Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Just One Stinking Vice

I think we're all pretty good people, don't you? Oh, we have our individual vices to contend with, but for the most part we treat others nicely, have good marriages, kids to brag about and certainly could never see ourselves on the evening news sporting a lovely mug shot. I think that's why it's harder when we're challenged to be "perfect" in Christ.

God spoke to Moses and Aaron, "When you enter the land of Canaan, which I'm giving to you as a possession, and I put a serious fungus in a house in the land of your possession, the householder is to go and tell the priest, 'I have some kind of fungus in my house.' The priest is to order the house vacated until he can come to examine the fungus, so that nothing in the house is declared unclean...If the fungus breaks out again in the house after the stones have been torn out and the house has been scraped and plastered, the priest is to come and conduct an examination; if the fungus has spread, it is a malignant fungus. The house is unclean. The house has to be demolished - its stones, wood, and plaster are to be removed to the garbage dump outside the city."1

Now what can the rites and detailed procedures found in the book of Leviticus teach us? My commentary writes: After replacing the plagued stones with new stones, if the plague reappeared, it was chronic and couldn't be dealt with simply by removing a few stones. A house with leprosy speaks of the heart. In Ephesians 3, Paul prayed that Christ might dwell in our hearts, or literally be at home in our hearts. Is Christ at home in your heart - in every room of the home of your heart? Or are there closets and attics that are leprous? You can't simply lock the door or seal them off. No, the stones are to be ripped out and carried away. Otherwise, the leprosy will spread. We think if we've given the Lord five out of eight rooms, we're doing pretty well, when, in actuality, if there's even one room with leprosy, the entire house will ultimately be affected.2

This seems like a pretty stiff challenge to me. I'm not even allowed one "Monica closet"3 in my apartment/house. I feel like that's a pretty tough assignment - tougher than keeping my actual home spotless throughout (which if you've seen my house, you know is an impossibility for me).
Gary Thomas in Devotions for a Sacred Marriage writes about unwillingly giving up soda, his one vice, for Lent. "Can't I have just one stinking vice?" I protested. "Just one?!..." Admittedly, whether I drink a daily Pepsi is a very trivial matter - but the principle behind it goes much deeper. My statement "Can't I have just one stinking vice?" has infected my own and many other marriages on a much more significant and profound level. Husbands may say, "Look, I don't have affairs. I don't gamble with the mortgage money. I'm home in the evening. Yeah, I occasionally lose my temper and wound you with a few careless words, but am I not allowed one vice?"
Wives may say, "I've been a faithful wife. I don't bust the family budget. I'm there for my family. Maybe at times I talk negatively about my husband behind his back when he really ticks me off, but all in all, I think he has it pretty good."
And so we excuse something we know we should change, but we ignore it, based on the faulty assumption that, since we are generally good husbands and wives, we can maintain our "one little vice."
But the Bible doesn't give us permission to ignore "one little vice." II Corinthians 7:1 urges us to "purify ourselves from everything that contaminates the body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (emphasis added). When we say, "All in all, my spouse has it OK," we're not perfecting holiness; we're excusing wickedness.4

He goes on to say, The truth is, I'm not granted "one little vice." Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). If something injures my relationship with [my wife], out of love I will work with God's Spirit to root that habit out of my life. I won't make excuses by pointing to the lack of other negative things about me, and I won't try to hide behind my strengths. A weakness is a weakness, regardless of many strengths that surround it. Sin is sin, regardless of how many virtues accompany it.4

So how do we become perfect? By giving ourselves to Christ on a daily basis. And there's always something to work on, isn't there? God, in His graciousness, always has me working on one lesson or another in order to change my heart. And even more gracious of Him, He doesn't come to me and say, "Yeah, here are the ten things wrong with you. Get to work!" It seems He always brings just one thing to my attention
so that I may spend some time allowing Him to work on that one issue at that time. "Create in me a clean heart" becomes the prayer on my lips, and I'm thankful that it is Christ who does the cleaning and not me because I'm not a very good housekeeper.


1. Leviticus 14:33-36a, 43-45 as written in The Message
2. Jon Courson's Application Commentary Old Testament, pg. 403
3. Anyone who is a die-hard fan of the show Friends remembers the episode where Monica, a complete neat-freak who keeps her apartment spotless, is horrified when her one horrendously messy closet is discovered.
4. Devotions for A Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas, Chapter 14 "One Bad Habit"
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