Isaiah 44.6-8 Romans 8.12-25 Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
Israel was a very tiny nation, with insecure borders, surrounded by powerful neighbours who worshipped a variety of local deities. As the nation chosen by God and defined by their faith, the people of Israel were at constant risk of losing their very identity and thus their salvation by being drawn into contact with their neighbours and their idols. The human desire to form alliances, and willingness to compromise some things in order to achieve others, can swiftly lead to the dilution of first principles, even where faith in God and his teaching is concerned. It happens on the national scale in politics, and close to home where intermarriage takes place between believers in God and those who either have no faith, or believe in false gods. Syncretism, blending of religions, becomes a powerful temptation which quickly undermines and subverts true faith in God. The first commandment is that we should worship God and Him alone. Isaiah rightly declares that there is no other god worthy of our worship: indeed there is no other god at all.
There is no such thing as another god, but human nature is quick to substitute alternatives for faith in the one true and living God. Our capacity for idolatrous self-deception is astonishingly powerful and equally toxic for our eternal well-being. In a material world, we become all too easily addicted to a hedonistic lifestyle, in which our worship consists of attempting to satisfy our appetite for more and more goods, money, power, food, sex, fame, status – there are many kinds of fool’s gold waiting to catch our eyes. But as Christians we know that this world is passing away, and none of these things can save us. For our sake God has sent his Holy Spirit, adopting us and giving us new birth as children of God, so that we no longer foolishly rely on the ephemeral and valueless trinkets which formerly dazzled us, but now we look with complete confidence to God who is our life, now and in the future. It may be costly for us to be Christians, at least as the world sees it, if we turn our backs on the prevailing culture of materialism, and opt instead for lives of evangelical simplicity. It may even bring us suffering, for the world persecutes those who refuse to conform to its expectations. But whenever we lay aside any part of this world’s rewards, whenever we suffer for the sake of our faith, we share in the cross of Christ, where he laid down everything for our sake and for our salvation. The outcome, thanks be to God, is eternal life.
For now we must learn how to live in the world, to speak its languages and to use for good the things which God has given to us in his providence, our daily bread and whatever God chooses to add to this for the sake of the gospel. We recognise that these are given to us for his service, and not to be our masters, or objects of false desire or worship. We must learn discernment, so that we recognise where the Spirit of God is at work, and equally recognise the things which are a source of great danger to God’s people, so that we may hold fast at all times only to what is good, and true and holy. It is as hard today as it was for God’s people in the time of Isaiah, for us to remain at all times and in all things faithful to God, when there are so many insidious ways in which the world sets out to deceive us, or we deceive ourselves. What we must remember is that the day will come when God will separate out the wheat from the weeds, and so encourage one another to remain faithful to God, to live holy lives, and to serve God to the utmost of our strength as we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who will listen to the good news.
Rev Stephen Trott