The Stuff Superheroes Are Made Of (October 17, 2021 Sermon)

Who is the most heroic person you know and what makes this person a hero?

Since as far back as we can imagine, our world has looked for superheroes.  Humanity has always been drawn to tales and legends, and our minds seem to enjoy heartwarming stories where regardless of how awful our world is there is still hope and good will.  It is likely that the earliest North American superhero was Superman.  Created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster of D.C. Comics, Superman’s motto was, “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive… The Man of Steel fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

Nearly 85 years later, fans still flock to this character and others like him as a symbol of compassion and responsibility.  And yet, we are not drawn to him because he is greedy or wants to rule over the world, but rather because he embodies the goodness of the human spirit and the capacity that lies within each one of us to do the right thing.   There are now over 153 superheroes and the list is growing.  Children and teens collect superhero comic books, people of all ages are drawn into the latest movies featuring superheroes, and children enjoy dressing up and role-playing as superheroes.  Superhero shirts, mugs, and memorabilia are sold in the millions annually, and often superhero movies have ranked in top cinematic sales.  As a nation and as individuals we continue to be drawn into sensational stories of epic battles being won in the name of justice.  

In the Bible passage that we read together from the Gospel of Mark, James and John also sought to become superheroes, except rather than coming from a desire to help others, they were drawn into fame and reputation.  

The story begins with James and John approaching Jesus to ask a simple request: they would each like a place of honour in Christ’s Kingdom with Jesus in the middle throne and one on either side of Him.

James and John were known as the “Sons of Thunder” because they were bold and outspoken, and this is a classic example of where they truly lived up to their name.  However, there seems to be a problem right from the outset. Ever since Jesus established His band of disciples He had three chosen men whom He was closer to than anyone else: James, John, and Simon Peter.  These three had walked with Jesus the longest and experienced the most intimate moments with Jesus – His greatest triumphs and darkest trials.  These three were present with Christ when He raised Jarisus’ daughter from the dead, when the miraculous catch of fish occurred, and at the time of Christ’s transfiguration when His glory was fully revealed.  These three would also be the ones with Him in His last moments before His death in the Garden of Gethsemane when He agonized over God’s will for Him to leave this world, and all three would later come to be prominent leaders of the early church. Yet, in their request, it appears that James and John were only focused on themselves and their own desires.  They had completely forgotten about Peter and have excluded Him.  This is lesson number one: sometimes when we become so concerned with the world and with our own selfish agendas we forget about the many who are around us.

Today we remember World Food Day, a day to commit ourselves to more just and equitable actions when it comes to sharing our wealth with those who do not even have the basics they need to survive.  It is estimated that between 700-800 million people are suffering from hunger all around the world.  According to the United Nations this means that close to eleven percent of the world are currently starving or at risk of starving.  In Canada alone, it is estimated that up to 57,000 children face hunger on a regular basis.  Many of these children are from single parent families, are Indigenous, or rely on social assistance.  Meanwhile we also know that over 2 million tonnes of food are wasted each year in Canada resulting in over $17 billion dollars. Pre-pandemic all you can eat buffets which often resulted in gluttony and over-indulgence were a popular choice for special occasions and parties and  the obesity rates are only increasing with nearly 65% of Canadian adults being overweight and 30% considered critically obese.  Meanwhile the dieting industry of fad-diets, pills, and detoxes has increased exponentially.

The reason I share this is not to shame anyone.  As you can all see, I am not exactly skinny either.  I enjoy all sorts of fast food, sugary treats, and often indulge in decadent desserts.  I am not saying this as a way of convincing anyone to stop eating the foods we all enjoy and celebrating special events at restaurants or buffets.  Rather I am sharing this to raise an interesting point which many of us have likely considered in the past: how is it that we all have enough food to spare to end world hunger and yet world hunger continues to be a prevalent issue even in our day and age? The answer is likely because of corporate greed.   The book is a bit outdated now but one very common text which I engaged with in my economic justice class in seminary called “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” by Ronald J. Sider addresses this very issue.  In this book Sider suggests we can all do our part by actions such as: gardening, joining a food co-op, lowering our energy consumption, and resisting consumerism.  

