Destroying the High Places: What Altar Do You Have in Your Heart?

One of the subjects consistently addressed throughout the Bible is idolatry. References abound in connection with Israel’s struggle with the gods of their neighbors, gods that could be seen, as opposed to their invisible Yahweh. Time and time again, the children of Israel gave in to the temptation to conform to the values of their neighbors rather than stand out and be different. Interestingly, one of the meanings of the Hebrew word for “holy” is “different” or “apartness.” The Israelites were called to be separate because they were adopted by the Creator, the one true God, whom they knew as Yahweh, their personal Lord.

The New Testament is equally insistent that idols have no place in our lives: [1]

1 John 5:21
Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

This article will set forth the New Testament perspective on dealing with idols and idolatry, and then take a look at “the high places” in the history of Israel and the difficulties they had because their leaders failed to destroy them as God commanded them to do.

Idols can take many forms, as overt as a statue of a god or as subtle as having greater trust in one’s talents or abilities than trust in the Lord. Because we do not have a statue of Baal in our backyard does not mean we are free from idols. It behooves every Christian to deeply consider if there are any obstacles in his or her heart that prevent intimacy with God.

To be in a personal relationship with the Creator is to recognize Him for who He is, the one true God. Unless He is elevated to this place in our heart of hearts, our relationship with God will suffer. To elevate anything or anyone to the same level as God in our hearts is to bring division in our relationship with Him and diminish our experience of His power and presence. That truth is highlighted over and over again throughout the Bible, and should be enough to get our attention and cause us to consider the state of our own hearts. The Apostle Paul addresses this issue in detail in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. And in 2 Corinthians 10, Paul identifies some very specific keys to removing these idols that we would be wise to reflect on:

2 Corinthians 10:4 and 5
(4) For the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.
(5) We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Let’s unpack this passage that is just loaded with insights. The first thing we learn is that we are armed and in a war, whether we like it or not. Are we mentally prepared for this level of opposition? Any kind of “war” is for real, and there are real casualties. To be successful in this fight, we must be armed properly and practiced in the use of our available weapons. We should be very interested in finding out what our weapons are. Ephesians 6:12 and following identifies our one offensive weapon as “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” In the above passage, three more weapons are identified, which all relate to the Word of God:

We destroy arguments.

We destroy every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God.

We take every thought captive to obey Christ.

First, we destroy arguments with the sword of the spirit. What are these arguments? They originate from Satan, “the father of lies,” and are promulgated by the worldly systems of human ideas and imaginations. These arguments are promoted via words and images in the media, public schools, by parents and friends, or anyone who is presuming to educate our conscience. We cannot do much about these arguments insofar as they are outside of us, but we can and must destroy the ones that have taken hold in our minds and moved us away from God’s Word. There can be no “peaceful coexistence” with an enemy bent on our destruction.

To demolish these internal arguments we need to pay attention to what we say in our hearts about ourselves (our “self-talk”), and compare that with God’s Word written to us and about us. It is the power of the Word of God believed in our hearts that demolishes these arguments that we elevate against God. We may not be responsible for the arguments coming into our minds, but we are responsible for removing them.

For instance, we may have believed the argument that people cause pain and therefore we don’t need others in our lives. If we swallow that argument, we will isolate ourselves from others, or at least enough to prevent our being hurt. But what does the Word of God say? It argues that we are to be connected to others in the Body of Christ and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We can’t very well do that by ourselves.

What if we accept the argument that we are unlovable or unworthy of God’s blessings? We will rebuff whatever love is extended to us and continue to believe a lie, resulting in our own spiritual impoverishment. If we think we are unworthy of His grace and blessings, we will feel distant from God and not go to Him in time of need because of our feelings of unworthiness. Thus, we will not experience His grace and mercy. We must stop arguing with God in our hearts and learn to accept His love.

Or what if we think we are without sin, either in general or regarding specific behaviors, and are living in denial? Then we must demolish those arguments that shield us from conviction for sin and prevent us from getting honest, growing in faith and grace, and being delivered from sin’s tyranny.

In short, we must identify and demolish any argument that disagrees with God’s opinion of us, our abilities, our value, our acceptability, our hope, our sinfulness, etc. We must accept and declare God’s arguments concerning who we are and what we can be.

Second, we destroy every proud obstacle (“pretension”—NIV; every proud and lofty thing”—Amplified; “every high thing”—KJV). This sure sounds easier than it actually is! These prideful obstacles are like concrete bunkers built into the stone walls of our unregenerate hearts and it will take some serious dynamite to dislodge them. Fortunately we have dunamis, “inherent power” via the holy spirit, the detonator of God’s Word, and the fuse of faith (to stretch a metaphor to the explosive point).

We must understand that pride is protean, [2] and comes in many forms. It can show up as an elevated opinion of oneself or one’s abilities. This face of pride says, “I don’t need to change, I’m okay the way I am.” Or it might say, “I can’t change, I’m hopeless.” But how can we ever say that when God is there to help us be transformed by the renewing of our mind? What He commands, He will help us to do. He commands us to “be transformed,” and He will therefore be there to help us in the process if we have faith. Who is Pride to contradict God?

Pride also comes in the form of a low opinion of oneself, lower than God’s opinion. But how can you be proud when you feel like a slug? Well, if God says you are one of His holy ones, filled with the power of His Son, and you believe you are a slug, in direct contradiction to God’s Word, that’s another face of pride because it elevates its opinion above the opinion of God Almighty. This is something to think about, especially for those of us who like to throw pity parties and think that we can never change. To grow, we must see that we are arrogantly elevating our perverse opinion of ourselves above God’s. That is a “high thing” that must be torn down and destroyed.

Third, we take captive those thoughts that contradict the knowledge of God. What comes to mind when you think of taking captives? Is this a nice, friendly process in which both parties are cooperating with each other? Not hardly. To take a captive, you usually have to be armed with a weapon. “You’re coming downtown with me, creep,” Dirty Harry sneers as he drags his prisoner off to jail at gunpoint. Once we identify a destructive thought or “house of thoughts” (i.e., a “stronghold”), we need to have an aggressive attitude to take them into custody and remove them from our mind. How do we do that? We put the gun of truth to their heads, so to speak, back them out of our head, lock the prison door, and throw away the key!

How will we do all that if we do not have an accurate knowledge of God and His Word filling our head and heart? We must saturate our minds with the truth about ourselves from the parts of Scripture that tell us who we are in Christ. This we find primarily in the nine Church Epistles (Romans through Thessalonians).

If we don’t take these unruly thoughts captive, they will be like escaped criminals running loose through our heads and hearts. We have to put out an APB (all points bulletin, for those who never watched a cop show), and apprehend these bad boys. We can’t let them run loose and unidentified. We look at our thoughts and make them identify themselves: “Friend or foe?!”

The KJV phrase, “Every high thing” reminds us of the external warfare against idols that is a big part of the Hebrew Scriptures. Let us look at a few of the many verses that refer to “the high places” to learn something about the commitment that it takes to bring these down.

God first referred to the high places in the context of a stern warning in the Levitical law after He had reminded the Israelites of all the blessings that would be theirs for obeying Him. If they would disobey Him and serve idols, He would destroy their high places. What that meant in reality was that He would find someone obedient to Him who would get the job done. This would prove to be much harder and take much longer than it should have:

Leviticus 26:30
I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars; I will heap your carcasses on the carcasses of your idols. I will abhor you.

This general warning later became a very specific prophecy, which was actually carried out by God’s servant, Josiah, about whom we will read shortly. These “high places” are identified in Numbers as places of pagan worship that belonged to the peoples the Israelites were to drive out:

Numbers 33:50-52
(50) On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the LORD said to Moses,
(51) “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan,
(52) drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.

God’s Word was very clear. When they went into the Promised Land, they were to destroy the high places, which were shrines and altars built on mountaintops and elevated places in order to be closer to their pagan gods. This was a common practice among the unbelievers, and God did not want His people to corrupt themselves by thinking that they were going to be closer to Him by being on a mountain. [3] God had drawn near to His people by giving them His Word, spoken to them directly and through the prophet Moses. The physical elevation of the high places was symbolic of an attempt on people’s part to approach God based on their own ideas and not on the basis of what He required.

Unfortunately, this simple directive to demolish the high places almost never got done, as we will see. First, we should note that Joshua, who led the children of Israel into the promised land, did not bring down the high places. Neither did any of the Judges bring them down.

Saul, the first king of Israel, not only did not bring them down but died upon them in battle with the Philistines:

2 Samuel 1:19
Our glory, O Israel [King Saul], lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen!

Even in the time of David, the high places were not removed.

1 Kings 3:2 (KJV)
Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days.

David’s son Solomon not only did not remove the high places, but eventually restored their use as places to worship pagan deities.

1 Kings 3:3 (KJV)
And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places.

Solomon’s compromise of God’s Word proved to be disastrous, and his great wisdom became folly as he devoted himself to the pagan gods of his wives, just as he had been warned against.

2 Kings 23:13 (KJV)
And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile.

After his death, Solomon’s son Rehoboam clashed with Jeroboam and the kingdom split. Jeroboam became the king of Israel, and led the people into idolatry by erecting golden calves in Bethel.

1 Kings 12:32 (KJV)
And Jeroboam … placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.

Instead of being faithful to God’s command that only Levites be priests, Jeroboam even let anyone who wanted to be a priest be one (1 Kings 13:33). But in the midst of all this idolatry an unidentified man of God prophesied against the altar on the high place, and spoke of a king to come named Josiah who would destroy the high places:

1 Kings 13:2 and 32 (KJV)
(2) And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee.
(32) For the saying which he cried by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass.

King Asa [Jeroboam’s grandson] was a good king of Israel, but also failed to remove the high places. He is one of a few kings of both Israel and Judah who were described as being good kings except for the fact that they failed to remove the high places. This shows God’s grace and mercy upon those who were not exactly living up to His expectations, but who were nevertheless pleasing Him in some ways. Others were terrible kings who openly worshiped pagan gods on the high places.

1 Kings 15:14 (KJV)
But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa’s heart was perfect with the LORD all his days.

1 Kings 22:43 (KJV)
And he [Jehosaphat, Asa’s son] walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.

After Jehosaphat there were a string of kings that also failed to remove the high places. How easy it is to see the power of example. What each king did not do made it easier for those who followed to ignore also.

2 Kings 12:3 (KJV)
But the high places were not taken away: the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places.

2 Kings 14:4 (KJV)
Howbeit the high places were not taken away: as yet the people did sacrifice and burnt incense on the high places.

2 Kings 15:4 (KJV)
Save that the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places.

2 Kings 15:35 (KJV)
Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense still in the high places.

2 Kings 16:4 (KJV)
And he [king Ahaz of Judah] sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.

2 Kings 17:11 (KJV)
And there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the LORD carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger:

Samaria was a place made particularly notorious for mixing of all kinds of pagan worship with the worship of Yahweh.

2 Kings 17:29 (KJV)
Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt.

Remember in John 4:20 when the Samaritan woman at the well asked Jesus about where to worship? He told her not to worship on a mountain but “in spirit and in truth.”

The Samaritans had been among those who continued the practice of worshiping in the high places.

One of the only kings who really got the job done for God was Hezekiah.

2 Kings 18:4 (KJV)
[Hezekiah] removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.

But Josiah was the king who did the best job of pulling down the high places. He was the one who had been prophesied about many years before, as we read before in 1 Kings 13:32. 2 Kings 23 goes into great detail about all that Josiah did to get to the root of the idolatrous practices and destroy every last vestige of them.

2 Kings 23:4-5, 8, and 19-20
(4) And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Bethel.
(5) And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.
(8) And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba, and brake down the high places of the gates that were in the entering in of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand at the gate of the city.
(19) And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the LORD to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Bethel.
(20) And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men’s bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.

Josiah, then, was the agent of God who fulfilled the Word of the Lord spoken back in 1 Kings 13:2. Josiah is clearly a type of Christ, the king who would love God enough to do the hard work of removing all the idols and places of idolatrous worship from the land, no matter how popular or conventional they had become.

It is easy to imagine how a young Jesus reading about Josiah would have internalized the lesson of this good king’s life—that sometimes you have to dig deep and be willing to buck the system in order to bring needed changes. Perhaps this fueled his passion when he overturned the tables in the Temple, incurring the wrath of the authorities that eventually contributed to his crucifixion.

An interesting verse in 2 Chronicles shows how subtle and persistent idolatrous worship and practices had become in Israel.

2 Chronicles 33:17 (KJV)
Nevertheless the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet unto the LORD their God only.

They probably thought that they were really making an improvement by worshiping only Yahweh at the high places, but they had completely compromised His Word! Instead of removing the high places according to the Word of the Lord, they used the altars to worship the Lord contrary to His Word. In doing so, they were only “rearranging the furniture on the Titanic,” as it were. They maintained the forms of pagan worship as the platform for worshiping the true God, contrary to what God wanted them to do. If one is going to worship God, shouldn’t he or she do so in a way that blesses God? He wanted them to pull down the high places and not think that they were getting closer to Him by standing on hilltops! Getting closer to Him was and is a matter of the heart, and of obedience, not physical elevation or any other fleshly condition.

We believe and pray that we can be a ministry that pulls down the “high places” where biblical truth has been supplanted by pagan philosophies. This requires fortitude and an uncompromising attitude that will not be popular. But “mainstream” Christian doctrines that are the result of compromise with pagan philosophy will have to be removed for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be relevant, powerful, and as influential as it ought to be.

The Protestant Reformation did many godly things to restore truths that had been lost for generations, but the reformers did not get the job done. They failed to get to the root of the problem of mixing pagan ideas with Judeo-Christian truth in the early centuries after Christ.

On the practical side, which is how we began this article, there are also “high places” in our personal lives that must come down if we are to please God. If we want His wholehearted approval now and at the Bema, we must continually be transforming ungodly beliefs and behaviors that contradict God’s Word. We must determine to climb up to the high places and destroy them. And whatever is lifted up against the knowledge of the true God we must identify and replace, no matter how comfortable we are with it or how long it has been around.

We are called to be faithful to our God and to our Lord. We are being called to go all the way and remove all the high places, those “proud obstacles” to intimacy with God and Jesus Christ. No half-hearted effort will suffice, just as it didn’t suffice for Israel and Judah. We need to manifest the heart of Josiah, or better yet, the heart of Jesus Christ, as we go forth on this quest.

Like it or not, we are locked in a battle with the enemies of God and Christ, and they seek to pervert and water down the Good News of Jesus Christ in a multitude of ways. There can be no compromise with such spiritual terrorists. As it is written in Ephesians 6, we wrestle against wickedness “in high places.”

Ephesians 6:12 (KJV)
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

It is interesting that this phrase “high places” occurs here in this context of the spiritual battle. Perhaps this helps us understand why God wanted the “high places” removed, because they represented the influence and activity of demonic forces dedicated to the destruction of Israel and thus the Christ line. This is why God told His people to destroy them, because He knew their idolatry would weaken and destroy them otherwise. Israel’s persistent compromise with idolatry led to their captivity by a string of foreign powers and the total loss of their kingdom and sovereignty as a nation. “Jacob’s trouble,” the time of tribulation still to come for Israel and chronicled in the book of Revelation, is another consequence of their disobedience and failure to honor God as the only true God (see Jer. 30:7 and Dan. 9:27).

Let us resolve to be individuals, and an assembly of believers, who seek above all else to be faithful to God and His Word, both the Living Word, Jesus Christ, and the Written Word, the Bible. Let’s stand for what is true, and share it with others in true love. We are blessed to be a part of this high and holy calling with you, and we appreciate your support and your stand with us.

We may be an outnumbered group, like Gideon’s 300, but we are a threat to the Enemy—maybe more than we will know until we “know as we are known.” Let’s keep stickin’ it to him by submitting to God and pleasing Him first and foremost at whatever cost to our comfort and convenience.

Endnotes

[1] It is interesting that the word “idol” never occurs in the Gospels, even though Jesus often addressed the idea of putting God first. No doubt he had in mind Israel’s history of idolatry when he taught them to love nothing more than God. See Luke 10:27.
[2] Proteus was a sea god in Greek mythology who could change his form at will to avoid detection.
[3] It was common for the pagan peoples to associate their gods with the physical features of the land, and the true God was discouraging that idea in favor of a more spiritual relationship mediated by His direct involvement by miracles and by the prophets. Illustrating this idea is 1 Kings 20:28, which records God’s judgment against the Arameans.

This article is a wonderful study from the website http://www.truthortradition.com

The link to the article:  https://www.truthortradition.com/articles/destroying-the-high-places

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The Parable of the Sower: The Fifth Thorn: The Pleasures of This Life

The fifth and final thorn in the Parable of the Sower is the “pleasures of this life.” The Greek word for “pleasures” is “hedone” which means delight, pleasurable sensation, and sensual pleasures. Hedone is pure self-indulgence and lack of control over the physical appetites. In the New Testament hedone always has the meaning of sensual gratification. Hedone is an unrestrained pursuit of anything that over stimulates the senses, stopping at nothing to gorge the body’s sinful inner cravings.

The English word “hedonism” comes from this Greek root and is a philosophical way of thinking where pleasure is the highest good in life and must be pursued with relentless abandon. A hedonist has an absolute devotion to pleasure and indulges their appetite with mindless abandonment. Pleasure becomes their way, their truth and their life. It is all about the feeling. It is all about losing the heart in the sensation. Hedonism is pleasure without boundaries. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure no matter what the cost, even if it means losing the soul. Hedone emphasizes the pleasure that arises from feeding the flesh’s appetite. It is always a companion to lust as these two powerful thorns of lusts and pleasures constantly work together to bring the heart into captivity.

The thorn of the pleasures of this age is an obsession with physical appetite and sensual gratification. One word perfectly describes this thorn and that is “gluttony.” This thorn is gluttony of the flesh where we have an overwhelming desire to consume more than we need in order to satisfy our cravings. Gluttony is passionately craving something for pleasure and enjoyment other than Almighty God. Gluttony is an attitude of heart that does not care what God says in His Word concerning the requirements for a spiritual healthy heart, but recklessly indulgences the flesh oblivious to the dangerous consequences. Gluttony cries out “Feed me!” as I must have this, I want this, and I deserve this! This thorn of gluttony is all about our belly as it is the height of the sin of self-entitlement. Our belly is our god and we are engrossed in our appetite, which drives and controls our heart. We have become a spiritual prodigal who wastes what we have been entrusted by God as we serve the pleasures of sin for a season. Disappointment and misery soon follow as we find out that the fleeting pleasures of the flesh are like a shooting star that burns brightly for a few seconds, but ultimately fizzles out into the darkness of the night.

Are pleasures what we should devote our life to? Are we spiritual vagabonds and gluttons who have decided that the best and most pleasurable way of living is to gorge our physical appetites? Our hearts need to listen to the words of one the wisest men to ever live, King Solomon, about the pursuit of pleasure. King Solomon engrossed himself in more pleasures than we could ever imagine. He had it all as every pleasure was at his fingertips. His eyes were finally opened and he saw the true colors of this wicked thorn.

