1 Kings 18:28-29

Sermon preached on August 05, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

I used to be a big fan of cycling. In the 80's it was Greg Lemond who sparked my interest. He was the first American to win the Tour de France and he eventually he won three of them, one of them by the slimmest of margins, I think it was 8 seconds. The mountain stages and the time trials were particularly exciting. I was also intrigued by the teamwork that was involved, and how some riders would sacrifice themselves for their teammate. In more recent years I was inspired by the fact that Lance Armstrong came back from a battle with cancer to win 7 straight tours.

But during Lance's last couple of seasons there were accusations of doping. But since none of it was proved, I tended to give Lance and others the benefit of the doubt. Then one of my favorite riders, Olympic winner Tyler Hamilton, tested positive and was banned from racing for two years. That was a blow. Then last year many of the top riders, including favorites like Jan Ulrich and Ivan Basso, were banned from racing just prior to the start of the Tour because of alleged ties to a doping doctor. I didn't know what to think but because it happened just a day or two before the Tour was scheduled to start, and because nothing was proven, I thought it was perhaps unfair to the riders, and particularly to Alexander Vinokourov, who wasn't even implicated, but couldn't race because so many of his teammates were. Then right after the end of the Tour last year, it was announced that winner Floyd Landis had tested positive for doping during the Tour. Then Ulrich and Basso were fired from their teams because there was evidence they had doped. During this year's Tour two stage winner Vinokourov was kicked out of the Tour and fired from his team because he tested positive. Then just a few days before the end of the race, leader Michael Rasmussen was expelled from the Tour after lying about his whereabouts for a couple of missed random drugs test.

The result of all this is that I've lost all enthusiasm for cycling. I was wrong to have become so excited about it and to have been a fan of some of those riders because they weren't racing fairly, they were doping. I've concluded that cycling, in it's present form, is not worth getting excited about. I was wrong to have been so passionate about it.

It's a great mistake to be passionate about the wrong thing. It's more so when that wrong thing is a major part of your life. The prophets of Baal came to know that. They worshipped Baal as a god. They thought that if they were devoted to him and served him with zeal that they'd be blessed by him. They were so devoted to him. We read that they slashed themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed. They called on him with all their strength. But all their work for Baal was for nought. At the end of the day what do we read? Verse 29 says,

"But there was no response,
no one answered,
no one paid attention."

Their passion and devotion was all for nothing. Baal was not a god at all, but a figment of their imagination. They were deceived and they perished because of it. Satan used the concept of Baal to destroy them.

There are many lessons for us here.

The first one is obvious, but it's one that the church needs to impress upon society today because most people don't get it. It's that

sincerity, zeal and devotion in themselves, count for nothing.

If you're devoted to the wrong thing—it doesn't matter how passionate you are about it, it doesn't matter how sincere you are in holding to it—you're doing nothing but heaping up condemnation for yourself.

But that's not what many people today believe. They believe that
it really doesn't matter what you believe, that as long as you're sincere it believing it, you'll be okay when you stand before God. They see sincerity as being so good that it makes up for the fact that you may hold to something that is not true. They hold sincerity as the all atoning virtue. But they are gravely mistaken. That's a lie from Satan.

Now it is certainly true that
being sincere is better than being insincere. If someone just pretends to believe something and he isn't sincere about it, he's a hypocrite. God hates hypocrisy and it's condemned in many places in Scripture. In that vein in Romans 12:9 the apostle Paul tells us that

"Love must be sincere."

So sincerity is better than hypocrisy. But that doesn't mean that sincerity is always good. If someone believes the wrong thing and is sincere about it—that's not commendable.

The prophets of Baal were sincere. They were fanatical in the devotion, cutting themselves and crying out to Baal. But Elijah had them put to death. Elijah was God's prophet and his actions had God's approval. God was not pleased with the prophets of Baal even though they were sincere. They were leading the people of Israel into error. They were getting them to indulge in sexual immorality. The fact that they were sincere in this did not make up for their sin. No. They were still worthy of death.

