“Mommy porn.” “Gateway erotica.” These are just two of the terms being used to describe Fifty Shades of Grey, a book series (and now a movie) filled with explicit sex. The movie is being released this week just in time for Valentine’s Day. It is ironic that a movie that makes a mockery of love is being tied in with a holiday so connected with love. Perhaps a few definitions are in order as we move forward.
Love – Desiring what is best for another; putting the needs of another above one’s own welfare; a willingness to sacrifice for the well-being of someone else (specifically, this is agape love)
Lust – Intense sexual desire or appetite; uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire; lecherousness
Pornography – writings, pictures, or films designed to stimulate sexual excitement
Writings and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey fall into two of the three previous categories. Can you guess which two? (Hint: Love isn’t one of them).
The Today Show and other media sources are heavily supporting the release of this new film, hyping it and treating it as though it were harmless entertainment. When someone suggests that the movie is pornography, most people seem to laugh it off and dismiss the idea. I have heard some women joking that they will be taking their husbands with them to see it, as if that somehow lessens the sin of watching other people engage in fornication.
For women considering this, allow me to offer the following, since I have some experience with how the male mind works. Men are extremely visually stimulated. It is a simple fact. Do you think it wise to expose your husband to a movie that is apparently filled with sex scenes and revolves around the story of a young woman losing her virginity to a sexual predator? If you still think it a good idea, be reminded of a statement made by Jesus: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Adultery is a sin that will keep one out of Heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-10); are you really going to help your husband commit it in his heart by subjecting him to such a movie?
By the way, that lusting in the heart is just as sinful for women, so – husband or not – are you going to subject yourself to it? David asked for the Lord to, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Can you realistically ask the Lord to create a clean heart in you while watching a movie like Fifty Shades of Grey?
Do you remember what the Lord said about Judah through the prophet Jeremiah? They had become a nation that would no longer listen to the voice of the Lord. They had changed God’s ways to suit what they wanted, to fulfill their desires. “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; in the time of their punishment, they shall be cast down, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:12). There was a time in our country where the general populace would have met a movie like Fifty Shades of Grey with disgust. But so many in our society have forgotten what it means to be ashamed. God’s values have been cast aside for so long, that now we have a nation that delights in filth. It revels in the sort of behavior that should be shameful. As a nation, we have forgotten how to blush.
Friends, do not be deceived. No matter how mainstream our society may strive to make this sort of thing, sin is still sin. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (James 1:14-16).
Still planning on seeing the movie when it comes out? Let me give two lists from God’s word. Here’s the first:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Now here is the second list:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24).
Time for an honest assessment. Which of these two lists do you think a movie like Fifty Shades of Grey would fall into?
Friends, those professing to be Christians should know better than to involve themselves with filth like this. But I am very afraid that some are going to do it anyway.
King David had a plan. It sounded like a great plan. The ark of the covenant had for years been kept at the home of Abinadab in Kirjath Jearim, and David wanted to bring the ark home to his new capital in Jerusalem. So he gathered a large assembly of people and they went to retrieve the ark of God. They placed the ark on a new cart that would be pulled by oxen and driven by two sons of Abinadab, Uzzah and Ahio.
Everything seemed to be going perfectly. David and all Israel played music and celebrated the return of the ark. What a day it was going to be!
Then the oxen stumbled. Uzzah reached out his hand to hold the ark, and God struck him dead on the spot. The party was over. David was very angry at God for striking down Uzzah, so much so that he named the place “Outburst Against Uzzah.” David was angry…but he was also afraid of God’s wrath. Humbled considerably, David left the ark at the house of Obed Edom and returned to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 13).
Some time passed, and David did what he should have done in the very beginning: he looked to God’s word. In doing so, he discovered a very important fact – God had told the Israelites how He wanted His ark to be moved. It was not to be transported on some ox-drawn cart like the Philistines had moved it; the ark was to be carried on the shoulders of the Levites, just as Moses had commanded them (1 Chronicles 15:15). David told the priests, “For because you did not do it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order” (1 Chronicles 15:13).
So David went to retrieve the ark again. This time, he did exactly as God’s word commanded: the Levites carried the ark. This time, no one died. In fact, God HELPED the Levites to carry the ark (1 Chronicles 15:26). When David carefully followed the pattern God had given, he got the happy ending he had wanted all along: “So David, the elders of Israel, and the captains over thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Obed-Edom with joy” (1 Chronicles 15:25).
