Good morning! Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
I obviously get to speak with you often, but I consider it a privilege to do a different kind of work this morning. Please pray with me, because the goal of my heart is nothing less than Psalm 85:6, a prayer to God, “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?”
Father, do a miracle by Your Spirit. Accelerate our sanctification and transformation into the Image of Your Son. Deepen and purify and intensify our love for You. For You are worthy. In Jesus, Amen.
Alright, I need examples of commands that you frequently hear as teenagers, as students.
What about our theme verse? Who can recite this year’s theme verse?
The primary clause of the theme verse is a command: set an example. Not only that, there are a bunch of commands embedded in the rest of it, in the ways that we are supposed to set an example. Speak well. Behave. Love. Have faith (believe the right things at the right times). Stay pure.
The Bible abounds with commands. And all of life is loaded with imperatives. Do this. Don’t do that. And I feel a pastoral concern for you because I know that even a theme verse like this year’s becomes dangerous in the midst of so much moralism. We could find many different definitions of moralism, but I’ll offer this up: Moralism is imperatives without indicatives. Moralism gives commands without contextualizing them in the Biblical problem with commands, the Biblical motivation to obey commands, and the Biblical power to obey commands. I’m convinced that you hear so much moralism (by well-meaning people). And you are inclined to moralism, so that even when someone isn’t trying to dish out moralism, you can hear that way. You hear commands without revelation of the Biblical problem, motivation, and power. That’s what I pray we can correct to protect you and set you on a better trajectory.
I could title this message: The Present Profitability of Piety. Now that’s a fun alliteration. I know right now you’re just thinking that Mr. Stewart is such a geek, but I don’t care: that’s a fun alliteration: The Present Profitability of Piety. And you’ll see that every word pulled from the context of this year’s theme verse, which we’ll get to. But first, the problem.
Romans 7 teaches that even when we hear good commands, commands that are right and true, our sinful nature instinctively rebels. Picking up in verse 7, Paul writes, “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ [There’s a command to be moral. You shall not covet.] But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.  The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.  For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”
Paul here personifies sin. Sin is a power at work within us, producing sins. Sin produces sins. Our internal sinful nature produces sinful desires that lead to sinful actions. And what was it that stirred up the sinful desires? A command! “Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment.” According to our beloved commentator, Douglas Moo, the Gk. behind “opportunity” “refers often to the ‘base of operations,’ or ‘bridgehead,’ required for successful military operations.” A bridgehead is the landing area at the end of a bridge or river crossing that an army must defend, or it will lose ground and be overrun by the enemy. And we are in a spiritual war, and our enemy is strategic. It knows that, when we’re confronted with a moral command, our sinful nature can seize the bridgehead and defeat us.
We gotta be sober about this problem. We are the problem. The problem is in us. This passage shows how depraved our nature is, how rebellious and independent. We hate being told what do to so much that our sinful nature, which was lying dormant before the commandment, hears the commandment, resents being told what to do, and desires to break the commandment in order to reassert self-rule. E.g., covetousness. Before the command, I’m not thinking about coveting. I’m just chillin’. “Thou shall not covet.” “Who are you to tell me not to covet? I do what I want. I’ll covet, if I want to. And now I want to.” Sin stirs up sinful desires that commit the will to sinful actions. We are such rebels.
So the Biblical reality is that our theme verse could actually contribute to you being a worse sinner! How sad is that! “Set an example.” “Don’t boss me. I’m not responsible for everyone else. I do what I want.” “Speak well.” “Who are you to try to control my freedom of speech? I’ll say what I want.” “Stay pure.” “It’s my body. It’s my life.” The foundational, Biblical problem with commands is that we are depraved rebels.
