Passion of the Flesh

As we continue to work through Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, we come to the fourth examined cause, Passion.

“Passion” is used here in a way that is lost in today.  We think of passion in terms of romance, but Burroughs employs the old use of the word which suggested a much more consuming desire:  emotions as devoid of reason; an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.  

When James writes of the passions that divide us (James 4:1), the word he uses in Greek is where we get our English word “hedonism,” the pursuit of personal pleasure at the expense of everything else.  James says that these passions are the cause of quarrels, fights, and ultimately murder within the church – where we cut one another down with our words and actions.

It’s not just James who speaks so strongly against the passions of the flesh. Throughout the New Testament, these are the adjectives used to describe our passions: dishonorable, sinful, youthful, worldly, human, defiling, sensual, and ungodly.

When we put these passions above everything else, you can see then why Burroughs addresses them as a chief cause for our divisions.  Passions set us on fire.  We insist upon our way, upon our preferences; and when our desires are not met  “our hot passions cause the climate where we live to be like the torrid zone, too hot for any to live near us…”

So then, what is the cure for our worldly passions?  Burroughs offers thee:

  1. Know that God is with us. You probably remember hearing as a child, “Wait till your father gets home.”  Something about the father’s presence corrects a child’s behavior.  In the worst case, it could be a fear his anger, in the best case, a love and desire to honor – whatever the case, knowing the father is near changes us.  Burroughs reminds us our Father is near to us. “God is come among us, we may see the face of God in what he has done for us, and shall we be quarreling before his face?  If we love and honor him, how can we fight amongst ourselves in his presence?” Knowing God is with us, how can we allow our passions to lead us to fighting among ourselves.
  2. Know God has called you to do His will.  Before knowing God and his grace for us in Jesus Christ, we were lost in following the desires of our own hearts, the passion of the flesh.  But in Christ, we have been brought from death to life so that we may live for God’s glory.  He gives us a new will, His will, that we may know Him, glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever.  Rather than continue to be consumed by our own passions, we are to “set our hearts and hands to the work of God – being willing to do His will.”  Is this not what Jesus said, in calling those who would be His disciples, that we are to take up our cross, die to ourselves daily, and follow Him?
  3. Know what Sacrifice Pleases the Lord. We must continually remember the mercy that God has shown us, and give to Him a sacrifice of praise.  Psalm 57:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” If we would honor the gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ “we would lay aside our divisions, our frowardness; we would abandon all contention and strife; we would put on [hearts] of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, forgiving one another, if any have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, even so do ye.” Later Burroughs writes, “God shows that he can own us, notwithstanding all our infirmities; why should not we own our brethren, notwithstanding their infirmities? Why should our divisions cause us to cast off one another, seeing our divisions have not provoked God to cast us off?”

The fighting and divisions that arise from our pursuit of personal pleasures are a scandal to the Church and to the name of Christ.  “Our hearts have been broken from one another in our unhappy divisions; O that they could break toward one another, in love and tenderness!”

May God continue to root out from us, and from our Churches, those dishonorable, sinful, and worldly passions from us; that we may demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ, and the world may marvel at how we love one another.

SDG

Rotten Envy

“Envy makes the bones rot…”
Proverbs 14:30

A couple of weeks ago I started reading through and writing about Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions – you can read the first two installments here and here.  So far in his writings, Burroughs has focused on those inward causes of division, Pride and Self-Love, sins that plague the heart and mind and bring terrible division and rivalry in the Church.  Today, he turns his attention might be considered the offspring of unchecked pride and self-love: Envy.

Aristotle defined envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we desire for ourselves.” Envy only awakens in us when, from a lack of contentment with God’s blessings, we see the success and achievement of those around us and become embittered and resentful. Burroughs points out that envy was the first sin, “not the first-born of the devil,” but that which caused the division between Cain and Abel. 

Envy is born in a heart that looks more to man than to God.  Jerry Bridges writes in his book, Respectable Sins, “An insurance salesman is not likely to envy a professional athlete who earns a multi-million dollar salary. But he may well envy another salesman who sells more insurance than he does. A pastor of a small- or medium-size church is not likely to envy the mega-church pastor. But he may be tempted to envy the pastor down the street whose church is growing more than his.”  When we compare ourselves to those around us, rather than looking to our God, the source of every good and perfect gift, then envy emerges. Burroughs goes on to show the ramifications of envy in our hearts: 

“Envy divides counsels, in instruments, actions, and in all proceedings; she will make use of good to oppose that which is good; if she cannot raise evil men to oppose good, she will seek to get good men to oppose; she would make God contrary to himself, she would strike at God with his own sword. “Some preach Christ out of envy (Phil 1:14).”

What really caught me was a quote at the beginning of this chapter, which led me to find other old proverbs on envy, which I thought I’d share a few here:

  • Envy is a squint-eyed fool.
  • As a moth gnaws a garment, so does envy consume a man – Chrysostom
  • Envy is blind and is only clever in depreciating the virtues of others – Livy
  • The envious man grows lean on the success of his neighbors – Horace
  • Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own – Coffin

What then, is the cure for Envy? Burroughs first has us look to Barnabas.  In Acts 11, certain men from Cyprus and Cyrene traveled to Antioch and began to preach the Lord Jesus to the people there, and a great number of people came to the Lord.  Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch to see this for himself.  Rather than grow resentful and envious of their success, we are told that Barnabas rejoiced, for he saw the grace of God, and encouraged them to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.  Barnabas was free from envy, the Scripture says, “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”

When we rest and are secure in our salvation in Jesus Christ, knowing who we are in Him and how our salvation is the gracious gift of God for us, all envy and bitter rivalry will fade away.  

“No men are so fit for public service as those who can bless God that He is pleased to make use of others as well as them, even beyond themselves.  It was a good spirit of that gracious, holy, old disciple, Mr. Dod, “I would to God,” said he, “I were the worst minister in England;” not wishing himself worse than he was, but all ministers better.”

SDG