Monday, September 19, 2016

Amos 6:1a, 4-7 Warning against the Self-Indulgent Lifestyle

KEY TEXT: Amos 6:4-6 "Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

KEY THOT: The house of Joseph refers to the two dominant tribes of the northern kingdom Israel, viz., Manasseh and Ephraim, the two sons of Joseph. Jeroboam, the first northern king, was an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26) The house of Joseph's spiritual state was in ruin. They had become worshipers of Baal . Economically, the northern kingdom Israel was doing well during the time of Amos. The leaders were living opulent lifestyle, lounging themselves on ivory beds and soft couches while enjoying gourmet meats from the choice "lambs from the flock" and "calves from the midst of the stall" (v.4). They were spending their time in idle singing, inventing musical instruments to entertain themselves while drinking wine from bowls. Instead of seeking the anointing of the Holy Spirit, they anointed themselves with expensive aroma oils. They were totally oblivious to the spiritual conditions of decadent Israel. While still keeping up with religious observances like the Sabbath and new moons (which they found increasingly boring), they were indifferent to the spiritual ruins taking place around them. Amos’ indictment against the rich and powerful is that they have become so self-indulgent, they could not be aroused to seek the spiritual welfare of the northern kingdom Israel. Israel was overdue  for judgment. In another 30 more years, it would be invaded and destroyed.

Our spiritual sensitivity can be dulled by an overly self-indulgent lifestyle. The days of the northern kingdom during Amos’ time has a familiar parallel to our modern day church, especially in affluent societies like Singapore. As our nation prospers, the church is in danger of becoming like the Israel of Amos' day: God's people are living a life of ease, feeling secure about their future. Increasingly, churches are being filled with members living an opulent lifestyle. Much time is spent feasting on food, drinking expensive wine and singing idle songs from our karaoke sets. In the midst of these activities, church people have no time nor a sense of urgency to seek the spiritual welfare of our nation. In my visit to churches and in some cases working with them, I notice that churches in Singapore are becoming complacent and our church ministry and programs are becoming increasingly inwardly focused, rather than outwardly focused. 

We like churches that preach “positive” sermons that affirm our affluent lifestyle, that will not make us feel “guilty” for self-indulging and assure us that all is well with our souls. We shun churches that preach discipleship truths calling for self-denial and self-death and the taking up the cross. We don’t mind wearing the cross around our necks (especially if it is made from gold or silver), but any talk of crucifying the self sounds alien to our affluent life of ease and enjoyment.

But the danger of such lifestyle is that it makes us indifferent and blind to our real spiritual condition. Increasingly, I sense that many pastors are afraid of preaching “negative” sermons of discipleship, for fear of losing members to churches that preach a more "positive" brand of Christianity. We try imitate the "mega" churches by preaching the “positive” message about the benefits of following Christ rather than "negative" message about the costs of following Christ. But yet, the Gospel of the kingdom begins with a call for repentance from an overly self-indulgent lifestyle. It promises the power and presence of the kingdom to all who are willing to take up the cross to follow Jesus. Only such disciples who are emptied of self can be filled with the Spirit, for the self (fleshy desires and lusts) and the Spirit are contrary to one another. 

Unfortunately, Amos’ warning against the self-indulgent lifestyle of the northern kingdom fell on deaf ears. So in 722 BC, God removed his hand of protection and let the Assyrian army enter the northern kingdom of Israel to destroy it completely. The 10 tribes of Israel, dominated by the house of Joseph, were scattered and assimilated into pagan cultures and lost forever. They had compromised their spiritual identity and could no longer be counted as God’s people. The same danger can happen to modern affluent churches globally as it is increasingly hard to distinguish the affluent lifestyle found in the church and in the world.

The call of discipleship is the call to a lifestyle of simplicity and minimalism: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This is a call to “give up” the self-indulgent lifestyle that dulls our spiritual senses so that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit to align ourselves with God's passion and compassion. 

Father, You have warned us against living a life that is self-indulgent because it dulls our spiritual senses. May You deliver us from our bondage to such a lifestyle. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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