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2b, 10-11, NIV)

How this thorn of pleasures causes us to waste our lives in the pursuit of meaninglessness! Chasing after pleasures of the flesh accomplishes nothing in life and does not contribute one iota to our spiritual growth and our relationship with God. There is not one measure of goodness that comes to the heart from the blind worship of pleasures. Solomon the greatest king of his times, with unmatched wealth, power and possessions, denied himself not one single pleasure that the mind could imagine. Yet he gave the somber assessment that there was nothing to gain from the pursuit of pleasure as he was simply chasing after the wind and throwing his life away.

Oh that Christians would take these words to heart! The pleasures of this life will suffocate the life of God’s Word from our hearts. The pleasures of this life will cause our heart to become stubborn, rebellious and hard against God and the holy commandments of His Word. The pleasures of this life will turn the heart away from God, as it becomes enslaved in self-appetite and self-indulgence. God did not purchase us on the cross so we could return to being gluttons of the flesh with no self-control or self-discipline. It begins with the pastors, leaders, and shepherds of the church. They must set the example that they will not give themselves up to the pleasures of sin, leading a double life and destroying their ministries.

The Lesson of Jeshurun

The Bible warns us repeatedly of the spiritual dangers of indulging our hearts in the pleasures of this life as a substitute for knowing God on a deep, personal level.

Then Jeshurun (upright one referring to Israel) became fat and rebelled—you became fat, bloated, and gorged. He abandoned the God who made him and scorned the Rock of his salvation. They provoked His jealousy with foreign gods; they enraged Him with detestable practices. They sacrificed to demons, not God, to gods they had not known, new gods that had just arrived, which your fathers did not fear. You ignored the Rock who gave you birth; you forgot the God who gave birth to you. (Deuteronomy 32:15, HCSB)

Jeshurun was at one time upright and walking with the Lord. But Jeshurun’s heart turned and he became a glutton who was fat, bloated and gorged as his main focus in life was satisfying his appetite. Gluttony is a state of the heart where we crave for something more than our desire for God. It is an obsession in satisfying immediately our fleshly cravings and demanding instant gratification at all costs. It greatly hinders our heart from having any spiritual growth in Christ and being pleasing to Him.

Look at what happened to the spiritual walk of Israel and their relationship with God when their self-appetite and inner cravings for pleasure controlled their existence. They abandoned God and scorned the Rock of their salvation. They provoked God to jealousy and enraged Him by their detestable practices of idolatry. They substituted God Almighty for a new god as they ignored and forgot God who gave them birth as a nation of His chosen people.

Why do we think it will be any different with our hearts? Why do we think we can allow our hearts to serve our appetites and blindly pursue the pleasures of this life and not suffer any damage to our relationship with our Heavenly Father? First we will ignore God, then we will forget God, then we will abandon God, and then we will scorn God and hold Him in contempt. Finally we will replace God in our heart with a new god that is birthed from our gluttony. This is the pattern of Scripture and it is no different in our times.

The spirit of Jeshurun has now been revived and lives in the church. We have become like Esau who had a careless disregard of the high value of his birthright in favor of immediate sensual gratification. His wrongly directed hunger caused him to cast his back on the sacred and despise what God had given Him. God has given us immeasurable riches and a glorious salvation in Christ where we are literally birthed into the family of God as a royal son or daughter of God. We despise this amazing birthright and give it little esteem in our hearts when we cast it aside hungering after things that can never satisfy.

It seems like every day we are reading about another pastor that has sold his birthright and calling to gorge himself as a glutton in immediate sensual gratification. The pleasures of this world became more important than the eternal pleasures at God’s right hand that He gives to those who delight in Him. The emerging mark of the church and the mantra of our generation is that we have become “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” We are hungrier for pleasures than we are for God.

The sin nature that dwells within us is always hungry and wants to be fed. What hunger are we satisfying? Are we feeding our old nature in Adam or our new nature in Christ? We should be hungering and thirsting after righteousness and the Bread of Life Jesus Christ and not the fleeting pleasures of this age. The Bible is full of examples of men and women who allowed their hunger and self-appetite to consume them and the tragic consequences that followed such as Solomon, Amnon, Tamar, Adonijah, Gehazi, Joab and Lot’s wife to name a few. A sincere and passionate longing for God was absent as an overwhelming desire to indulge the flesh in the pleasures of this life caused God to fade from their hearts. We too must learn this lesson if we are ever to be true guardians of our heart: an uncontrolled appetite spells disaster for our spiritual health. These unrestrained hungers turn us into a glutton and we no longer submit ourselves to God or resist the Evil One. “Glutton” is not the name God wants for His beloved children.

The belly god

One word in Scripture that describes this horrible condition of the heart is “belly.” The “belly” in Scripture is the inner core and center of our appetites. It is a descriptive term of self-entitlement and self-indulgence where our sole desire in life is to satisfy our fleshly appetites. Our heart has become all stomach as we have a voracious hunger to feed our desires and cravings.

The belly is a symbol of the curse pronounced on the Devil in Genesis 3 where we eat the dust of the earth for our satisfaction. The appetite for the earthly has replaced the appetite for the heavenly. The curse on creation caused by the sin of Adam and Eve has as its enduring mark the exaltation of the belly as the central focus of life. The belly cries out, “It is all about me! My life is mine! I am my own god! I will follow and serve me above all else! I will not deny my body and my soul anything that it craves! I am hungry and I must be fed now with whatever my heart desires! I do not need God! I only need me!” The battle between the belly, which is at the heart of our sin nature, and the Spirit and words of God, is a central theme throughout all of Scripture.

It is interesting that in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, which contain the heart of God’s instructions to His chosen people Israel recording the journey of God’s people from the fall to the covenant in Abraham, to God’s great deliverance from Egypt, to the trials in the wilderness and glorious triumph into the Promised Land, that the middle word in the Torah is “belly.” The midpoint letter in the word “belly” was enlarged providing the scribe a device to insure that there are precisely 152,402 letters before this enlarged letter and 152,402 letters after this enlarged letter. There is a powerful truth to God’s people by this marking in the Torah that the exact middle of His God-breathed instructions was the word “belly.”

Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination. For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy. For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:42, 44a-45, KJV)

In the book of Leviticus, which in the Hebrew literally means “And He called,” God is emphasizing in our spiritual walk, we cannot eat and digest things whose source is the belly. The belly is an abomination to God, and if we are to ever fulfill His calling on our lives, we must not let our belly be our god. To be holy is to be whole and to perform the function that God has designed for our lives. We belong to God and we cannot love and serve Him if our belly rules our life and is the source of the thoughts, emotions and feelings in our hearts.

For they that are such, serve not Christ our Lord, but their own belly; and by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent. (Romans 16:18, Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

Such men are no servants of Christ our Lord; their own hungry bellies are their masters. (Knox Bible)

The Greek word for “serve” means a slave who is totally surrendered and devoted to his master. The slave’s every thought, breath and effort was consumed in the will of his master. The Greek word emphasizes the slave’s close, binding ties with his master as belonging to him, and obligated to do his will, living in a permanent relationship of servitude to him. The slave is completely controlled by his master, and the master’s commands were to be obeyed at all costs.

In the Hebrew culture, a slave was one who willingly commits himself to serve a master he loves and respects. We must examine our hearts and ask ourselves this critical question: “Are we a slave to the Lord Jesus Christ or our own hungry belly?” Does Jesus Christ or our belly control every motive and effort that comes forth from our heart? Do we desire to do the will of our Lord Jesus or are we consumed with the will of our own appetites and indulgences? Who controls our actions and whom do we obey and serve? Jesus Christ or our belly? We cannot serve both.

We must not allow the belly thorn to enslave us and consume us. For far too long Christians have been enslaved to their own bellies and have turned to serve their self-appetites rather than the Lord Jesus Christ. Pastors and leaders in the church have set the worse examples as so many have been reckless slaves to their belly and have brought great hurt and damage to the Body of Christ. The Bible does not sugar coat the seriousness of this state of the heart for if we are slaves to our belly we become enemies of the cross of Christ.

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19, ESV)

If we are truly to be the disciples of Christ, we must affirm that we have no allegiance, loyalty and commitment to our belly, but we take up our cross daily and only follow Him with passionate devotion. Idolatry has run rampant in Christianity because we have allowed our belly to be our god, and we have served our belly more than our Almighty God. The thorn of pleasures and sensual gratification has taken over the rulership of our heart, as we set our thought-life on the things of this earth ignoring the heavenly realities of His Word.

The Word of God is clear that if our belly is our god and the focal point of our devotion that the end of such foolish action is destruction. “Destruction” in the Greek means an utter and hopeless loss of all that gives worth to existence. It refers to the total ruin of your purpose for existence where one becomes spiritually bankrupt and useless to God. It is to waste away one’s life and perish without ever fulfilling the magnificent calling God has placed on our lives. When the god of our existence is our belly we will bring our heart to utter ruin as we fall woefully short of the glory of God being manifested in our lives. We wander off the path God has beautifully designed for our Christian life and become a spiritual vagabond that wastes our lives on the pursuit of instant gratification. Our love for God turns ice cold, and our hearts harden to the voice and touch of God in our lives. The belly drives one to worship the sensations of the flesh and causes our old sin nature to thrive. The belly-god suffocates and chokes every remnant of the true God and His Word from our heart. The belly-god is the great destroyer of our calling in the Body of Christ and our purpose for God in our generation. All of us in our Christian lives will come face to face with the belly-god quite frequently and each time we must render it dead and nailed to the cross.

Cultivate the Fruit of Self-Control

We must cultivate the fruit of the spirit of self-control and allow the Spirit of God to be the controlling factor over our appetites, desires and emotions. If we do not exercise this supernatural self-control birthed out of the Spirit of God, then our heart becomes like an ancient city whose walls are broken down where the enemy has free access.

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive). (John 7:37-39a, KJV)

Out of our belly should flow rivers of living water that will quench every appetite. Only God can satisfy our thirst. Only God can satisfy our hunger. Only God can satisfy our appetite. God promises in Psalm 36:8 that we shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of God’s house and He shall make us drink from the river of His pleasures. We will never thirst again when we drink of His living water and the river of His pleasures.

Why do we thirst after worldly pleasures when God is crying out to our heart to thirst after His pleasures? What pleasures do you think are better: the world’s or God’s? The pleasures of God are so magnificent, breathtaking, splendid and wonderful that words fail to describe them. The pleasures of God do not fade, run dry or come to an end. The pleasures of God are forever. Nothing in this world compares to the pleasures of God.

Henry Scougal in The Life Of God in the Soul of Man says: “The soul of man … hath in it a raging and inextinguishable thirst … Never does a soul know what solid joy and substantial pleasure is till, once being weary of itself, it renounces all property and gives itself up to the Author of its being.”[1] This raging thirst is never quenched until we find Him, the only satisfier of the heart, and experience His love, grace, mercy and peace. No temporal pleasure of this earth can ever satisfy our heart or give life meaning.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:2, 11, ESV)

How the heart yearns to know and experience the pleasures of God. We must seek His presence and path of life for therein is joy so full that it overflows. His eternal pleasures will forever delight the soul. The greatest pleasure in the entire universe is to know and enjoy God in all His greatness, goodness and majesty.

Oh God awaken our hearts to the joy of knowing you! Our hearts were made to know, love and delight in Him. This is why we exist, not to get wrapped up in the pleasures of this age, but to enjoy our God and the infinite pleasures of our relationship with Him. Seeing and savoring our awesome God changes our appetites, desires and actions profoundly. To fix the gaze of our heart on our glorious God and His pleasures is the great key of transformation and the vital key to resist the belly god with its selfish appetite. The most ravishing pleasures and substantial delights of the heart are only found when we lose ourselves in God and His heart becomes our heart, His desire our desire and His pleasure our pleasure.

Michael L. Brown in Whatever Happened to the Power of God? It’s Time to Rock the Boat states:

Are you willing to become consumed to the core of your being with desire for God? Are you willing to let Him strip you of all confidence in the flesh until you get to the point of total dependence upon Him? Are you willing-in brokenness and humility-to stand out from the crowd that is apparently satisfied with leftover bread? Are you willing to be emptied and emptied again so that God can fully fill you? The choice is entirely yours. How far are you willing to go?[2]

Never let this fifth thorn of the pleasures of this age suffocate and choke our desire for God and His matchless Word. Let our hearts always be consumed with God and filled with all His fullness as we turn from the fleeting pleasures of this age.

The Crown of Thorns

One final truth that will thrill our souls is that this same Greek word for “thorns” in the Parable of the Sower and the Seed is used another time in the gospels that has an enormous impact on our study. As Jesus was led into the judgment hall called the Praetorium, a cohort of four to six hundred soldiers cruelly mocked, beat and tortured our Lord. They wove together a crown of thorns and thrust it unto his head causing excruciating pain and profuse bleeding as it pierced his head and scalp. As Jesus went forth to Calvary to be crucified, he was wearing this crown of thorns and as he was hanging on the cross he was bearing the regal crown of thorns for you and me. Jesus Christ bore the crushing weight of every one of these five thorns at Calvary so they would never have to plague the heart of men and women again. He took the full blow of these thorns that have grown out of the curse of our sin nature and conquered them. He obliterated the power and strength of these five thorns with his death and resurrection so they never exercise dominion in the heart again. In Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross, the authority and reign of the thorns of the heart were destroyed forever. Never again do they need to raise their foul head in our hearts for we have the ultimate victory over every thorn that has ever grown and flourished in the soils of our hearts.

We are super-conquerors and triumphant in Christ because he paid the price and bore our crown of thorns. This is the crowning glory and wonderful truth that must burn in our hearts, that our Lord and Savior lovingly took every painful, destructive and hurtful thorn and bore their agonizing pain for us. In this triumphant act, he forever ripped away their claim to our hearts. Through his power and strength, the soil of our heart can be free from every thorn that is bent on its destruction. In Jesus Christ our rallying cry is “Thorns no more!”

Excerpt from “The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life” by Tim Rowe

[1] Henry Scougal, The Life Of God in the Soul of Man (Eastford: Martino Fine Books, 2010), 26.

[2] Michael L. Brown, Whatever Happened to the Power of God? It’s Time to Rock the Boat (Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers 1991), 31.

 

Chapter 13: The Fourth Soil of the Heart: The Precious Good, Tilled and Fruitful Soil

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Parable of the Sower: The Fourth Thorn: The Lust for Other Things

The fourth thorn in the Parable of the Sower are “the lusts for other things.” The Greek word for “lusts” is epithymia and means a passionate and strong desire or longing for something and an unbridled craving that attaches itself to the object of its affection. It conveys the picture of explosive desire with the intensity of an erupting volcano. It is desire excited to the point of uncontrollable arousal. It is an impulsive and intense sensual desire contrary to the will and pleasures of God.

In its oldest root, this Greek word is associated with the violent movement of air, water, earth, animals and men. It has the meaning of boiling up emphasizing excessive indulgence, impulsive passions and frenzied desires. It is often associated with sexual appetite and conveys the image of lascivious passion built on animal desire for sexual indulgence. Lust is excessive desire that has gone overboard and adrift from the heart of God that seeks self-satisfaction, self-gratification and self-pleasure as its ultimate thrill ride. Lust has no perception of eternity and no realization of its deadly consequences to the heart. Lust is blind to the spiritual ramifications of its actions. Lust puts the heart in direct rebellion and mutiny against the rule of God.

Skip Moen, the Hebrew scholar, gives a thought-provoking definition of lust in his article Sleeping with the Enemy:

Epithymia is used to highlight the sin of longing for desires outside the will of God. Epithymia is … a deliberate violation (violence) against the will of God … a sin of willful disobedience marked by violent overthrowing of God’s expressed will … Epithymia is a manifestation of sin that dwells in man and that controls him, for although unholy desires are kindled as a result of the presentations of the world, it is the internal resolution to self-will, stirred up in impulsive motion that causes violence toward God’s rule. Lust is nothing less than the spiritual outburst of anxious self-seeking. Lust characterizes man as he really is, apart from God as a being who is at any moment willing to erupt in a burst of self-proclamation and self-determination … Therefore, the New Testament contains dire warnings against the danger of lust and instructs Christians to fight against such impulses. Here is instruction to use spiritual warfare and resistance against a great enemy of God, namely, the desire within us to create our own world. James 1:15 says that when lust conceives, it brings forth sin … James makes it clear that the very presence of epithymia is the seed bed for the propagation of sin. What James is saying is simply this: the presence of lust (epithymia) is pregnant with sin. Lust always conceives. There is no numinous condom that prevents lust from impregnating its recipient. If you and I allow lust to penetrate our lives, we have already assented to the dominance of our will in opposition to the will of God and that can mean only one result – the birth of sin. No wonder we are exhorted to violent action against such an enemy. There is no passive acquiescence here, no humble supplication. This is war, a war of self-will against the divine will and the prize is none other than our very being. Lust is not subtle. It is aggressive, violent, impulsive, explosive, demanding, commanding and overpowering. It wants only one thing – the object of its desire. And this is the antinomy of God’s way. Let us not be deluded. Lust is a powerful, cunning enemy, hideously concealed within our very being.[i]

Lust is an intense longing and hunger for something that is contrary to the will of God. It is the obsessive desire to eat and partake of the forbidden fruit that God has warned us about. Lust is a craving for the unholy.

The Kingdom of Lust

The Devil is the father and originator of all lust that spreads like wildfire throughout the earth in the hearts and minds of the human race. The Devil was the first being in the heavens and earth to lust in his heart, and he allowed lust to consume him, which resulted in him rebelling against God and causing a war in heaven. One third of the angels followed the father of lust in his mutiny against God and were cast out of heaven to the earth. Lust destroyed their heavenly calling and thrust them from the throne of God into utter darkness and chaos.

The kingdom of darkness was borne out of lust in the heart of God’s head archangel and cherubim, and lust is the centerpiece of all the works of this wicked kingdom throughout the earth. Unbridled lust always results in the downfall of the human heart. Lust is the precursor to rebellion against God and His Holy Word and causes the Word of God to be choked and strangled from the heart. When lust controls one’s thoughts and actions, it is a sure sign that one’s heart is not abiding in the truth and has wandered from the true way of God and His commandments. As a rapidly spreading disease, lust consumes the heart with its wicked desires, corrupting everything in its path. This prickly and poisonous weed may be the fastest growing thorn ever known to the heart as it spreads like a forest fire destroying all life in its path.

Lusts War against the Soul

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. (1 Peter 2:11, KJV)

Divinely loved ones [loved by God], I beg of you, please, as aliens and those who have settled down alongside of pagan [unsaved] people should, be constantly holding yourselves back from the passionate cravings (lusts) which are fleshly by nature [fleshly in that thy come from the totally depraved nature], cravings of such a nature that, like an army carrying on a military campaign, they are waging war, hurling themselves down upon your soul. (WUEST)

Lust is in constant war against the heart, attempting to turn it from God and contaminate it with impurity, wickedness, and unrighteousness. Lust is the great poison of the heart that suffocates the life of God and His Word. Lust causes the heart to war against God and keeps godliness from taking root in the heart. Lusts always corrupt and deteriorate the inner life of the heart.

The Greek word for “war” means to perform military service, to serve as a soldier in the army, to carry on a military campaign, and to lead soldiers to battle. This verb does not just imply mere fighting, but all that is included in military service. Lusts carry on a daily military campaign against our hearts, which will rage on until the return of Christ. Lusts march off to war as soldiers in active military service against their enemy, the soul. Lusts have a great military strategy at every turn of the battle, which is to destroy the heart for God. Lusts have devoured more human lives than all the wars in world history combined. In the church especially, lusts have ruined more ministries, destroyed more callings and wasted more godly potential, than anything upon the earth.

