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Home Sermons Essential reading for Grey Nomads #7 "Flirting with self-esteem and happiness

Essential reading for Grey Nomads #7 "Flirting with self-esteem and happiness

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“Flirting with self-esteem and happiness”      1 Peter 1:1-25                         

 Essential reading for Grey Nomads -No 7


Let me tell you the story of a Christian couple called Sally and Mark. I’ve changed their names because this couple will be recognisable to some here this morning.



Sally is engaged to Mark. She delights to tell everyone that she is soon to be married, and delights to talk about her fiancée to anyone who will listen. But in spite of her stated love for Mark, it has become obvious that things are not what they should be.



Sally has a thing going with her house-mate Alistair. They had been house-mates before she got engaged to Mark, and the deal was that she should stay in the house until they got married. But clearly they are now involved with each other in a really improper way.



Understandably Mark is devastated. His beloved Sally who should only have eyes for him is chasing something better in the arms of another. And worst of all Sally doesn’t even seem to realise that Alistair doesn’t really love her. He just wants to use her and spoil her relationship with Mark.



What a tragic story. We have to feel for Mark, don’t we? We have to wonder what Sally is thinking that would cause her to despise Mark’s love and chase after someone else.



But amazing as it is, the story will end well. Mark still intends to proceed with the engagement and marriage. He intends to pursue his faithless beloved and turn her around and make her something really beautiful in every way.



Friends, I said you would recognise this couple. We all should if we are Christians because the story is about you and me and our relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 5 we have a picture of Christ’s incredible love for his bride the church. You and I, if we are truly Christians, are the beloved of Christ, his community of saved people.



And the clear message of Scripture is that Christ’s girl, the Christian church individually and collectively ought to show our relationship to Jesus through a radical love and loyalty that marks us out distinctively from the world around us.



So, here’s the problem and the heart of this five-week sermon series. The problem is worldliness – a word scarcely heard in churches these days – and it is by far the greatest danger to Christians and the church today, even though it is not often spoken about.



Instead of difference there is sameness. Instead of standing out in loyalty and love of Jesus the church has blended in all too easily with those around us who openly despise and reject Jesus. Instead of radical counter-culture there is accommodation with whatever society pushes our way.

Jesus prayed specifically about this concern for his disciples in John 17:15-18 . Turn to it now. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. The same point is made in 1 John 2:15-17 . Worldliness is described in terms of cravings or lust, or desires to use a modern word.



Worldliness is desire which is wrongly expressed and pursued in an attempt to find the good life we all long for. Worldliness is flirting with the world.



Flirting is self interested – its all about playing with desires and wanting to have what the world offers without openly being committed to it. Flirting is enjoying that contact while still professing to be besotted with Christ.



So flirting is real dangerous because it is driven by the thinking – how much can I embrace all the things the world offers while still claiming to be devoted to Jesus?



Flirting is addictive because the short term pleasure it delivers encourages us to go that little bit further the next time until the mind game becomes all out adultery and betrayal.  



So the whole question of worldliness is tough requiring careful thought. What is it to be in the world but not of it? In what ways do we sell out to the world and compromise our loyalty to Jesus? In what ways are we in danger of letting the world into the church?



Friends over the next five weeks I want to explore different ways Christians and the church today are flirting with the world. This morning I begin with the notion of flirting with happiness and self-esteem.



Now I realise that simply introducing these two words pushes me into dangerous territory because it is really hard to define happiness or self-esteem. If I asked each of you, “Are you happy?” Most likely the response would be “It depends on what you mean by happy.”



So, at risk of being simplistic, I will define happiness as a sense of personal well-being, a sense that life as a whole is good – fulfilling and satisfying.



Likewise with the question – “do you have a good self-esteem’, the answer likely would be – “It depends on what you mean by self-esteem.”



Again, at risk of being simplistic I will define self-esteem as a sense of personal worth, a feeling of respect and confidence in self. And obviously it is closely connected to happiness.



But regardless of how detailed we make the definition of happiness, one thing is clear: the desire or longing for happiness is basic to being a person.

Every person craves happiness and pleasure. It is a desire for happiness that drives you to get out of bed each day. It is the belief that happiness is achievable that powers you through your day.



You may not realise it or may not feel comfortable admitting it, but underneath all the other layers of motivation is the deep longing to be happy, which involves feelings of self worth.



This should not be a surprise to us as Christians given that we believe we are made in God’s image and given that happiness and worth in and with himself defines his character.



John Piper in his book, Desiring God, shows this really clearly from Scripture. God is totally sovereign and does whatever he determines. Never being frustrated he is deeply happy knowing that every single action in his world will contribute to God’s overall purpose.



God delights in his own glory, in his own worth; God delights in his world; God delights in his son Jesus and in his work of redemption.  



So friends the real problem of flirting with the world in this matter of chasing happiness and worth is not that we long for or pursue or look for happiness and worth, but that we are tempted to look for it in the wrong place - where the world says it is to be found.



And this explains the ‘I’ culture we live in which seeks happiness in self and the religion of self-worship.