There is a lesson here for us, as well. When it comes to worshiping the Lord, He has told us exactly what He wants. Everything we need to serve Him has been revealed to us through His word: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Do I know what His pattern is? Do I even care? Unfortunately, there are many religious people in the world who conduct various forms of worship because “it feels right” or because “this is the way most everybody does it.” Putting the ark on a cart seemed to “feel right” to David and the rest of Israel. It was certainly the way “most everybody else would do it”; it was how the Philistines had moved it years earlier, after all (1 Samuel 6). Did any of that mean that it was the way God wanted it done? Obviously not – we have but to look at Uzzah’s example to answer that question.
So what about us? Do we base our spiritual practices on what God wants, or on what we want?
Shall our musical worship be composed of concerts and shows, when God has only authorized us to use the voices that He gave us? “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19); “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). God has told us to sing. Is that enough for me? Or do I prefer my way with my “improvements” over God’s pattern?
What about the plan of salvation? So many well-meaning, religiously-minded people believe and teach that all God expects from us is to believe in Jesus Christ and ask Him to come into our hearts. Is that what God said to do to have our sins washed away?
God absolutely expects us to believe in Jesus and confess Him as the Son of God (Romans 10:9-10). That belief only occurs through one source: God’s word (Romans 10:17). Truly believing in the Son of God means that I am no longer going to follow my own path; instead, I will turn away from sin and turn toward Him. The Bible calls this repentance, and we cannot be saved without it, either: “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
These are all absolutely necessary, but they are not everything God has said on the matter of salvation. What gets us into Christ? “For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26). When are our sins washed away? “And now why are your waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
But we cannot stop there. The crown of life is given to those who continue to walk in faithfulness until death (Revelation 2:10). We become a new creature at baptism (Romans 6:4); the Lord wants us to spend the rest of our lives growing in faith and the knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18).
So which of these is necessary for salvation? ALL of them! Why? Because that is the pattern that God has given us. It’s His plan for salvation. He gets to make the rules. Will I consult His word for the proper order, or will I do things my way and expect God not to notice?
God has never taken kindly to people messing around with His instructions; the story of Uzzah clearly shows that. Will I be content with His way? If He is truly Lord of my life, then I will have it no other way than His.
It is a sad thing when someone sees what the Bible teaches on a particular subject, and then rejects that teaching because it is not what he or she wants to hear. That type of reaction is certainly nothing new: the rich young ruler departed from the presence of Jesus when told that he would have to give up his great wealth (Luke 18:18-23). Paul warned Timothy that the time would come when people refused to accept sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2-5). They would turn their hearts aside to fables instead, and would have no trouble finding false teachers to tell them what they wanted to hear!
Perhaps even more frightening is when someone realizes that God’s word does not agree with them, and so they take His word and change it to suit them. Such tampering with Scripture has always been condemned. First, Moses warned against it: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deut. 4:2). Jesus Himself later gives the same warning (Revelation 22:18-19), stating that those who do such things will have their part taken from the “…Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
In light of these teachings, I have sometimes heard a statement to this effect: “All we need to do is follow the red letters, the words of Jesus. Those are what count. We don’t have to follow all those things that Paul and the other apostles said.” (The reference here is to the fact that many Bibles have the words of Jesus in red ink). Is this true? Are only the words spoken by Jesus Himself binding as instructions for us? Are the words of Paul and other inspired men just “extras” or opinions that hold no real authority from Heaven?
Such statements come from a misunderstanding of what Scripture really is. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The NIV translation has the phrase “God-breathed” for the word “inspiration.” In other words, Scripture came directly from the mind of the Almighty. Which Scripture? All Scripture.
With this in mind, let us address the above statement. Are the words of Jesus “more binding” than the words of the apostles? Can we accept one and reject the other?
To begin, let’s consider where the teaching of Jesus came from. “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:49-50). Clearly, Jesus received His teaching from the Father. Other verses show this, as well, such as John 7:16 and John 8:28.
What about the apostles and other inspired writers? Where did their words come from? Jesus answers this question for us: “These things I have spoken while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:25-26). Additionally, “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:19-20).
Obviously, the apostles’ teaching came from the same source as Jesus’ teaching: the mind of God the Father. When they spoke, it was through the guidance of the Holy Spirit; as such, their words carry every bit of His authority! In fact, without the writings of inspired men, we would have no way of even knowing what Jesus Himself spoke, since He did not write any of the Bible Himself! His words are recorded by men like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…men who were guided by the Spirit to write those words.