Interestingly enough, this past week also marked the United Church’s annual commitment of 40 Days Towards Anti-Racism.  As we consider how we can better include and care about all people especially those who do without we must be willing to ask ourselves “who is not at the table.”  Who are the people who still remain on the margins and outskirts of our society?  Even in Canada, a country that many regard as progressive, polite, and welcoming, there are people who are excluded because of their gender, race, ethnicity, or disability.  Just like James and John, many times the people who make the policies consider people like themselves and forget about the Peters in our midst.

Back to our story, Jesus humours James and John by asking what their request is despite that fact that Christ knows all things even before we speak them.  James and John see Jesus’s mission and vision as political.  They want to be His chief advisors and they want a place of prominence whereby everyone around them knows just how important they really are.  This is so different to how Christians should actually act and behave for in Luke 14:10 we are actually told that when we enter a banquet we should be willing to take the lowest seat.  It is better to consider ourselves less than and to be invited up to take a seat of honour, rather than to assume a place of honour and be told that we have to back down.  In James 2 we also read that we should treat everyone the same way: we shouldn’t give the position of honour to someone just because they are considered mighty in the world’s eyes by showing favourtism to the rich over the poor.  To Christ we are all equal and we all must take the form of servants.  Sadly, James and John did not seem to fully grasp this.

Rather than simply rebuking James and John, Jesus used this as a teachable moment.  He asked these two brothers a question: would they be willing to suffer the way He knew He would?  James and John seem to be rather idealistic as they choose to agree.  We know that later on in their lives both of these men would suffer immensely for the Gospel.  Jesus hints at this reality, though the two do not yet realize it.

Later when the other ten disciples heard about this request, they became furious with  James and John.  I can imagine them asking questions and making statements like “so you think you’re so special, eh?”  “So you think you’re better than the rest of us?”  I always found this text quite upsetting as well.  How could James and John consider themselves more important than their other friends who were also part of God’s mission, and yet what we see here is not that uncommon to what we experience in our world today.

There are some churches who preach about a Prosperity Gospel.  These churches which are especially common in the States tell their congregants that God wants us to be rich and happy.  That God wants us to get a bigger house or drive a nicer car.  Many of these churches tie how spiritual a person is with how much wealth they have accrued.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with treating ourselves from time to time.  We all work hard to make a living and we all deserve to pamper ourselves once in a while.  There is no shame in taking a special vacation, buying ourselves something new which we really need, or having a new experience like going to the opera.  However, the Prosperity Gospel is so outside of what God’s actual will for us is.  The Bible tells us to pray only for our daily bread.  To be grateful for the provisions which God has afforded to us.  The Bible also reminds us that if we are in the financial position to do so that we ought to be generous.  When God gifts us with wealth and resources it is not to lord it over others or to make ourselves appear better than those who do not have, but to use it to help increase the Kingdom of God sharing of our time, talents, and treasures.  When we give back to God and others we reap a harvest of righteousness.  We receive rewards not just for this world but for the life to come.

It isn’t just about the Prosperity Gospel though, every year the reality of Black Friday gets to me.  First started in the States, this tradition has now spread to Canada.  How is it that we go from celebrating Thanksgiving and remembering to be grateful for the harvest, to worrying about what we do not have and seeking to buy things which we may or may not need.  In some states it is estimated that Americans spend over $100,000 in merchandise.  Again many people in our world seek to acquire things they don’t need to impress people they don’t know or care about all that much.

The trouble with James and John is that their priorities were all skewed.  Jesus reminds them that they were actually similarly to the Roman emperors who sought to oppress, overpower, and tyrannize the marginalized at that time.  Roman imperials often sought to maintain their dominance through control and coercion, but Christ called His disciples to have a different mindset.  Rather than living life out of self-interest and self-protection, Christ called His followers to pursue justice and break boundaries.  Jesus Himself lived a life of servant leadership from the cradle right up to the grave.  His death exemplifying a martyr’s tragic protest against an unjust system.  

