The Holiest Thing You Can Do (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
I want to ask you a question today: what is the holiest thing that you have done all week? Take a minute to answer that question with someone near you. There really aren’t many wrong answers, so go ahead and talk about this for a minute.
Okay, who’s got an answer? We’ll put your answers on the screen.
We normally think of some parts of our life as holy:
- Reading the Bible
- Going to church
- Listening to a Christian CD
We consider these things to be holy. By implication, we see other parts of our life as secular, sometimes even profane:
- Cooking a gourmet meal from scratch
- Drinking a bottle of vintage wine
- Closing the door of the bedroom with the one you married
- Playing cards with friends
Isn’t that true? I’ll bet that nobody said, “The holiest thing I did this week was to play cards with friends.” Or, “The holiest thing that I did this week was to spend all day Saturday preparing a turkey dinner using an old family recipe.” We see part of our lives as holy, and the rest of our lives as normal and ordinary – maybe even secular or profane.
The reason I want to talk about this today is because this way of viewing life – separating life into what’s holy and what’s not – is very common. It’s probably the way that most of us see our lives. It’s common, but it’s a lie straight from hell.
That’s strong language, and it may surprise you. I’d normally say, “That’s a wrong way to see the world, and I’d like to suggest an alternative,” except that this wouldn’t be strong enough. I’d like to look at a passage of Scripture that uses very indelicate language to describe this way of seeing the world. This passage tells us how to stop separating our lives into what’s holy and what’s not. Instead, it teaches us how to make all of our lives sacred, so that maybe the holiest thing you do this coming week is to push a child on a swing. Let’s look at this passage together this morning. It’s found in 1 Timothy 4.
The author, Paul, describes the issue problem of separating life into what’s holy and what’s not in verses 1 to 3, especially in verse 3:
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.
There’s the problem in verse 3: some people who claim to be Christians taught that to be holy, you have to stay away from marriage and certain kinds of food. What would make them take such a view?
The reason is that they had a belief that is actually pretty common today, even in churches. You may have heard the saying, “I am not a human being having a spiritual experience, I am a spiritual being having a human experience.” In other words, there are two levels to life. The lower level is human, in which we eat, sleep, procreate, and work. The higher level is the spiritual, in which we meditate, grow our souls, and have a relationship with God. The goal is to live at the higher level.
The underlying view is that the material world is evil and we should avoid it as much as possible. So spiritual things like going to church and praying and meditating are associated with godliness. The things down here at the human level – eating, working, procreating, playing soccer – are anything but holy. To be holy, you have to do more up here – going to church and praying – and less down here – going out to eat with friends and going on vacation and so on. The big word to describe this is asceticism, which means “self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.”
You can see how people get to this point. Some of the people Paul is writing too had very destructive experiences in their past involving food and sex. Now that they were Christians, they went to the other extreme, and ended up rejecting them because of past hurts.
Think for a minute about some of the things you’ve been told that holy people don’t do. Holy people don’t…fill in the blank. They don’t go to clubs. They don’t drink certain beverages. They don’t enjoy sex. They don’t run in the church. They don’t play cards. We’ve been told that some things are holy and other things aren’t. The unholy things should be avoided.
What’s the problem with separating life into what’s holy and what’s not? Read verses 1 and 2. “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” Do you get the idea that Paul is serious here? He doesn’t say that these people are well-intentioned but mistaken. He says that they aren’t who they seem to be – they’re hypocritical liars. He says that what they teach is false. What’s more, it comes from demons. It’s demonic teaching. And he says that their consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
We normally think of false teaching in very lofty terms. False teaching isn’t always about abstract and theoretical matters. When someone tells you that good Christians don’t enjoy sex, that is false teaching from hell itself. When someone tells you that good Christians should withdraw from enjoying what God has created for our enjoyment, then that person is substituting exhibitionism for the very point of Christianity. This isn’t something to put up with. Don’t ever let anyone say you shouldn’t enjoy what God has created for you to enjoy.
