It is simple to be sold on our own goodness. All we have to do is to compare ourselves to someone near us. In fact, the comparison is better if we can make a comparison to several people. In our comparison, I am better (at least less offensive) than they are. Our comparison is human-to-human, not human-to-God. Thus, I am good because you (in my opinion) are worse than I am. Your awfulness makes me good simply because I am not as awful as you are. So no matter how bad I am, I am okay because I am not as bad as you are.
In the churches of Christ nothing is worse than being wrong. We have created the impression that we can be 100% right by doing the things we can justify. There are at least two problems that come with that view: (a) we build a ready-made, prefabricated situation for constantly feeling guilty or (b) we build a ready-made, prefabricated motivation for self-justification.
We can be l00% forgiven (through Jesus blood and Gods grace), bur we are never 100% correct in our choices or behavior. We are not pure because we are 100% correct, but because we are 100% a recipient of Gods mercy and grace in Jesus Christ.
A result of the "100% correct view is the deceitful practice of thinking I am okay because I am better than someone else. Repentance for a mistake, not self-justification, is the God-approved way of dealing with mistakes.
Many of us (Christian and non-Christian) use this reasoning often. If society is obviously more evil than I am, then I am okay because I am not as bad as society.
Self-justification achieved by proving I am better than you is a common way of declaring personal goodness in this society. Being better than other humans is irrelevant in Christianity. The only meaningful comparison is to God the Father or Jesus Christ.
One of the frightening but impressive things about Amos and his message to the Kingdom of Israel is this: Compare yourself to Gods expectation, not to those around you. In todays lesson, Amos dealt with self-indulgencean extremely difficult matter! What you do in your lifestyle is self-indulgent! What I do in mine is necessary! It seems common to view what you do as excessive and what I do as reasonable.
God had a purpose for all of Israel (as well as for Christians). The purposeful comparison is to Gods expectation. The question: What does God wish to do through us? Not, How do we want to live?
It is simple to be excessive when we live in a society filled with excess. I want to define what is excessive for you, but I want everybody to leave me and my lifestyle aloneyour lifestyle is on limits to me, but my lifestyle is off limits to you and everyone else.
It is easy to be excessive in our lifestyle when people around us are excessive in theirs. That makes excessiveness feel normal.
It is also easy for us to expect others to live by standards that we refuse to live by. We like to criticize the way others use their resources, but we do not like for others to criticize us (they never understand us).
All of us see excess differently if we see what we have and use through the eyes of a deprived culture. Just to stimulate our thinking, carpeting looks different to people who live on dirt floors. Or, personal telephones look different to people who live in a town of thousands with few business phones. Or, having multiple cars for one family looks different to people in a city where only the extremely rich have one car.
What is excessive to you may not be excessive to me at all. It always depends on how things are seen. What is necessary to me may not be necessary to you.
Yet, we amazingly become accustomed to that which is commonplace. To grandpas or older people carpet, multiple cars in a family, and anything more than a party-line of 4 or more was excessive. To many of today, carpet, multiple cars in a family, and a cell phone are essentials. Carpet is everywhere in our society, and so are multiple cars in a family, and cell phones. Amazingly, if something is common, it quickly becomes essential. Want becomes need, and need becomes must have. Every parent of a teen understands this progression. However, the progression is not limited to teens.
The want-need-must-have progression is an interesting concept people urgently need to understand. The concept of being entitled to things or situations does not serve people in this (or any) society well. Wanting something does not mean a person is entitled to it when he/she makes no investment or effort. The fact that someone else has something does not mean I am entitled to have what he/she has.
Amos felt sorry for those who deceived themselves into thinking a lifestyle of ease declared the existence of security. He said they should examine other prominent cities near them. Would they say that nation was invincible because the elite had an incredible lifestyle?
Woe is not to be seen as merely a threat, but a sympathetic declaration that you will have to endure the consequences. The lifestyle of the Kingdom of Israel would result in horrible consequences, and Amos was sorry they would suffer those consequences. Self-deception can extract a terrible price!