Some reject the teaching of Paul and other inspired men because they do not like what it says. Proponents of homosexuality say that when Paul condemns homosexuality (as in Romans 1:26-28 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) he is teaching something different from Jesus, since the Lord never specifically addressed homosexuality. Those who believe it is acceptable for women to preach for a congregation often ignore Scripture like 1 Timothy 2:11-12, saying that it is “merely Paul’s chauvinist opinion.” Yet, where did Paul and the other apostles get these teachings?
They received them from the Holy Spirit, who conveyed to them a remembrance of the teachings of Jesus and the revealed mind of God. Which should bring us to a very sobering thought: whenever we reject the teachings of the apostles, we are rejecting the Holy Spirit Himself.
Therefore, understanding that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God (no matter what color the ink may be!), let us be diligent to faithfully keep it as the Lord expects us to (2 Timothy 2:15).
In Exodus 15:22-26, the children of Israel find themselves traveling three days in the Wilderness of Shur. For these three days, they are confronted with a very real problem for so great a number of people: they can find no water. We can imagine the concern this would raise: these people are not simply an army of soldiers marching to battle. Their number included their wives, their little ones, the old and infirm, as well as all of their animals and possessions (Ex. 12:37-38).
Finally, they come to a place called Marah, and there is water there. Yet a harsh reality sets in: this water is too bitter to drink. Indeed, the name, Marah, means, “Bitter.” Immediately, the children of Israel resort to an unfortunate habit that we see in them time and again: they start complaining. They complain against Moses (15:24), but there is more to it than that; since Moses is simply leading them according to the Lord’s will, they are really complaining against the Lord Himself (16:7).
Perhaps the saddest part of this complaining is that it comes on the heels of some incredible displays of God’s power. The ten plagues have ravaged Egypt, showing her just how false and worthless her gods are (12:12). The Red Sea has been parted to allow Israel to cross over on dry land; then, when Pharaoh’s army foolishly tried to follow Israel, they have been utterly destroyed (14:26-30). One moment, the people are singing songs of praise unto the Lord; the next, they are complaining bitterly against Him and His servants.
Surely we can learn some lessons from this.
There will be many waters of bitterness for Christians to face in this life. As individuals, we will be tempted and tried; Satan will work diligently to frustrate and discourage us. Troubles will come upon our families: sickness, death, disobedient children, etc. As congregations of the Lord’s people, we will be assaulted by false doctrines, weak morality, and apathy. When these things come our way (and they will!), what will we do? How will we respond?
We can respond like Israel did when they faced bitterness: by complaining about it. “That’s so unfair!”; “God must not even care!”; “Why does this have to happen to me, I’m a good person?” We can seek to blame others for our misfortunes and get so caught up in the misery of the moment that we totally ignore all the bountiful blessings of God that are around us. Israel was good at that sort of thing. Forget the miracles, forget the manna, and forget all the special laws and the opportunity to be His own holy people; Israel liked to ignore all of those things, and instead focus on what was wrong at that particular moment. It would be easy to follow their poor example, because complaining is easy.
Or, we can follow the example of Moses. When the bitterness came, when hardships arose, and when all the blame was dumped on his shoulders, what did Moses do? “So he cried out to the Lord…” (15:25). Moses went to the only One who could truly handle any situation. Moses did not just live through the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the other great signs of God’s power: he learned from them. They built his faith. Moses understood that God had not brought the children of Israel out of Egypt simply to abandon them on a whim: God was trustworthy.
Do we really trust God like He deserves? When has He ever failed? When did His plans ever get crushed by the bitterness of this world and left undone? Never.
So we shouldn’t expect Him to start failing us now. Now, this does not mean that everything will go exactly the way that we want. It does not mean that hardships will not still come to us. What it does mean is that, no matter what we face, the God of Heaven will see us through it, if we will just cast our burdens upon Him. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22).
The cure to not drinking and giving in to the waters of bitterness is simple: drink of the waters of life instead. We are dying of thirst, though we may not even realize it. Our souls need salvation, and the only way we can have that is by drinking of the water of life that Jesus offers (John 4:1-15). “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17). Notice that the Lord offers the water of life freely, but He will not force it upon us. “Whoever desires, let him take the water…”
Will you obey Him today? For that is the only way we can accept the gift He offers: obedience to Him. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Have we been obedient to this? If not, then how can we say that we faithfully serve Him?