The statistics are staggering as it has been estimated that 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to pornography as the lust problem is escalating in the church with devastating consequences. The Christian heart that is supposed to be a pure, honorable and glorious inner sanctuary devoted wholly to God has become a den of lust, and the entire body of Christ is affected by this contamination. Thorns of lust are multiplying at an unprecedented rate in the hearts of Christians and suffocating the life of Christ from growing. Instead of shining as lights in the world we are living in darkness because we have allowed the lusts of our sinful nature to control our thoughts and behavior.

Lust is a heart-killer and every moment of the day it has its aim on the soul. We must be vigilant to stand at the door of our heart and diligently guard it against lust ever entering its chambers. One of the greatest weapons of Satan’s kingdom against the lives of Christians is lust. When lust thrives in the heart, we cannot truly love God for our heart has turned passionately to something else that it craves more than God. Lust steals a Christian’s love, passion and devotion away from the Lord. Lust is constantly crouching and banging at the door of our heart demanding to be let in, enticing us to open the door and welcome it.

We must raise the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of lust that are relentlessly being hurled at us. We must take the breastplate of righteousness and protect our heart and wield the sword of the spirit to cut the luring promises of lust into a million pieces. It is only by the great, precious promises of God’s Word, vibrantly alive in the heart by confession, study, meditation and prayer, and walking by the mighty gift of the holy spirit of God, which dwells in us, that we can escape the corrupting influence of lust.

Lust the Destroyer of Relationships, Cultures and Nations

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:4, KJV)

It is through him that God’s greatest and most precious promises have become available to us men, making it possible for you to escape the inevitable disintegration that lust produces in the world and to share in God’s essential nature. (PHILLIPS)

All the corruption in the world that is bombarded daily across our computers, radios and televisions has its root in the thorns of lust. Lust always corrupts and causes the disintegration of godliness in the heart. Lust destroys relationships, societies, and nations.

Every part of our heart matters to God, and we cannot give lust a part of our heart where God cannot enter. Jesus Christ has to be Lord of every room of our heart for every square inch is His dwelling place. When we harbor lust in our hearts, we are limiting our intimacy with God. Lust is never governed, regulated or guided by a supreme love, adoration and worship of God. Lust only falls to its knees before the object it craves and is blinded to the magnificent glory, grace, and love of God.

Lust never originates in the heart of the Heavenly Father, but in the world system orchestrated by the god of this age. Lust drives the heart to love and treasure the world. Lust always entices and leads the heart into idolatry. If lust dominates our thoughts and passions, then the love for our Heavenly Father does not abide in our heart. Our heart has become closed off from the love for God and the desire to do His will when the thorns of lust are the crop that our heart is producing. Lust always suffocates our fellowship with God.

May our heart cry out: “I only have one passion, one love, one hunger and one craving and it is for God alone!” We must never erect a golden calf of lust in our heart and dance around it with passion. God wants our whole heart, and we must utterly exterminate every lust of the flesh which stands against the glory of God living radiantly in us. God must be the only king of the inner court of our heart.

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17, NASB)

Lust: The Chief Characteristic of Our Sin Nature

To fight off these military campaigns of lust, we must understand where lust originates, how it operates and how to overcome it. The most basic question is why is there such a natural tendency and impulse within me to be pulled into the world of lust?

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts. And put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22, 24, RSV)

No, what you learned was to fling off the dirty clothes of the old way of living, which were rotted through and through with lust’s illusions. And, with yourselves mentally and spiritually re-made, to put on the clean fresh clothes of the new life which was made by God’s design for righteousness and the holiness which is no illusion. (PHILLIPS)

But I say, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh’s lust. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are opposed one to the other, that ye should not do those things which ye desire; But they that are of the Christ have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts. (Galatians 5:16-17, 24, DARBY)

As Christians, we have both a new nature in Christ and an old sinful nature inherited from Adam, and they are at war within us for control of our hearts. Both natures are born into our very being, the fleshly sinful nature at our physical birth, and the new divine nature at our spiritual birth when we are born again and come to Christ. These two natures are in constant conflict and struggle against each other as each one tries to dominate our lives.

There is intense warfare raging within us daily between our fleshly nature and our spiritual nature with each trying to take the territory of our heart. Both natures want to desperately win this war and advance in military might seizing the reign of the kingdom of the heart. The stakes are high in this spiritual conflict. This is the monumental internal struggle between good and evil in the human heart. This is a battle for the purity and character of the Christian heart and whether the heart will be transformed into the beauty and likeness of Christ or be conformed to the wickedness of their sin nature and the ungodly lusts of this world. This is a battle for what fruit will adorn the Christian’s heart and define his witness for Jesus Christ. This is a battle of eternal consequences, as the future rewards of the kingdom are at stake.

Lusts are the essential ingredient to the operation of our sin nature. The fleshly sinful nature is fueled by the thorns of lust, and its passionate cravings feed and drive the flesh into action. The old man nature inherited from Adam is corrupt, according to Ephesians, because of deceitful lusts. The Greek word for “corrupt” means to waste, wither, decay, shrivel and pine away. It is to corrupt by inner degeneration and decay. The Greek word is in the present passive participle, which means is it being corrupted more and more each day by lusts, and characterizes a progressive condition of decay like a decomposing corpse. Rogers and Rogers in The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament vibrantly illustrate this Greek word “corrupt”:

The whole character representing the former self was not only corrupt but ever growing more and more corrupt … Every trait of the old man’s behavior is putrid, crumbling, or inflated like rotting waste or cadavers, stinking; ripe for being disposed of and forgotten.[ii]

When the thorns of lust dominate our heart, it is like having rotting, stinking garbage or a putrid decaying corpse living within the very center of our being. Lust causes this horrible condition of degeneration and always leads to a worse state of corruption eventually causing the heart to waste away. Lust has an insatiable hunger and is never satisfied, always demanding more. When we sow the seeds of lust, we will reap the fruit of corruption. This is why Jesus warned in the Parable of the Sower to not allow the thorns of lust to grow and flourish in the heart because they will produce a putrid harvest of corruption, decay and destruction.

It is interesting that from the Greek root for “corrupt” we get our English word diphtheria, which is a contagious disease that produces a toxin that causes inflammation of the heart and nervous system. Lust is very contagious and toxic to the spiritual life of the heart. Lusts harden the heart causing it to lose all sensitivity to the voice of God and indulge in every kind of impurity that causes our growth in Christ to decay. The flesh dominated by lusts always corrupts His way upon the earth and in the human heart.

The Pregnancy of Lust Ready to Give Birth

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished (brought to completion), it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (James 1:14-16, NASB)

Temptation is the great indicator of who possesses the throne of our heart. Temptation shows what our heart is rooted in and what our heart hungers after. Temptation will gauge our spiritual strength and is a measuring stick of our growth in Christ. Temptation reveals where the gaze of our heart is directed. Are our inward eyes beholding the beauty and majesty of our God or the lusts of this temporal world? If our inward gaze is upon Jesus, temptation and lusts fall by the wayside and fade into the night.

Temptation feeds off of our lusts and can only lure us from the heart of God and His Holy Word when the fires of lust are burning in our souls and the gaze of our heart has turned away from God. Temptation will test the deepness of our relationship with God and always tries to lure us to another altar where God is not worshipped. Lusts flourish in the heart of a person who does not know God and the awesome nature of His character. Lusts abound in the heart of a person who has not seen the breathtaking beauty of God’s Word, which He magnified above all His name. Lust always carries the heart far from God into the darkness of a world where God is forgotten.

Lust is deeply embedded in the impure passions of the flesh and yearns to give birth to sin in every level of human activity. If we cannot control and mortify our lusts, then we will never be able to resist temptation. Temptations to disobey God are constantly hurled at the heart like piercing arrows, and we must know how to shield our hearts from their enticing offers. All temptation is an invitation to forsake God, and the only way temptation is successful in getting us to follow its bait is through appealing to a variety of different lusts of our flesh. Lust is what entices us to give into the temptation.

We are to watch and pray at the gateway of our heart so lust does not enter and carry us away into the den of temptation. Sin is crouching behind every lust waiting to pounce and bring us into bondage. We become a traitor to our God and play a dangerous game when we allowed the enemy access to our heart through unbridled lust.

When temptation and lust are joined together, a conception takes place, and sin is borne from this dreadful union. Lust is always pregnant with sin and if not dealt with in the human heart, it will give birth to sin. It is amazing to think that all sin is caused by lust. Lust is the precursor, forerunner and foundation of all sin. Without lust there is no temptation to sin. The bait and enticement to sin is always through lust. Lust is the proud parent of sin. Sin is the child and progeny of lust. All of the works of flesh mentioned in Galatians 5 and Colossians 3 have lust at its core. Anger, strife, envy, jealousy, impurity, idolatry, witchcraft, sexual immorality, slander, hatred and stealing all are caused by the lusts of our flesh. At the exact center of everything unholy are the flames of lust.

Runaway Lusts Have Caused Great Damage in the Church

Lusts are incredibly powerful and can cast the heart into spiritual darkness and change its entire composition. Lusts are one of the primary weapons of the Devil because when they get ahold of us, they will consume everything we are and everything we love. Uncontrolled consuming lusts destroy lives and wreck everything in their path. Runaway lusts have ruined more marriages, more families, more churches, more callings, more destinies and more nations than anything upon the earth. The heart consumed with lust will move heaven and earth to protect its unholy passion. No cost is too high. No price is too great. Soon our lives come crumbling down in a heap of corruption because there is nothing good, holy and pure in the lusts of our flesh. They always lead to death in some form as they destroy godliness, morality, honor, respect, virtue and holiness. Lust is a lethal enemy that cannot be allowed to grow as a thorn in the heart.

Becky Tirabassi in Sacred Obsession says:

Perhaps there is a lie you will buy. You believe you are entitled to chase after that which you think will make you feel alive-full of real, living passionate feelings. But you know, as I knew that these things or persons, pornography, illicit sexual relationships, greed-don’t make you more alive … they make you numb. They actually steal from you. They steal your joy, your peace, even your money! They use you. They take from you. Eventually (sooner, rather than later) they will ruin your reputation, smother any affection you might have for God, and ultimately destroy your purpose for living … If you have opened your heart to the unholy, you will soon close your eyes to the deception involved. But if you can still hear the plea of a sojourner who once loved sin and found it empty, please hear me say, “It cannot save you; it cannot satisfy you completely; it is not your friend. It is a stealer, a killer and destroyer. It seeks to own you. It has a nature, a purpose, a passion to possess you. It cannot love you. It hates you-and hates the holy. Instead I know only one way to be free from it-run from it. Hate it. See it as the poison it is … Run toward the holy God … relinquish the unholy passions in your life.[iii]

Jesus Christ: The Liberator from Unholy Passions

There is no release from this vicious power of lust without the Lord Jesus Christ. The power of the sin nature and all of its lusts have been forever crushed and defeated at Calvary through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has freed us from this insidious law of sin and death that works in the lusts of our flesh and given us a new divine nature. We must put on this new nature and put off the old. We must adorn our heart and mind with this new clothing of the divine nature that was created in righteousness and true holiness and cast off the filthy, putrid rags of our old sin nature.

It is a new day for Christians where we no longer have to live helplessly enslaved to the unholy cravings of lusts. The glory of the Lord has shined in our hearts, and our God will be exalted above all the lusts of our flesh for our desire is only for Him. We are dead to sin and lusts and our heart is now alive to God! Sin is no longer the king of our hearts making us bow to the passions, cravings and lusts of the flesh. We are sons and daughters of God and we now offer our bodies, minds and hearts to God as a living sacrifice to accomplish His will upon the earth as we magnify God in our thoughts, words and actions. We have decided to arm ourselves with the mind of Christ and to live the rest of our lives not to the lusts of the flesh, but to the will of God (1 Peter 4:2). God has made us a new creation in Christ, and the old habits of lust have passed away. We have been made lovely, acceptable, righteous, justified, sanctified, holy, and redeemed in Christ and the lusts of our flesh can never compare to the glory of God that has been revealed in us. We are now the living habitation of God, and our inner heart is God’s holy of holies where there is no room for any impurity, lust, and unholy passion.

Reckoning the Lusts of Our Flesh Unemployed

We were buried therefore with Him by the baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, so we too might habitually live and behave in newness of life. For if we have become one with Him by sharing a death like His, we shall also be one with Him in sharing His resurrection by a new life lived for God. We know that our old, unrenewed self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that our body, which is the instrument of sin might be made ineffective and inactive for evil, that we might no longer be the slaves of sin. Even so consider yourselves also dead to sin and your relation to it broken, but alive to God, living in unbroken fellowship with Him, in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore rule as king in your mortal, short-lived, perishable bodies, to make you yield to its cravings and be subject to its lusts and evil passions. Do not continue offering or yielding your bodily members and faculties to sin as instruments tools of wickedness. But offer and yield yourselves to God as though you have been raised from the dead to perpetual life, and your bodily members and faculties to God, presenting them as implements of righteousness. For sin shall not any longer exert dominion over you, since now you are not under Law as slaves, but under grace as subjects of God’s favor and mercy. (Romans 6:4-6,11-13, AMP)

So kill, deaden, deprive of power the evil desire (lust) lurking in your members [those animal impulses and all that is earthly in you that is employed in sin] … (Colossians 3:5(a), AMP)

And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25, KJV)

Those who belong to Christ have crucified their old nature with all that it loved and lusted for. If our lives are centered in the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit. (PHILLIPS)

We yield our hands, feet, mouth, eyes, ears and heart as tools of righteousness to our God, and never allow our body to be an instrument of sin. We must not allow the thorns of lust to exert dominion over our heart for the grace of God teaches us that we deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:12). We walk in newness of life according to our divine nature giving us the power to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. We render the lusts of our flesh unemployed, as sin is a dethroned monarch in our heart. We refuse to yield to lust’s evil passions, impulses and cravings. Lust is dead in the heart of the Christian that walks by the Spirit.

The Heavenly Emancipation Proclamation

God has issued the Emancipation Proclamation from the legal court of heaven, and in Christ we are no longer slaves of sin and all its corresponding lusts. The edict has been proclaimed that we are forever free from the corrupting power of lust through the redeeming work of Christ. In His salvation, lusts have no strength or vitality, for we are now moved by our yearning for Christ. Our new nature operates by love not lust, and God has poured His love into our hearts. We can love like Jesus loves and no longer have to lust like Satan lusts. Our new spiritual heritage is to love God and love people with a selfless love as we no longer run on the course of this world, recklessly fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and of the mind.

Why would we want to lust for other things when we have God as our Heavenly Father? Why would we want to lust after other things when we have Jesus as our Lord, brother and Savior? Why would we turn our hearts over to lust when Christ is in us? Christ’s life, power, and love abide within us waiting to be brilliantly manifested to the world through our faith. Do we want to be a vessel of honor or dishonor to our God? Don’t we yearn to be a vessel of honor shining brightly as lights in this crooked generation, demonstrating to the world that our awesome God is infinitely better than anything that the world lusts after?

But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also utensils of wood and earthenware, and some for honorable and noble use and some for menial and ignoble use. So whoever cleanses himself from what is ignoble and unclean, who separates himself from contact with contaminating and corrupting influences will then himself be a vessel set apart and useful for honorable and noble purposes, consecrated and profitable to the Master, fit and ready for any good work. Shun youthful lusts and flee from them, and aim at and pursue righteousness (all that is virtuous and good, right living, conformity to the will of God in thought, word, and deed); and aim at and pursue faith, love, and peace (harmony and concord with others) in fellowship with all Christians, who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:20-22, AMP)

Do you want to be set apart from the world and useful for the noble and honorable purposes God has ordained for your life? Do you want to be consecrated and profitable for your Lord, fit and ready to do every good work that He has called you to in your generation? Then you must cleanse your heart from every lust that craves for attention. You must separate your heart from the contaminating and corrupting influence of lust. You must shun and flee from lusts with the speed of an Olympic runner and aim your heart at your glorious God, pursuing His righteousness, love, and peace with the intensity of a spiritual athlete. As Christians we must all call upon the Lord out of a pure heart free from the control of earthly lusts. As the Body of Christ we must pledge to live a holy life that is no longer enslaved to the sins and lusts of our old flesh. Oh what a magnificent day it will be for Christianity when lusts fade away in the glory and power of our new life in Christ.

[i] Skip Moen, Sleeping with the Enemy, Hebrew Word Study: Skip Moen, http://skipmoen.com/2007/03/05/sleeping-with-the-enemy/

[ii] Rogers and Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1998), 442.

[iii] Becky Tirabassi, Sacred Obsession: What You Chase After You Become (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006), 21.

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The Third Thorn in Parable of the Sower: The Deceitfulness of Riches

The third thorn in the Parable of the Sower is “the deceitfulness of riches.” Millions of people have been corrupted, ruined and destroyed by the deceitfulness of riches. Wealth has a strong tendency to cause the heart to cry out “I don’t need you God! I have my riches! I have everything I need!” and therein lies the grave danger to the spiritual health of the heart. Riches can turn the heart away from God quicker than almost anything on earth.

John Wesley said wealth had destroyed the godliness of more people than other thing. This thorn illustrates the eternal truth in the Sermon on the Mount that “where your treasure is there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). Spurgeon said: “The heart must and will go in the direction of that which we count precious. The whole man will be transformed into the likeness of that for which he lives.[i]” It is when riches become the precious treasure of our heart, and we crave them with intense passion that the heart becomes overgrown with these thorns.

Nothing in the material realm has the power to satisfy a person’s spiritual needs. Nothing in the material realm can ever compare to God Almighty, and it can never quench the thirst of the heart to have an intimate relationship with Creator of the heavens and earth.  God warns us in Psalms 62:10 that if riches or wealth increase not to set our heart upon them. As certain as the sun rises every morning, God promises in Proverbs 11:28 that if we trust in riches, we will fall. The love of riches leads us into worshipping them in adoration of their power and affluence. The passion for riches is like a habit-forming drug that we shoot into our heart giving us a momentary euphoria, but eventually we come crashing down enslaved in its wicked snare. Riches are an illusion of strength, security, and success, but are as flimsy as a paper house. The heart that is consumed with the love of wealth and accumulation of riches is on a path of spiritual destruction. The love of riches is a destroyer of relationships with friends, family, colleagues, and ultimately God, which is the biggest tragedy of all. This thorn is a destroyer of everything godly in the heart and needs to be rooted up, if we are ever to live a life that pleases God.

This third thorn is not simply riches, but the deceitfulness of riches where we are deceived into giving our allegiance to the pursuit of wealth above everything else. The Greek word for “deceitfulness” means to seduce by false promises and persuasion, to cheat, beguile, deceive or delude, to give a false impression by appearance, statement or influence, and to lead astray and seduce into error. In the Septuagint, it is the same root word used in Genesis 3:13 when the serpent deceived Eve and illustrates that the author of deceitfulness is the Devil. He weaves the web of deceit concerning riches to lead the heart astray on this deadly path. Riches are so deceitful because they give the false impression that they bring life, status, happiness and everything a person will ever need to have a meaningful life.

