Virtue 5 - Brain Surgery audio (6MB)
This is part of a series of sermons at St. Thomas' based upon Tom Wright's book 'Virtue Reborn.
Before we start this morning, I’d like you to try a little exercise. It’s designed to boost your attention and awareness, a good thing to do before we look at the Bible! [If you want to try the exercise for yourself at home, watch this video.]
We’ll come back to this later. For now, keep your bibles open to Colossians 3. It’s a great example of what we’ve been looking at over the past four weeks. It’s a clear picture of what virtue looks like. Let’s pray as we come to look at it.
Paul begins, as we’ve said virtue does, by setting out the right goal. In verses 1-4 he reminds us of what that is. We’re waiting for the time when Christ returns, when he’s revealed. At that time we’ll also share in his glory. We’re waiting for the time when God’s Kingdom comes, when we’ll take our place as priests and rulers over creation.
But the reality is, as we saw last week, the Kingdom has already come! It’s not the case that this age stops and then the next comes. Jesus’ first coming, especially his death and resurrection, brought the new age thundering in. It’s like a wave crashing on the shore. And the present age is like the undertow, working against the new age, undermining it. The world tries to convince us that nothing has changed, that we should continue to live the way the way we’ve always done. But Paul says that shouldn’t be the case! We’re to live in light of the new world. In verses 1-4 he reminds us that we’ve already died, to sin, and our life is already joined with Christ, if we’ve put our trust in him. We’ve already been raised with Christ! And so Paul says we need to start developing, in this present age, the type of character that people of God’s kingdom possess.
This is what we’ve been saying virtue is all about. The first thing you need is to have the right goal. Then you need to work out the steps you need to get there, consistent with that goal. The first step Paul says we need to do, is unlearn all our bad habits. If we really do belong to God’s Kingdom, we need to stop living like we’re part of this kingdom. We need to set our minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth. So we need to put away all that is earthly, all that springs from our sinful selves. Things like fornication, impurity, evil desires, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language, dishonesty, pride and division! All these things are incompatible with God’s Kingdom. So as people of God’s kingdom they can’t have any part in our lives.
But like breaking any bad habit, Paul knows it will take effort to get rid of them. We’ve got to work hard against our ‘natural’ desires and aspirations, our ‘natural’ tendencies. Paul doesn’t say, ‘give up a bit of these things, just as much as you’re able.’ No! He says, put them away, get rid of them! Put them to death! He knows that unless we kill them, they will kill us. It’s on account of these things that God’s wrath is coming on those who are disobedient. Unless we put an end to these kinds of behaviours, they’ll lead directly to corruption, decay and death. They’ll take us away from God’s kingdom.
Instead, as God’s chosen ones, we’re to put on an entirely new set of clothes. We need to develop virtues like compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. We’re to bear with one another and forgive one-another. Above all we’re to clothe ourselves with love. Just like putting off the old self, putting on the new will be hard work. It won’t happen automatically, just like we don’t automatically get changed. We need to consciously, deliberately work at developing these virtues. It’s going to be hard work, just like going to the gym and getting fit, or like learning a new language or skill.
How then do we do it? Once we’ve worked out what we need to put off and what we need to put on, how do we get changed? When it comes to developing virtue how do we make these things habitual, second nature? We’ll look at this in more detail in the coming weeks, but Paul gives us the first and most important step in this passage.
Where do you think it might begin? Where does developing virtue start? It turns out, if you look at verse 2 that it’s all in your mind! We need to set our minds on things that are above. We have to choose, with our minds, to intentionally take of the old and put on the new. We can only do that if our heads are in the right place. That happens as our new self is being renewed in knowledge, according to the image of our Creator. We’ve got to have a firm grasp, in our minds, of who God is and who he calls us to be. Paul speaks more of this renewal in Romans 12:1-2:
1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
There’s the goal – that as priests and rulers we offer the sacrifice of our selves. And how do we do that:
2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The world wants us to conform to it’s way of thinking and behaving. As we said before, the world wants us to shut our minds to God and to go on living for ourselves. But, as Paul says in Romans 1, shutting our minds off to God like this is actually dehumanizing. Minds that don’t acknowledge God become unfit. That’s how we become unable to think straight about what’s appropriate. Failure to worship God leads to a failure to think and that leads to a failure to act as fully human beings.
Instead of being conformed to the world, we need to be transformed, by the renewal of our minds. We need to put in conscious, deliberate effort into knowing God and discerning his will, if we’re going to work out how we should live. Paul’s clear that this is something we all have to be doing. It’s not just for those who are intellectually gifted, or able minded. There’s no way we can get by on autopilot, we’ve all got to be setting our minds on things that are above. We’ve all need to work on renewing our minds.