In those societies, would the fact that the elite lived well postpone invasion and the violence it brought? If their answer was no, then why did they think an incredible lifestyle for the elite meant something different for them?
They would not expect an invincible security for anyone else in their circumstances. Why should they expect that security for themselves?
Amos described the lifestyle of the eliteivory beds, leisurely furniture, the best of foods, entertaining music (and they had no electricity or technology gadgets), exquisite wines served in exquisite containers, and the latest in skin care. The problem: they were not grieved over the ruin of Joseph. They were so wrapped up in their lifestyle of excess that they did not even notice the suffering of their brothers living in dire poverty. In fact, their excessive lifestyle contributed to the suffering of their brothers. They forgot God had a purpose for all of them, and it was not reflected in their excessive lifestyle.
Then, an incredible lifestyle lived by the elite invited invasion. Their lifestyle screamed they were a people of wealth who were worth invading. Whereas their lifestyle might not sound wonderful to Americans, it was an incredible lifestyle for almost 3000 years ago.
They were so concerned about maintaining and advancing their lifestyle that they were unconcerned for the suffering all around them. How they treated their suffering brothers was more important than any expectation of an exceptional lifestyle. They thought only of themselves and their pleasures, not of Gods purposes.
The result: their excessive lifestyle would be but a dim memory when they were defeated exiles.
Their excessive lifestyle would become a victim of their exile.
How upset was God with their fixation on lifestyle instead of the suffering of their brothers? God swore by Himself (there was none higher to whom He could appeal) the situation would not continue. When their strength disappeared, the best they could hope for was to be unnoticed when they hid. They would be that helpless! All they valued in their excess would be hopelessly destroyed.
Note the three consequences they would endure for their selfishness. (a) God would act against them. (b) They would have no strength as they helplessly hid. (c) Everything they had valued would be hopelessly destroyed.
It would happen! Exile was certain! Why? They turned justice into poison (no justice existed), righteousness to bitterness (righteousness and their lifestyle could not co-exist), and they trusted in themselves instead of God.
Nothing could avert their exile! Exile would happen because: (a) justice did not exist, (b) righteousness had no place in their society, and (c) they failed to trust in God.
People are never as strong as they think they are. People believe in themselves instead of Gods purpose, and they never realize this is weakness until it is too late.
When the biggest thing we trust in is ourselves, we are in huge troubleeven if we deny trouble exists.
For Thought and Discussion
1. What is it simple to be sold on? How do people do that?
It is simple to be sold on our own goodness. It can be done by human-to-human comparisons.
2. If society is obviously more evil than I, then how do I reason?
I reason I am okay because I am better than society is.
3. What is one of the frightening but impressive things about Amos message?
It was to their failure to compare themselves to Gods expectation.
4. In chapter 6, what does Amos address?
Amos dealt with self-indulgence.
5. It is simple to be excessive when what is true?
It is simple to be excessive when we live in a society filled with excess.
6. Who looks at what we consider normal differently?
Those who live in a deprived culture look at those who have more as being excessive.
7. What do we become accustomed to?
We become accustomed to things or situations that are commonplace.
8. Who did Amos feel sorry for?
Amos felt sorry for those who were deceived by thinking a lifestyle of ease meant security was certain.
9. Would the lifestyle of the elite postpone invasion and the violence it brought?
No, it would not.
10. Describe the lifestyle of the elite. What did they not notice?
They had beds made of ivory, leisure furniture, the best foods, entertaining music, fine wines served in exquisite vessels, and the latest in skin care. They did not notice the suffering of their brothers living in poverty.
11. What was the result?
Their excessive lifestyle would be a dim memory when they were exiles.
12. How upset with them was God?
He (using Himself for the basis of His oath, since He could appeal to nothing higher) swore they would go into exile.
13. Why was exile certain?
(a) There was no justice, (b) there was no place for righteousness in their society, and (c) they trusted in themselves instead of God.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 9
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