The Deep Root in Every Heart

A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God explains the deep root in every heart to possess which is at the center of the deceitfulness of riches:

Before the Lord God made man upon the earth He first prepared for him by creating a world of useful and pleasant things for his sustenance and delight. In the Genesis account of the creation these are called simply “things.” They were made for man’s uses, but they were always meant to be external to man and subservient to him. In the deep heart of the man was a shrine where none but God was worthy to come. Within him was God; without, a thousand gifts which God had showered upon him. But sin introduced complications and has made those very gifts of God a potential source of ruin to the soul. Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and “things” were allowed to enter. Within the human heart “things” has taken over….There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant. They express the real nature of old Adamic man better than a thousand volumes of theology could do. They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution. [ii]

Our culture of greed is a living illustration of this monstrous substitution of “things” taking the place of God in the throne room of our heart. This is the driving mantra of our age as the hearts of so many are consumed with the desire to be rich and famous. Everyone wants to be a star, or an American idol, having fancy cars, big houses and a never-ending supply of new playthings. This is simply the old root of our sin nature raising its ugly head in the fierce passion to possess more and more things. Unfortunately we so often mark success in our culture by how many things we possess.

Exploitation of the Poor: One of the Major Reasons for the Flood

God is the source of all blessings. He gave so many blessings to Adam and Eve so they could rise to the fullest potential of life with their Creator. But when sin poured into human nature, human need changed to lust and the pursuit of things became the obsession of the heart. God’s gracious gifts became misused and distorted, as wealth was accumulated and hoarded at the expense of others namely the poor and less fortunate. By the time of the Noah, the deceitfulness of riches reached an enormous peak and played a major part in causing the earth to be completely corrupt before God and filled with violence. The deceitfulness of riches helped to corrupt God’s way on the earth. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states:

Genesis 6:11,13 describes the socio-economic conditions prior to the Flood in terms of the earth being “filled with violence.” The word rendered “violence” in Hebrew was used by the prophets to describe the exploitation of the poor by the rich (Amos 3:10, Micah 6:12). Thus it appears that exploitation was a major reason for God’s destroying the earth with a flood.[iii]

God’s heart as expressed in the Mosaic Law was that each person and family was entrusted with the blessings of God, which included things like land, food, drink, livestock and material goods. Each person had the opportunity to express His faith in God by dealing justly and responsibly with what God had given to him by not hoarding their wealth, but by helping others in need. When we realize that everything we have is a gift from God, we will not spoil His generosity by turning His gift into personal accumulation. Luxury causes the heart to be ungrateful, arrogant and full of pride and blinds the eyes to see the hand of God and His blessings. God’s gifts are to be shared and given as a blessing to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Jesus talked about the rich man in the parable who wanted to hoard everything he had for himself with no concern for others.

And then, turning to the disciples, he said to them, “Notice that, and be on your guard against covetousness in any shape or form. For a man’s real life in no way depends upon the number of his possessions.” Then he gave them a parable in these words, “Once upon a time a rich man’s farmland produced heavy crops. So he said to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have no room to store this harvest of mine?’ Then he said, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll pull down my barns and build bigger ones where I can store all my grain and my goods. And I can say to my soul, Soul, you have plenty of good things stored up there for years to come. Relax! Eat, drink and have a good time!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this very night you will be asked for your soul! Then, who is going to possess all that you have prepared?’ That is what happens to the man who hoards things for himself and is not rich where God is concerned.” (Luke 12:15-21, PHILLIPS)

Rich Toward God

We do not truly love God and serve Him on a heart level if we hoard all our possessions for ourselves and do not reach out to those in need. No one can take his riches with them when they die. No one can take their possessions into eternity. The deceitfulness of riches hardens the heart to protect their riches at all costs and only use them to build their empire of vanity. It creates a false superiority over others and causes the heart to look in disdain to the poor, the struggling and those who do not have many earthly possessions. Pride fills the heart with cruelty and indifference as one is deceived into living in the world of luxury without any regard for God or others. Deceitfulness of riches causes the heart to be deceived into thinking that their rich lifestyle will go on forever and blinds the heart to the vital truths of eternity. The heart is darkened and foolishly does not realize that the bubble could burst at any moment, and then you must stand before the judgment seat of Christ where money and riches have no power to buy eternal life. They are filthy rags compared to the righteousness of God and the eternal treasures of His Word.

Life is Not Measured by Our Possessions

A person’s life is never measured by their possessions or wealth. God could care less how big your bank account is. The bigger question is what are we doing with the blessings that God has given us? Are we building bigger houses to store all our playthings or are we advancing God’s kingdom by being rich toward God and reaching out to bless others from our abundance? We are stewards of what God has given us, and He is to exercise His lordship over all our possessions so that we honor God with our giving. We are to become generous, like Christ is generous, for “in their generosity, believers reflect the character of God, who is the giver of all good things” (James 1:17). Then things do not control us for we are willing to let go of them for the glory of God in order to do His work upon the earth. Things no longer deceive us for we know the source of our blessings and our heart is ready to share those blessings with others. These thorns cannot survive or grow in this type of environment of the heart.

But we must never underestimate the power of riches to lead the heart to ruin. Money appeals to the flesh, as it wants to be master of the heart. Money demands allegiance. Money demands our first love. Money demands loyalty and devotion and has a strong pull on the heart to be lured into its trap.

No One Can Serve Two Masters

Jesus made it clear that we must decide whom we are going to serve. There comes a crossroad in a person’s life when they must make this critical decision: Am I going to devote myself to material things or God? Am I going to pursue money or God first in my life? What is my definition of success? Is it a life rich toward the treasures of this world or rich toward God?”

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24, KJV)

Mammon is an Aramaic word for wealth, property and anything of value. It refers to total wealth, which includes money, property and possessions. It is interesting in the Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible it capitalizes Mammon as if it were a god and in essence Jesus is saying “You cannot serve God and the god of possessions.” We cannot love wealth and love God at the same time. Both riches and God demand our time, energy, and devotion. Only one can hold and capture our heart. Only one can be the Lord of our heart. Only one will command our love, worship and reverence. One will be crowned king of our hearts and the other will be banished as insignificant. One will have our utmost loyalty and faithful service while the other will be relegated to the bottom of our priorities.

The Greek word for “hold” means to hold firmly, to strongly cling to, and to literally hold in front of one’s face. The Greek word for “despise” means to look down upon with contempt or aversion, to consider not important, to think little of, to neglect and not care for. It is pushing something aside because it is thought to have no value.

Ponder the meanings of these words for a moment and ask yourself which word describes the condition of your heart in relation to God and which word describes the condition of your heart in relation to possessions. We will strongly hold fast to one and place it continuously before our face. We will push aside the other one in contempt thinking it has no value. Do we hold fast to God or the god of possessions? Do we push God aside in contempt because we think He has little value or do we push aside the god of wealth and possessions? Which has more importance to us? Which has more value?

Too Little of God and Too Much of Things

Will we have the fruit of a life rich toward God or will the thorns of the deceitfulness of riches suffocate the life of God from our heart? Which one is our master? That which we love most, we worship as our God. God is always to be loved above all other things. Do we love things more than we love God? Too many of us have too little of God and too much of things.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions-is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17, ESV)

Where is Your First Love?

God commands us not to love the things of the world and not to have pride in our possessions for it will cause our love for our Heavenly Father to depart. Both loves cannot live within our heart. One love will suffocate and destroy the other. One love will crowd out and push the other from the heart. There is no room for double occupancy of both loves in the heart. They cannot live in peaceful co-existence. So the critical question for all eternity is: “Where does our first love lie?”

The Greek word for “love” is agapao, which is used to describe the unconditional, sacrificial love of God that He expresses for all men, women and children on earth. It is a love, which is awakened by a sense of value in the object that causes one to prize it. It springs from an appreciation of the preciousness of an object. It means to cherish with deep affection.

1 John was addressed to Christians in the church fellowship and contains one of the most important commandments ever pertaining to the heart. If we break this commandment, then our heart will turn from God and fall into great peril. There should be a huge warning sign beside this commandment. The breaking of this commandment contained in these three short verses will allow the enemy to gain control of our heart and enslave us in the trappings of this world. We are not be fooled by the mesmerizing and alluring display of what wealth and possessions have to offer. It is an illusion. It is such a glitzy presentation, but we do not realize the dangerous thorn and dagger that lurks right below the surface. Most Christians cannot resist. Most succumb to the temptation. Most sell out their love for God for gold. Most allow possessions to become the prize of their life, and God takes a second seat and becomes insignificant in their daily living. Most allow themselves to be deceived by riches and it chokes every trace of the Word of God from their hearts.

Lovers of Money More than Lovers of God

How this must hurt the heart of God when “things” replace God as our first love. We must guard our heart to never set our affection on the things and possessions of this world. We must never take this wonderful agapao love that is meant for God first and instead embrace the “things” of the world with it. This is at the heart of the deceitfulness of riches: the monstrous substitution of agapao love for God being replaced by agapao love for possessions.

We have become lovers of money more than lovers of God as our secular, materialistic society has contaminated our faith and corrupted our hearts. I pray God that this thorny weed of the deceitfulness of riches never is allowed to flourish in our hearts for it always contaminates our love for God and strangles it from our hearts.

We must ask our heart these questions daily: “Whom do I reserve my agapao love for today: God Almighty or the god of possessions?” “What do I prize as my most beloved possession: God or riches?” “What captures my affection and is the valuable treasure of my heart: God or our prideful possessions?” Both crave our love. Both crave our attention. Both crave our devotion. Both are jealous and want to be loved more than anything else. Which one will you choose?

Are we like the rich ruler in Luke 18 that desperately wanted eternal life, but he loved his riches so much that he refused to sell all that he had and give to the poor so he could accumulate great treasure in heaven? He went away very sorrowful from the presence of Jesus because his riches were more precious to him than Jesus. He cherished his possessions more than he cherished God. His wealth has such a hold on his heart that he walked away from eternal life!

Even Jesus was tempted by the Devil to sell his soul for the all the riches and power of the kingdoms on earth, but the Lord God Almighty was the treasure that Jesus’s heart worshipped. He would not bow his knee to the god of possessions and allow its thorny weeds to destroy his heart.

Our heart should cry out like Job 22:25-26: “Yes, the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver. For then you will have your delight in the Almighty and lift up your face to God.” God must be our delight and joy. He is our precious gold, silver and treasure. God’s riches of love, grace and mercy are a thousand times more valuable than the riches of this world. What does it matter if we gain the whole world and all its possessions, but lose our soul? What does it matter if we have all our possessions, but lose our love for God?

Money cannot buy us eternal life or an intimate relationship with God. Money cannot buy us treasures in heaven. Money cannot buy joy, love, peace or even true happiness. Money is temporal and is like a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow. Possessions pass away quickly and we cannot take them with us when we die. God is eternal and is from everlasting to everlasting. His magnificence, glory, grace, mercy, love and faithfulness are infinite and never perish. We have to be complete fools and absolutely deceived to place our heart in the hands of the god of possessions.

Wake up Christian church to this monstrous deception and cast down every vestige of gold from our hearts. Promise God that you will never worship our golden calf again. We must blazon this eternal truth in our souls and write it with a pen of iron on the tablets of our hearts: Nothing in the heavens and earth compares to our God! Nothing is greater, nothing is stronger, nothing is wiser, and nothing is more glorious that our Almighty God. He alone is what we should glory in. We should never waste the life of our heart on the temporal things of this world.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, ESV)

The Riches of Our Inheritance in God

Do we know the riches of the inheritance we have in Christ? Is our heart acquainted with the riches of the glory of Christ, which dwells within us? Do we know that the Bible declares we are heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ? Money is nothing and mere fool’s good compared to this.

Paul prays in Ephesians that the eyes of our understanding may be opened wide to see and know in no uncertain terms the riches of His glorious inheritance in the Christian believer. If we understand this mind-boggling truth, the riches of this world and their value will fade away into oblivion. The heart that understands these heavenly treasures in Christ will never be overgrown by the thorns of the deceitfulness of riches. There will be no deception because our eyes have been opened, and we have caught a glimpse of the heavenly glory of God’s rich inheritance that He has invested in each one of us.

The Example of C.T. Studd

C.T. Studd was born into immense riches and also became the most famous cricket player in England. He was the like the Michael Jordan or LeBron James of his generation, and he had it all: riches, fame, and luxury. However, he gave up everything to become a missionary in China, India and Africa.

What would lead a person to gladly leave riches, celebrity, and possessions to proclaim the gospel in some of the most remote areas on earth? He endured daily insult, danger, sickness, and extreme conditions of poverty when in China as even his bed was infested with scorpions. C.T. Studd could have been living in a stately mansion in England with his every need catered to, but he gave it all up, even living in tents in the deepest parts of Africa.

At the age of twenty-five, he was to inherit a large sum of money, yet he gave it all away. What would compel him to such a radical act of giving to win souls for Christ? Could it be that his heart beheld the living, glorious Christ and he knew him in such an intimate way that few ever experience. Something happens in the heart of a man or woman when they behold the cross and see the resurrected Christ in all his glory. C.T Studd beheld Christ, and his heart grabbed a hold of Christ, and his eyes were opened to the futility of a life sold out to possessions. He had experienced what the Apostle Paul had experienced, and he could not remain the same.

Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One). (Philippians 3:8, AMP)

Nothing on earth compares to the priceless privilege of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord in an intimate and abiding relationship. This is the greatest possession a person could have and the greatest treasure to abide in the heart. C.T. Studd dedicated His life so others may gain this great possession, the pearl of great price Jesus Christ. Listen to the heart of C.T. Studd:

I cannot tell you what joy it gave me to bring the first soul to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have tasted almost all the pleasures that this world can give. I do not suppose there is one that I have not experienced, but I can tell you that those pleasures were as nothing compared to the joy that the saving of that one soul gave to me.[iv]

Norman Grubb in C.T. Studd, Cricketer and Pioneer wrote:

C.T’s life stands as some rugged Gibraltar—a sign to all succeeding generations that it is worthwhile to lose all this world can offer and stake everything on the world to come. His life will be an eternal rebuke to easy-going Christianity. He has demonstrated what it means to follow Christ without counting the cost and without looking back. The riches of Christ are eternal, glorious, and precious beyond measure and the lure of the riches of this world fade into the night in comparison. CT Studd lamented the fact that so many heeded the call of gold over the call of God: “Last June at the mouth of the Congo there awaited a thousand prospectors, traders, merchants and gold seekers, waiting to rush into these regions as soon as the government opened the door to them, for rumor declared that there is an abundance of gold. If such hear so loudly the call of gold and obey it, can it be that the ears of Christ’s soldiers are deaf to the call of God? Are gamblers for gold so many and gamblers for God so few?”[v]

So many do not even give a second thought to selling out for gold, and so few even consider the thought of selling out to God. C.T. Studd’s life stands as a shining example that worldly possessions and riches can never compare to the satisfaction and joy of living for Christ. Riches can never deceive a heart that has beheld the glory of Christ and has abandoned all to know and love Him for all eternity. A few stanzas of C.T. Studd’s timeless poem should ring in our heart.

Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done; Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgement seat; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice, gently pleads for a better choice Bidding me selfish aims to leave, And to God’s holy will to cleave; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.[vi]

Two Attitudes That Allows This Thorn to Take Root

Let’s finish our examination of this third thorn of the heart by examining 1 Timothy 6 that pulls no punches in describing exactly what the love for riches will do to the human heart.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:9-12, NLT)

The Bible speaks of two attitudes in these verses that will open the door for the thorn of the deceitfulness of riches to take root in the soil of our hearts. The first attitude is to “long to be rich” and the second attitude is to “crave money.”

First Dangerous Attitude: Longing to be Rich

This first mindset is characterized by the attitude that we earnestly desire to seek riches as the main purpose of our lives. This always signals there is an immense amount of trouble and devastation that lies ahead on the horizon. The Greek word for “long for” means decision, purpose or plan, which is the result of inner deliberation. It describes something that has been reasoned and planned with intelligence. It is the weighty consideration, which precedes the effecting of the will.

This is not a fly by night decision of the heart. It is not wishful dreaming. It is not hoping that we may win the lottery someday. This involves much inner deliberation, consideration and reasoning to come up with a master plan to be rich. It consumes the heart. Nothing is more important. Everything in the heart is directed to utilizing all resources to accomplish this purpose. The heart cries out, “I must be rich! I must have many possessions! I must live in luxury with everything I need in the material realm! Nothing can stop me! I want to be a millionaire and enjoy the fruit of my money!”

The Second Dangerous Attitude: Craving Money

The second attitude of the heart is to have an intense craving for money. The Greek word for “crave” means to stretch one’s self out in order to grasp something, to passionately long for, and to give oneself up for something. It is interesting the same word is used in Hebrews 11:16 to describe the heroes of faith craving for their eternal home, the heavenly city that God has prepared for them. Their eyes were set on things above, not on things of this earth. However in these verses Timothy instead of being directed toward eternity, their craving is turned toward money. They love it with all their heart. They stretch their entire body and soul out so they can grasp the gold of this world. They crave it so much they would give up everything to obtain it. It is an unbridled passion that consumes the heart. The heart must have it. The heart is obsessed with it. The heart will not rest until it worships it as its own. They are obsessed with it and will not let go. They believe this is the precious treasure that gives life meaning and everything must be sacrificed to get it.

When we have either one of these attitudes of heart, the thorns burst forth from the soil suffocating and crowding everything in their path. The heart falls into the trap and is plagued by many foolish and hurtful desires that plunge it into ruin and destruction. The Greek word for “plunge” means to sink into the deep, to drag to the bottom, to submerge, and to drown. It is like a ship sinking to the bottom of the deep or a person drowning in the sea. It is in the indicative mood in the Greek, which is the mood of certainty, stating something as a fact that has occurred or will occur. The words “ruin and destruction” according to The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament are used “in the sense of ruin that suggests irretrievable loss.”[vii]

When we deliberately purpose to be rich with great longing, our heart is going to take the big plunge. It is guaranteed that we are going to sink. Our life is going to be dragged to the bottom of the deep and we are going to be drowning in ruin and destruction. We will suffer irretrievable loss both in our earthly lives and in eternity.

Is it worth it to sacrifice everything for the fleeting glimmer of gold that is full of empty promises and temporary satisfaction? The Word of God promises life and the love of riches promises a life that will ultimately be irretrievably lost in ruin. The Bible says this is a fact that will absolutely occur if our heart is sold out to riches. This is where the subtlety of the thorn of the deceitfulness of riches comes into play for only when the heart is deceived can it make such a foolish choice. The heart is seduced into error and becomes blind to the destructive nature both now and throughout all eternity of a life that serves the god of possessions. God is giving us a stern warning of the danger to the heart of the passionate love of money. In the end you will drown in the hopelessness of a life that puts the service to money ahead of the service to God.

The Love of Money Establishes a Root of Evil in the Heart

The love of money establishes a root in the heart and from this root all kinds of evil grows. This root anchors the heart to evil. So many evil words, actions, and attitudes spring forth like budding plants from this root. Pride, arrogance, bitterness, rivalry, lust, greed, covetousness, indifference and hatred are just a few of the evil works that spring forth from the root of the love of money. A root is embedded deep in the soil and if it is not uprooted will constantly produce these thorns. It is like a cancerous tumor that spreads its disease throughout the heart and contaminates it with evil. This root will cause disastrous consequences if allowed to remain and flourish in the heart.

