Summary: Self-indulgence does not mean denying yourself what you actually need, but meeting needs easily turns into obsession. The way out is service to others.
Whoever first baked Pecan Sandies should be made a saint. I love Pecan Sandies cookies!
The taste of crunchy pecans, the texture of shortbread. I don’t care if you are from Georgia and pronounce it pee-kan, I’ll insist that Pecan or pee-kan Sandies are the finest cookie on the market.
And so one day my wife sent me to the grocery to pick up a few things. On her list it said, "Cookies -- you choose". And so I did. Chose a bag of pecan sandies.
But now if one bag of pecan sandies is good, what about two bags? Twice as good, right? And although I had not been instructed to get two bags, I exercised my freedom, and set one bag aside on the car seat. The idea was just to have one ... or two ... or three ... on the way home.
As fate would have it, there was a red light almost immediately. Time enough to open the bag and pull out a cookie. I made my turn and was confronted immediately with another red light, a long red light. Got out two more pecan sandies to nibble while waiting for that light to change.
By the time I got to the third and last stop light before our house, well, let’s just say I slowed down in hopes that light would turn red!
Now I’m home. What am I going to say to explain a bag of cookies with four or five or maybe more missing? Remember, I was only asked to bring home one bag of cookies. So: who needs to know about a second bag? I presented Margaret with one full, complete, intact bag of pecan sandies; the other sack, the open sack, slipped downstairs to my study. Mighty good treat for Friday when I would be working on my sermon!
Fifteen minutes later I was at my desk for something, and an irresistible urge pulled my hand down to the sack of pecan sandies, for just one more. Well, just two more. And just a nightcap. Well, the bag is almost empty anyway; why bother to keep the rest?
Are you as surprised as Margaret was that evening when, after dinner, she said, "For dessert let’s have ice cream and a couple of those pecan sandies", and I said, "Well, maybe later."?
Wherein lies a parable. The parable teaches us that taking care of our wants and wishes is normal. It’s innocent and right to take care of what we need and even what we want; that’s just a part of our human freedom. But at some point, if that’s all we do, taking care of wants becomes taking care of habits. Taking care of needs becomes self-indulgence. Getting one’s way becomes a feeding frenzy, an obsession. When satisfaction grows into self-indulgence, then we’ve done something destructive. Something which destroys us and destroys our relationships.
I am asking our church to follow this coming year the theme, "Freedom, Love, and Service". The insights I’m going to try to share today apply equally well to our personal lives and to the life of the church. We are empowered by God to take care of ourselves. But if that is all we do, if we do nothing more than feed our own self-interests, then we will become self-indulgent, and worse, we will destroy ourselves.
But there is a way to get past self-indulgence. There is good news. Here is God’s word on this matter:
First, I’d like you to notice that freedom is God’s gift. The thrust of the Galatian letter is that God in Christ has freed His people. "You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters". God wants us to be free persons.
Now, when you think about being free, what does that mean? Among other things, it means that you can discover what you want and you can go for it. You can dream a dream, you can imagine a plan, and then you are free to bend every effort to make it come true. All of us do this. All of us who know that we are free at all work at getting what we want, we get busy doing what we want to do.
I’m saying that that’s natural; nothing wrong with that. I would even argue that to do less that to go after what you need is sin. To be less than what God empowers us to be is sin. To want less for ourselves than what God wants for us, that is sin. The Bible says in James, "Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin." If you don’t speak up and ask for what you want, you are acting like a victim, you are displaying low self-esteem. That’s not what God wants for you. Galatians teaches that you are a child of God, made for freedom.