Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: Leviticus 19:17
O.T.: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
N.T.: Matthew 5:38-48
Helen Keller once wrote, “The best and most beautiful things in the world can not be seen, or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” Helen would understand such a poignant thought. Her blindness led her to feel the beauty of God’s creation. She didn’t need to see this world. She could sense it with her heart.
The heart commands a special place in our lives. For the modern mind, it’s the center of decision-making. Philip Robison captures the modern mentality, “When the future hinges on the next words that are said, don’t let logic interfere, believe your heart instead.”
Believe your heart – what does that mean?
It sounds so profound – believe your heart. Many parents say this to their children when they’re considering a person to marry. It’s also a sentimental thought offered the hero who is weighing whether or not to undertake a dangerous mission.
Believe your heart. The thought conveys that your heart holds a truth which will instruct your decision-making. It’s a noble thought – counting on your heart to guide you correctly through life. But it’s too naïve.
Seeking your future is more complicated than believing your heart -particularly when passion is involved. Passion is that intensity of emotion that overrides reason. This seems to be what Robison believes ought to guide our lives. Be careful. Robision’s profundity lacks God’s wisdom. In every person lies a battle between God’s spirit and passions of the flesh. That battle can result in terrible things when passion dominates your reason.
Over three decades ago a young man from the congregation I earlier served, was a senior in high school. He had taken his girl friend to the prom. It was spring and two of his best friends were there – without dates. They were more interested in teasing their friend’s date than finding someone with whom to dance.
The church member became angry with his friends. They were disrespecting his prom date. He became more and more incensed as they refused to leave his girlfriend alone. A fight ensued. The three high school students were banned from the prom by school officials. The girlfriend was left behind in the dance hall.
Anger grew within the church member’s heart. He later said to me, “All I could see was red.” He hadn’t been drinking. Nor he take drugs. He couldn’t control the anger pouring out of his heart.
He stormed home and got his shotgun. He went to the apartment where his best friends hung out. He pounded on the door to see them. He left the house a few moments later – his friends were dead. He walked directly to the police station. He turned his gun and himself in to the police.
Ten years later, he left prison ashamed and psychologically upset over what he had done. From the moment he had relieved the emotions in his heart, he regretted what he had done. He knew he would face God someday for his sin. He never married. He stayed away from his parents and siblings. He was alone, with his thoughts and God.
He had trusted his heart. He had followed his emotions. His future was determined by his heart. He tried to forgive himself and found it impossible to do so. At a deeper place, he didn’t believe God should forgive him. His heart had not been up to the challenge placed before him.
Levitcus 19 warns us about such a time. God limits the faithful heart within His holy purpose. The heart is meant to guard, to shield from sin. What my church friend learned was that without his heart focused on God, it took him to a place far away from God. The heart must submit to God.
Anger is not simply an emotion of the heart. It’s a condition of the loss of God’s spirit within us. God desires us to have a spirit of self-control so passion doesn’t overtake our heart. In Galatians 5:22, the final fruit of the spirit is self-control. Through the spiritual discipline of contemplating God, anger does not determine our futures – God’s wisdom does.
Within both the Old and New Testaments, emotions of the heart are never to be divided from obedience to God. In several passages an unwillingness to follow God’s wisdom is called “hard-hearted.” My Dad called it “bull-headed.” The Bible calls it “hard-hearted,” not “hard-headed.” God’s heart offers love to the world by giving us life. His heart is connected with the human heart that yearns to know God, to love God, to follow God. Being “hard-hearted” is to put obstacles between your own heart and God’s heart.
The seventeen century French theologian and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, once said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the human heart that cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, through Jesus Christ.” When this God-shaped vacuum is filled, there’s no place for anger – for God is love. When this God-shaped vacuum in our hearts are filled, there is tenderness to God that shows a “soft-heart.”
We live during times when we are being tempted by the world to be hard-hearted. The world is changing before our eyes. The political climate has become increasingly “hard-hearted.” The eldest among us remember when Christian civility was a part of our national culture. Today, we are bombarded by words of demonization from either side of our political divide. It’s not only from those in political office. It’s from news media pundits who make a living promoting the extremes of life so they can keep viewers. Secular rhetoric is laying a course for national division of great magnitude. If we can not set our anger aside and reason with one another in this age of confusion and rapid change, we risk a dark future for America.
There are passionate people on either side of the political divide. Too many are casting the other side of the aisle as threats to America’s future. Too many are unwilling to admit their own mistakes in judgment, or offer understanding of another person’s experience.
Their “hard-heartedness” threatens anarchy. They risk trust in the institutions of our country that were set up to encourage differences of opinion as a healthy conversation for determining our social direction. Casting the opposition as frauds or fakes leaves the public wondering whether they can ever know the truth. People take matters into their own hands and are willing to use whatever means satisfy their ends.
When it comes to political power, we’re never immune from such passions of the heart. They are feelings of the flesh that don’t represent God’s heart. When humans take matters into their own hands, anger, greed, betrayal, envy can dominate who we are and what we believe is right. When they rule our public conversation, anarchy isn’t far away.
Whenever the human heart is subject to the influence of anarchy, it has lost its spiritual direction with God. When that happens, only Satan wins. Oppositional forces against God’s love are powerful, but not more powerful than God. When God is contemplated by the heart each day, self-control is reigns within the heart.
When passions of the flesh are bridled by God’s wisdom and love, there is humility of spirit, and an attitude of grace to temper fleshly passions. You can trust your heart to guard you from saying something that adds fuel to the fires of anarchy.
I John 4:20 says, “If anyone says ‘I Love God,’ and hates his or her brother, he or she is a liar; for he or she who do not love their brother or sister whom they see cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
Friends, my church friend from the prom has spent the rest of his life lamenting how anger destroyed his future. It was hard for him to return to church, even though so many members of his parents’ congregation wrote him weekly encouraging him and offering him the grace of God’s love.
A nation that loses its heart for God has much at stake.
In this social climate, God is giving us and our national leaders the prime opportunity to point people of the world to the heart of God for saint and sinner. I John 4:4 says, “Little children, you are of God, and have already overcome [worldly people], for God who is in you is greater than the person who is in the world.” This time is a time God is testing us to see whether we really believe we have overcome the passions of the world that generate conflict. He wants to see if we are worthy of the love He has given us in Jesus Christ.
If we are of Christ, the past world of living freely by our passions is gone. Everything is fresh and new. We’re not of the world. “For all that is in the world, the passions of the flesh and the passions of the eyes and the pride of life are not of our Heavenly Father, but are of the world.”
James 1:26 warns us as believers in Jesus Christ to guard our mouths. “If anyone thinks they are religious and does not bridle the tongue, they deceive their heart and their religion is vain.” Jesus remind us, “For where our heart is, there will our treasure be also.”
Our treasure is God. We live during a time when God is calling us to inspect the devotion of our national heart for God. Let the illumination of Christ within our hearts temper our words and our deeds to the Glory of God so that we might remain a light to the nations!