The love of money seeks wealth as a solution to life’s problems. We see this attitude in the buying of a lottery ticket because we think if we win the lottery, it will solve all of our problems. Ironically just the opposite happens as the love of money brings a mountain of problems, hurt and devastation.

The love of money has severe and eternal consequences.  This is why Hebrews 13:5 (NASB) says: “Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have…” The love of money creeps into the heart when we desire to have more than what God gives. The love of money slithers in when we forget that life is a gift from God. Our heart should be content and thankful for what we have, and we should make it our aim to pursue godliness not riches. There is incredible freedom in the heart that is content and not wrapped up in the rat race of possessions. If we have food to heat, clothes for our body and a roof over our head, our heart should overflow with joy and thankfulness to God.

The love of money also has the tragic consequence of causing the heart to wander from the true faith. The Greek word for “wander” means to cause to go astray, and to lead away from the truth to error. The love of money can have such a powerful influence on the heart that it can cause you to walk away from God, from the lordship of Jesus Christ, and from the body of Christ. God is cast aside in order to bow at the altar of the god of possessions. Our foolish heart becomes darkened as we turn from the light of God and His Word and are led astray into the darkness of this world. We hopelessly stumble and wander as we have left the truth path of God. We have lost our eyes to see and our ears to hear. The heart will ultimately be pierced with many sorrows and consuming grief. The love of money will destroy any fruit for God in our hearts, suffocating the tender plant that is trying to produce fruit. Is it worth it to lose our hearts over money?

The Tragic Lesson of Judas

There is no greater example of this in the Word of God than Judas. Judas was one of the original twelve disciples that Jesus had chosen and throughout Jesus’s entire ministry on the earth, he was part of Jesus’s inner circle. Judas lived, ate, traveled and ministered with the Master. He witnessed amazing miracles on a daily basis: the dead raised, lepers healed, demons cast out, sicknesses healed and the captives set free. He was present for the Lord’s teachings and instructions and time and time again had the awesome privilege to hear the Lord share his heart to his disciples. Jesus gave Judas power over devil spirits to cast them out, to heal all manner of sickness and disease and all power to tread over the devil and his kingdom. Judas was sent out with the twelve to minister with this amazing power in the name of the Lord.

Can you imagine how astounding and exhilarating this must have been to witness firsthand the glory of God manifested! He lived and breathed in such closeness to the Son of God that he saw and heard the Lord Jesus in an intimate matter that only a few had the honor to be part of this inner sanctuary. This is the long awaited Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings! Think of what a magnificent and breathtaking experience this must have been!

But even in the midst of living with the Messiah and experiencing the Lord of Glory in his wonderful earthly ministry, the love of money and the god of possessions began to work on Judas’s heart. Judas was keeper of the moneybag for the ministry of Jesus and began to steal from it according to John 12:6. The love of money began to take root in his heart as he became a thief and stole from the Lord Jesus. Judas’s heart was beginning to wander and be led astray by the enemy and the thorn of the deceitfulness of riches was beginning to raise its ugly head and grow in the soil of his heart. This thorn began to rapidly increase suffocating any plants growing from the seeds of the Word of God sown by Jesus. The door was opened through the thorn of the deceitfulness of riches for Judas to be receptive to the devil’s promptings.

Oh how dangerous, deceitful and powerful is the love of money to cause Judas, one of the original twelve, to betray the Lord Jesus! Jesus even reached out to Judas at the last supper by washing his feet, giving him the sop which was given to the most beloved guest, and giving him the opportunity to repent. But this thorn was so strong and the love of money had established such an evil root in the heart of Judas that the Bible says Satan entered into him. He left the presence of Jesus to sell him out, driven by the love of money. It was the dark night of his heart.

The love of money had such a hold on the heart of Judas that it drove Judas to seek out the enemies of the Lord Jesus and make the mind-boggling statement: “What will you pay me to betray Jesus?” There is no more tragic statement of the heart in all Scriptures than this: “What will you give me to throw down the love, light, teaching, and ministry of God’s beloved Son and trample them under foot?” Psalm 41 states in prophecy that Judas was a close friend of Jesus in whom he trusted. But Judas threw it all away for the love of money. Money was more important to Judas than the Lord Jesus. Money had become the god of his heart. His heart had turned dramatically as he became a lover of money more than a lover of God.

It did not take much money for Judas to betray Jesus. He sold out the Savior for the paltry sum of thirty pieces of silver which according to Exodus 21:32 was the fine to be paid when a man’s ox gored another man’s servant and injured him. Only thirty pieces of silver, the lowest price of a slave, was the price paid for the betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Judas had been led astray from the faith and seduced into the most egregious sin and error in human history by his greed and love of money. This should be a sober lesson to us all as God pleads with us in Ephesians 5:3 to not have one hint of greed or covetousness in our heart. The idolatrous sin of the love of money should never once be named in the chambers of our heart or in the body of Christ. It is too dangerous to even allow a sliver of this monstrous thorn to abide in the heart.

It is interesting according to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia that Judas was called “Iscariot” and it could have been a descriptive nickname for Judas meaning “Man of the Lie.”[viii] Is there any greater lie promulgated today than money is more worthy of our devotion than God? Is there any greater deception today than we should sell our souls for the pursuit of the Almighty dollar and its promises of fame and fortune? Everyone wants to be a millionaire no matter what the cost. God demands that we renounce all other lovers if we are to serve and worship Him. Are we going to be lovers of God or lovers of money? God has the exclusive right to the love of His children and He will tolerate no rival. He will not accept our heart as rooted and grounded in any other thing than Him.

[i] Charles Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Popular Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1893), 37.

[ii] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (New York: Start Publishing LLC, 2012, originally published in 1948), 18, 19.

[iii] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Four: Q-Z, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman Publishing Company, 1988).

[iv] Norman Grubb, C.T. Studd, Cricketer and Pioneer (Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 1970), 33.

[v] Ibid., 127.

[vi] C. T. Studd, “Only One Life, Twill Soon Be Past” (1860-1931).

[vii] Rogers and Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 498.

[viii] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Four: Q-Z, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman Publishing Company, 1988)

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The Parable of the Sower: The Second Thorn-The Cares of This Life

The second thorn in the Parable of the Sower is “the cares of this life.” The same Greek word is used for “cares” so these are still anxious worries that divide and distract the mind and agitate the heart with fear, but it is a different category of cares. The word “life” is bios which means the life which we live or the manner of our lives. This is our surface life, the things of everyday living, or the basic needs of life to sustain it on a physical level. Examples of bios are food, shelter, physical health, water, jobs, finances, bills, relationships and all problems that may arise from our day to day living.

These second thorns are anxious worries of daily living such as: “How am I going to pay my bills? I lost my job! How am I going feed and clothe my family? What happens if I get a serious illness? I have no medical insurance. My family schedule is too demanding. I am so tired! My job is too overwhelming as by boss expects too much! My car is on its last leg!” These anxious cares will grow rapidly in the heart and choke the promises of God that declare in no uncertain terms that God will provide and meet all of our daily needs of living. Jesus perfectly illustrates these anxious cares in the Sermon on the Mount and commands these worries have no place in the heart of the child of God.

Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV):

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,

Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

These anxious worries of everyday living are some of the most common thorns that the human heart must deal with on a daily basis. They are deadly to the growth of the Word of God in our hearts for at their core they indicate a lack of trust that our Heavenly Father is really big enough to take care of our every need. These thorns indicate a heart that is full of unbelief and little faith that God can provide for even our most basic necessities of life. On an even deeper level these thorns are indicative of a heart that really does not know their Heavenly Father and His character, and consequently does not have an intimate relationship with Him.

The Bible declares one of the names of God is Yahweh Jireh, the Lord sees and provides. He has given us thousands of promises in His Word that He will provide for us on every level of our physical existence even down to the smallest detail of life. He promises that He is our provision and our daily bread and will never forsake, leave or fail us. This is our Heavenly Father’s very nature and to know God is to have full confidence in this fundamental truth of Christian living. This is why God declares in no uncertain terms, “Do not be anxious about your life!” From the Greek sense of this phrase it strongly states: “STOP perpetually worrying about EVEN ONE THING!” Our heart must be fully confident of this truth that God promises to take care of us, and we need never have one ounce of worry, fear, doubt or anxiety about anything.

Jesus paints a beautiful picture of how God takes care of the birds and the wild flowers of the field, attending to their every need. God is always faithful to feed the birds even though they never plant or harvest food, and faithful to clothe the flower with some of the most beautiful garments on earth.  Look at how God has so wonderfully adorned the wildflower and clothed it with His breathtaking beauty. Have you ever gazed at a flower and seen its intricate detail, its vibrant colors, and its indescribable perfection? Even the great king Solomon, the richest, wisest and most powerful king in the Old Testament, clothed in all the glory of his kingly raiment, cannot compare to the beauty with which God has dressed a single flower. Flowers illustrate a free and carefree existence in the presence of their Creator and display the wonder and faithfulness of God.

What about God’s children? Will He do any less? We have a thousand times more value to God than a bird or flower so why do we even have one iota of anxiety that He won’t take care of us? Oh how little our faith has been in our Heavenly Father! Oh how little we trust His faithfulness! Oh how our heart has been deceived into thinking that God does not care! Oh how little confidence have we have in his promises!

Anxiety and Fear: The Habitual Mindset of This World

Worry, anxiety and fear is the habitual mindset of the world and the unbeliever. Everything is this culture is designed to weaken our trust in God and seize the heart with fear. The world harvests a bumper crop of these thorns daily and is ever ready to sow them into our hearts. These thorns are the bait of the enemy to try to get us to doubt our God and His faithfulness to His Word. Anxiety and fear will never have one positive contribution to the Christian heart and, are in fact, its greatest enemies. These thought patterns kill faith and turn the heart away from God to unbelief, robbing us of the joy of walking in intimacy with our Lord. If allowed to take root, these thorns are extremely powerful and have a tendency to consume the heart. There is no better example than the children of Israel and their exodus from Egypt to see the dangers of this thorn.

God worked incredible miracles to get the Pharaoh of Egypt to let the children of Israel leave under the leadership of Moses. When Pharaoh had a change of heart and pursued the Israelites with the force of the Egyptian army, God performed one of the most amazing miracles in the history of the world. God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through safely, and then closed the waters on the Egyptian army. God had intervened in battle for His people against the most powerful army on the face of the earth without Israel lifting one weapon to defend themselves. What an inspiring testimony of the Almighty God to protect and care for His people under the most adverse circumstances imaginable.

Can we imagine seeing this with our own eyes? How much would our faith in God skyrocket? How much wonder would fill our hearts at the majesty of our God?  Wouldn’t we fall down our knees and worship God! The Israelites even sang a song of praise giving God all the glory, as they proclaimed His overwhelming victory.

The Complainers

Yet look at their hearts just 72 hours later as we begin to see thorns taking root and consuming their hearts.

Exodus 15:22,24 (NLT):

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water.

When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).

Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded.

The Israelites hearts were full of anxious fear that they were going to die in the wilderness. Three days in the hot sun of the desert, caused them to forget God’s miracles of provision and lose all trust in God. Their faith in God and His promises withered in the scorching desert sun, and the soil of their hearts began to produce the thorns of the anxious cares of this life.  God made the bitter waters sweet and showed the Israelites again that He will take care of their needs of daily living. However, this wondrous work of God’s love did little to change their heart and keep these thorns from suffocating the promises of God. We see the same pattern one month later, as these thorns became more dominant in their hearts, turning them again against God and His prophet.

Exodus 16:1,2 (NLT):

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt.

There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.

“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

This wasn’t just a few malcontents, but the whole community of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron with shocking words that were born out of a heart full of fear. They wished God would have just killed them in Egypt because at least their bellies were full.  Thirty days in the wilderness caused their hearts to be so overgrown with thorns, and they refused to have one ounce of trust in their God to take care of them. God rained manna from heaven six days a week to feed His children as the Bible testifies of the astounding heart of God to go to any length to provide for His children.

So why do we doubt that God will take care of us? Why are we anxious that God will forget our basic needs of living? Why do we think that God will abandon us? Why do we let our heart so easily be driven to these conclusions? I often wonder if I was part of the congregation of Israel if I would have joined in the murmuring and complaining against Moses and Aaron or if my heart would have trusted God to provide me with food and drink. How would your heart respond? Would you be a trustor or a complainer? Would your heart be full of anxiety or full of confidence in your God? Would the thorns of the anxious cares of this life consume your heart?

I Peter 5:6-8 (Amplified):

Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you,

Casting the whole of your care (merimnao) [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.

Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.

Humility: The Great Fertilizer of the Soil of the Heart

Anxiety, fear and worry die at the altar of humility. Humility is the great pesticide to kill these thorns of anxious cares and eradicate them from the heart. Humility is also the fertilizer of the soil, allowing our hearts to flourish in an environment free from the torment of anxiety and fear. Humility is the essential ingredient the heart needs to live care free. K.P. Yohannon in Destined to Soar says:

The foundation for learning to walk with the Lord, for serving Him and for becoming a blessing to others begins with the humility to act on God’s thoughts instead of our own…We must determine to act on His Word rather than our own thoughts or those the devil may whisper into our minds.[i]

To have the heart full of humility acting on God’s Word, causes the tender plant to grow strong, and the thorns of anxious cares to wither and fade into nothingness. To have anxiety indicates a lack of humility in the heart. Fear, worry and anxiety are all rooted in pride. Too prideful to let go and cast all our concerns on God; too prideful to realize we desperately need God’s help; too prideful to think we cannot solve our own problems, and too prideful to realize that the self-made man or woman is an illusion of our culture.

Anxiety melts away when we realize we are not self-sufficient, but God sufficient. Anxiety disappears as a vapor in the night when we allow God to assume the rightful throne of our hearts. Fear, worry, doubt and anxiety are burned up in the holy presence of our God.

God has very broad shoulders, and He makes it perfectly clear that every anxious care in our hearts must be cast upon Him. We cannot allow one thorny care to remain for they will multiply and strangle the Word of God from the heart. The thorny weeds of the anxious cares of daily living are some of the peskiest weeds ever known to the human heart. We must diligently watch the garden of our heart for these weeds will try to pop up daily and contaminate our lives with their propaganda.  Anxiety is not a normal emotion of life for the Christian heart, but a thorny weed that has no place in the one who trusts and obeys the Heavenly Father.

We are God’s personal concern. We are God’s beloved children. God’s thoughts about us are more numerous than the sand of the sea. God affectionately and watchfully cares for us. God is our keeper, protector and helper, but we have to let Him do His job. How the heart of God must be in anguish when He sees His own children’s hearts overgrown with the thorns of anxiety, worry and fear as they try to carry burdens that only He can carry. God commands His children to once and for all cast every anxiety, fear, worry and doubt on the broad shoulders of God and never look back. Never again must the heart be agitated and disturbed by these anxious cares for our God is bigger, our God is stronger and our God is more powerful than all of these thorny weeds. We uproot every weed of anxiety, worry and fear and give it to the Master Gardener of our heart.

There is a loud roar of the lion in these anxious cares of life. The roar attempts to intimidate by fear. The roar attempts to grab the heart with anxiety. The roar attempts to overwhelm the heart with worry. The lion’s roar is a weapon to send a message of fear. The lion’s roar is meant to freeze the heart in fear. The lion’s roar is not the voice our heart should be listening to or considering as it always tries to drown out the voice of God speaking from the Scriptures.

The Greek word “roar’ means the howl of a beast in fierce hunger and is in the present tense which means the roar is a continuous, habitual action daily that represents the devil’s lifestyle. The devil wants to fiercely devour the heart so he is constantly roaring attempting to get the thorns of anxiety, fear and worry to take root and consume the heart. The roar is designed to produce these thorns and give the devil the open door to devour the heart. There is not a place upon the earth where this roar is not heard as it is a universal tool of the enemy to capture and destroy the heart.

Yet God is in the business of stopping the mouths of lions like He did for Daniel in the lion’s den. Only God can silence the roar of fear, anxiety and worry in the human heart for our times are in His mighty hands. We need not fear for God is our Heavenly Father and on our side, and He will fight every battle with this raging lion.

The Greek word for “devour” in I Peter 5:8 literally means to drink down or cause something to pass through the mouth and into the stomach, to swallow up completely, and to gulp down. Figuratively it means to cause the complete destruction of something or someone. The Greek word was used to describe engulfing waves of the sea which swallow up and drown a person.

Do you see why these anxious thorns are so destructive to the heart and must be eliminated at all costs? These anxious thorns allow the enemy to swallow up the heart. If we do not learn how to overcome anxiety, fear and worry by unwavering trust in our God, our heart is going to be swallowed up by the Devil. When the heart is overwhelmed with anxiety, it becomes immobilized where we cannot please God nor do His will. A fearful heart cannot love God and love others. An anxious heart cannot walk in the mighty power of God. A fearful heart cannot serve God.  An anxious heart cannot praise and worship God and be thankful for His blessings and protection.  A fearful heart denies the Lord Jesus and says to the world “I do not know the man!” Fear causes our heart to deny any commitment to Jesus in front of the eyes of the world.

The Word of God cannot live in a heart that is overrun with the thorns of anxiety, worry and fear as they allow the Devil to mold us to reflect His character. Our heart can never be conformed to the image of Christ if we allow anxiety, worry and fear to take up their abode as residents of our heart. Fear and anxiety are a clear indication that we doubt God’s love for us, and we really do not know our God. Whether it is the anxious cares of this age or the anxious cares of daily living, we must be ever so vigilant to not allow these thorns to gain a foothold in our hearts and suffocate the Word of God into extinction.

[i] K.P. Yohannon, Destined to Soar (Carrolton: GFA Books 2009), 118,119.

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Parable of the Sower: The Third Soil of the Heart: The Five Thorns to Avoid

Let us examine the third soil of the heart and what happens when the Word of God is sown into it.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. (Matthew 13:7, 22, NKJV)

Other seed of the same kind fell among thorn plants, and the thistles grew and pressed together and utterly choked and suffocated it, and it yielded no grain. And the ones sown among the thorns are others who hear the Word; Then the cares and anxieties of the world and distractions of the age, and the pleasure and delight and false glamour and deceitfulness of riches, and the craving and passionate desire for other things creep in and choke and suffocate the Word, and it becomes fruitless. (Mark 4:7, 18-19, AMP)

And other seed fell in the midst of the thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it off. And as for what fell among the thorns, these are the people who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked and suffocated with the anxieties and cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not ripen (come to maturity and perfection). (Luke 8:7, 14, AMP)

In this third soil of the heart, the seed of the Word of God fell among the seeds of thorns and both began to grow in this fertile soil. This word “thorn” in the Greek means a thorny plant, a bramble bush, briers, and thistles. It is essentially a prickly weed.

Thorns were not a part of God’s original creation as they came from the disobedience of Adam and the curse of sin upon God’s creation. After Adam sinned, thorns began to spring up on the earth, but they also began to multiply in the hearts of people. Thorns are an obstacle to the way of God in our lives. A heart that produces thorns and thistles is worthless in its fruit before God.

Characteristics of Thorny Weeds

Physical thorns have sharp points that cause pain. These thorny weeds rob the good plants of moisture, light, nutrients and space. Weeds are very aggressive in growth and reproduce rapidly. It is estimated that a single plant of pigweed can produce over 120,000 seeds, and a single plant of mullein weed can produce 223,200 seeds! These figures are staggering as to how many weeds can multiply from one simple plant.