Renewing our minds is all the more crucial, and all the more difficult, in our present circumstance. In our world today, we’re so quick to turn off our brains! We rely on Google rather than our brains, we tune in to the ‘idiot box’ rather than engage our imaginations. But, the problem is deeper than that. The post-modern world we live in denies there’s such a thing as objective, absolute truth. And so, we talk up feelings over thoughts. We’re more swayed by arguments about feelings rather than carefully reasoned thoughts. In fact we’re sceptical of thought and reason. They’re relegated to an intellectual, academic sphere. We show disdain for our minds. As Christians we’re not immune to this. I’ve heard more than once, people say that theology is only for those studying at Ridley. That growing in spirituality was more important than theology, as though the two were opposed. Nothing could be further from the truth! In his prayers, Paul often prayed that his readers would grow in love and knowledge. The reality is though the more spiritual you are, the more clearly and accurately and carefully you will think. The more you’ll devote your mind to thinking about what the completed goal is, what steps you should be taking, what habits you should be acquiring, right now. The more spiritual you are the more ‘virtuous’ you’ll be striving to be, and that requires your mind to be fully engaged.
The exercise I had us do at the start was called a Blink Test. There’s lots of simple tools like it that you can use to train your brain, to develop it. Do you want to try another? Let’s give it a go. [If you want to give this exercise a try at home watch this video.] You can boost your memory, your attention, and your creativity with simple, hard work. It is possible to redesign your brain! You might've recognised the two clips we've watched. They're from a series the ABC ran last year called 'Redesign my Brain.' There's more exercises like them that you can try that will help boost your brain power! That’s what Paul wants us to do. If we’re going to develop virtue we need our minds fully engaged. We need to think hard, to develop our brains, our moral muscles. We’re to grow in wisdom, in knowing God and knowing his will. That’s something we can all do, no matter how smart we are. How are you going with it? How are you seeking to know God more? How are you going reading his word? If you’ve got questions, are you seeking answers, or do you just let them go unanswered and forgotten? This term at CLAY we’ve instigated a question board. Any of the youth, or leaders, can write up any question, and during the term we’ve committed to looking at those questions together. I love this board. I love that it’s a way we’re seeking to engage with the questions that we have, to think about them together. What questions would you add? What are you doing about answering them? How are you seeking to grow in wisdom? What are you doing to train your brain?
Maybe it’s time to talk to Naomi Kenner about getting a Bible reading plan from Scripture Union?
Or perhaps you should be joining a small group?
Koorong’s having a sale at the moment. It’s a great time to get a book, if there’s some topic, some question you want to look at.
Or maybe you should think about doing some study at Ridley? These days you don’t even have to do a whole subject or degree. They’ve got a great certificate program where all the lectures are online.
How are you transforming your mind?
The good news is, that we don’t do it alone! In Romans 12:3-8, Paul says we all need to think with sober judgment according to our abilities. But then straight away he reminds us that we, who are many, are one body in Christ. And in the body there’s a variety of gifts. There are gifts of teaching, prophecy and exhortation. Those with these gifts are to use them in helping the rest of us renew our minds. That’s not to say though that the rest of us can switch off our minds, that we can just do what other people say. We’re all to think with sober judgment, to apply our brains. I don’t even want you blindly doing what we say from up here at the pulpit. The reason we encourage you to keep your bibles open, is so that you check what we’re saying. That you employ your minds as well!
Speaking of keeping your bibles open, turn back to our passage from Colossians, we see that the virtues we’re to put on are corporate. You can’t have compassion, kindness, forgiveness and acceptance without community! We work at developing these virtues together. We encourage, challenge and learn from one another, what it means to be Christian, what it means to be truly human. And as we do, we need to constantly come back to God’s word. We need to:
16Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in our hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. – Col. 3:16
Together we’re to be transformed by God’s word. That’s what we should be doing in our small groups, in our homes when we meet together. And above all, it’s what we do when we meet together here. We teach and sing God’s word together. Our whole service is designed to help us fix our minds on God, to remind ourselves of who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s going to do. What we’re really doing is performing brain surgery on one-another. Together we’re seeking to be renewed by the transformation of our minds. Together we’re setting our minds on things that are above, so that we might be able to discern the will of God and what is right and pleasing and acceptable to him.
As we close, let me read us one final passage from God's word. It's from 1 Peter 1 and it picks up so many of the things we've been talking about today.
13Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy – 1 Peter 1:13-16
Let’s pray that God helps us to perform brain surgery on each other.