We see the same thing in the New Testament. Saul of Tarsus was sincere in his belief that Christianity was wrong. Paul told King Agrippa that he was convinced that ho ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. (Acts 26:9) Paul persecuted the church without hypocrisy, with zeal and sincerity. Yet did that leave him guiltless? Absolutely not. Paul said that because of that he was not worthy to be an apostle. (1 Corinthians 15:9) Indeed, shortly after Jesus called Paul to be an apostle, Jesus said to Ananias about Paul's calling, (Acts 9:15-16)

"This man is my chosen instrument
to carry my name before the Gentiles
and their kings and before the people of Israel.
I will show him how much
he must suffer for my name."

Paul was sincere and zealous in persecuting the church. Yet that did not take away from the fact that what he was doing was exceedingly sinful. Indeed, Jesus implied a connection between Paul's persecution of the church (which Ananias mentioned) and the suffering that Paul had to endure as an apostle. Paul's zeal and sincerity were not commendable, they were condemnable.

Jesus also taught that zeal in the wrong thing is not commendable. You'll remember what He said about the zeal of the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:15 we read,

"Woe to you,
teachers of the law and Pharisees,
you hypocrites!
You travel over land and sea
to win a single convert,
and when he becomes one,
you make him twice as much
a son of hell as you are."

The Pharisees were zealous. Jesus gave them that much. I think we can safely say that they were sincere in their desire to win converts. But Jesus described them as sons of hell. He told them that they were cursed. He said to these zealous men,

"Woe to you…"

Jesus made it clear that their fate would be a terrible one. Zeal, in itself, is neither good nor bad. What makes it good or bad is the cause, the belief. As the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 4:17-18 about the ungodly Judaizers.

"those people are zealous to win you over,
but for no good.
What they want is to alienate you [from us],
so that you may be zealous for them.
It is fine to be zealous,
provided the purpose is good,"

For zeal to be good, it has to be for a good purpose. If it's for a bad purpose, the zeal is no good. Sincerity in the wrong thing is not commendable, it's condemnable.

Thus the fact is that if people are sincere in following other religions—that does not excuse them in God's eyes. Their sincerity and zeal is not something that is good, it's bad. It's a sin. It's condemnable.

Common sense confirms this. For example, the 911 terrorists were sincere and zealous. But would anyone say,

"Because they were sincere and zealous what they did was okay."?

No. What they did was wrong. They killed innocent people. It doesn't matter if they were sincere and zealous. Indeed, their sincerity and zeal was misplaced and misguided. Because of that even their sincerity and zeal is to be condemned.

Secondly, this passage teaches that

you need to be careful what you are passionate about.

There is so many things in this world that are not worth getting passionate about. Yet people chase after them and give them the best of their time and energy. They are absolutely devoted to them. Yet in the end, those things will disappoint, they will leave the people empty and unsatisfied. Remember how Solomon put it in Ecclesiastes? (1:2-8)

"'Meaningless! Meaningless!'
says the Teacher.
'Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.'
What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and turns to the north;
round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome, more than one can say."

Solomon went on to talk about how he pursed wisdom, pleasure, work, advancement, riches—and how he found that all of them, no matter how much of them one attained—did not satisfy.

He pursed
wisdom and knowledge and attained them like no one before or after him. He was like many of the scientists today, thinking that satisfaction and the meaning of life can come from those things. But what did he find? He wrote, (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge,
the more grief."

Solomon then gave himself to pleasure—to laughter, to wine. He said that he denied himself nothing his eyes desired that he refused his heart no pleasure. (2:10) But it left him empty. It didn't satisfy.

Solomon gave himself to
great projects, to work. But at the end he said (2:11)

"Yet when I surveyed all that my hands
had done and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun."

The same was true for riches. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:10,

"Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless."

Jesus warned us about greed in Luke 12:15-20 in the story He told about the rich fool. He said,

"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed;
a man's life does not consist
in the abundance of his possessions.
And he told them this parable:
'The ground of a certain rich man
produced a good crop.
He thought to himself,
'What shall I do?
I have no place to store my crops.'
Then he said,
'This is what I'll do.
I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones,
and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
And I'll say to myself,
'You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.
Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'
But God said to him, 'You fool!
This very night your life
will be demanded from you.
Then who will get
what you have prepared for yourself?'"

The third thing our passage teaches us that

if you are passionate about the wrong thing it will harm you.