We live in an age dominated by the self: my freedom; my rights; my fulfilment; my security; my comfort; my toys. The first person singular –‘I’ – has become one of history’s most powerful advertising tools: I’m worth it and I’m the most important person in the world.



This Hollywood view of happiness drives our society - hugely ego-centric people defining their happiness through exotic and exaggerated episodes of romantic love, the trappings of wealth, celebrity status, beauty and youthfulness, and power. But the reality is that so many in Hollywood have all that and are clearly unhappy.



And this is given further expression in the concept of self worth called ‘self-esteem’ which is an ego-centred, feel-good notion that each of us is responsible for our own happiness and only those who feel good about themselves will do well and be happy.  



This ego-centric, feel-good self esteem dominates Australian homes, schools and universities, ad workplaces, and demands constant highlighting of the internal source of the person’s own accomplishments and the external source of direct affirmation of others.


The aim is the fulfilment of the person’s potential: “Be everything you can be by being confident in your own achievements; and by believing you can achieve whatever you want to; and by constant positive affirmation by teachers and parents and others around them.



It becomes even more ego-centric because it assumes “you can’t love others until you learn to love yourself”; “you can’t forgive others until you learn to forgive yourself”; “you can’t help others until you learn to build yourself up”.



This happiness pursued through this sort of self-esteem is building the self in comparison to others. Sadly, even though this generation has had constant teaching of self-esteem it is most afflicted by rudeness, arrogance, lack of self restraint, lack of ability to deal with reality – and quite ironically lack of real self worth.



And friends this is all being brought into the church by Christians who have mistakenly thought that these ego-centred notions of self-esteem reflected Christian principles.



But in fact this self-esteem has simply repackaged pride and arrogance and made it okay for Christians to be totally individualistic and self-consumed and given to the pursuit of money and power, and prestige, and status.



Friends, hopefully I have established my point of worldliness. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1 , “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received . . .”. The result of Christians and the church flirting with society’s view of happiness and self-esteem has caused us to grossly distort God’s command to mean “Live a life of success, prosperity, achievement, and God will be pleased.”



The evidence is in so many Christians only tuning into God’s word as they can make it fit with their agenda and their plan for happiness and the good life. Most sad of all is that so many preachers have give in and now preach the Scriptures as a series of self-help affirmations which build the self-esteem of those listening rather than call people to account before a holy God.



What’s the solution or anti-dote to tis creeping worldliness? Christ-centred counter-culture which seeks happiness in God and the reality of salvation.  



Turn with me to 1 Peter 1:8 where we see the foundation of true joy which in the context is a deep and settled happiness or gladness that is the result of understanding and experiencing the reality of salvation.



I don’t have time to unpack this chapter in detail but remember that Peter is writing to Christians and about Christians in the midst of terrible vicious persecution. In those terrible circumstances those who believe in Jesus Christ have a special kind of happiness that sustains them through awful events.

And the source of that special happiness is not in themselves in any shape or form, but outward looking to the reality of God’s absolute love for them demonstrated in what he has done for them in Christ.



First of all, verse 3, God loved them in his mercy:- giving them a new birth and a new inheritance. Second, God is keeping them safe for their inheritance in the future and keeping their inheritance safe for them. Their future is secured by Christ’s death for them in the past.



Verse 6, it is in this they greatly rejoice. This is their happiness and security for the future. This is the guarantee of their well-being in the present and in the future.



And verses 13 onwards this is the great motivation to get out of bed and get through each day, not just surviving, but joyfully serving the Lord and being what he wants them to be and which brings honour and glory to him.



Friends this is Christian counter-culture: deep happiness and sense of worth or value not as the result of my own accomplishments and the persona affirmation of others, but as the result of a genuine appreciation of God’s love and a genuine understanding that in Christ our status and fortunes have changed forever for the better.      



So, the real problem is not that we seek happiness or pleasure to get us through any and every situation of life, but that we are too easily pleased, to use the words of John Piper.



The problem is that we fool around with drink and sex and ambition and approval of others and relationships around us, and work and money, when infinite joy is offered us in God’s own person and in God’s salvation in Christ.



The real problem is that if we seek happiness and a right sense of self worth in things other than God then we make it an idol and cause great offence to the Lord.



We must stop flirting with what the world offers us in terms of happiness – seeing it for the pathetic and short-term substitute it really is and come back to God’s word for our real joy and happiness



And we must re-commit to being a community of God’s saved people prepared to stand up and be different and say with the psalmist – Psalm 73:25 “Whom have I in heaven but you and there is nothing on earth I desire besides you”



This alone is the key to being a happy and authentic worshipper of the Lord and a radical counterculture which can offer our world something infinitely more valuable and satisfying than happiness built on my own efforts and my own sense of value and fulfilment.

The equation is quite simple. God is not worshipped where he is not treasured and valued. Put it the other way round. Praise and whole-of-life service of God is the inevitable expression of a deep happiness or joy that flows from understanding and delighting in God and in his love and salvation.



To finish with the words I started, why flirt with the world/ Why play around with a cheap love when the Lord himself should be our delight and when his love is so strong and so real and so secure and the source of such unutterable joy?


 David Calderwood 





















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