It is easy to fault James and John for their careless question but it does cause us to pause and ask ourselves a few questions.  When we pray how often do we pray about our own needs and desires and how often do we actually pray for the needs of those around us?  Again, there is nothing wrong with asking God for things which we need.  Christ wants us to come to Him, speak to Him, and trust Him to provide for the areas we are lacking in.  However, as Christians we also must get outside of ourselves and think about what others around us need.  Often this means that we ought to “pray with our feet.”  Not just saying the words, but praying through our acts of service, through our advocacy, and through demanding justice.

How often do we try to fit Jesus into our own plans rather than seeing how we might fit into His?  Do we ask God in prayer what He would have us do or do we tell Him what we would have Him do?  C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, “In the end there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who say to God ‘Thy will be done’ and those who in the end God says to them ‘Thy will be done.’”

It seems to be our human condition to want to be approved of and rewarded.  Who among us doesn’t like to be told we have done a good job, that we are valued, and that we are appreciated.  Who among us isn’t thankful for a raise, a promotion, or an award?  There is nothing wrong with being honoured for a job well done.  My primary love language is words of affirmations.  I really value being told verbally or in writing that I have done something well.  However, this Bible passage warns that if we see the Kingdom of God only in terms of power and status than we have gotten it all wrong.  The Kingdom of God is not about how we can benefit from those around us, but how we can benefit those around us.  Jesus said in Matthew 25:14 that if we have done something to the “least of these” to those whom society deems as unimportant and not valuable, then we have done it to God Himself.

Spiderman once reminded us that there is a superhero inside each one of us that keeps us honest and noble.  These superheroes remind us that we can be even better versions of ourselves.  Yet our inner superhero is only found when we consider how we can use it to help others.  We are all given superpowers (also known as Spiritual Gifts) by God to make this world more enjoyable and liveable for others around us.  May we seek to be a superhero to our world, our society, and our city in this coming week.  May it be so.  Amen.

Thanksgiving in Trials (Sermon from October 10, 2021)

Since 1879, Thanksgiving has been a federal holiday in Canada.  Originally set aside as a day of gratitude for the harvest, Thanksgiving has now grown into one of North America’s most commercialized holidays secondary only to Christmas.  In Canada alone, nearly 5 million people purchased over 2 million turkeys, and the amount of money spent on this holiday is only increasing.  Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to gather with loved ones, share in elaborate meals, and to take a long weekend off work or school to rest and relax, and yet, in the hustle and bustle of the season it is so easy for us to forget the real reason we are celebrating.

While recognizing that the Indigenous people who came before us had their own ways of showing gratitude, and while acknowledging our complicated history with colonialism, this Sunday is still an important date for us to mark and remember.  And I believe it is no coincidence that this year Thanksgiving falls on the same day as World Mental Health Day.

We are now nearly 20 months into a global pandemic and we have all experienced radical life changes as a result.  For the past two years our world has known loss, grief, uncertainty, fear, disillusionment and disappointment in epic proportions.  Mental wellness issues have sky rocketed as our world has faced increased isolation especially within vulnerable populations.  Some people have felt a distrust towards the government, some people have felt exasperated, some have faced strained relationships with family and friends, and many have felt alone.  We likely have people within our own family and friend groups who have suffered immensely through the pandemic and not everyone has been able to cope in the best possible ways.  I personally have lost three friends to drug related overdoses, some of us have lost loved ones in this time, many of us have faced pandemic fatigue.  Perhaps questions of how much longer this time will last, when we will be able to do the activities we once loved and enjoyed again, and if our world will ever be the way it once was have surfaced for us.  There might even be some here today or people within our networks who wonder if there is any point to keep going, and if there are any reasons to keep hoping and dreaming.

