it, it's evil at the core. It's a splitting of one into multiple parts. Evil at the core are divisions, seditions, dissensions, wrapped in something good… some justified reason. "It's okay that we do this… because…"
The next one is the word HERESIES. This is a form of religious worship or opinion. Simply stated: when you hold so tight to your religious opinion you end up pushing it on someone else to the point of stumbling, that's heresy. You can be absolutely right in your theology, you can be absolutely right in your interpretation of that scripture… but when you push it as an authority, that's when you become a heretic… that's when you're guilty of heresy. This is also an easy one for mixing black and white for mixing good and evil. Such as, "I know the calendar better; I understand this prophecy better; I know that doctrine better than anyone else and the church has it wrong; and this is why and you have to believe me." That's heresy according to the Bible. We're taking an evil approach and we're justifying it, we're wrapping it in good.
ENVYINGS: This is a jealousy that is highly infectious at the sight of someone else's happiness, at the sight of someone else's successes. It's an evil emotion that's malignant in our bodies, that's highly infectious. It's at the sight of someone else's success. This is different from what we read earlier about emulations or jealousies. This is slightly different from being jealous. Being jealous is a little more passive. Being jealous is, "I can do that better or I deserve that." It's a little more passive. If you're envious, this is triggered at the success of someone else. You see someone else's success and you become very envious of that and it kind of runs through your body; it's highly infectious.
MURDERS: It means in the Greek 'a slaughter or a slaying'. Obviously the physical act is wrong; I don't think there's any debate on that. But this can also mean a mentality. It's more than just speaking ill of someone, like we talked about above about hatred. This is not just some defamation of character, but it's literally slaying their character. It's taking hatred to an extreme. It's interesting that in some of these Paul gives the passive, maybe the more simple, but then he takes it to the more extreme as well. This is one of those examples. Hatred is that speaking evil of someone and defaming their character and giving this evil report. Murdering means someone is literally slaughtering or slaying someone's reputation, slaughtering their family name, defaming it to the point that you're dragging it through the mud… so to speak.
DRUNKENNESS: This expresses a greater excess than just being under the influence. It can be anything that's intoxicating. It can be things that we see; things that we listen to; different things that we allow ourselves to come to; it's this altering of senses. It's being intoxicated to the point that it alters our senses. It lowers our guard; it frees our mind… so to speak. Satan uses this one and pharmacia often in conjunction… witchcraft. Satan wants to become highly influential and he's all about the drunkenness all about this intoxication that allows our senses to be altered.
REVELINGS: This is more of a type of environment than a mentality. This is the environment where drunkenness and witchcraft is present. It's the festivities, the atmosphere; it's the company we keep; it's the friends that we have. Are we supportive of this environment? Are we supportive of the riotous conduct that results from this type of an environment?
The favorite one of mine that Paul uses several times is: AND THE LIKE. Paul is saying, 'I've thrown a lot of things out here and if you can think of anything else that kind of fits the bill, then throw it in.' This is a Greek word that means: Other traits similar in appearance and kind or similar in nature. This is kind of Paul's summary… if the shoe fits wear it, is what he is saying when he says, 'and the like'. It's rare that any one of us battles with all of these. Some of these you probably think fit you sometimes; maybe some of these hit a chord… probably not all of them and that's okay. It's more likely that there are one or two or a few that we struggle with. Paul here provides complete lists, something for everyone.
Which one is your weakness? In preparing this sermon over many months, I was able to find mine. Which one do you tend to wrap good around? All of these are evil. Which one do you tend to pick up and justify, wrap good around it and say, 'It's okay that I do that in this situation, or to that person or because of what's done to me'? Or whatever that justification is.
You'll find that I like to give out homework assignments. For those who are familiar with me, maybe you've been recipients of some of my homework assignments in the past. Here's a homework assignment for you: I'd like for you to study Proverbs 6:16-19 Proverbs 6:16-19  These six things does the LORD hate: yes, seven are an abomination to him:
 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
 An heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
 A false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among brothers.
