Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: We can afford to be honest about our flaws and failings, because we are completely loved and accepted in Christ.

"Most Christians are habitual liars." Let me repeat that: "Most Christians are habitual liars." And quite proficient at it, too. Now, of course we don’t call it lying. And we don’t think of it as lying. In fact, we don’t think of it at all; we just do it, and that’s part of the problem. We’ve become so accustomed to speaking untruths that we don’t even pause to reflect on what we’re saying.

Let me tell you what I mean: When we gather together for worship or fellowship, we engage in something called small talk. How are you doing; how’s the family; how was your week; how are things at work. And the response is typically light, upbeat, positive. I’m fine, work is fine, the family’s fine. Everything’s fine. Everything’s always just fine, right up until the day the divorce papers are filed. Everything’s fine, even though your job has you so stressed out that you’re about to lose it emotionally. Everything’s fine, even though you worry that your teenage son may be getting into drugs. Everything’s fine, even though you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem. Your family may see the truth at home – someone once said that home is where you go when you’re tired of being nice to people – but at church you put on a good show. At church, you tell people, "Everything’s fine. We’re working it out. The Lord will bring us through." Then you and the person you’re speaking with both smile and nod, content with your little shared falsehood. You both know that you’re not telling the truth, but neither of you wants to take the risk of bringing it into the open.

Now, you may object that this isn’t lying; it’s simply common courtesy. People don’t ask questions like that because they really want to know the answer. No one expects, when they say, "How are you?" that you will actually tell them how you are. They’re just being polite. And that’s true, to a point. Small talk does have its place. And you do need to use discretion. You can’t go around spilling your guts to people you barely know. But with these people, your brothers and sisters in Christ, you can, if you’re willing, choose to be honest. In fact, you should. You need to. God calls the church the "body of Christ," because our lives are joined together like members of a body; we share one another’s joys and sorrows. If life has been treating you like a punching bag, you don’t have to reveal all the details, but you can say, "I’ve had a really hard week," or "I’m worried about my kids." And then, if the other person wishes, they can inquire further, and give you the opportunity to say more, to go deeper.

That kind of honesty at least opens the door for genuine Christian fellowship, what the apostle Paul refers to as "carrying each other’s burdens" – things like listening, supporting, encouraging. But if you hold back the truth, and say things are fine when they’re not, then you might as well be at a PTA meeting instead of church. Being among other believers is one place where it should be safe to be real, and open, and honest. Why? Because here, we all know that we have nothing to boast of, either before God or before one another. We’re all subject to the same temptations, the same weaknesses, the same sins. There is nothing in us to commend us to God; in fact, the one prerequisite for entering the kingdom of God is an admission of failure; an acknowledgement of our sin, and inability, and spiritual bankruptcy. We realize that we cannot enter heaven through our good character or good works; we know that we are worthy only of condemnation, and that we are accepted and loved by God only because of the actions of another – our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave his life to pay for our sin. In and of ourselves, we are all, every one of us, corrupt, guilty sinners. And so we have no standing to look down on anyone else, to judge or condemn anyone else. We can empathize with one another’s weaknesses and failings, because we ourselves are weak and prone to failure. That’s one of the keys to the success of Alcoholics Anonymous – they recognize their weakness, they know they’ve fallen, they’ve stripped away the pretense of moral superiority and self-sufficiency. And we could learn something from their commitment to absolute honesty.

Here’s the bottom line: we are loved and accepted and valued by God entirely because of Christ. Our worth comes from Him, and not from ourselves. And so we don’t need to pretend to be better than we are; we don’t need to put on a mask. What freedom, not to have to prove anything! Not to worry about impressing anyone with our holiness, not even God, but to be able openly to acknowledge who we are, with all our flaws and failings. What a relief!

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