Also the longevity of the seed that weeds produce is amazing. The seed of the curly dock is viable for 80 years once it is sown into the ground, and the seed of the black mustard weed is viable for 50 years once it is sown.

Weeds are not only prolific seed producers capable of quick reproduction, but have an amazing resilience to survive and grow even in the harshest environmental conditions. Weeds have deep roots, and are very tolerant and can thrive in adverse growing conditions. Weeds will out compete almost all native vegetation, as they have an earlier growth in the spring and get a head start on moisture and nutrients in the soil. Weeds are masters of survival and quickly can dominate an entire landscape. Weeds cannot be ignored, as they do not suddenly go away, but spread like wildfire if not aggressively dealt with.

There are even weeds that are classified as noxious weeds by the government because they are injurious to agricultural and horticultural crops, livestock, and humans. Noxious weeds can create an undesirable habitat for plants and insects, and even eliminate certain species because of their control of the environment. These weeds can increase wind and water erosion, and alter nutrient cycling.

Weeds can also be carriers of toxins, disease and pests that can destroy crops and livestock. Government agencies work aggressively to control these noxious weeds from causing too much damage as they realize the devastating effects weeds can have on a community, state and nation. Weeds dramatically affect the amount of crops the ground produces. It is estimated 15-20% of the world’s potential crop production is lost annually because of weeds. This amount would be doubled without the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Israel in Bible times had a great variety of these thorny weeds throughout its land. In fact travelers called the Holy Land a “land of thorns.” Giant thistles, growing to the height of a man on horseback, frequently spread over regions once rich and fruitful. Many of the most interesting historic spats and ruins in Israel are rendered almost inaccessible by thickets of fiercely armed buckthorns. Entire fields are covered with the troublesome creeping stems of the spinousononis thorny weeds, while the bare hillsides are studded with the dangerous capsules of the puliuris and tribulus weeds. Prickly roses abound on the lower slopes of Hermon, while the sub-tropical valleys of Judea are choked up in many places by the thorny lycium. There are more than 125 species of thorns and thistles that are found throughout Israel and some are beautiful to the eye, hiding their dangerous and invasive qualities.

The same characteristics of thorny weeds in the physical realm also apply to the mental, emotional and spiritual realm of the heart. Thorns can grow rapidly in the soil of the heart and continue to thrive for an entire lifetime. Thorns can take over the environment controlling the amount of light, truth, and life that abounds in the heart. Thorns can control the spiritual food that the heart feeds off and the boundaries of the heart in thought, word and action.

Thorns are very resilient and can come back again and again with relentless fury to make their permanent home in our hearts. Thorns are carriers of spiritual disease and allow rebellion, lust, and idolatry to ride into the human heart. Thorns hinder the heart from producing fruit for God and good works that glorify Him.

A thorn is a symbol of the flesh that God is not enough for me, and I need to revel in the ways of the world. Thorns are symbolic of a lack of trust in God and a lack of faith in God’s faithfulness to His Word. Thorns will consume our love for God, replacing them with an idol to devour our thoughts and emotions. Thorns always choke and suffocate the Word of God in the heart and do not allow it to come to full fruition. Thorns are a detour, a wrong path to follow, and have severe consequences for the health of our heart.

Thorny seeds are always lurking, ready to sprout into action, to take control of the soil of the heart. Since the fall of Adam when sin poured into the very nature of the human race, thorns have been natural and indigenous to the soil of the heart. For most of us, thorns have been growing in our hearts all our life until we met the Master Gardener, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to uproot these thorns for they were not planted by our Heavenly Father. Thorns are very much at home in the heart as their seeds are scattered in the soil of every human heart on earth.

Sooner or later we will all face the question “What are we going to do about these prickly, thorny weeds that want to dominate the vineyard of our hearts?” What are our weed management and control policies when it comes to our own heart? Is our heart overgrown with weeds that our suffocating the spiritual condition of our heart? We cannot ignore these prickly weeds if we want our hearts to reflect the glorious image of our Lord.

Jesus Christ is the only solution for these noxious weeds for only through Him can we overcome these thorny weeds and prevent them from becoming the natural habitat of our heart. These prickly weeds must be cut down by the sword of the spirit and uprooted daily by the renewing of our minds to the Word of God. We must boldly proclaim that the soil of our heart has been washed by the blood of Jesus Christ and the living waters of His Word and these thorny weeds will no longer contaminate, control or grow in our hearts. We pledge to be ever vigilant on our weed watch over our hearts and aggressively uproot any thorn when it begins to show its ugly head.

Thorns do not like to give up their space and soil to anything. Thorns are fiercely loyal to sin, rebellion and disobedience and get nourishment from our own sin nature if they are allowed to run wild in the heart. Thorns want to control the landscape of the heart and these prickly weeds will consume all life out of the soil if we allow them. These thorny weeds can overshadow, crowd and choke any plant of godliness in our heart.

In the parable, the two plants, one from the seed of God’s Word, and the other from the seed of the enemy, began to grow and spring up at the same time. One will live and one will die in the soil in the heart. They cannot both co-exist and bring forth fruit. One will flourish and one will wither. One will blossom and one will wilt.

The Word of God began to grow in this soil of the heart and a beautiful, tender plant was arising and reaching towards the heavens. However, the thorny weeds were rapidly sprouting up right alongside this tender plant. The prickly weeds multiplied and began to crowd the small plant aggressively invading its space. The thorns entangled around the plant and grew above and around it, blocking the rays of sunshine from heaven and taking vital soil nutrients and moisture from the new plant. The thorns continue to rapidly press against the plant and soon it cannot take in the sunshine, moisture, oxygen and nutrients essential to its survival. Engulfed in the shadow of the thorns, the plant begins to choke as the slow process of suffocation starts. The growth suddenly stops and the tender plant is fighting for its very life.

The thorns stranglehold on the plant strengthens, and the plant is choked more aggressively, as it is suffocating by the compression of the thorny weeds. The new plant is gasping for oxygen. It is struggling to receive sunshine from heaven, and is dying of thirst as it is robbed of life-giving water from the soil. The thorns are multiplying at a staggering rate, and the tender plant is being overwhelmed and slowly killed by suffocation, lack of care and starvation. Finally the plant is crushed under the weight of the thorns and all potential for fruit vanishes as it withers and dies. It is killed by strangulation and an aggressive invasion of its life support system. May God help us to never allow these thorns to suffocate the Word of God from our hearts!

The third soil of the heart allows the thorns to win the race for the human heart. Never underestimate the power of the thorns to choke the growth of the Word of God from the soil of the heart. We cannot serve our God, love our Lord and follow His will if we allow thorns to dominate the landscape of our heart. Thorns are always ready to corrupt our heart and to destroy our God-given calling. We must have daily weed control when it comes to the heart, or we will be barren and fruitless in the service of our God.

When we look at all three accounts of this parable as a whole, we see five specific thorns that Jesus warned us about that will keep us from being fruitful for our God. These five thorns have an amazing ability to suffocate and choke the good seed sown in our hearts rendering it ineffective to change and transform our lives. These five thorns are some of the most destructive things on earth to the heart and are five agents of sin with the assignment to destroy every remnant of the Word of God from the heart. These five secret emissaries of the Evil One are masterfully deceptive and are the means to seduce the heart into their tempting snare. Jesus set forth each of these thorns by name so we are not ignorant of their existence, nature and power.

To ignore these thorns is to set the heart in grave danger of being invaded by the Enemy to be used by him at His will. Thorns are one of the great weapons of the devil to ensnare the heart in his tangled web and devour it. He arranges the world system and orchestrates images for our eyes to see and words for our ears to hear that promote the rapid growth of thorny weeds in the heart. The devil is not only throwing thorny seeds into our hearts if we let him, but he also has many fertilizer and growth supplements for these thorns. If we allow his images, words and thoughts to settle in our hearts, we are fertilizing the prickly weeds so they will explode in growth and spread into every corner of our lives. We must identify and examine each one of these five thorns so we can uproot all of these dangerous weeds from our hearts.

The First Thorn: The Cares of This World

The first thorn is “the cares of this world” (Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:19). The Greek word for “cares” in these verses means an anxious worry that distracts and divides the mind. It is to be mentally distressed, agitated and troubled with anxiety. It is a brooding fear that brings with it a feeling of apprehension, uneasiness and dread. It describes the mental state of being pulled apart in different directions. It is to have a worrisome expectation and aching sense of grief of some danger or misfortune. These anxious cares and worries always cause one to have a divided heart that is distracted and pulled in a wrong direction away from God. These anxious worries and cares are indicative of a heart that does not trust God.

There is a very interesting etymology of the word “worry” from the Old High German word “wurgen” which meant “to strangle.” The Old English word meant “to strangle or choke” and was further defined as to grasp by the throat and lacerate with the teeth, or to injure and kill by biting and shaking. It is like a dog that attacks an animal by taking it in its mouth and violently shaking it. This is what worry does to the heart. Worry strangles and chokes the life out of you and figuratively grasps the heart by the throat and does not let it breathe. Worry lacerates the heart as it takes it in its mouth and violently shakes it bringing it into a state of hopeless confusion and utter calamity.

It is enlightening to look at the usage of this word in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, as it gives us further understanding into the biblical meaning of this word.

I will also appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed (merimnao in Septuagint and ragaz in Hebrew) again, nor will the wicked afflict them anymore as formerly. (2 Samuel 7:10, NAS)

The Hebrew word ragaz means to shake, tremble, agitate, disturb, and provoke. It is to be shaken and disturbed by intense emotion because of specific circumstances. When God planted His people and they obey Him, there are no thorns of disturbance and agitation that arise in their hearts. They are not shaken by the enemy or put into bondage by fear. No circumstance, problem, or evil can disturb the heart. The wicked cannot afflict the heart of the person who is planted firmly in God.

For I confess my iniquity: I am full of anxiety (merimnao in Septuagint) because of my sin. (Psalm 38:18, NAS)

Unrepentant sin is a major cause of anxiety in the heart. Sin is the fuel of these thorny cares and is a formidable opponent of a fruitful heart that will glorify the Lord of the Harvest. Sin lurks within, ready to produce a bumper crop of thorns to reproduce its kind in the heart, suffocating the seed of the Word of God. The thorns of sin agitate the heart, robbing it of peace, and strangling the heart with fear and anxiety. A heart full of thorns has lost its trust in God. It has abandoned faith in God’s love, grace and faithfulness. The thorns of sin multiply like wild fire and consume the heart with its fruit of fear. Jesus Christ crushed the power of sin and through Him we can thwart the thorns of sin from reigning in our hearts. Anxiety, worry and fear are sin, and should have no place in the heart of a Christian.

When we examine this first thorn of “the cares of this world,” the Greek word for “world” is aion. Remember aion means “age” which is all that exists in the world at any point of time and the current state of the world’s affairs. It is all the opinions, fashions, trends, maxims, speculations, politics, morals, and aspirations at any time current in the world. It is the present day atmosphere and heartbeat of our culture and is broadcast to our hearts through television, radio, Internet, movies, newspapers, and books. It is the modern state of global affairs and the driving forces behind it. The spirit of this age tills the ground of the heart making it ready for the planting and growth of these thorny spiritual weeds.

All we have to do is turn on the television, pick up a newspaper or get on the Internet to get a vibrant picture of these thorny “cares of this world.” This category of anxious cares are more global in their scope as they are rooted in the current state of affairs in our communities, cities, and nations around the world. The chaos of the age is at the heart of these thorns. Terrorism, violence, recessions, unemployment, poverty, wars, droughts, and crime are but a few of the enemy’s weapons to throw at the heart to get it in a state of anxiety and fear. Daily our hearts are bombarded with disasters, bad news and terrible forecasts all aimed to get us to fear and lose faith in God.

We cannot let the negative news of the day choke the Word of God from our hearts. God will always provide for us if we trust His promises. He will never fail us no matter how bleak the world looks around us. Our lives are in the mighty hands of God Almighty. Our hearts need a good dose of the words of our Creator in Psalm 91 to combat the increasingly dreadful events that happen around the world every single day.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, No evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation. (Psalm 91:1-7, 9-10, 13-16, NLT)

These words are from the heart of God who truly loves and cares for you. No terror, plague, devastation, recession, or violence can harm a hair on your head for God is your refuge and place of safety. He provides for you, even if he has to send ravens to feed you like Elijah or rain bread from heaven, God will never fail to take care of you in the midst of the chaos of this world. If you are fearful about the current state of world affairs, you do not trust in your God. You are allowing the thorns of these anxious cares to choke the truth of Psalm 91 and other Scriptures from your heart.

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let you fall. Your guardian will not fall asleep. The Lord is your guardian. The Lord is the shade over your right hand. The sun will not beat down on you during the day, nor will the moon at night. The Lord guards you from every evil. He guards your life. The Lord guards you as you come and go, now and forever. (Psalm 121:2-3, 5-8, GW)

Our help does not come from our checking account, political affiliation, educational degrees, material possessions, and natural abilities. Our help comes from the Maker of the heavens and earth. He is our protector; He is our guardian; He is our defender; He is our keeper; He is our shepherd; He is our anchor; He is our shield; He is our refuge, and He is our Heavenly Father. Why are we so anxious? Why are our hearts so intoxicated with worry? Why do these anxious thorns of this age so easily grow in our hearts?

The Bigness of Our God

Do you have any idea how big our God is? 2 Chronicles 6:18 says, “The heavens, even the highest heavens cannot contain you.” The entire universe is not big enough to contain our God! John Bevere in Enemy Access Denied says God is “bigger that you are even capable of thinking.”[i] Can you even catch a glimpse of the vastness and majesty of our God?

If we would board a plane, it would take twenty-one years to reach the sun, which is ninety-three million miles away, and a whopping fifty three BILLION years to reach the nearest star, which is four and one-half light years away. The stars we see shining at night are one hundred to one thousand light years away. Light travels at one hundred eighty-six thousand miles per second, or seven hundred million miles an hour, and it would take hundreds and hundreds of years to reach them. NASA’s Hubble Space telescope has sent back pictures of galaxies that are seven thousand light years from the earth. Even more amazing, the Keck Observatory in Hawaii has observed galaxies more than fifty to three hundred million light years away! The farthest galaxy would take you three hundred million years to reach traveling at seven hundred million miles per hour! Now that is a long plane ride!

Yet God says in Isaiah 40:12 that “He has measured off the heavens with his fingers.” It is estimated that there are five hundred billion galaxies in the universe and three hundred billion stars in each galaxy and Isaiah 40:26 says God created every single star, and “He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.”

Are you beginning to get an inkling of how big our God is? Isaiah 40:15 says “He picks up the whole earth as if it were a grain of sand” and Isaiah declares God is “the High and Lofty One that inhabits eternity!” It is incomprehensible to the human mind to even begin to understand the limitlessness and supremacy of our God. Nothing compares to Him! Yet we are worried and full of anxiety about the evening news!

Our heart needs to wake up and open its eyes to the greatness of our God. We need to turn our heart toward God’s mighty throne and say, “Fear not! Behold your God!” The anxious cares of this age melt away when we begin to see the immeasurable glory, strength and power of our God! Isn’t it time we begin to trust in Him regardless of the negative news headlines of despair that the media broadcasts daily around the world.

Men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Luke 21:46, NASB)

The world is shipwrecked and gone mad, drunk on its own sin and self-serving ways as it has rejected the Word of God and the authority of God to rule their lives. The world is in a state of rapid decay. Evil will progressively get worse because the devil is the prince of this world and the god of this age. His character is stamped on world events and his heart is manifested in the unspeakable evils that are seen and heard every day and night. No politician will ever come up with some magic pill or brilliant plan to solve the world’s ills. The world news will only get worse because its prince is bent on its destruction. We cannot allow ourselves to get wrapped up in this negativity and chaos or our heart will fail us because of fear and uncertainty. Everything that is happening in the world is designed to get us to fear and lose faith in our God.

God commands us not to be anxious about anything that is happening in this crazy world. God is on our side and He resides within us and nothing can stand against us for we dwell in His strong tower.

The major problem with the world is there is no fear of God in their eyes. This is at the root of every problem and evil in the world. The world does not stand in awe of the name of the Lord. The world tells God to get out of the way for you are not needed or wanted here. The world despises God’s Word and rather trusts in their iniquity, which causes evil to flourish and eventually shatter their world into pieces.

Our hearts must come out and be separate from the world, and with a holy, reverential awe of God, place all of our trust in God. With quiet confidence, we know our God shall never fail or forsake us in this wicked age, as fear has no place in our heart. We rip these thorny plants from the soil of our heart for we know God is our refuge in times of trouble.

The Pressure to Measure Up to the World’s Image of Perfection

There is another aspect to the “cares of this age” that I would be remiss if I did not at least briefly comment on. Anxious worries and fears also arise from the cultural fads, trends and fashions of the current times that pressure the heart to conform to its ways. The world tells us we are not pretty enough, not thin enough, not young enough, not hip enough and not cool enough so we become obsessed with changing our image to conform to this world. The pressure to measure up to the world’s image of perfection is overwhelming and consuming for millions of people of all ages. People become obsessed with diets, plastic surgeries, fashion, possessions, money, cosmetics and social media to look like the airbrushed images of models in magazines and the latest icon coming out of Hollywood. We have become a culture of beauty, fame, power and riches at any cost. We judge people based upon their outward appearance and not upon the content of their heart.

Even in the midst of a recession in America, over ten billion dollars was spent on cosmetic procedures with over ten million surgical and non-surgical procedures. This does not even include the billions spent on cosmetic products to try to make us look more beautiful, younger and attractive. This insane and relentless pursuit of the world’s image of beauty has caused an epidemic of depression, eating disorders, addiction, unhappiness and even suicide. The culture’s anxious cares are crushing the hearts of old and young. A.W. Tozer said, “It will require a determined heart and more than a little courage to wrench ourselves loose from the grip of our times.”[ii]

God Has Made You Beautiful

God wonderfully made every detail of our bodies and knit together every amazing feature in our mother’s womb. God made each of us beautiful in His eyes. Our physical bodies are a masterpiece of His creation. God does not make anything ugly, so why are we so dissatisfied with our physical image? God handpicked the color of our eyes, the shape of our face, the color of our hair, the length of our body and thousands of other details that make you His beautiful masterpiece.

God is the Divine Sculptor who takes blocks of granite that have been scarred, cracked, discolored or made rough by the world. God begins to smooth the rough corners and jagged edges, take away the discoloration and remove the scars and the blocks of granite begin to resemble the shape and contour of the Divine Sculptor’s Son. The Devil charges into the Sculptor’s studio and points out the granite’s imperfections, weaknesses and flaws, but God looks at the finished product and sees His Son in every chisel mark and every hammered stroke. He sees the image of His Son when He looks at us. Nothing is more breathtaking to behold than the beauty of Christ in us.

The world’s image of beauty is fake and superficial. It drives the human heart into an unhealthy obsession of pursuing worldly beauty at all costs, even to the point of extreme physical and emotional harm. Americans alone spent a whopping 33.3 billion dollars annually on cosmetics and other beauty products as America is obsessed with their body and image. Their self-worth is measured by their beauty and how it measures up to the media—blitzed images that bombard us daily. The cult of the body and the cult of the beautiful draw so many unsuspecting women and men into their deadly snares. It causes their hearts to be seized with extreme anxiety if they do not measure up to the pattern of this world. It is battle they will never win because true beauty does not reside in the latest trends and fashions of the age. Physical beauty fades quickly in the world’s walkway. The world magnifies tiny flaws into mountains and soon discards us to the trash pile of the ugly because we have failed to meet their impossible standards.

