The Real Lesson of Bill Bennett
The great Baptist preacher Spurgeon once said that learning to say no is of far greater value than learning Latin. Life is largely a matter of setting priorities. That’s why the apostle Paul said, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
The great tragedy today that is that many of us are more interested in finding peace and joy than we are in finding righteousness. Like a sick man, we prefer to have our pain sedated without having the real problem corrected. But Paul says that there can be no peace and joy until there is righteousness.
Have you noticed that much of what goes under the label of “preaching” today is merely an attempt to soothe the unsaved with a false sense of peace and stir in them an artificial joy? The preaching of righteousness is unpopular these days. We want peace without repentance, happiness without holiness.
It is, therefore, useful on occasion to review one’s priorities in life. It is essential that I remember what God has called me to be and do. My first calling in life is not to teach Greek, or write textbooks, or preach sermons, or mentor students. God has called me to be, first and foremost, a “Christian” if you will—a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. This entails being sensitive to this matter of “righteousness,” as Paul put its. There is no place in the will of God for a lenient attitude toward evil. We are to abhor it (Romans 12:9) and to abstain from all appearance of it (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
The Word of God says, “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil” (Psalm 97:10). See how love and hate belong together—love of the Lord and hatred of evil. The church at Thyatira had love (Greek agape), but along with it they tolerated Jezebel and our Lord dealt with them in flaming judgment. Today we try to tolerate demonic statism and in the church we try to get by with false doctrine and shallow evangelism. Whether we disguise it as “homeland security” or being “seeker sensitive” it is still compromise with unrighteousness, in the nation and the church.
Thus, when I came across the story of Bill Bennett’s problem with gambling and his attempt to justify his behavior, it was simply another reminder that I am just as susceptible to self-deception as any other Christian. I too have an inbred tendency to abandon righteousness in my pursuit of peace and joy. Dare we point the finger at others when we ourselves may be just as guilty of gross hypocrisy?
I don’t know about you, but whenever I struggle with sin and temptation, I find that I must flee to God in prayer. It was Martin Luther’s counsel long ago to a friend when he perceived a temptation starting to rise in his heart to immediately get on his knees in prayer. Temptation is good because it teaches us to see the evil that is in us and drives us to God. Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 10, when you get to the point where you have no place else to go, you wind up going to God. When everything is going well in my life I tend to have to force myself to pray. But when there’s disaster, or abject evil, or temptation in my life, I am compelled to pray.
One thing is sure. All of us will eventually have to learn—or relearn—the lesson Bill Bennett is now being taught by a loving but holy God. Temptation devastates our spiritual pride. It shows us what we really are—weak as kittens. Anyone who thinks he’s arrived or who parades his pride really doesn’t understand that he is wicked, because a person who is truly godly, who is truly righteous, is also genuinely humble. He has had his spiritual pride shattered.
Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Let us not seek the “all things” and forget the “kingdom” and the “righteousness.” The divine order has never changed: righteousness, restfulness, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. The real lesson of Bill Bennett is that when we abandon our own self-righteousness for the imparted righteousness of Christ, His peace and joy always come with it.
May 7, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.