With everything that has happened in our world over these past several months not just with the pandemic but also with the violence, poverty, and social inequities we continue to see on the news, it can be easy to focus purely on the negatives.  To think solely of what we have lost.  Part of this is a healthy practice.  Research and professional counselors have shown that we cannot fully heal and move on until we have acknowledged our pain and distress.  However, practicing thanksgiving and gratitude is one way for us to continually remind ourselves that even in the painful seasons God walks with us.

The Bible is one book that literally touches on pretty much any hardship or issue we could face in this life, and yet it mentions thanksgiving or a derivative thereof at least 139 times.  Even one of the most important symbols of the Christian faith, the Eucharist literally means “Thanksgiving.”  How is it then that Christians can continue to praise and seek God even when the rest of life has been thrown upside down?

Last week, Phil gave me permission to do something a little different with this sermon so instead of focusing solely on one Scripture verse, I would like to jump around a bit and touch on several different sections which deal with this issue.  In my own study for today’s sermon I located over 15 Bible verses that lay out the who, what, when, where, why, and how of this particular topic (don’t worry I won’t be sharing all of them here).

Firstly the WHO.  The Bible says that everyone, all people should give thanks to God for what we have been given.  Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  I would like for us to all take a deep breath in and then do a slow exhale.  Feel your pulse.  Feel the ground under your feat, your back against the chair.  Take notice of where you are and what you are doing.  If you feel this, you are alive.  Life might have thrown some curve balls our way, but instead of worrying about what happened yesterday or what will come this week, we can focus on the present moment.  And in this present moment we are sitting here at church or comfortable in our homes, among our friends, and in the presence of God. It isn’t just Christians who benefit from this reminder though, but everyone in the general public, even though who do not identify themselves as believers.

 Research from Harvard Health experts has shown that gratitude profoundly alters both our mental and physical state for the better.  Being grateful, mindful, and in the moment, reduces our stress, improves our sleep, and even boosts our immunity.  Psychologically speaking, thankfulness makes us more resilient, improves our friendships, and helps us deal with adversity through relishing in the good experiences we previously had.  Many people choose to engage in practices such as having a gratitude journal, list, or jar where they write about the things they are thankful for.  This is more than just a simple exercise, it can become a deeply spiritual practice, and is also mentally satisfying.  There is proof that in recalling and writing about a good experience that we receive double the results.  We get our first hit of Dopamine (the natural drug inside our bodies that makes us happy) when we first experience the situation, and we receive our second hit again when we recall it.  So gratitude is a natural joy booster.

WHAT is Thanksgiving?  The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes thanksgiving as “conscious of benefits received, expressive of thanks, and well-pleased.”  This seems to be pretty in line with the Biblical understanding of thanksgiving as well.  In the Bible thanksgiving means talking and sharing about what God has done.  Psalm 9:1 says “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart, I will tell of God’s wonderful deeds.”  In some Christian circles, these moments are referred to as testimonies, and sometimes they can get quite rich and deep.  But they don’t always have to be profound.  Even just sharing with another person about the good news that you have received is one way of being grateful.  It is not about bragging or making ourselves better than others, but it is about remembering that we have been given a gift. And it is in remembering this gift that our outlook usually can shift and the focus of our attention changes to something better.

WHEN should Christians be thankful?  In the passage we read today from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we read that we are to “rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.”  This is not just because these actions are good ideas, but because it is actually God’s will for our lives.  Paul also wrote in Philippians 4:6 that we are not be be anxious or worried, but instead to lift up our prayers in thanksgiving.  Paul is not talking about clinical anxiety here.  There are many believers who do struggle with anxiety and depression.  Rather Paul is reminding us that when we pray we should be grateful just as much as we ask God for things.  I taught Sunday school for a number of years and it was interesting to see the spiritual development in the children.  When they were young many of them had rather self-centered prayers.  That’s not always bad.  God wants us to tell Him our troubles and concerns.  But as the children got older, they often remembered to start thanking God as well.  