And then temptation plays on our sinful bent. But if we can understand the basic lie of temptation, then we can discover the Biblical motivation for obedience. Because the enemy can’t create; the enemy just rips off God’s creation. So it takes the truth, the motivation for obedience, and perverts it, twists it, points it to a different goal. The lie behind temptations is: sin will make us happier than holiness. Ephesians 4:22 calls our sinful desires “deceitful desires.” The desires deceive us: sin will be more fun, more pleasurable than piety. What’s gonna compete with that? We’re always gonna do what seems most beneficial to us. If in the moment my greatest desire is for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, then I’m gonna eat Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But if there suddenly arises in my heart an even greater desire to stick to a diet because in that moment, I’m persuaded that my health will be more profitable, more pleasurable long-term than the temporary pleasure of Reese’s, then I choose to refrain. (That’s never happened to me, but for the sake of illustration….) We always do what seems most profitable. No matter how we weigh immediate happiness versus long-term happiness, we all do what we do for the sake of happiness. That’s how we’re wired. And temptation works because our sinful nature agrees with its lie: sin will make us happier than holiness.
Understanding how that works gives us a clue to the Biblical motivation for obedience. We will only obey if we are persuaded of the profitability of piety. We will only obey if we believe holiness is happier than sinfulness. And that is the Biblical motivation in the context of our theme verse.
Just a few verses earlier, 1 Timothy 4:7-8 (SALT), “Be training yourself for piety; because bodily training is profitable in a few ways, but piety is profitable in every way, holding promise for the present life and the coming one.” And verse 9 emphasizes: “The word is faithful and worthy of all acceptance.”
To illustrate the truth of this Scripture, Kalim, I need you to hop up here. It says, “Be training yourself for piety, because bodily training is profitable in a few ways…” So Kalim, drop and give me ten. Ten push-ups. Y’all count ‘em out. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Alright, alright. “Kalim, you’re welcome. I just profited you. According to this Scripture, I just added value to your life. So you say, ‘Thank you’… and I say, ‘You’re welcome.’” You can have a seat. Give him a hand.
“Bodily training is profitable in a few ways.” But it is not as profitable as piety. Several other translations render piety as “godliness,” but I can’t quite land there because the word for “God” is not in this Greek word, eusebeia. It signifies a moral attitude of piety and devoutness, a reverence that is lived out, a seriousness about sin and holiness. 2 Timothy 3:12 basically uses it to define a Christian. A disciple is someone who “wants to live in piety”, who wants to live a reverent, devout, moral life.
Paul here says, “Be training yourself for piety.” Think about how much effort our athletes put into bodily training for the sake of their sports. Think about how much self-discipline and effort college athletes and professional athletes put into bodily training. Why do they do it? Because in their sports, strength is more profitable than weakness. And success is more fun than failure. We do everything to be happy.
And that’s the Biblical motivation for piety: it is more profitable, more valuable, more pleasurable than sin. In this present life – and the coming one. It says this before our theme verse and after: 6:6 says that piety with contentment is “great gain.” Sin is not gain. Piety is more than gain, great gain! So 6:11, “Flee [sins] and pursue… piety.” Paul motivated Timothy with the present profitability of piety. And we realized earlier that we won’t pursue piety unless we are persuaded that it will be more pleasurable than sin.
Thomas Chalmers was a Scottish minister in the early 1800s (I got throw in some Historical Theology; that’s a statue of him in Edinburg, Scotland). Chalmers preached a sermon entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” which I read a few years ago. He makes the case that our hearts will never give up our love of one delight unless replaced with a superior delight. We can’t just hear, “Don’t do that,” and think, “Oh, okay. I just won’t be happy, but that’s no big deal.” No, we’re built to seek happiness. And we believe the lie that sin is the best source of happiness. The only way to break the power of sin is to replace it with a more powerful pleasure, to be satisfied with something else, so that we don’t have to go back to the lesser thing.
