"When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find an ill man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline and plugged his hose into the motor home's sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges saying that it was the best laugh he'd ever had."
This news release (reported on over 300 Internet web sites) is more than just a funny story. This little episode illustrates a simple but important reality: people act on what they believe.
In this instance, the thief in the story mistakenly believed that he had tapped into a fuel tank and acted on that belief by trying to siphon some gasoline out of it. Unfortunately for him, most vehicles won’t run very far on raw sewage and this man quickly learned the truth of the old saying, “crime doesn’t pay.”
This illustrates the fact that “beliefs” are pretty important things. Unfortunately, people don’t often seem to give very much thought to why they believe the things that they believe. For instance, The Doctor sometimes hears of people who say, “Everybody has different beliefs. It really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe something.” While this may sound very nice and warm and fuzzy, there are some serious problems with this idea when you really think about it.
Take a dictator like Adolph Hitler for example. Those of you who have read or studied about World War II know that Adolph Hitler had some very strong beliefs- beliefs that included the destruction of anyone who did not live up to his personal ideal of what was right. Millions and millions of people lost their lives as a result of this man’s beliefs. Knowing this, would you say to a guy like Adolph Hitler, “it really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe something”? No way.
You see, the things that you believe will determine what you do. Your attitudes and beliefs will eventually lead to actions that are based on those beliefs. So the simple truth is that it really does matter what you believe.
Let’s look at another example. Let’s say that we have a person who believes that this life is all there is to our existence and whenever someone dies, they just go off into “nothingness.” That person will make their choices and live their lives based on those beliefs, right?
On the other hand, another person who believes in an afterlife and believes that everyone will eventually have to explain their actions to a totally perfect and holy God will live their life based on that belief and is likely to make very different choices. So once again you can see that it really does matter what you believe because the things that you believe will affect the choices that you make.
Just as today, the people who were part of the first-century church in the town of Thessalonica also had some attitudes and beliefs that lead to actions. The Apostle Paul mentioned some of these in a letter that he wrote to this church which we know today as 1 Thessalonians…
“We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV) .
As we said earlier, what you do will reveal what you believe. In the case of the Thessalonians, their relationship with Jesus produced things like faith, love, and hope. Other people could then see the existence of these things through the example of their work, labor, and endurance (or the ability to “hang in there” when things got difficult). You see, wherever a genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ exists in someone’s life, then that relationship should result in some real, visible actions.
What kind of actions are we talking about? Well, reading a little further in 1 Thessalonians turns up one example…
“…wherever we go we find people telling us about your remarkable faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep telling us about the wonderful welcome you gave us, and how you turned away from your idols to God so that now the living and true God only is your Master” (1 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
This is easy to understand if you think about it like this: if you are standing directly between two objects, it is physically impossible for you to face both of them at the same time, right? If you want to face one object then you have to turn your back on the other object in order to do it.
Well this is the same kind of word picture that Paul the Apostle draws for us in the verse above. The idea is this: if you want to turn to God, then you have to turn your back on anything else that might substitute for Him.
You see, back in the days of the Old and New Testaments, people would often create an image that was carved out of wood, molded out of metal, or chiseled out of stone. Then they would bow down and worship this idol or offer some sacrifice to it as their “god.” Now many people believe that our culture today is much more advanced than it was back in those days and that people today would never do something so foolish as to worship a piece of stone, wood or metal, right?
Bzzzzt- wrong! Although The Doctor has talked about this before, it definitely bears repeating- an “idol” doesn’t have to be a statue or image. An “idol” can be anything that you love, fear or depend on more than God. For instance, there are many people who have made an idol out of their car or their money or a member of the opposite sex. An idol can be anything that takes the place of God in your life. Once something has become more important than God in your life, that thing (whatever it is) has become your “god.”
So if you want to turn to God, you have to turn your back to anything that would take His place in your life, just like the people in the Thessalonian church did. As we saw in the Scripture quoted above, the Christians in Thessalonica didn’t allow anything to take the place of God in their lives. They didn’t allow relationships or making money or accumulating a lot of possessions or anything else to become more important than serving and following God.
Nevertheless, it’s also true that this whole idea of “serving God” doesn’t always agree with many people. You see, some people might look at this and say, “Hey, wait a minute- I call the shots in my own life. I’m nobody’s servant.” That’s fair enough, but remember- once something has become more important than God in your life, then that thing (whatever it is) becomes the “god” that you serve.
For example, if you are the most important thing in your life then you know what happens? You end up becoming a self-serving person because you live to serve yourself. If you know someone like this, then you know that a self-serving lifestyle is sure to result in a very shallow, selfish, self-centered life.
Listen, the reality is this- like it or not, everyone is a servant who either serves the one true God or serves an imitation. But it’s also true that those people who serve God ultimately have it a lot better than those who don’t.
For example, most people would probably agree that the Bible’s teachings should have a strong influence on the way that Christians interact with other people, right? OK, so what does the Bible have to say about Christians and their relationships with others? Well, here it is…
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4 NIV).
“When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow” (Romans 12:15).
“Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24 NIV).
So you see that when you serve God and live according to His Word, you’ll not only do what’s best for you but you’ll also do what’s best for others too. When you really center your beliefs on God and His Word, a healthy, satisfying lifestyle is sure to follow.
Just remember to stay away from the raw sewage.