WHERE should be practice thankfulness?  Essentially anywhere.  Lots of people, myself included, feel very connected to the earth and to nature.  My happy place is outdoors and I would probably spend every waking moment outside if I could and if the weather cooperated.  For other people this happy place is in drinking a cup of tea by the fireplace, in curling up with a good book, in listening to their favourite music, or in getting lost in a wonderful piece of art or in crafting.  Wherever your happy place is, I encourage you to go there.  When you go for an autumn walk, feel the crisp air against your skin, feel the crunch of leaves beneath your feet, sip on a cup of Pumpkin Spice Latte and let the delicate flavours dance around your tongue.  In these moments, we once again are being mindful and grounded, and in our being present to the moment we are practicing gratitude.  Of course we can practice gratitude at church, but being physically present in this building is once a week, whereas our worship lasts all week long.

WHY should we be grateful? Aside from the physical and mental health benefits we already touched on, it has been proven that people who are grateful tend to be more generous, more empathetic, more open to other people’s perspectives, and are more likely to be content rather than envious.  This attitude of gratitude can even improve our jobs, our relationships, and our life goals.  We all know people who complain about every little thing and who are never happy regardless of what good things come their way.  These are people we likely do not want to spend much time with.  We also all know people who are always jovial, friendly and helpful even when they themselves are experiencing difficult times.  Who we spend time with makes a world of difference to our own outlook as well.  In Colossians 2:7 Paul writes that thankfulness can strengthen our own faith, and in 2 Corinthians 4:15 we read, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” Being grateful is actually a wonderful way to witness to other people.  Those around us are more likely to want to take part in our faith and to be curious and interested about our beliefs when they see that we are kind-hearted, loving, and thankful people.

Finally, the HOW.  So we know that gratitude is a wonderful attitude to have and that it really benefits us mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, but how exactly do we become grateful?  Being grateful is a practice that takes time and is not cultivated overnight, yet the more we remember to be grateful, the more it will come to us naturally.  There are several verses in the Bible that point to how we can develop this skill: through prayer, through being generous to others, through sharing, and in song.  Colossians 4:2 lays out a two part command: to be watchful and to be thankful.  The two go hand-in-hand.  Watching ourselves and noticing when we are starting to feel grumpy and discontent, challenging the thoughts and assumptions that come into our mind that suggest we should be unhappy or that everyone has it better or easier than we do, and being careful of the comments we make even if we think they are only in jest help us to better develop this sense of contentment.  Paul taught his mentee Timothy that “Godliness with contentment is great gain” in 1 Timothy 6:6.  It is not easy to be content in this world of advertisements targeted just at us, social media, apps that beautify our appearance, and social pressure that reminds us that we need more or will be happy once such and such happens or when we finally meet our soul mate, but if we are able to learn to be content and at peace with our present circumstances, our spirits will become more free and light as a result.

Thanksgiving might just be one day, but the attitude of gratitude is one that we can adopt for the other 364 days of the year.  By asking God to help us be content regardless of how difficult the circumstances surrounding us are, by honouring and tending to our own mental wellness and sharing our burdens with others when we aren’t able to be content through no fault of our own, and by working towards a world where all will be thankful for the basic necessities of food, shelter, and clean drinking water, we are practicing the very acts that God calls us to.  This week may we be ever more mindful of the ways God is at work, may we seek to find joy in the little things, and may we always seek to stay present and grounded in each and every sacred moment.  May it be so.  Amen.

All Sins Are Bad…But Some Are More Bad Than Others

First off, please forgive the poor grammar in the title (it is a spoof off of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”).

This week I attended a tough questions night at my young adults group.  I always love the hard questions, those moments of wrestling with doubt, those sacred experiences of coming to terms with the fact that no one (no matter how wise) has all the answers. There were a number of very important and interesting topics raised, but there was one that intentionally stood out for me. An anonymous young adult posed the question about God’s forgiveness following someone committing a “really bad” sin with no remorse. This question brought up a secondary question: how exactly does one define “really bad?” This is a very difficult question to answer because there is no clear-cut and definitive response, however, what I do feel strongly about is that pastors need to stop using the cliche “to God sin is sin….there are no big or little sins.” The reasons pastors and Christians in general need to stop saying this line is two-fold: a) because it is an insensitive response to someone who has truly felt the devastating effects of sin (for example as a result of having lost a loved one to murder or having been sexually molested) and b) because it is entirely unbiblical. There is no verse anywhere in the Bible that says “to God sin is sin and all sins are the same.”