We learned that was Augustine’s experience. He was addicted to sensual pleasure, and even though he saw the truthfulness of Christianity from the best preacher of his day (Ambrose), he didn’t want to give up the pleasures of his sins. And that’s what Jesus said in John 3. We refuse to come to the light because we love darkness. We take pleasure in unrighteousness, and we don’t want to give it up. So Augustine described his conversion like this: “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! . . . You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure….” The explusive power of a new affection: the joy that comes from knowing God is sovereign joy; it reigns and overrules all lesser joys. That is the gift of the new covenant, God removing the heart of stone and giving a heart that works, a new heart with new affections, now enabled by grace to experience joy in God.
I don’t know if you’ve been taught that, if you’ve seen that modeled, or if you’ve experienced that. I want you to. This is foundational reality: Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life: in Your face there is fullness of joy; at your right hand, pleasures forevermore.” God is the most joyful being in existence, so if you want to know the greatest amount of joy possible, for the longest amount of time possible, gaze into His face. Know Him. Enjoy His presence. There is fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore. So the psalmist in 43:4 sang, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy…” (literally, the joy of my joy). He called God the source and substance of all of his joy. He found joy in his wife and children and friends and food, but God was the joy in those joys. Piety was more pleasurable than sin. Psalm 4:7, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” So when unbelievers are out there partying it up, and it looks like they are happy and they are full of joy, it’s a placebo. It’s a lie, and they don’t even know it. There is more joy to be found in God. In this life and the coming one!
If I wasn’t tight on time, I’d add my testimony. Because I’ve sinned a lot, but by God’s grace, I’ve realized the emptiness of it. It doesn’t satisfy because it can’t satisfy. I’m made for greater joy. I’d love to get into the details of that breakthrough for me, but I’ve already quoted Chalmers and Augustine and the psalmists, and I still have a better witness. Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 1:8-9 says that Psalm 45 is about Jesus: “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, therefore, God, Your God has anointed You with the oil of gladness beyond Your companions.” Jesus Christ was the most pious person who has ever lived. Perfectly pious. He was perfectly serious about the sinfulness of sin and the goodness of obedience. Perfectly reverent. He loved righteousness (delighted in righteousness) and hated wickedness. And for that very reason – see the “therefore” – specifically because of Jesus’ piety, He is the happiest human ever.
And that joy motivated Him and empowered His obedience. Hebrews 10 says that Psalm 40 was about Jesus, that He is the One who says, “I delight to do Your will, O my God.” Jesus didn’t give up the chance at happiness in resisting temptation and obeying God – He found a superior pleasure. He delighted in obeying God. Even enduring the Cross: Hebrews 12:2, fix your eyes on Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross.” Because Jesus saw the reality of God so clearly, He knew that it would give Him more joy to endure the pain of the propitiation and be welcomed into God’s joy, than to avoid that pain in disobedience. So, the most difficult act of obedience, the greatest act of obedience was motivated by joy in God.
So the problem with commands, because unlike Jesus we have a sinful nature – the problem with commands is that they stir up our rebelliousness and sinful desires, which can be deceived that doing wrong will be more pleasurable than doing right. But God is not holding out on you when He says, “Don’t do that.” He’s not denying you pleasure. He protecting you, warning you not to waste your life on lesser pleasures that come with condemnation, shame, emptiness, and despair. He’s directing you to superior pleasure in Him and in His design for your life in His creation. Jesus said in John 15:11, “I have spoken these things to you [about abiding in His word and obeying His commands], so that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.” Jesus wants His joy to be in you! How much joy is that? Infinite joy! The Biblical motivation for obedience to God’s commands is the joy to be experienced in God.
