Monday, September 26, 2016

The Spiritual Heart-Attack Test

Have you experienced a spiritual heart attack? Consider this test:

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, (Isaiah 29)

What God expressed through his prophet was the main problem with his people, “their hearts are far from me.” God knew that, in spite of the externals, these people were still saying nice things about him with their lips while their hearts were far away. They did nothing more than what was commanded by men, and had no interest in that inner attachment to God with all their heart.

Jesus confronted the same thing during his ministry as he addressed the true condition of the religion of the day. He presented the above passage in his own words (they are all his words, after all):

8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15)

What stands out in Jesus’ emphasis is that one of the chief evidences of a spiritual heart attack, “their heart is far from me”, is that the people are “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

When this hit me between the eyes, I looked the same verse up in three other highly respected translations to make sure I wasn’t dealing with a personal preference of any particular group of translators. I discovered that these translations all expressed the same thing, that the people were taking the “commandments of men”, or things that the religious leaders had made up, and teaching them as “doctrines”, meaning, as if they were the true teachings of God’s own word.[1]

This means that, if we struggle with the same condition, that we are going through religious motions while our hearts are far away from God, we may have succumbed to the same problem, that we are following the commandments of men, or the teachings of people, as if they are “doctrines”, the teachings of God.

Perhaps we have set ourselves up as our own authority, and we translate everything from God’s word into something more palatable for our sarky-selves, and then wonder why this has left us feeling distant from God. If the sheep are listening to their own voices, instead of that of the Shepherd,[2] how can they expect to keep their hearts close to his heart?

Perhaps we have succumbed to some popular preacher who has told us that his teaching on some issue is “doctrine” when it is nothing more than him imagining there is something “between the lines” God has breathed-out, and he (sadly, or she) treats his (or her) own opinion as though breathed-out by God. If we are devoted to a preacher of the word, rather than the word of God itself, we may find that a steady diet of man-made interpretations of God’s word has left our hearts malnourished since our diet is not the whole counsel of God on the matter.

What is God’s response to this indictment? When Jesus came into our world, and he identified the miserable hypocrisy of the contemporary religion, and revealed that the people fulfilled what God had earlier written through his prophet that the hearts of the people were far away from him, what was God’s response to such a culture and society?

Answer: he spoke to us through his Son with these marvelously gracious words:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11)

Why is it that so many church-going folk are not experiencing rest for their souls? Answer: because “their hearts are far from me”, says the Lord.

Now, making this as personal as possible, one of the primary difficulties I have seen in churches is that the core people want an external relationship with God rather than one that touches their souls. Church-going folk tend to avoid the honesty of the prostitutes, tax-collectors, and drunks who came to Jesus in complete abandonment to his gospel because they do not want to admit to the weary and burdened condition of their souls. They don’t experience soul-rest because they deny their soul-condition.

The apostle Paul addressed this in a distinctly personal way when he identified his concern that the Corinthian Christians’ hearts were in danger of being led astray because their hearts were closed towards the apostolic foundation of Jesus’ church. He wrote:

11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (II Corinthians 6)

Paul, a man carried along by the Holy Spirit to write down the words of God, identified that the Church of Corinth had a constriction of the arteries, if you will. The affections of their hearts were “restricted”. Even Paul was having difficulty reaching these people’s hearts and experiencing with them the hearts “knit together in love” he had written about elsewhere.[3]

His appeal to them, what the Spirit is still saying to the churches, is, “In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.” The NASB puts it, “Now in a like exchange – I speak as to children – open wide to us also.”

Paul could say that his heart was fully open to the church as an under-shepherd caring for his Firstborn Brother’s sheep. There was no holding back on his part no matter how many times people had rejected him and trampled underfoot what he was freely offering in Jesus’ name.

What Paul wanted, which means what God wanted, was that the people would offer a fair exchange. Since Paul’s heart was fully open to them, they ought to give the same thing in return, or make a fair exchange at the heart-to-heart level. If they would open their hearts to Paul and his fellow servants, they would experience the love relationship between shepherds and the flock that would bring them into greater sense of love relationship with their head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you have read this far, and tested your heart to see if it is near or far from God, whatever you have learned about yourself, bring it to Jesus. He will address the condition of our souls, through the soul-care of the church,[4] until our souls are brought to rest in him with the peace and freedom of “first love”.[5] And that is what our hearts are longing for.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (ESV)
“Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (NASB)
“teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (KJV)
“Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” (NKJV)
[2] John 10:3, 27
[3] Colossians 2:2
[4] My philosophy of ministry, which I believe summarizes what Scripture says on the matter, is: “Bringing the Soul-Condition of the people to the Soul-Provision of Christ through the Soul-Care of the body of Christ.”
[5] Revelation 2:1-7. 

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