However God’s holy Word says in Psalm 39:5-6 that “man is his best state is altogether vanity” and that “every man walks in a vain show.” In the Hebrew “vanity” means a breath or puff of air, a vapor and a mist. The Hebrew word “vain show” means a shadow, and an empty image. A man or woman at their best is but a mere puff of air or a vanishing vapor. People put on a vain show each day as they proudly display their beauty to the world, but it is a mere shadow and empty image when compared to God Almighty.

Stop the Masquerade

God sees us completely different from the world. He created us and He often sees His beauty marred by the imperfections of sin and broken by the hurts, disappointments and sufferings of life. He sees a heart that can be mended, healed, and restored. He calls beautiful what the world calls ugly. God is passionately pleading with us to present every part of our body as a living and holy sacrifice to Him putting our entire body at His disposal. God commands us to: “Stop assuming an outward expression in our body that is conformed, patterned and fashioned after the cultures and trends of this age!”(Romans 12:2). God cries out to “Stop masquerading in the habits, mannerisms and expressions of this world that do not reflect the pure beauty of Christ in us and the honor and dignity of our calling as sons and daughters of God!”

This masquerade costume that we often put on acts as a covering so we cannot radiate the beauty of the Lord Jesus. No cosmetic product or procedure on earth can transform our appearance into the glory of the Lord. We should radiate the brilliance of God’s attributes like Jesus did on the Mount of Transfiguration. This is God’s heart for us as we are to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, not the image of Cosmopolitan or Muscle and Fitness Magazine.

I am not saying it is wrong to wear make-up or work out, but what image are we obsessed about? What image drives us to get up in the morning and is our focus throughout the day? What image do we pursue as our sacred passion? We will never be satisfied if the culture’s latest trends is the image we chase after for we will never be good looking enough, never rich enough, and never perfect enough. Someone will always be wealthier, more beautiful and more connected. Quite simply we will never measure up, and we our opening our hearts to bitter disillusionment, anxiety and fear.

Once you are caught up in this trap of chasing the fading beauty of this age, the world has a tendency to brutally go after its own with harsh criticism, ridicule, and contempt. This drives so many to destroy their lives with drugs, alcohol, sex, and even suicide. The indifference, ruthlessness, and cold-heartedness of this age have demolished the hearts of those who have fallen for this cruel masquerade. These are the thickest of thorny weeds, and have ruined countless lives.

This is not harmless stuff as it is radically transforming the hearts of a generation. So many people destroy their lives in the shallowness of something that never brings true happiness or joy and never advances God’s kingdom. Never allow these thorns to put your heart in a state of compromise. As Becky Tirabassi said in Sacred Obsession, “On my journey I have discovered passion has no bounds. Once you let it in, it takes you prisoner … what you chase after you become … whether it is holy or unholy … You will always gravitate toward that which you, secretly, most love.”[iii] What do we have more passion for and deeply love? It is God’s holy image of beauty or the Devil’s image of beauty? What image captivates our heart?

Ephesians 1 says that God has made us lovely and acceptable in Christ. The true beauty of our adornment comes from within, the inner sanctuary of the heart, that has been pervaded with the beauty and fragrance of Christ. The Hidden Man of our heart is the Lord Jesus and His sweetness, love, beauty and splendor should be overflowing from our hearts daily. He will make our outward appearance shine with his glory when the gaze of our heart is steadfastly set upon Him. Our inner and outward beauty comes from our relationship with Him.

We must never fall into the trap of the anxious cares of the fads and beauty of this age, which present a false façade of worth, but in the end only offer disappointing misery and emptiness. We cannot build the inner life of the heart on these deceptive images of worldly beauty that bring nothing but dishonor and disgrace to our lives as Christians. The beauty of the world fades and grows faintly dim in the light of the beauty of our wonderful Lord Jesus. We do not need the trappings of the world to shine as a light in this twisted and dark world, but only the living Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit living within.

[i] John Bevere, Enemy Access Denied: Slam the Devil’s Door with One Simple Decision (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2006), 28.

[ii] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (New York: Start Publishing LLC, 2012, originally published in 1948), 68.

[iii] Becky Tirabassi, Sacred Obsession: What You Chase After You Become (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006), 1, 5.

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Parable of the Sower: The Second Soil of the Heart-Persecution and Offense:Whose Brand do You Carry? Part 2

Persecution: Pursued With Intense Hostility

The second thing that causes the seed of the Word of God to be uprooted from our hearts and wither away is persecution. The Greek word for “persecution” means to chase and follow hard after with hostility. It is to pursue an enemy and was the word used for chasing criminals. There is an intensity of effort, urgency and diligence in the pursuit. Picture a manhunt vigorously pursuing a fugitive with bloodhounds who are tracking the scent as they furiously attempt to capture the criminal. It is to hunt like an animal and to run swiftly after something. The word was used in the Old Testament to describe Pharaoh and his army’s pursuit of the Israelites before their destruction in the Red Sea. This shows the intensity of the pursuit even to their own deaths.

Persecution also means to harass in a manner designed to injure, vex, grieve or afflict. It can be a program, process or agenda designed to oppress and destroy a belief, idea, or pattern of conduct from living in the human heart. As a legal term in the ancient Greek world, it meant to prosecute. A form of the word even meant “the prosecutor.”

The comparable Hebrew word to “persecute” in the Septuagint means to beat down, subdue and bring to extinction. Persecution is a persistent beating down of the heart by a relentless pursuit to subdue and control it. Persecution wants to make the Word of God extinct in the human heart.

Persecution in Scripture always arises when the Word of God is believed and begins to grow in the hearts of people. The kingdom of darkness is after the Word of God. The Devil stands as the ruthless pursuer to discredit the Word of God and uproot it from living in the heart. The Devil stands as the harsh prosecutor who is always presenting his false evidence against the Word of God so the human heart rings out a verdict of rejection. This slick prosecutor is the master of deception and weaves cunning lies against the truth. He persuades heart to be full of unbelief and disdain for God’s holy Word. This is the epicenter of all the Devil’s spiritual, mental and physical persecution. His mission: kill the Word of God in the heart. Never allow it to take root and flourish.

The Devil’s target is always the Word of God and his opening statement in the trial of our hearts is the same one he used in the Garden of Eden- “Did God really say?” This strategy has been so successful in eradicating God’s Word from the hearts of millions with the blistering heat of doubt and unbelief.

Jesus Christ: The Focal Point of all Persecution

Persecution arises out of the violent clashing between two spiritual kingdoms. The Word of God is the mighty weapon of one kingdom and the despised enemy of the other kingdom. The heart is at the center of this fierce battle. The intensity of this battle was raised to a new level the moment Jesus Christ, the Word of God in the flesh, was born. The Book of Revelation speaks of this.

And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time. So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:4b-5, 7, 9, 12b, 17, NASB)

Jesus Christ is the focal point of all persecution because He is God’s plan for redemption. He is the Savior, the Great Shepherd, the second Adam, the Alpha and the Omega, the light of the world, the bread of life, the way, the truth, the life, and the door to God’s kingdom. He is the great restorer, healer and deliverer who crushed the head of the serpent and his kingdom of darkness, exposing all of the Devil’s schemes and strategies. He restored everything that Adam and Eve had lost in the Garden of Eden and conquered sin and death. He opened up the prison door so any person can come to him for eternal salvation and be freed from the chains of Satan’s kingdom.

Jesus Christ came to dwell in our hearts as his permanent home, not as a visitor, but as its Lord. He is the great transformer of the human heart, and he desires to make our hearts into his image, so that the words, thoughts and deeds that flow out of them represent Him.

Jesus Christ declared in John 18:36 that “my kingdom is not of this world” and in John 14:30 “the prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me.” The prince of this world, Satan, desires to mold our hearts into the image of his kingdom. He wants to exclusively rule from the throne of our hearts. This is where the kingdoms violently clash and the battle rages for control of the heart. As a Christian, if we take our stand in Christ, and live rooted in Him, we become a rebel to Satan’s kingdom. We become the hunted and the persecuted as he makes war against all Christians who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the testimony and witness of Jesus Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.” (John 15:18-20, 25, ESV)

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. (Luke 21:17, ESV)

Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23, NASB)

I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. (John 17:14, NLT)

My persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:11-12, ESV)

The world system, orchestrated by the Wicked One, hates the heart where Christ lives. We have Christ in us, the hope of glory, and wherever we go and whatever we do, Christ is to be manifested and seen as alive in us. We are the living representatives of Christ upon the earth, His ambassadors in the midst of the kingdom of darkness. We are to shine as brilliant lights in every dark corner of this world. This brands us as a traitor to the world system, a citizen of another world, as we belong to God, not Satan.

Christianity brings intense hatred and persecution because it is the magnificent testimony of Christ’s complete victory and Satan’s humiliating defeat. It is a painful and miserable reminder to the Devil that his kingdom was soundly defeated at the cross and eternally routed in the triumph of Calvary. Words fail to describe the Devil’s depth of hatred for Christ and the Word of God.

Spurgeon said in his sermon Persecuted but Not Forsaken:

There are two things that are inconceivable in length and breadth. The first is the love of God to His people, which is altogether without limit. And the next is the hatred of the devil, which is and must be finite, for he is only a creature, but still, it is as great as it possibly can be. We have no idea with what determined vehemence Satan hates these who belong to Christ! He will do anything he can in the hope of destroying one of them. He goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.[i]

The Greek word for “hatred” in John and Luke means to pursue with hatred, to detest, to have extreme hostility towards, and to abhor. This great hatred is what fuels the persecution of Christ and the seed of the Word. The heart built by God can withstand all persecution and hatred by the enemy, and stand boldly in Jesus Christ, no matter how hot the heat becomes. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, not a hair of our head will be scorched from the fiery furnace of persecution, and we will not even smell like smoke, when our hearts take an immovable stand for God and the integrity of His Word.

Eric Ludy in Wrestling Prayer: A Compassionate Communion with God says:

Jesus Christ-the rightful king of every human soul … has received his anointing. It is accomplished. He is the King. But this anointing was a “renegade anointing.” The horn of oil was poured upon His Head in the heart of Lucifer’s dominion-Earth … Our rightful king has not yet taken His throne upon the physical earth … there is a bounty upon all who would identify with Him … If there ever was a time to rise up and join our King, it is not when He has entered into the fullness of His glory and all knees are bowed unto that person. Rather, it’s now, in the season of persecution. This is when the true motives of the King’s followers are proven … To identify with Jesus is to prove a traitor to the governments of the world system. To stand with Jesus is to stand against Lucifer, sin and the flesh. You cannot stand with darkness and light simultaneously. To acknowledge Jesus as King is … to live as one of the hunted.[ii]

Branded for Jesus Christ or the World?

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17, NASB)

Is our heart branded for Jesus Christ? The brand was the mark of ownership on the body of a soldier or servant. According to ancient oriental usage, slaves and soldiers bore the name of their master or commander. It was branded into their bodies so there was no doubt who they belonged to. The Apostle Paul also bore the physical scars of service to Jesus Christ left by many beatings, imprisonments, and hardships he endured as a good soldier and faithful slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Are we willing to be branded for Jesus Christ so that wherever we go, this world knows beyond any shadow of doubt that we belong to Christ. Or does our heart shrink back, refusing to bear the mark of the hated, despised and hunted in this world. How do we respond to the pressure that the world exerts on our heart to conform or be labeled as an outcast? Whose brand will our heart bear?

No Fear: Shaking the Gates of Hell

We must never allow persecution to cause us to fear the enemy. We can overcome the world by our faith in Christ as greater is the power and authority that is in us, than the power, authority and evil that is in the world. We always triumph in Christ. We are God ordained super conquerors in Christ. We are immovable, untouchable, invincible and fearless in Christ. Our heart cannot glorify God when it is full of fear of the enemy and ignorant of who we are in Christ. Victory not defeat is the battle cry of Christianity.

Later the seventy came back full of joy. “Lord,” they said, “even evil spirits obey us when we use your name!” “Yes,” returned Jesus, “I was watching and saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning! It is true that I have given you the power to tread on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the enemy’s power—there is nothing at all that can do you any harm. (Luke 10:17-19, PHILLIPS)

Our heart no longer has to be the playground of the enemy. God has given us mighty power in our new birth in Christ to trample the devil’s kingdom and overcome the enemy. Nothing can harm us when our lives are rooted in Christ, and we walk in the authority of the Word of God. Spiritually we are seated in the heavenlies with Christ and all things of this world and the kingdom of darkness are under our feet. By the grace and mercy of God, this is a position of immense power and authority in Christ.

We are to be on the offensive as a soldier of Jesus Christ, taking back territory for the kingdom of God and delivering souls from the power of Satan to God. We should be shaking the very gates of hell because of the triumphant Christ that lives and moves in our heart. The Devil wants to keep us bound in our old grave clothes with little knowledge of what was accomplished on the cross of Jesus Christ. For our heart to rise above the hatred of the world and the persecution of the enemy’s kingdom, we must know who we are in Christ.

A.W. Tozer in I Talk Back to the Devil: The Fighting Fervor of the Victorious Christian says:

The Devil makes it his business to keep Christians in bondage, bound and gagged, actually imprisoned in their own grave clothes … He knows that if we continue in this type of bondage, we will never be able to claim our spiritual heritage … Satan has been in this business of intimidating and silencing and oppressing the people of God for a long, long time … I am sure it is not glorifying to God that Christians should be so intimidated and silenced in our day … Satan is an old dragon that defies us to this hour. He is saying to Christians, “I defy you—what are you going to do about it?” … This has to be the secret of our praise and enthusiasm—Jesus Christ is our Overcomer! In our own strength we cannot overcome anyone or anything … It is for us to trust wholly in the Lord Jesus. This is the only way in which we can conquer fear and live in blessed victory … through Jesus Christ I am the victor! … Brethren, God never meant for us to be kicked around like a football … when the devil starts tampering with you, dare to resist him! I stand for believing God and defying the devil-and God loves that kind of courage among His people. If you are still wrapped in grave clothes and great fears lie upon you, it is time for you to dare to rise and in sweet faith in the risen Jesus Christ declare: “I will not take this any longer. I am a child of God-why should I go mourning all the day? Will God answer? “All right my child,” He will answer as the burden rolls away, “I have waited long to hear you say that. Jesus is Victor and in Him you overcome!”[iii]

Cast off forever the old grave clothes from our heart and pledge to God that we will never be intimated, frightened or silenced by the Devil or his kingdom ever again. We must defy the Devil daily by standing firmly in Jesus Christ, the Overcomer, and never allow our hearts to be uprooted from him because of the scorching heat of persecution. God has given us the victory in Christ and promises to deliver us from every single persecution that is ever thrust upon our heart by the roar of the enemy. Our cry in persecution should be like the wonderful song in Psalms 44 for when we depend on God, persecutions will bounce off the protective shield that God has built around our heart. No enemy can contend with God Almighty.

You are my King and my God. You command victories for Israel. Only by your power can we push back our enemies; only in your name can we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow; I do not count on my sword to save me. You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies; you disgrace those who hate us. O God, we give glory to you all day long and constantly praise your name. (Psalm 44:4-8, NLT)

Surprising Source of Most Persecution

To help protect our hearts from falling into this second soil, we must know the strategies of the enemy regarding persecution. The Devil is very subtle as persecution often arises from our close inner circle: our churches, fellow-Christians, family, friends, co-workers, teachers, professors, neighbors and community. Persecution will test where our true loyalties lie. Is our heart rooted deep enough in the Word and Christ to withstand the questioning, ridicule, mockery and disdain of many in our inner circle? We so often think persecution of our faith simply comes from the secular world and outsiders. However, it is eye-opening when we realize the source of most persecution, as the Bible gives us hundreds of examples so we are not fooled.

The great majority of persecution comes from religious people who are entrenched in religious systems and doctrines. If we stand up for truth in a number of churches, we are going to get persecuted. It may be surprising to learn that throughout history many of the ruthless persecutors of the Word of God and Christians came from within the church. Look at the persecution of the Inquisition where the church went after its own with reckless abandon and tortured, maimed and killed them in some of the worst ways ever imagined.

The devil loves religion because it has nothing to do with the true God and is an easy façade to hide his deceptions. Look at our Savior as the constant persecution to his ministry was from the Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests and scribes, who were the religious elite of his day. The religious establishment that was supposed to represent God, hated Jesus Christ, and viciously persecuted him culminating in his torture and death. The great religious men and their corrupt system crucified their Messiah.

God takes off the mask of man-made religion in the Bible and reveals its true heart as perverse and full of darkness. It breeds evil and will stop at nothing to protect its existence and doctrines even to the point of trying to eradicate the Word of God and all those who stand upon it. God places a huge neon sign in Scripture that says “BEWARE!” when it comes to the religious systems of people who do not know God or love Him. There is a tremendous persecution today from the zealous proponents of Islam around the globe from people whose hearts are sold out to a religious system borne of this world and the kingdom of darkness.

Persecution also comes from the inner circle of our family, friends and close associates whom the Devil craftily influences to shake our faith in God and His Word. Under the scorching heat of this inside persecution, many hearts begin to wilt and become uprooted from the Word of God and Christ. The devil often uses those we love and care about to shoot a fiery missile into our hearts.

I think of Job and his three friends who were miserable comforters in his time of distress. Also look at Jesus Christ as a vivid example, as he received persecution from his family, his followers and even one of his inner twelve disciples. When Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem near the time of his crucifixion, great multitudes of apparent followers and disciples cried out “Hosanna (save us please) to the son of David, blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord even the king of Israel! Hosanna in the highest!” This whole multitude rejoiced and praised God with a loud voice. Many of these people had been with Jesus when he called Lazarus out from the grave and had heard about this great miracle. The entire city of Jerusalem was moved and the multitude declared “This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee!”

Surely this multitude would never turn on Jesus and persecute him. Jesus should be able to count on their support in his greatest hour of need. Yet in just a matter of days, this same crowd of apparent followers and disciples, when Pilate said “Behold your King!” cried out, “Away with him, away with him! Crucify him! Crucify him!” They joined in the persecution and demanded Jesus be put to death. How quickly the hearts of his followers and friends viciously turned on Jesus. How fickle are the hearts of men and women when it comes to their commitment to God and Jesus Christ!

John 7:5 states that Jesus Christ’s own family did not believe in him and there came a dramatic moment in the gospels when his mother and family showed up at his door in attempt to halt Jesus’s ministry and forcibly take him home. They thought he had lost his mind.

And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21, ESV)

The Greek word for “seize” means to take hold of forcibly, to take into custody and arrest, to continually hold back, to hinder and restrain, to prevail and rule over, and to take into one’s possession. The Greek word for “out of his mind” means to be out of one’s senses, to be insane, to be deranged, and to be driven out of his mind. It was the word used when wine turned sour causing one to disfigure their face because of the taste. The word was also used when you felt someone was bewitched or demonized.

His very own family, which we know from the later verses in this chapter, included his mother and brothers, pursued Jesus to his house with the firm intent to forcibly take him into custody and restrain him from ministering again. They believed his actions flowed out of insanity, confusion and derangement. They may have even felt he was bewitched, possessed or demonized, like the scribes who at the same time accused him of being possessed by Beelzebub.