The word “sin” is mentioned over 400 times in the Bible and literally means “missing the mark.”  It is important to note that all Christians no matter how godly and spiritual they are will sin at various times because it is part of the human condition.  Everyone messes up and I don’t care whether you’re the Pope or Billy Graham (1 John 1:8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”).  Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23 further explains that the results are devastating “the wages of sin is death.”  No one can measure up to God’s Holy Standard. In fact in Habakkuk 1:13 we read, “Your [God’s] eyes are too holy to look on evil, You cannot tolerate wrong-doing.” Thus our first take-away is this: God cannot tolerate sin. He hates it.  This is one argument in favour of the verdict that sin is sin because God’s heart breaks despite the type of sin we commit.  God doesn’t like stealing anymore than He likes lying or sexual immorality any more than He likes idolatry.  There will be consequences for any sin that we ever commit and the Bible is clear that we must be accountable towards our actions whether we consider their effects big or small (2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we [believers] must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body – whether good or bad.”)

What Sin Is and What It Is Not

In my mind there are essentially six types of sins but I am willing to contend that there might be more. The most common ones you will hear about in church are:

Commission: Sins that we commit  (“Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression” Psalm 19:13)

Omission: Things that we don’t do which we should have done and which the Holy Spirit later convicts us of (to me this also includes failing to stand up for justice) (James 4:17, “If anyone then knows the good they ought to do but does not do it, it is sin for them.”)

Intentional: Sins that we commit on purpose knowing that what we are doing is wrong (this category is the most discussed in church) (“If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin, but a fearful expectation of judgement” Hebrews 10:26) 

Unintentional: A sin we commit without knowing it’s a sin, in other words “not on purpose” (this usually is more the case with younger and less mature Christians who are not as familiar with Scripture and have not been discipled) (Leviticus 4:2 “If anyone sins unintentionally…”)

Leading a Sibling Into Sin: Doing something which is not a sin to you but will cause someone else to stumble (“Never put a stumbling block or a hinderance in the way of a brother.” Romans 14:13)

Habitual Sin: A sin that someone commits so many times that it has now formed into a habit.  These are the strongest to break and require prayer, Godly counsel and sometimes inner healing from demonic strongholds.  Most commonly these sins are tied to sexual encounters but they can also be found in various forms of addiction or even actions such as gossip or lying (“Sold as a slave to sin” Romans 7:14).

We also know that some sins are immediately evident to others around us whereas others are more secretive.  Even if we sin thinking that we will get away with our hurtful actions, we can rest assured that at some point it will catch up with us (1 Timothy 5:24 “the sins of some are conspicuous, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others appear later.”)

There are also a few things sin is not (in my opinon): Sin is not necessarily character defects.  We all are predisposed to certain temperments, thoughts, and attitudes as a result of our genetic make up and family of orgin upbringing, yet these do not necessarily have to lead us into sin.  For example, you may be be geneticially predisposed to anger, but you can still choose to respond calmly and rationally thus ensuring you do not sin (Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry yet do not sin”).

Being tempted also does not equal sin.  All of us will be tempted at various points in our faith walk, but by crying out to God rather than giving in, we do not have to be led into sin (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The Worst Sins

The Bible has several lists of sins which God deems abhorrent (spoiler alert – if you read these verses you will discover that everyone fits into them!)   In  almost all cases the root cause of these sins is our own pride and selfishness (James 1:14 “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire”).  