Here’s what we’re to do instead: Make all of life holy. Live like Jesus. The most common charge against Jesus is not that he was a blasphemer or a heretic, but that he was drunkard and a glutton. who was criticized for enjoying life too much. A feast at a restaurant, a well-cooked meal, a passionate embrace, playing golf, serving the poor, a night out with friends – these are all holy experiences. Don’t separate your life into what’s holy and what’s not. All of your life is holy.
Why? Because God didn’t create us to withdraw from what he created. He created all things as good, and we glorify God when we enjoy his gifts. Verses 3 to 5 say, “God created [food] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” Everything God created is good, and when we enjoy what he’s created, we bring glory to the Creator.
So eat food, and praise the master cook who invented more tastes and taste buds. Look at the sky at night and take in all the colors. Run with the wind blowing on your face. Take all that life has to offer, because in enjoying the gifts of God you are bringing glory to God. Don’t detach yourself from the world, but find evidence of God’s glory in the everyday and the ordinary. Leonard Sweet reminds us,
Life’s treasures are buried right under our noses…Life isn’t somewhere else. Life is here – all around you and inside you, a succession of astonishments. True artists write hymns to ordinariness. True artists find meaning in the small wonders of life. The art of godly living is making every moment a real do, making every moment count, even turning “senior moments” into “God moments.” (Soul Salsa)
Here’s how you do that. It’s deceptively simple. You say grace. Verses 4-5 say, “nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” Here’s the rule: if it isn’t prohibited by Scripture, then it can be made holy no matter how ordinary it is if you receive it with thanksgiving and say grace. It becomes consecrated – holy and set apart – if you pray a prayer according to Scripture thanking God for what you are received.
G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem:
You say grace before meals. All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
It’s all a gift from God.
Some people say that to be holy you need to separate and withdraw from the world. Scripture teaches us, and Jesus showed us, that it’s the opposite: that we move into this world and live as God’s people, and soak it all up. We were meant to be part of the created universe; proper enjoyment of what God has made is appropriate as long as it is received with thanksgiving. We are not called to abandon our humanity, but to celebrate its rescue, redemption, and remaking. Embed all of life with sacredness. Make every moment holy.
We could learn from a monk who found he didn’t connect as well with God through meditation, contemplation, silence, and written prayer, as much as he did through ordinary daily living. This monk, who lived in the 1600s in France, believed that anyone could connect with God in all of life. His name was Brother Lawrence and he wrote a profound book called The Practice of the Presence of God. Listen to what he wrote:
I gave up all devotions and prayers that were not required and I devoted myself exclusively to remaining always in his holy presence…I flip my little omelet in the frying pan for the love of God, and when it’s done, if I have nothing to do, I prostate myself on the floor and adore my God who gave me the grace to do it, after which I get up happier than a king. When I can do nothing else, it is enough for me to pick up a straw from the ground for the love of God.
Brother Lawrence teaches us that ordinary life is holy. Flipping an omelet can be as holy an act as going to church.
God can be worshiped in church buildings and in religious services. But he is also worshiped when we enjoy all that he has made and embrace all of life as holy. We can worship God in cathedrals and in prayer, but we can also turn the making of a bed or dinner with friends into a sacrament, a holy act of worship before God.
A pastor named Kyle Lake was tragically killed last Sunday, October 30. He never got to deliver the sermon that he had prepared for that morning, but it was read at his funeral, and I want you to hear part of it today:
Live. And Live Well. BREATHE. Breathe in and Breathe deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now. On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the windows and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun.
If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a cool Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not just be alarmed, be ALIVE. Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time.
If you bike, pedal HARD… and if you crash then crash well.
Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done—a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed. If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old’s nose, don’t be disgusted if the Kleenex didn’t catch it all… because soon he’ll be wiping his own.
If you’ve recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And Grieve well. At the table with friends and family, LAUGH. If you’re eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke. And if you eat, then SMELL. The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee beans freshly ground, cookies in the oven. And TASTE. Taste every ounce of flavor. Taste every ounce of friendship. Taste every ounce of Life. Because-it-is-most-definitely-a-Gift.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than that. Make all of life holy by saying grace. Thanks God, for all of your gifts. We enjoy you when we enjoy what you have made for us. Everything you made is good, and we receive it today with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.