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Friday, June 20, 2014

Everything Louder Than Everything Else

Ian Gillan of the seventies metal band Deep Purple reportedly once asked the sound engineer mixing the band’s live album, “Could we have everything louder than everything else?”

I’ve always loved that line. It just sounds like a title for the perfect rock and roll anthem.

But when you think about it for half a second, the request is absurd. If the bass is louder than the high hat, the high hat cannot simultaneously be louder than the bass. If you mix the snare drum louder than a guitar cranked up to 11, you cannot make that guitar louder in the sound mix without reducing the volume of the snare. It’s absurd.

“Everything” cannot be louder than “everything else”. It doesn’t work.

Choices have to be made. Priorities must be set. Some instruments must be louder than others or you’re not going to have much of a song.

The Lord dealt with a similar absurdity in the thinking of his followers. He told them:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
It’s a very familiar passage of Scripture and most of us understand what it’s saying, at least in theory. But the conflict between the “two masters” is not always instantly apparent when one lives in an affluent society.

People don’t usually think of themselves as “serving” money, or “loving” money, even when it’s clear to everyone around them that they do. They think of themselves as “being responsible”, “taking care of business” or “earning my daily bread” while owning homes that are worth more than those of three and four of their fellow citizens in the same city or town, parking multiple vehicles in the driveway, taking annual vacations that cost thousands and putting on spectacular weddings for their children that would cover the cost of a downpayment on the average starter home.

Or they remind you that “charity begins at home” when they really mean it ends there.

This is true in North America even of many professing Christians.

So they don’t apply these particular words of the Lord to their own situation because they don’t see their lifestyle and the pursuit of it as being in conflict with their faith. And to be fair, folks in this income stratum may also be generous givers, as Scripture instructs.

You can probably go on this way for quite a while, obeying the commands of the Lord that you see as applying to you while enjoying the benefits of life on an above average North American income without ever addressing the question of whether you love one of these things more than the other.

But it seems to me that at some point, the conflict is bound to become evident. It certainly happened to Ananias and Sapphira, didn’t it. They were a relatively well-off couple of professing believers going along just fine enjoying the excitement of the growing church in Jerusalem. But then they found themselves tested as to their loyalties because of the generosity of others around them. What happened was this:
“... the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32,34-35)
Nobody made rules for these new believers; nobody told them that giving away their properties and houses was the price of admission to the new movement or a ticket to heaven. Their generosity was spontaneous and reflected their appreciation of what God had done for them, of the new status quo and of their fellow Christians. It came from the heart.

But it became a test for Ananias and Sapphira of where their hearts were and who or what their master was.

Rather than giving from the heart like others around him, Ananias, it seems, succumbed to a sort of peer pressure that may well have existed only in his head. He wanted credit for a level of generosity he wasn’t quite prepared to live with, so he sold a piece of property and took part of the money to the apostles, but represented it as the price of the entire property.

The sin was not in Ananias’ failure to give more. Peter makes this clear, saying to him about the property, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” The sin was that Ananias loved money so much he was willing to lie to the Holy Spirit about it, as was his wife. It was because of that lie, not the size of the gift, that judgement fell.

He found out the hard way that it was impossible to serve two masters.

If we haven’t really considered which love motivates us and dictates our habits and choices, when we are forced by circumstances to choose between the Kingdom of Heaven and our own comfort, we will certainly discover the truth.

But before I turn this into another “hate the rich” piece, I’d like to remind myself, above all, that I’m doing just fine, and that I am just as in need of the Lord’s admonition about “serving two masters” as the guy with four cars.

It shouldn’t take a crisis to bring any of us to the point of choosing what or whom we will serve. Notwithstanding the example of the believers in the book of Acts, the Lord’s curative for the “two masters” conundrum is not to advocate redistributionism or the forcible stripping of wealthy believers of all their possessions.

What he does instead is encourage each of us to set our sights on heaven rather than on earth. One’s heart follows that in which one invests. If we want to have our hearts in the right place, we need to consciously and persistently set them on the right things. The Lord promises that if his disciples put the kingdom of God and his righteousness first, they will always have the things they genuinely need to survive in the present world.

It then becomes a matter for each believer, by faith, to apply these truths to his or her life. And that may well look different for you than it does for me.

We all stand or fall to our own Master. We just need to decide who that actually is.

You can’t serve God and money. Everything cannot be louder than everything else.

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