So this Sunday at Highland, we concluded our Sequels Sermon series, by talking about the ancient Jewish/Christian tradition of Wisdom…specifically how we reap what we sow. But there was one part of that sermon that I wanted to flesh out a little more. Namely, what it means to have a good life, and why in the ancient world people used to eat so much they would throw up, and then they’d eat a little more.
Bet you didn’t see that coming.
The Good Life
One of the interesting things about the ancient world is that, historically speaking, they answered the question, “What does it mean to have a good life?” much differently than we do today.
Recently, Forbes magazine researched what people in America mean when they say “the Good life.” They said that what most of us think of is something like: living in a four-thousaand-square foot home, owning a 2nd home in a beautiful place (like a beach or mountain home) having several luxury cars, dinner once a week at a ritzy restaurant, three vacations a year, private school for your children, an upscale college when they graduate.
You know standard stuff like that.
Now, I know people who have all of those things and more, but I also know that if you were to ask them they wouldn’t say that this made their life good. It might make it comfortable, but chances are it makes life terrifying. The more you have the more you have to protect, and the more afraid you are, and the more afraid you are the less you enjoy the life that you have.
That’s not a good life.
From a historic perspective, what it meant to live a good life was to be able to master all the impulses and desires, and not be controlled by them. This is actually what the ancient Greeks thought it meant to be “A Manly Man.” Not to just be able to have sexual conquests with everyone you met, but to be able to restrain and retrain that desire (and all desires) toward a more focused goal.
The word for this was virtue.
And virtue is something I think those of us in churches need to start talking more about.
Today we don’t think about the Good Life like this anymore. We’ve been taught through an onslaught of advertisements that we are the center of all that matters, and that what we need to live the good life is “More.” We need to consume and take and receive as much as we can.
Now this line of thinking isn’t new entirely new either. Back in the day of Paul there was a common saying, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.” It was this notion that if you had an impulse than you should fulfill it. If you are hungry than eat. It was the idea of unrestrained consumption.
Back in the day of Paul, the noble elite would go to feasts where they would eat so much, that someone invented something called the “Vomitoriam” (not the brightest moment in human history) just so they could throw up and then go back to eating. And Paul writes in this culture to a church and he references this whole idea of over-consumption and he calls it something less than a good life.
Paul calls it Idolatry.
He says, “There god is their stomach…and their glory is their shame.”
According to Paul, something has gone horribly wrong when we think of a good life as something like that. When we start celebrating over-eating as if it was a mark of what it means to be fully alive.
When we eat so much we throw up…and then we eat some more.
Mike Tyson’s “Hell of a Match”
Last year I read this article in the New York times about how Mike Tyson now lives in the Suburbs. And it was fascinating, because it made clear Tyson hadn’t given up fighting, he has just chosen a harder fight.
He was a man who had been, in his own words, “addicted to everything.” He once had a pet tiger, and he still has a face tattoo, but now he goes to bed before 9, and he and his wife have childproofed their home.
He refuses to do reality shows, and he is suspicious of fame. And in the words of the author, his wilder impulses are being held in check, by his inner solid citizen. But as hard as the writer was trying to not reach for religious language, the story of Tyson’s life is best understood by a man fighting demons and him losing that fight often.
He’s made his life, and those around him, Hell.
And this is where the article lets religious language begin to creep in. Because the final sentences of the article say:
Now the focus is not on invincibility or greatness, but on the perhaps more elusive goal of keeping his furies at bay and trying to master his unrulier impulses rather than letting them control him. It’s sure to be one hell of a match.
This is the fight of our life.
It is what leads us to the kind of person God created us to be.
It’s why Paul moves from the idolatry of consumption, to the solution of contentment. Because to be fully human…to live the good life is to recognize that what we have is enough…and that our impulses are not always the best compass for our heart, and then Paul says this:
We eagerly await the Savior, who’s power enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies, so that they will be like his glorious body.
The fight of our life is discipleship.
It is to learn God is good.
And that He alone brings life.