American King James Version×. These are six things that God hates, seven that are an abomination to Him. Study and identify the evil that sometimes we wrap in good. It's okay if we go through those seven things and say those things are not things that I focus on… that's not part of my mentality and that's good and hopefully that's a conclusion that we can come to. But for the sake of the homework assignment, study through them; give them careful consideration. Maybe some scenarios might come to mind. Look at each one after you study it and play in the sandbox, so to speak, and see in what scenario it might be justified. Maybe it's not happening with you, and that's okay. But kind of 'play in the sandbox' a bit and try to come up with some scenarios where maybe that evil can be 'justified'. In what ways could that evil be wrapped in good?
In Nehemiah 8, Nehemiah records for us something tremendous that is about to occur. The Israelites took on this day what they were about to hear very seriously. There were no variations. There was no mixing of black and white; there was no graying in the middle. There was no justifying of why their actions were okay. Israel was very serious in this section. Neh.8: 1- 8 "Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel." Verse 2 "So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month." What day way this? The Feast of Trumpets, the first day of the seventh month, The Feast of Trumpets. Verse 3 "Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law." Verse 4 "So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaselah; and at his left hand Pedalah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam." Verse 5 "And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up." The people stood up. They all stood up. It's not saying that we should do this, but in our hearts, do we stand up? Do we give that respect to God? Do we show Him that respect? When we come to church, do we 'stand up' or do we come to church justifying why we've done what we've done this week? Ezra taught the people and the people obeyed. Verse 6 "And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground." Verse 8 "So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading." Ezra taught the people on this Holy Day and for the subsequent weeks as we see in the rest of the chapter and they 'stood up' for God's laws, for His way of life. There were no variations. In chapter two we see this admission of sins, this willingness to change; the understanding that what they had done was wrong and they needed to do something different… there was a right way and a wrong way an evil way and a righteous way… there's a good and a bad. We understand that God's Spirit wasn't widely available at this time, but still they recognized the need for obedience and they recognized the need for change. Just like the man from Matthew 19, we have the choice to live both requirements for eternal life… obedience and change, obedience and transformation. The Israelites, even without God's Holy Spirit on a wide scale, understood those two things. Throughout the Feast of Trumpets all the way down through the Feast of Tabernacles, they were read the Law and they understood what was being read to them. They separated themselves, they stood and they confessed their sins, they talked about the iniquities of their fathers and they understood at least on a very basic level this necessary change that had to take place.
Are we like the man in Matthew 19 or are we like the Israelites here? We have the choice to live both requirements. Do we ever justify why we don't always have to go to church? Why we don't always have to tithe? Or whatever the case might be? Do we make decisions and wrap up our logic by declaring ourselves Christians because we've justified our action and by doing so blur the lines? Do we take something ungodly and cover it with what seems right to a man?
In conclusion: Our spiritual life should not be black surrounded and wrapped in white. Satan wants this society to seem like the lesser of two evils. To a certain extent he's okay being painted out as this big evil monster because he knows on the underground he's fooling society left and right as he pushes these ungodly traits and encourages people to wrap it in good, encourages people to justify it. There's nothing wrong with evergreen trees. I love the smell of evergreen trees. I love camping with the evergreen trees. There's nothing wrong with giving gifts. There's nothing wrong with going to a costume party and having fun and thankfully there's nothing wrong with eating candy. But sometimes at the core of some of these activities are evil and pagan traditions and that's what we have to watch out for. Thankfully, there's nothing wrong with sushi unless the rice is hiding the crab that is inside. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was both good and evil, it was this mix… this blending of the two. It was a mix of the two and it taught mankind to wrap one in the other and call the end product good. In school, my favorite test was the 'True, False' questions. I don't know about you, but that was my favorite test in school. Instantly. Right off the bat I had a 50/50 chance of getting the question right. I loved those odds. But, I was taught by my teachers early on that all I had to do was to find the smallest trace of falsehood in that statement and the entire statement would be false. Why would our spiritual life be any different? If there is any evil, if there's any ungodliness, then we need to repent of the whole action. A little leaven leavens the whole lump, doesn't it? It spreads; it's infectious.
This is part one of a two-part sermon. Next time I want to explore a critical tool for helping to evaluate our lives so we can identify the good from the evil. There are spiritual tools that we've talked about a lot: prayer, fasting, Bible study and that sort of thing. This is another tool that we don't talk about very often, but it's a great tool that God gives us to help identify good and evil and help us to navigate this life. In the meantime, remember that God's law is black and white… there is no gray, there is no variation, there is no spinning of our own interpretations. Brethren, let's be aware of evil wrapped with good.