If you are passionate about the wrong thing, it will not only disappoint you, but it will come back to bite you. Consider the great harm that fell on the prophets of Baal. God's judgment upon them was death. Later in the chapter we read that Elijah shouted, (verse 40)

"'Seize the prophets of Baal.
Don't let anyone get away!'
They seized them,
and Elijah had them brought down
to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there."

That's the way it is with things that are worthless. If you pursue them—they will harm you.

Consider what happened to
Judas. He loved money. John 12:6 tells us that Judas was the keeper of the money bag and that he used to help himself to what was put in it. He loved money. He thought it would be of benefit to him. But it wasn't. It led to his destruction. He betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. But it didn't satisfy. At the end he realized that money didn't satisfy. It could do nothing to lessen his guilty conscience. Ultimately he saw that money was worthless and threw it down on the temple floor. He then went out and hanged himself. Money did Judas a great deal of harm. It will do that to anyone who pursues it. As we read in 1 Timothy 6:10,

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith
and pierced themselves with many griefs."

That was true of Ananias and Sapphira. Don't be passionate about money. Money does not satisfy.

What are you passionate about? What do you chase after?

Many people today chase after pleasure. But Proverbs tells us that seeking fleshly pleasure leads straight to the grave.

But it's not just lustful pleasure that leads to the grave. I really like fishing. It's one of the pleasure things. But it's ultimately meaningless. It can be a snare. When I was a schoolteacher I was friends with another teacher. He was a really nice guy but he didn't know the Lord. After I left teaching I lost touch with him but then later I heard that he was sick and still later I heard that he had died. Some time after that I got to know a minister who had visited him in the hospital while he was dying. I talked to him about my friend and asked him if he had showed any interest in the gospel before he died. The minister who had visited him said,

"No, all he wanted to talk about was fishing and how good it would be to go fishing again."

I was very sad to hear that. Being passionate about fishing is not going to help anyone on the day of judgment. If God were to ask someone, "Why should I let you into heaven?" "I was passionate about fishing," would sound very lame indeed.

Are perhaps you're passionate about politics. Being passionate about
politics can also be full of disappointment. One of Ayatollah Khomeini's closest aids while he was in exile in Paris was Sadegh Ghotbzadeh. He worked hard for the Ayatollah, for him to be brought to power in Iran. He was so close to Khomeini that when Khomeini triumphantly flew back to Iran to take over the government on February 1, 1979, Ghotbzadeh sat next to him on the plane. After Khomeini became ruler, Ghotbzadeh become Foreign Minister. But they soon had a falling out and Khomeini had Ghotbzadeh executed in 1982.

Or perhaps you're passionate about your
family, your spouse and your children. What can be wrong with that? How can that lead to disaster? It can if you put that ahead of God. I've already mentioned Ananias and Sapphira. Perhaps they were both greedy. But it could also be that Sapphira agreed to it, not because of greed, but because she loved her husband. If that is true it led to her destruction.

Solomon's wives led him into much sin. David's love for his son Absalom and his indulgence of him almost lost him his kingdom. Eli's love for his two sons Hophni and Phinehas led to his family being cursed. He failed to restrain them when they were sinning at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. Because of that his family was cursed so that there would never be an old man among them—the men would all die in the prime of life.

Being passionate about your family needs to take second place to something else.

Of course, I'm not saying that loving your family, or being passionate about politics, or fishing is wrong in itself. Of course not. But my point is that these things cannot be your overriding passion.

Your overriding passion needs to be for the glory of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus told His disciples,

"seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things
will be given to you as well."

Made you for His glory. (Colossians 1:16) He died not only to forgive your sins but to give you new life—so that you could live lives of love and show others what His love is like and point others to Him. Everything else must be subservient to that. The problem with being passionate about the wrong things, or lesser things is that they take your time and energy away from what is really important. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul told Christians,

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do,
do it all for the glory of God."

And in Colossians 3:17 he wrote,

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him."

So I ask you—what are you passionate about? Is God first in your life? Are you following what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:58?

"Always give yourselves fully
to the work of the Lord, because you know that
your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

What is done for Jesus is not in vain. Everything else you do—for yourself, for pleasure, for money, for work, for family—is in vain if it's not dedicated to our Lord and His work.

Live for Jesus. Put Him first in your life. Consider His glory in everything you do. Praise Him. Thank Him. Rejoice in Him. That's what your life should be about. Anything else is a waste. Anything else is meaningless.