Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 14:7-14; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; Proverbs 10:17-32; Isaiah 1
2 Timothy 2 closes somewhat hopefully, but the third chapter abruptly smashes any dream that the present world is on a positive trajectory morally. The Bible does not predict a future where everyone will be ethical, kind and generous. The opposite is the case: terrible times are coming. Selfishness will grow, and people will be cruel and brutal towards others, particularly the weak and vulnerable. Human depravity is not going to fade away with time, progress, or new technology. Knowledge and learning is of no advantage, unless it leads to the truth. The truth is that sin and evil require a supernatural solution.
The list of vices given in 2 Timothy 3 is all-inclusive, beginning and ending with people’s loves. They love themselves, money and pleasure, and they don’t love God. These loves characterise the desires that occupy their hearts. These inner drives lead to the negative behaviours listed, such as boasting, ingratitude and brutality. Although these people have a form of godliness, they do not love God. They may tip their hat to God, and be involved in church, but they deny the power of godliness. The love of God working in people should change hearts and lead to very different behaviours.
Unfortunately, humans behaving badly is not just something for the last days. Isaiah 1 describes immoral behaviour in that day too. Again, many take on a form of godliness in their sacrifices and religious festivals. God rejects these in Isaiah 1:13. “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” The men Paul warns about take advantage of vulnerable women (1 Tim 3:6), and the Israelites are encouraged to do the opposite. “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” In today’s parable in Luke 14, Jesus reiterates the importance of humbling oneself and esteeming others, especially the poor and disabled. This is what characterises true godliness.
God does not give up on immoral people, and in Isaiah 1:18 calls on people to reason together with him. Scarlet is the colour of guilt. We have all sinned and are guilty. But Isaiah reminds us that scarlet can be turned to pure white. Our sinful natures can be changed to ones that are godly. Verse 19 notes that this requires willingness and obedience. In 2 Timothy, the verses following today’s passage remind us that this originates in faith in Jesus. Scripture is what prepares us for every good work, but first we need a new heart, a clean soul. That requires the work of God, which comes from asking him to remove our guilt through the forgiveness of Christ. With our new natures, reflecting on his sacrifice and God’s grace should lead to gratitude, concern for others, and a willingness to serve the vulnerable rather than exploit them. This is what pure and ethical religion is all about (James 1:27).