By, Isam Itson III
Proverbs 16:25 – “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
For years I have been reading about how looking at the blue light from the screens of our computers and smartphones just before bedtime makes it difficult for us to fall asleep. But I do it anyway. In addition to writing and teaching, I have a full time night job at a grocery store and a part time job that I work in the mornings. So the quantity and quality of my sleep is critical for the long term quality of my productivity.
But night after night I come home from the store, and watch videos or read the news on my phone or computer. I know this impacts the quality of my sleep and the amount of time I sleep, but I justify my actions with my need to unwind and relax after work. In addition I notice that when I do not sleep deep enough or long enough I am more moody and self centered the next day. It is more difficult for me to control my temper, thoughts, attitudes, and actions in response to the people around me.
I have a legitimate desire to relax after work, but the way I am choosing to relax is not helping my relationships and career over the long run. My self control is made more difficult by my irrational and emotional choice to spend time on the computer just before going to bed.
Paul writes about this type of behavior in Ephesians 4:17,18 and 4:20-24.
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
All of Paul’s talk about the “futility” of our minds, our “darkened understanding”, our “ignorance” and “hardness of heart” and “deceitful desires”, is just another way of of talking about the choices that seem right or desirable to us in the moment, but don’t produce the good results that we really want for ourselves and others. There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death.
It’s just like what we read about in the garden in Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 3. They were deceived by the serpent and tempted by their selfish desire to live by their own wisdom rather than submit to the authority and wisdom of God, their creator and provider. As a result their lives, and now our lives, became focused on providing for themselves, even at the expense of others, rather than trusting in God’s provision for them and serving the best interests of others.
The old self that Paul tells us to put off, is rooted and grounded in our fear for our physical and material security, our social status, and the fulfillment of our self centered desires. The new self that Paul wants us to put on is rooted and grounded in the righteousness of God and holiness. Holiness simply honors the boundaries and value that God has placed on our lives and the lives of the people around us.
In Ephesians 4:19, Paul tells us what living in light of our deceitful desires produces in our lives and the lives of the people around us. “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Isn’t this what we see in the lives of our political opponents and social adversaries? Even among church leaders and professing Christians? Isn’t this what we see in ourselves?
When we are on God’s team we encourage and help each other put off the old, self centered and socially destructive way of doing things that dishonors God’s wisdom and purpose for our lives. We choose to put on the new, Christ centered and God honoring way of doing things that honors the value of the people around us and consequently enriches our societies.
But this means we have to be willing to not always have things our own way. The “hardness of heart” that Paul wrote about in Ephesians 4:18 is that part of ourselves that is committed to having our own way and achieving our own desires no matter the consequences. It places our pride and honor above everything and everyone else. Hard heartedness is committed to the delusion that life is about me having my way at all times. This is the heart of so much of the strife that we deal within our personal lives, within our societies, and between our nations.
When we put on our new self, actively submitting our hearts and minds to God in righteousness and holiness, we embrace the life and wisdom that God gave us at Creation. We trust that God will continue to provide what we need physically and materially to sustain our lives and fulfill his purpose for us. When we do this collectively as members of Christ’s body, the Church, we testify to the members and leaders of our societies and nations, that God’s wisdom for life leads to the peace, love, and harmony that is so elusive in their pursuit of their social and political agendas.
So, to help me put off my old self, I am committing to not opening my phone or computer when I come home from the store at night for the next thirty days. I will simply come home, shower, and go to bed. And I am committing to recommit if I fail. And I am making myself accountable to the members of my community in this choice. I will not give up. I need to set aside that habit of behavior.
It will not be easy, but it is necessary if I am going to offer God my best service as a representative of his love and wisdom to the people in my family, church, and community. This is a practical way for me confront and overcome the destructive spiritual forces at work in the world and within my own heart.
1. What one, specific, habit of thought or behavior consistently makes it more difficult for you to honor God and his love for the people in your family and community?
2. What one, specific, thing can you do differently in your personal life for the next thirty days to make it easier for you to honor God’s wisdom and love in relationship to your family and community?