Yet, we also know that Scripturally speaking God does not see all sins as equal.  Throughout the Bible, God gave punishments in line with the consequences of those particular sins.  The first judicial system came right from God Himself!  A sin like murder resulted in the person’s life being taken (Numbers 35:16), but lesser sins usually only included a time of ritual impurity or a sin offering.  A huge factor in how God views sin also comes from our motivations, because God judges the heart of the matter, our intentions are just as important to Him as our actions.  Yet, in all sins regardless of their weight or severity, all Christians are called to repentance and remorse, and must take responsibility for our actions.  

When Jesus came He created an even higher standard than the law that was laid out before His time.  Jesus taught that hate was murder, lust was adultery, and divorce was sexual immorality (except in severe cases) and yet hate alone does not leave a person dead and lust alone does not devastate a marriage to the point of disrepair.  Jesus’s words here might have sounded extreme, but they were given through the lens of love  Their function to restore relationships.  This verse alone does not mean that all sin is the same sin to God, but it does remind us that we must be careful of our actions and how they will be interpreted by those around us.  We must do everything with the pretext of drawing others to Christ.  We must be careful to see how our witness can be destroyed by anger, careless words, or greed.  There are two sins in particular that God knows will destroy our testimony and that is why He mentions them over and over again: sexual immorality (In 1 Corinthians 6:18 we are told that this is one of the worst sins because all other sins are against other people but when we commit impure acts we actually sin against ourselves) and idolatry.  Both wrongful sexual attitudes and idolatry run rampant in our day and age. Idolatry is not simply about joining a different religion, but our gods take many other roles in our lives from laziness to apathy to relationships.  In fact Paul writes that any earthly sin we commit is actually idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Furthermore, the Bible reminds us that some of us have more responsibillity not to sin than others.  This group includes those who have oversight towards us (pastors, elders, deacons, and teachers).  This is not to say that a minister will not sin or that when they sin that their sin is far worse than that of their congregants, but again their sin has far more lasting consequences because it can lead others into sin.  Places like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 remind us that anyone who wants to take responsibility must have spiritual maturity and not be given to besetting and controlling sins.  This is also why James warns us that not many of us should become teachers because of the extra pressure God has placed upon leaders.  Even 1 Corinthians 5:11 warns us that we should not associate ourselves with people who claim to be believers but do not have the fruit of the Spirit in their lives as a result of sin.  Again this is not because believers are immune from sin, we will all sin at various times regardless of how spiritually mature we are or how long we have walked with God, but because we can tell a lot about a person’s character through their actions and who we spend time with and wish to emulate will also affect our spiritual walk.  If we want to grow in our faith, we need to surround ourselves with people who although sinful still seek to honour and adore Christ above all else.  The difference is that when a mature Christian sins they will be led to repentance, they will be sincere, they will seek Godly help and wisdom to help them conquer their trials and temptations, they will have accountability partners, and they will constantly be praying over their sin instead of just accepting that it is the way it is.  

However, the Bible does say that there is one sin which is the worst one of all and this is called the “Unforgivable Sin.”  Lots of research has been given to discovering and trying to avoid this sin, but most scholars have arrived at the same conclusion: the unforgivable sin is simply to not acknowledge God. There might have been a time in your life even as a mature believer that a severe tragedy struck and you cursed God.  This was not good.  This was not a nice thing to do to God, but that alone does not mean you are struck from the Book of Life and can never repent.  The Bible reminds us that God is merciful and does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9) and so He gives us multiple opportunities over and over again to come to Him, but there comes a time when we are no longer given that opportunity and that is at the point of death.  So if we die without having acknowledged His Lordship and still having denied His power, then we have committed the unforgivable sin.  We cannot be pardoned from it.  1 John 5:16-17 also speaks to this reality: we are to pray for our brothers and sisters who are in error and are sinning, we are to encourage them, to help them, and to support them in finding healing and forgiveness, but there is one sin that leads to death – the unforgivable sin. We can pray for our brother or sister to come to know Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, but we cannot force this.  God alone can work within a person’s heart to convict them of sin and of their need for Salvation and to encourage them to walk in righteousness (John 16:8).

