Joyce says that it is more entertaining to watch me watch a tense television program than it is to watch the program. According to her, I "get into it." With facial expression and body language, I react to everything that happens. For some reason, when I see her watching me, she is laughing.

I do my laughing when I listen to her watch a professional football game. Joyce loves to listen to sports commentators. She enjoys it so much she talks to them. She begins talking to the commentators before the first quarter is over. It terribly frustrates her to hear them discuss why the last play was an awful mistake and why they should run the play that they recommend. Invariably, as she talks to them, she asks, "Are you making as much money as the coach makes?"

We live in a society that has "spin doctors" to interpret everything that happens. We have professional "spin doctors" for politics, social problems, and crises.

  1. What is a "spin doctor?"
    1. A "spin doctor" interprets what has happened.
      1. He analyzes the matter for us.
      2. He tells us what we need to understand to be qualified to interpret what happened.
      3. He tells us what perspective we must have to examine what happened.
      4. Then he gives us the "proper" interpretation of what happened.
    2. "Spin doctors" declare:
      1. It is never a matter of what happened; it is always a matter of how we look at what happened.
      2. It is never a matter of what actually occurred; it is always a matter of our perspective on what occurred.
      3. It is never a matter of the direct consequences produced; it is always a matter of understanding why it happened.
    3. Why are these people called "spin doctors?"
      1. In our society, the majority of us interpret a happening by the manner the matter is presented to us.
      2. If we want to manipulate people's interpretation of events, we alter their perspective by way we present the information to them.
      3. You must put the right "spin" on the facts to alter the public's perception.

  2. "Spin doctors" have played an important role in religions for millenniums.
    1. Religions always have had their "spin doctors."
      1. They influenced the interpretation of events by the way the events were presented to the people.
      2. They manipulated interpretations by altering perceptions.
      3. They put the right "spin" on matters to lead people to the interpretation and perception that they wanted.
    2. It would be difficult to find a single world religion that did not use "spin doctors."
      1. In every religion, there are people whose function is to tell us what to think.
      2. These people try to control our conclusions and form our convictions by manipulating our interpretation and perspective.
      3. In religion, the line that separates an educator and a "spin doctor" is a fine line.
        1. An educator informs you to teach you to think.
        2. A "spin doctor" informs you to control your thinking.

  3. The Pharisees were one of the most successful, accomplished groups of "spin doctors" in the New Testament.
    1. Though they were a relatively small group in Israel, they powerfully influenced the religious and political perspectives of Israel.
    2. The Pharisees had a specific way in which they wanted everyone to interpret and obey the law.
      1. They had a specific perspective of God.
      2. They had a specific perspective of the law.
      3. They had a specific concept of obedience.
      4. They had a specific way to interpret and apply the law.
      5. Their way was the only way, the correct way, the way to be accepted.
    3. To illustrate the role of the Pharisees as spiritual "spin doctors," I call your attention to Matthew 23.
      1. Remember the events that happened before Jesus made the public statement in Matthew 23:
        1. Jesus and his disciples were in the wilderness across the Jordan River. The disciples did not want him to return to the Jerusalem area because they were afraid that the Jewish leaders would kill him (John 10:40; 11:8).
        2. But Jesus did return to the Jerusalem area and resurrected Lazarus from the dead (John 11:30-44), and his popularity exploded.
        3. His popularity was so great that the Jewish leaders, including influential Pharisees, decided that Jesus must die (John 11:47-50).
        4. A little later, the city of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as a king (Matthew 21:1-11).
        5. This marked the beginning of Jesus' last week of life.
      2. The public statement found in Matthew 23 was given that week.
    4. Jesus' denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 is unique.
      1. Most of the encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees prior to that week were initiated by the Pharisees, not by Jesus.
      2. In my study of those encounters, I conclude that the Pharisees either attacked or tried to discredit Jesus, and Jesus consistently tried to teach the Pharisees.
        1. He consistently used the source of authority they accepted.
        2. He consistently challenged them to evaluate their conclusions by scripture.
        3. He consistently tried to redirect their thinking and understanding.
      3. In Matthew 23 Jesus knew these were his last days.
        1. In his ministry, he had no success in teaching the Pharisees.
        2. Now, he publicly denounces them for their deeds and teachings.