This is his own mother and brothers who fell into the trap of persecuting Jesus! Jesus had become like sour wine to them and they were determined to put an end to this insanity and become the guardian over Jesus. Could our heart withstand this type of persecution from our own family who wants to arrest us? Could we withstand them wanting to commit us to a mental institution because they think we are insane or even worse possessed and bewitching people? Jesus shared with his disciples that this is a common occurrence to those who stand for Christ and refused to budge off the Word of God.

Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls. (Luke 21:16-19, NLT)

Our hearts must be so rooted in Jesus Christ that the hatred and mockery from the religious establishment, world and even our friends and family does not turn our hearts away from God to the path of least resistance. Jesus Christ is to be the bedrock and firm foundation of our heart so that we can withstand the beating storms and pressures of life. Jesus Christ must captivate every thought, be infused into every action, and be interwoven into every word that comes forth from our heart. When this happens, a great transformation of the heart takes place in the midst of this crooked generation. His heart becomes our heart, His love becomes our love, His fearlessness becomes our fearlessness, and His strength becomes our strength as we become the true and radiant reflection of our Lord in persecution.

Tribulation and persecution have a tremendous impact on the heart as they are either going to make the heart stronger or weaker in the Lord. They will either cause the heart to have abundant joy, deeper faith, more confidence and greater love for God or cause the heart to be resentful, bitter, discouraged, apathetic and hateful toward God. The Devil uses tribulation and persecution to uproot the Word of God from the Christian’s heart. The Devil uses tribulation and persecution to turn the Christian’s heart against God and betray Him. The Devil uses tribulation and persecution as powerful tools to eradicate the Word of God from the heart and place it in a condition of rebellion and disobedience towards God. The Devils uses tribulation and persecution to get the heart into a condition of spiritual barrenness where it is not producing fruit for the glory of God.

Our hearts must be diligently prepared and fortified in the Word of God and our faith must be strong, unmovable and unwavering in confident trust of our God and His Word. This will enable us to stand boldly on the truth when the storms of mental pressure and persecution roar against the heart like a fierce hurricane.

Have you ever seen a picture of a palm tree during a hurricane? It is so deeply rooted in the ground that the fierce winds and rain can bend and toss it, but it is not uprooted and destroyed? Our heart must be like the palm tree that does not become uprooted from the Scripture and our faith in Christ when the devil tries to squeeze, crush and intimidate us with tribulation and persecution.

Tribulation and persecution will test how deep our relationship is with God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Tribulation and persecution will test the lordship of Jesus Christ and bring to light who really is the lord of our hearts. Tribulation and persecution will put our faith on trial and determine its depth, purity and genuineness under its fire. Tribulation and persecution are the environmental testing grounds to analyze the soil sample of our heart, as they will show the condition, content and category of the soil.

As a wise farmer, we must diligently prepare the soil of our hearts so that it is fertile ground for the Word of God to develop a deep root system. The root system is to be nourished by the living waters of the Spirit of God allowing the life of the seed of the Word of God to grow strong in the heart. Then the tender crop can endure the blistering heat of persecution and tribulation. We will have great joy at harvest time as we reap the most beautiful spiritual fruit that the world has ever seen. We will never cease from yielding fruit as long as our root system is strong in Christ. Each persecution and tribulation thrown at us by our enemy only makes us stronger because we abide in Him.

The Dangerous Condition of Offense

Persecution and tribulation not only harden the heart against God and destroy a weak root system, but also can cause the heart to enter a dangerous and deadly condition. The Bible uses one word to describe this toxic condition and that is offense. Offense is a deadly disease of the heart that causes it to be ensnared by the enemy. We must guard against our heart from ever becoming offended or we are headed for enormous trouble spiritually. An offended heart always betrays our Lord in word, thought and deed. An offended heart stands in opposition to the Word of God. It is a fertile growing ground for evil as it produces the fruit of bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment. An offended heart is spiritually barren for God and will never produce fruit for the Lord. It is where the love for God has gone ice cold. An offended heart is full of envy, strife, and hostility. It is disobedient and rebellious against God and His commandments.

If our heart is offended, we cannot love, trust and serve God Almighty. If our heart is offended, we cannot do the work of His kingdom with the compassion of Christ. The sin of offense has plagued Christianity throughout its history causing massive division in the Body of Christ. Christian brothers have despised, hated and killed other Christian brothers. Churches have split, and thousands of denominations have formed. Christians have been tortured and killed and have fallen into apostasy and forsaken Christ, all because their hearts became offended.

Time and time again Jesus taught his disciples not to allow the heart to enter a state of offense. He instructed his disciples about the persecution and tribulation that would be coming, fueled by the hatred of Satan, so they would not be offended. Jesus knew what offense could do the heart.

Offense caused the twelve disciples to forsake the Lord and scatter in fear when Jesus was seized and crucified. Offense caused Peter to repeatedly betray the Lord and deny Him. Offense caused John the Baptist to doubt that Jesus was the Christ, as he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he was the Messiah, or should they look for another. Offense caused Judas to betray His Master for thirty pieces of silver. Offense caused King Saul to repeatedly attempt to assassinate David, God’s chosen King. Offense caused the Pharisees, Sadducees and other religious leaders to despise Jesus, plot his death, mercilessly beat him and finally put him to death by crucifixion.

How Will You Respond to Offense?

These are humbling lessons in Scripture especially if we think our heart could never become offended in our Lord and betray Him. God set these examples in the Bible as a solemn warning as many of God’s top men fell into the trap of offense. Jesus Christ warned that it was impossible that offenses not come (Luke 17:1). The critical question becomes how are we going to respond to offense? Offense often rides into the heart through a negative reaction to persecution and tribulation. Blessed is the person who is not offended in Christ and the persecution, tribulation and hatred his name brings (Matthew 11:6). We must be the watchmen on the lookout that the sin of offense never enters the door of our heart and make its home there.

The Greek word for “offended” is skandalon and it means to entice to sin, to distrust and desert, to cause to stumble, to cause to fall away and cease believing, to cause annoyance and displeasure, and the laying of a trap to capture. Skandalon referred to the trigger of a trap on which bait is placed. When an animal touches the trigger to eat the bait, the trap springs shut, and the animal is caught. The animal is enticed to its destruction. The trigger is what enables the trap to work and suddenly catch the prey in its deadly snare. The trigger allows the trap to be lightening quick and swiftly ensnare the poor animal before it even knows what happens.

Offense is that deadly to the health of the heart. It is the trigger that the Devil uses to suddenly capture and turn the heart away from God and keep it in a constant state of agitation, bitterness, envy, unforgiveness, and indignation. I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing how suddenly and quickly offense can consume the heart and completely destroy any fruit for God.

When used in a moral context, skandalon indicates the enticement to conduct that will ruin a person. Offense always ruins the heart for God and corrupts its moral fiber. Offense is the breeding ground for sin as it is the gateway for sin to destroy the witness of the heart. Offense thrusts the heart into the danger zone where the toxicity of the kingdom of darkness begins to infiltrate its inner chambers and consume it. Offense is the trigger for the bait of Satan, and it opens the door of the heart for Satan to enter and captivate it. When Satan is allowed to enter our heart through offense, he immediately begins to uproot and discard any tender plant that has been growing from the seed of the Word of God. The heart is then held prisoner by Satan to do his will and to conform to his evil characteristics.

Offense causes the heart to stumble and fall away, wandering around in spiritual blindness. Offense always destroys relationships as more have been devastated by offense than almost any other attitude of the heart. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus is shattered when offense dominates our heart. Our relationships with our spouses, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our children, family and closest friends are ruined by offense. Offense is the great thief of relationships and the great destroyer of love. Offense always causes love to wax cold as selfishness, bitterness, and resentment raise their ugly heads. The desire for revenge, the desire to hurt, the desire to get even, and the desire to elevate oneself and put others down, all flow out of an offended heart.

Offense is one of the great stumbling blocks of the Christian walk and one of the great diseases of the human heart. Offense is a wall builder that tries to keep God out. Offense erects prison bars around the heart, and the longer the heart is in a state of offense the harder it becomes to win the heart back for God. Our heart cannot live out the new life we have in Christ when offense reigns in our hearts.

A brother offended is harder to be won over than a strong city, and their contentions separate them like the bars of a castle. (Proverbs 18:19, AMP)

Every shred of offense must be completely eliminated from our hearts so it does not take root and contaminate it. Not one vestige of offense can remain because it is like yeast in bread, as it will spread quickly and envelop the entire heart. We must not delay. We cannot hesitate. We must not procrastinate. Offense requires immediate, urgent action by the Christian believer. All offense must be uprooted and thrust from the heart before it destroys the seed of the Word of God from growing and producing fruit. The prison walls of offense must be torn down before it becomes a stronghold in the heart. Offense always seduces the heart into sin and it must be ruthlessly eradicated or its disease will spread like cancer throughout the heart. Jesus taught his disciples in no uncertain terms that if any offense existed in their lives, it must be radically and quickly eliminated. To allow offense to remain gives the devil a foothold in the human heart.

Jesus Christ: The Rock of Offense

Every person will one day come face to face with the rock of offense Jesus Christ. How will our heart respond? Jesus Christ will either bring bountiful joy and immeasurable love into our heart or he will cause our heart to be offended. These are the only two responses. Which path will your heart choose? How our hearts respond to the Rock of Offense is the most important decision we will ever face because this single choice will affect everything we do for the rest of our life and determine our eternal destiny.

When Jesus Christ stands at the door of your heart and knocks, asking us to turn from our selfish ways, take up our cross, forsake all and follow him, will you be offended? When Jesus Christ knocks on your heart and says, “I purchased you with my own blood on the cross, you are mine and I want your life” will your heart be offended? When Jesus Christ says, “Stand with me as the light in this dark world and you will become the number one enemy of the kingdom of darkness; you will be hated, despised, mocked and ridiculed by friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and public opinion,” will the rock of offense caused you to be offended and stumble? Will offense cause our hearts to turn away from the Lord Jesus for he is simply asking too much of me?

There is a passage to this effect in scripture, and it runs like this: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on him will by no means be put to shame’. It is you who believe in him that he is “precious,” but to those who disobey God, it is true that: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.’ And he is, to them, ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.’ Yes, they stumble at the Word of God for in their hearts they are unwilling to obey it—which makes stumbling a foregone conclusion. But you are God’s “chosen generation,” his “royal priesthood,” his “holy nation,” his “peculiar people”—all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light. In the past you were not “a people” at all: now you are the people of God. In the past you had no experience of his mercy, but now it is intimately yours. (1 Peter 2:6-10, PHILLIPS)

There is no place for offense in the Body of Christ. We are God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation of believers, and His beloved children, sanctified and made righteous, in Christ. God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Jesus Christ is not the Rock of Offense to the Body of Christ, but the head of it, and the captain of our salvation. Every member of the Body of Christ is filled to overflowing with the fullness of Christ. Offense only arises in the Body of Christ when our hearts are unwilling to obey the Word of God and rise up in rebellion against it. Offense causes us to stumble when we reject the Rock of Ages from being the Lord of our hearts.

There is no middle ground when it comes to the Rock of Offense. Partial obedience to the Word of God is one of the greatest sins of the church, as is vividly illustrated by the tragic fall of King Saul and the loss of his entire kingdom. The Rock of Offense demands all of our hearts, not just a part of them. The Rock of Offense requires more of your time than just an hour on Sunday. The Rock of Offense demands to be the center of every single activity and life choice we make. The Rock of Offense does not want a lukewarm, half-hearted, and tepid devotion to Him. He demands a 100 percent commitment of wholehearted love and dedication. Nothing less is acceptable. He wants living sacrifices, consecrated and fully given to Him with nothing held back. We cannot draw lines with the Lord Jesus Christ. Does this offend you? Is this too much for our hearts? How will your heart respond to the Rock of Offense?

How do we keep our hearts from being offended and ultimately betraying our Lord? How do we keep offense from establishing even one root in our heart? How do we make sure our heart is pure and completely free of offense? A wonderful verse in Psalms gives us the great remedy against offense.

Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them. (Psalm 119:165, KJV)

The Hebrew word for “love” is ahab, which means to desire, long for or breathe after anything. It means to delight in with great love. It is the love and deep longing of relationship. To breathe after something is to have an intense desire to pursue it with the whole heart. It is the same word used in Deuteronomy when the children of Israel are exhorted to love (ahab) the Lord God with all their heart, soul and might, and is used in the Song of Solomon to describe the intense longing, desire and love between a bride and bridegroom.

It brings a picture to my mind of longing for something so deeply that you pant for it. It is the deep and earnest feelings of the heart that produce a passionate desire for someone or something. This intense longing for God and His Word is illustrated in other Scriptures.

My soul is consumed with longing for thy laws at all times. (Psalm 119:20, NIV)

I opened wide my mouth, and panted; for I longed for thy commandments. (Psalm 119:131, ASV)

How I delight in your commands! How I love them! (Psalm 119:47, NLT)

Oh what love I have for your law! I give thought to I all day long! (Psalm 119:97, BBE)

I run the way of thy commandments, for you have given me freedom of heart. (Psalm 119:32, NJB)

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1, NAU)

We must have an intense yearning and deep love for the Word of God, greatly desiring that it lives in our hearts, if we are ever going to stop offense from taking up residency. We must seek after God’s commands with every breath. We should pant to feed upon every precious truth contained in Scriptures. We should adore the Scripture and let our hearts bask in the beauty, majesty and power of the Bible.

The Bible is supernaturally charged with the life and power of God Almighty and it will absolutely change, alter and transform every heart where it resides. We love Scripture for when we devote time to read and study it, we encounter the magnificent God of the heavens and earth in intimate detail.

Eric Ludy in the Bravehearted Gospel says, “Most Christians ‘respect’ the Bible, but very few treat it as precious, drink in its every word as if it were the dew from heaven, and cherish its every thought as though it were, in fact, divine.”[iv] When we crave God’s Word like we crave physical food. When we delight and mediate upon it, hide it in the depths of our inner being, and treasure and obey it with relentless passion, then our hearts have great peace. In the state of peace, nothing can offend our heart or cause it to stumble. Nothing! Not one thing can shake our hearts and agitate them when we love God’s Word with great desire. Offense cannot penetrate the shield of peace built by the great love of Scriptures in our hearts.

The reason why there is so much offense in the church and the world today is their hearts have no peace. They have no peace because they have no respect or love for God’s Word. They have no awe of the authority and power of Scripture and the Bible becomes just another book relegated to the dust-covered bookshelf.

Jesus Christ: The Prince of Peace

Every jot and title in the Bible testifies as to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. Without Jesus no person on earth can ever have true peace. If Jesus Christ lives in our hearts, and we seek his instruction daily through the Word, then we will never be offended in Him. The Rock of Offense will bring great peace to the heart of any person who turns to Him and accepts his mighty work on the cross.

In Hebrew, the word for peace, shalom, means wholeness, completeness and soundness. It is a harmony and unity of heart and soul because of a restored relationship with God, our Father. It is an inward and outward tranquility, a quiet assurance, and a complete well-being where nothing is lacking or broken. Peace is the symphony and harmony of life, in which you enjoy all that is good because of your right relationship with God. It’s the freedom from being disturbed, agitated, stressed and troubled. It is the absence of discord, strife, and anxiety. It is to be at ease and calmly unaffected by circumstance. Peace is the highest measure of contentment, joyfulness, happiness, and satisfaction in life.

There is absolute security, safety, and victory at the center of peace. It is the absence of inward conflict, condemnation, and torment, and rather a state of rest, calmness, and quiet confidence. Offense cannot live and make one stumble in this type of environment. The heart cannot fall into the trap of the enemy and become disturbed and offended by tribulation or persecution when peace reigns in the heart.

True peace is complete oneness and unity with God where there is a wonderful mutual sharing of the enjoyment of that bond. God is the source of all peace, and we have peace because of our relationship with Him. His peace is our peace. His wholeness is our wholeness. His soundness is our soundness. His completeness is our completeness. No man or woman can ever have peace without a vibrant, living fellowship with our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We can’t buy peace, we can’t medicate peace, and we cannot manufacture peace. We cannot produce true peace from some mental gymnastic exercise, self-help book or seminar. It is impossible to have peace apart from God, and it will never be manifested in our hearts without a great love for the Word of God and a passion to live it. Peace cannot live in a heart full of unbelief.

Peace and offense cannot co-exist together as either the heart is going to be offended or be at peace. We must never allow our hearts to become indifferent, uncaring and unloving concerning the Word of God for then we open the door to the sin of offense.

The Devil is constantly trying to get our heart to doubt the integrity, accuracy and truth of the Word of God with his sly questioning, “Did God really say?” Satan’s whispering is relentless as he tries to remove the Bible’s worth in the human heart by diminishing its value and credibility. He twist its words and throws contempt at its message. He wants to get the heart in a state of offense and to do so he must uproot any vestige of the Word of God from the heart. An offended heart is insulted by the Word of God in writing—the Bible. An offended heart is also insulted by the Word of God in the flesh—the Lord Jesus Christ. An offended heart refuses to conform to the pattern of Scripture and refuses to allow Jesus Christ to exercise his lordship over the heart.

It is easy pickings for Satan to fill us with offense and all its bitter fruit if our heart does not delight after Scripture as the greatest treasure on earth. The Bible reveals the very heart of God and how can we not gaze upon it with great love and adoration for it is the honorable and worthy message of our King.

Jesus illustrates the second soil of the heart and its tragic consequences in Mathew 7.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matthew 7:24-27, NIV)

If we hear the Word of God as it is sown in our hearts and obey it by putting into practice, our hearts will be built upon the awesome Rock, Jesus Christ. When the storms of tribulation and persecution fiercely beat upon our heart, and the winds howl ferociously against us and the waters arise all around us, we will not crash and burn because the foundation of our heart is built on Christ and the living Word of God.

However, if we hear the Word sown in our hearts, but we do not love and obey it, but rather are offended and refuse to put it into practice, we are the foolish person who builds our heart on sinking sand. When the fierce storms of tribulation and persecution relentlessly beat on our hearts and the waters dangerously arise all around us, our lives will come crashing down in a great and dramatic fashion. The heart will be shattered into a hundred pieces and blown out to sea for it had no root and foundation in the Word of God.

Is our heart built on the Rock or on the sinking sand? Is Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace or the Rock of Offense to our heart? Is the Word of God the Word of peace or the Word that offends? The condition of the soil of our heart will be determined by these crucial questions. The true test will come when the storms of tribulation and persecution arise from the dark sky and violently beat against our heart. Then we will find out what our heart is made of. Then we will find out whether our heart is built upon the Rock or built upon sinking sand. We will find out the true condition of the soil of our heart.

[i] Charles Spurgeon, Persecuted by Not Forsaken, delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, on March 8, 1883.

[ii] Eric Ludy, Leslie Ludy, Wrestling Prayer: A Passionate Communion with God (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 99-101.

[iii] A.W. Tozer, I Talk Back to the Devil: The Fighting Fervor of the Victorious Christian (Camp Hill: WingSpread Publishers, 1972), Kindle Edition, 185.

[iv] Eric Ludy, The Bravehearted Gospel (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 167.

Excerpt from Tim Rowe’s The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life, available on Amazon, Kindle, IBook and Barnes and Noble

 

 

 

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