And yet God has infinite grace towards us.  As we read the Scripture we discover that we all fit into several of these categories but we are given this incredible promise “AND SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU, but you were washed, you were sanctified, and you were justified” (1 Corinthians 6:11) In other words, it is through Christ’s merit and atoning death alone that we are made right.  It is in this grace that we must recognize our own tendencies to sin which will be different for each person.  2 Peter 2:19 writes that “we are slaves to whatever has mastered us.”  Satan works in different ways for different people and what I struggle with might not even be on the radar of things you struggle with, but if I continue to allow the evil one reign over this area of my life it will soon lead to destruction.  

Our Response to Sin

It would not be the best practice to simply write about all the ways we sin without giving some practical “how-tos.” When confronted with sin here are some ways the Bible tells us we can address it:

  1. Flee.  Scripture tells us that our first defense against giving into temptation is to get out of there as fast as we can.  Examples include Jesus’s injunction to cut off a body part that leads us into temptation (Matthew 5:30), and Joseph fleeing from Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39).
  2. Resist.  There are times when we won’t be able to get out of the situation and we might have to stay in it for various reasons.  In those moments we must resist and stand our ground.  James 4:7 reminds us that if we keep saying no to Satan he will eventually recognize the authority we have through Christ and will flee from us (so who’s running away now?!)
  3. Be Aware.  We must know our limits and what is going to potentially lead us into temptation (this will be different for each person). 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us that Satan is like a roaring lion always on the look out for who he can devour.  If you know that you won’t be able to stop after one drink avoid going to a bar or pub in the first place.  If you know that hanging out with certain friends will lead you to gossip or to speak in ways that you otherwise wouldn’t choose new friends.  If you know that watching certain movies causes you sexual fantasies don’t watch those movies.  
  4. Be In the Word and In Prayer.  The closer you are to God, the less likely you will want to be to hurt Him.  We are all still human, we will still struggle and sometimes give in, but remembering to be in daily contact with God means He will be on our radar and we will think of Him when tempted.  Being in the Word also means that we will be more in tune with understanding the nature and gravity of sin and that we will understand and be aware of our sins especially when society tells us it’s ok (Romans 12:2).
  5. Don’t judge others who sin differently than you.  We must be careful to maintain our humility and not to think of our sins as less evil than those around us (Matthew 7:5).  It is not our job to determine who’s in and who’s out because of God’s redeeming love that seeks to include all people who willingly come to Him.


In university I read a book called “What About Hitler.”  The main premise of this book was to talk about how pacifism is possible when an atrocity like WWII takes place.  The truth is that we are less likely to come across Hitler and more likely to have to practice peacebuilding in much smaller ways within our own lives.  It is the same with sin.  Most of us are likely not going to be in daily contact with murderers,  we are more likely to be in touch with people who gossip, are sexually tempted, and pursue money more than anything else.  In other words, people just like ourselves.  In my view, I do believe that some sins are worse than others (sins which are intentional, cause greater harm, are done maliciously, are habitual, or are done by church leaders especially if they use the Christian banner to accomplish them such as in the case of the Residential Schools).  However, despite my belief that these sins are “worse” what I am more concerned about is our own personal response to sin: the way we ourselves come into repentance and feel remorse, the ways we work towards avoiding sin and temptation altogether, and the ways we support our fellow believers who find themselves in the grips of struggling with sin.  Even though some sins may be “worse” than others, God still finds all sin abhorrent and evil.  God is still too Holy to be in the presence of any type of sin, and yet He graciously walks with us, offering us forgiveness and compassion if our true desire is to make things right with Him.  The most important role a Christian plays is not in asking “is this sin worse than mine” but “how can I personally grow and be strengthened in my own walk with the Lord?”  It is only when we seek to break free with God’s help from the chains that bind us that we will be able to walk in freedom. Our ultimate aim is not “how can I stop others from sinning” but how can I personally walk in victory.  All sins are bad, some are “more bad” than others, but Christ’s love covers a multitude of sins, even the worst kind, and as children of God, we joyfully rest in that promise (1 Peter 4:8)