  4. All of Matthew 23 illustrates how the Pharisees functioned as "spiritual spin doctors."
    1. A "spin doctor" is concern about manipulating thinking, not about being an example.
      1. Jesus said that the Pharisees had an accurate knowledge of scripture, but (Matthew 23:10-11):
        1. They did not practice what they taught.
        2. They placed heavy spiritual responsibilities on others, but placed no responsibility on themselves.
        3. They performed religious acts to get personal attention.
        4. Their religious motivations were praise and honor.
      2. They saw themselves as the official interpreters of scripture.
    2. Let' consider three examples Jesus used in Matthew 23.
      1. First, consider verses 16-22: they sanctioned deliberate deceit.
        1. In a world without printing and copy machines, written contracts and guarantees were not the common way of doing business.
          1. Instead, the terms of the agreement were set, and you took an oath.
          2. You bound yourself to the agreement by swearing by something greater than yourself.
        2. The Pharisees said if the oath was not proper, you were not responsible to keep the agreement.
          1. If you made an agreement and swore by the temple, the agreement was not binding.
          2. If you made an agreement and swore by the gold of the temple, the agreement was binding.
        3. The Pharisees put their "spin" on the agreements and oaths that bind.
          1. According to their "spin," you could deceive if you did it the right way.
          2. You could make an agreement that you had no intention of keeping if you swore the wrong oath.
      2. Second, consider verse 23: they made the least important the most important.
        1. They said honoring God by giving God ten per cent of everything you received was a priority spiritual responsibility.
        2. Since God was the source of every blessing, you acknowledge God is the source of all blessings and thank Him by giving ten per cent of everything.
        3. It even was important to tithe ten per cent of your garden herbs.
        4. Jesus said they stressed the importance of the minor while they ignored the importance of the major.
        5. It is good to do the minor, but it is failure to ignore the major.
        6. God's spiritual priorities are justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
          1. Protect the widow, the orphan, and the poor from injustice.
          2. Extend the person who does evil mercy.
          3. In all relationships with God and people, honor your word and keep your promises.
        7. According to the "spin" of the Pharisees, spiritual priorities focused on things, not on people.
      3. Third, consider verses 27-33: they said outward appearance was more important than inward reality.
        1. According to their "spin," what you do and how you behave was important; what you are inside was not important.
        2. They were like bowls that had been washed only on the outside, like tombs that had been painted on the outside.
        3. Outside they had the appearance of righteousness; inside they were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
        4. But, according to their "spin," having a righteous appearance is righteousness.

  5. When we put a spiritual "spin" on some things, we commonly do not realize what we are doing.
    1. A few years ago I developed a valuable friendship with a man who preached for a large Baptist church.
      1. Our friendship was so genuine that he felt he could ask me questions that he had never asked.
      2. He asked, "Why do people in the Church of Christ believe that they save themselves?"
    2. I was shocked that he had that impression of us.
      1. I explained we did not believe that we saved ourselves and shared my understanding of the role of God and Christ in our salvation.
      2. Then I asked him what created that impression?
      3. He said that everything that he heard us say or write about baptism stressed the importance of the human act but said nothing about God's actions.
        1. He concluded that we did not believe that God acted in our salvation.
        2. He concluded that we believed that salvation was the result of our actions, not God's actions.
    3. He heard us putting a "spin" on baptism; wonder if others hear the same thing?

No person saves himself or herself. God does not owe salvation to anyone. We are saved because the God of mercy and forgiveness destroys our sins in the atoning blood of Christ and gives us new life in Christ.

Without faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, there is no salvation. Without repentance of sins, there is no salvation. Faith in the resurrected Jesus, repentance of sin, and baptism into Christ provides us salvation for only one reason: the God of mercy keeps His promises.

Never put your faith and confidence in yourself. Trust in what God has done in Christ. It is the Cross, it is God's grace, it is the forgiveness of God -- it is not you. You will never do anything that will put God in debt to you.

Believe with all your being that Jesus is the Son of God. Understand the evil in your life. Turn yourself away from it. Be baptized that He may take your sins away in the blood of Christ.

Baptism must be a faith response to God's promises, not an attempt to bargain with God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 18 October 1998
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