Spiritual Stench, Part 2

“Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, ‘Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell because he has been buried four days.’” – John 11:38-39

Bad odors have a purpose, letting us know that something has gone wrong and that something harmful is threatening life. Whether spoiled food, a dead carcass in the yard, or an infected injury. In all of these circumstances, we would not ignore such a thing. We would throw it in the trash, bury it, and have the infection quickly treated.

Yet why when we smell something wretched with another, we run from it? If we love our neighbor, can we dismiss the spoiled food on the counter? If we love others as we should, do we just watch the vultures congregate in front of their door, just hoping the wind direction doesn’t bring any foulness to ours? How can we love one another and not plead with them to visit the physician when we know their concealed infection will ultimately lead to their destruction.

I suspect that it is not a refined righteous nose that causes us to stay away spiritual stenches, because there is only one righteous (Acts 3:14), and He was not deterred by a bad smell. Rather, I propose that it is the rot within our own hearts that we don’t want exposed. It is faithless hearts that protest the removal of the stone—that weighty lie that says it’s better to remain bound (v.44; see Exo 14:13-12).

So God must get us outside ourselves. Like after an extended time away from home, we are confronted with an unpleasant odor upon entry. Or when we sense a peculiar aroma in a neighbor’s house. These things should cause us to seek out problems within.

So God confronts us with the decay of others. He makes the smell of another’s death permeate our nostrils to remind us of our own end without Him (Amos 4:10; Isa 66:24). He allows us to taste the rotten fruit produced from another tree separated from its Root and Source (Luke 6:43-45; John 15:1-4; Rev 22:16). He leads us to situations where the offensive odor of another’s actions demonstrates how repulsive our actions are to Him (Jer 27:13).

So let your heart be humbled by allowing our aversion to the scent of another’s sin cause us to reflect upon our own issues. And may we invite others into our lives to help us detect the death that Christ still needs to remove. Before seeking to correct the odious actions of another when they get too near, consider that God is reminding you of your own abhorrent behavior (Mat 7:3-5).

And in those areas where the sweet fragrance of life is now enjoyed (2Co 2:14), remember who called out what stank and brought to life what was once dead (1Co 6:11). We must remember it is all by His grace (1Co 15:10; Eph 2:8), and that we won’t be completely free of this decaying flesh until we enter glory (2Co 5:4-10).

Only in humility can we truly love our neighbor and be equipped to help them, no longer callously leaving them to perish, nor arrogantly calling from the street that they leave death behind. Rather, a humble heart is a remembering soul, an obedient disciple who gets close to where the dead lie, and do not protest when the Lord asks us to expose what is detestable. We simply obediently role away the obstacles and allow our great and powerful Savior to call dead men to rise!

Billy Neal

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Spiritual Stench, Part 1

“Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, ‘Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell because he has been buried four days.’”  –John 11:38-39

Recently, a few brothers and I were blessed to be able to volunteer with Samaritans Purse and help with disaster relief in Louisiana. I was involved in mostly outside roof tarping and limb cleanup, but one house in particular stood out to me. The outside was decently maintained, even though there was a lot of debris from metal work, boat repairs, and bins of empty drink cans spilling from the garage. But as soon as we entered the house, we were meet with an almost tangible odor. We were grateful that the main living area had a front and back door that we could prop open, so that we could work with some fresh airflow.

The homeowner was a kind, old, war veteran. He smoked, but the unpleasant smell of cigarettes only served to partially mask the rotting smell coming from his kitchen. It was a mess, with food decomposing on the counter and in the sink. I had to wonder how his children and grandchildren (he lived alone) allowed him to live in such a mess. I confess, I didn’t want to be the one to work in the interior (even though I did).

But it struck me, is this not the spiritual condition of all our hearts without Christ? In fact, this is the state of any part of our being that has not surrendered itself over to Life? It is dead. And death stinks.

Sure, we’ll keep the outside manicured, for that’s what our neighbor sees (1Sa 16:7), even though some of our internal trash keeps spilling out. We may allow certain individuals inside, but we keep certain recesses where we know death permeates hidden. Yet bad habits and destructive tendencies are only the scent of deeper decomposition. The problem is, our flesh fatigues (i.e. olfactory fatigue), and so becomes accustom to the filth and oblivious to the stench (Rom 8:5-8).

At least for ourselves.

When it comes to others, we would rather stay away. Oh, we might coldly tell them as we exit that they offend. Or we may politely say nothing and just stay on the door step.

But Jesus did not shy from the smell. He demanded that death be exposed, that the stone hiding it be removed. Because if rotting bodies are not exposed, if breathe (John 20:22) and light (Eph 5:13-14) are not allowed to enter, dead men don’t walk out of graves.

Billy Neal

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Surely Die


Something is missing from this passage…

[God said to Adam] “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” –Genesis 2:17

Why aren’t Adam and Eve dead?

Lest we think the serpent spoke truth (Gen 3:4), let us examine this closely. Here are several points, all of which might be accurate.

First, consider that life is not just existence, but our spiritual fellowship with God, which was immediately broken at the fall (Rom 7:9-11). THIS is REAL death (Eph 2:1).

Second, death can be considered the process of our decay, and that at the very moment of partaking the fruit, humanity’s access to the Tree of Life was revoked (Gen 3:22-23), and they began to die.

Third, we might utilize the serpent’s question “Did God really say?” in a genuine search for wisdom (the purpose of the crafty snake, see Gen 3:1) in order to question our assumptions regarding what the Lord meant by “in the day.” Is not a thousand years as a “day” to the Lord in His patience (2Pe 3:8)? And note that even the oldest man fell short of 1,000 at 969 years (Gen 5:27).

Fourth, God is merciful, and has allowed them to live beyond the limits of His divine decree. This is not an unjust pardon, but a merciful delay, for every sin will be accounted for at the great white throne—or was accounted for at the cross (Rom 3:25; Rev 20:12-15).

“Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!” –Romans 2:4-5

Lord, humble us to Your immense mercy today. Help us see the gracious breath that You do not withhold every day that we arise from our bed (Job 34:14). Open our eyes to the mercy of every ray of sun and drop of rain that continues to bless us with undeserved light and life (Mat 5:45). Grant us today a heart of thanksgiving for Your mercy!

Billy Neal

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