So our theme verse: Set an example in speech. Speak only what is good. The problem is that you want to say whatever you want to say. You don’t want to give up your First Amendment right to the freedom of speech just because some God tells you that you can’t get away with saying certain things. And deceitful desires in you lead you to believe it’ll be more enjoyable to make a crude joke, to get a cheap laugh, to dish out that putdown. You think it it’ll be more fun to chat with your classmates while a teacher is trying to teach, than it would be to respect that teacher. And look what I’m risking. Sin’s instinct to defend itself is rising up in some of you now. But I want to be honest with you: when I first came here, I expected better. I’ve been flat-out surprised by the level of disrespect in chatting rather than listening to instructors. Not just in my classes, because I’ve witnessed it in others. And my conscience is clean that I’m not harboring personal offense and that I’ve demonstrated my jealousy is for the word of God. I want the word of God to be revered as it ought. And, I care about you and your eternities. God says piety is more profitable in this present life and the coming one. Jesus said we will be judged for every word that comes out of our mouths. Every impious word, every careless word will result in loss of reward on the New Earth. So I’m using this an example of our theme verse and drawing attention to this because I want you to experience maximum joy in this life and the coming one. Piety in speech is more pleasurable in this life because it aligns with the joyful God’s design and is accompanied by God’s pleasure. If you agree with the Spirit and His gift of self-control and silence the crude or careless speech, then God will reward that obedience with a greater experience of His joy in this present life and forever. So, no moralism here, I implore you: for the joy set before you, set an example in speech.
Because Jesus is better than careless speaking.
Jesus is better than getting that laugh.
Jesus is better than being called funny or witty or interesting.
Praising Jesus is more fun than complaining.
For the joy set before you, set an example in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
Because Jesus is better than pride.
Jesus gives more pleasure than the praise of men.
Trusting Jesus is better than worrying.
Boys, looking at Jesus is more delightful than lusting after girls.
Ladies, being loved by Jesus is better than being lusted after by sinners because of immodesty.
Find your identity as a daughter of God and you will find incomparable joy.
Everybody, I’m telling you, spiritual pleasure in Jesus is better than sensual pleasure.
For the joy set before you, set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
Knowing Jesus is infinitely more enjoyable than any lie from the enemy.
Paul testified that everything is loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus as Lord.
Don’t go for the junk food, don’t waste your life on Twinkies when beef tenderloin is free for the taking. Belly up to the buffet of the joyful God. He has promised to satisfy you as with the richest of foods, sweeter than honey, like a river of delights that just keeps coming and coming.
I know if you haven’t tasted that joy, this all may sound crazy. Maybe an exaggeration. Hype. Think about it. God is the greatest, and so He is the greatest source of joy. You can experience that. He wants you to. He created you to share in His joy. Because when you find joy in God above all else, then He looks good; He’s glorified. And that’s what this is all about: glorifying God by enjoying God forever.
But you can’t on your own: you need power from Another. The problem with commands (even commands like Ps. 37:4, “Delight yourself in Yahweh”) is your rebellious nature and the deceitfulness of your desires. God’s remedy, purchased by the blood of Jesus, is a new heart, the gift of repentance and faith to find joy in God over self and sin. And the motivation for obedience, which breaks the lie of temptation, is that piety is more pleasurable than sin.
Lastly, the power for piety is God the Holy Spirit. God the Spirit is the most joyful Being in existence, and His distinct pleasure is showing you the glory of Jesus so that you find the fullness of joy in Him. The fruit of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in your heart is love… joy. The Spirit’s joy in the Father and in obeying the Father will move you to obey and delight in Him. The danger of moralism, Paul says in 2 Tim. 3:5, is that some have the appearance of piety but are actually denying the power. Oh, what danger that is in a Christian school! That you can conform to the standards, have the form of piety, but not the power of delighting in God. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “the joy of Yahweh is your strength.” The strength to resist temptation and to believe and obey is the joy of Yahweh. The power for piety is knowing and experiencing and longing for more of the joy of Yahweh.
So depend completely upon the Spirit and pray. The psalmists prayed, “Gladden my soul.” “Satisfy me with Your love, so that I may rejoice and be glad in You all my days.” Paul prayed for the Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy… in believing….”
So let’s pray. Spend some time here in the presence of God, talking to him about your love-affair with sin and your desire to know fullness of joy in Him.