5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Dear Friends in Christ,
This morning we’re going to be talking about one of what are commonly referred to as the 7 deadly sins. I wonder how many of you here today would be able to name all 7 of those sins. Before I put them up on the screen for you, let me give you a little history about them that I gleaned from the Internet. Back around the 6th century A.D. a Greek monk by the name of Evagrius of Pontus drew up a list of 8 wicked offenses and human passions. Later in that same century Pope Gregory the Great reduced the list to 7 and they became what we now know as the 7 deadly sins. Throughout the Middle Ages the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church emphasized that all lay people should be taught what these sins were so they could better avoid them. Some even went so far as to assign specific punishments in hell for each of the deadly sins. For example, the punishment for anger was to be dismembered alive. The punishment for sloth was to be thrown into snake pits. And the punishment for gluttony was to have to eat rats, toads, and snakes.
The 7 deadly sins were seen by the Roman Catholic Church as offenses so great that they were fatal to spiritual growth and progress. As we look at them, though, I think we’ll have to admit that we’ve all been guilty of every one of them, which should make us appreciate more than ever the sin-paying sacrifice of Christ on the cross for us, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend eternity being dismembered alive for the times I’ve been angry or eating rats, toads, and snakes for the times I’ve overeaten. So what were the 7 deadly sins?
- Pride= excessive view of one’s self without regard to others.
- Gluttony= excessive ongoing consumption of food or drink
- Lust= an uncontrollable passion or longing, especially for sexual desires
- Wrath= uncontrollable feelings of anger and hate towards another person
- Greed= an excessive pursuit of material possessions
- Sloth= excessive laziness or the failure to act and utilize one’s talents
- Envy= the desire to have an item or experience that someone else possesses
Well, it is the last of these sins, envy, that will be the focus of our attention this morning. One of my favorite definitions for envy is this: Envy is not so much wanting more for oneself, but wanting less for others. It sees the new car that your neighbor drives home in and says, “Why does he get to drive something like that? I work just as hard as he does and all I drive is this old clunker.” Envy sees the pretty girl in school with boys all around her and says, “I’m just as pretty as she is. I guess if I did some of the things she does to attract boys, I could be just as popular.” Envy resents another person’s happiness or success or prosperity. And let’s face it, my friends, we’ve all been guilty of it, haven’t we?
So you know what we need? We need an antidote for this spiritual sickness. We need something to plug the hole in the dike before the whole dam bursts and we find our hearts being flooded with this green monster and all the spiritual muck and mire that it brings with it: anger, hatred, hurt, disappointment, jealousy, and pride. And thankfully that antidote, that deterrent can be found in our text for today where David encourages us to stop bemoaning what we don’t have and to start rejoicing in what we do have when he says “My cup overflows.”
Now maybe you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Well, David’s cup may have been overflowing, but mine sure isn’t. I struggle to pay my bills. I live from paycheck to paycheck. I’d settle for a cup that was just half-full rather than the nearly empty one I have right now.” Well, if that describes you, I don’t want to minimize any financial difficulties or burdens you may be facing right now, but I do want to help you see today that you still have a cup that overflows, a cup that is just brimming over with blessings that will far outlast and far outshine any material things that this world has to offer.
The first of those blessings is God’s abounding grace. In Rom. 5:20 the Apostle Paul writes: “The more we see our sinfulness, the more we see God’s abounding grace forgiving us.” To abound is to have a surplus, an overabundance, an extravagant portion of something. Does the fish in the Pacific ever worry that it will run out of water to swim in? Of course not, because the ocean abounds with water. Does the eagle ever fret about running out of room in the sky to spread its wings and fly? No way, because the sky abounds with space.
Should the Christian then worry that the cup of God’s grace is going to run dry someday? I suppose some do because they look upon that cup like the warranty on a car. I bought my current car about 3 years ago. It came with a 3-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. So I’ve had this period of time, this grace period if you will, during which I never had to worry about any repairs that it might have needed. But that warranty expired when I hit the 36,000 mile mark after only about 2 years. Which means that any problems I have had since then have been mine to pay for. No more warranty. No more grace.
Aren’t you glad God’s grace isn’t like that? God’s grace abounds. It flows from Calvary’s hill where our Savior died for us and overflows into our lives with such abundance that we never ever have to worry about it running dry. Nobody knew that better than the man who wrote more about God’s grace than anyone else, the Apostle Paul. Surely he must have wondered whether his cup of grace would ever become empty. After all, before he was Paul the Apostle, he was Saul the persecutor. Before he encouraged Christians, he killed Christians. Have you ever wondered what it must have been like for Paul to live with such a sordid past? Do you think he ever met children whom he had made orphans because he had killed their parents? Did the faces of those he killed ever haunt him in his sleep? Do you think this one who once identified himself as the chief of sinners ever wondered if God could forgive a sinner like him?
I’m sure he did, but through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he records the answer to that question in I Tim. 1:14 where he says: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.” Make no mistake about it, my friends. God is not a miser or a hoarder when it comes to his grace. Your cup may be low on cash right now, but it is overflowing with mercy. You may not have the job or car or house that you want right now, but you have pardon for all of your sins and a home in heaven waiting for you that will make the fanciest of mansions on this earth look like an old rundown shack. So if you’re a believer in Christ, your cup definitely overflows with grace.
And because it does, your cup also overflows with God’s abundant hope. Rom. 15:13 says: “God will help you overflow with hope in him through the Holy Spirit’s power within you.” Hope is what brightens the dark corners of our lives. And oh, how all of us need that! Hope reminds me of a time many years ago when Marilyn and I took a tour of a cave – I don’t even remember where it was – but when we got deep into that cave, our guide warned us first and then he turned out all the lights. And he said, “This is what total darkness feels like.” And boy, was he right! You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. It was a very eerie, almost scary feeling. But then he lit a match and the light from that match made all the difference in the world as it penetrated the darkness and illuminated the cave.
That’s the way it is with God’s abundant hope. Upon the sick he shines the bright rays of healing. To the confused he brings the enlightening words of Scripture. To the bereaved he gives the promise of reunion. To the dying he offers the hope of life everlasting.
So our cup overflows with grace. It overflows with hope. And then lastly, it overflows with God’s abundant joy and peace. Rom. 15:13 says: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” When I read those words, I can’t help but think of the great reformer, Martin Luther, because if there was one thing he lacked in the early part of his life it was joy and peace. Luther had been taught from early childhood on that God’s love was something that he had to somehow earn or merit on his own. So eventually he became a monk. He lived a very strict and rigid life in which he would sometimes deprive himself of the basic necessities of life, hoping that by doing so, God would look favorably upon those sacrifices. He would whip himself. He would spend hours in the confessional booth, painstakingly recalling and reciting every sinful thought and act he knew he was guilty of. But no matter what he did, Luther never felt joy and he never had peace. Until that fateful night when he was studying the Bible for some lectures he was to give the following day to his students and he came across this passage in Romans 1:16-17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
When Luther finally grasped and understood that we are made right with God not by anything we do, but rather through faith in what Christ has done for us, such a tremendous burden was lifted from his shoulders that he said it was as if the gates of Paradise had just swung open before him and he had been transported into heaven. And for the first time in his life Luther’s heart overflowed with joy and peace – joy that came from knowing that God loved him so much, and peace that came from knowing that the one thing that worried him more than anything else, namely, his eternal salvation, was no longer a worry, for it was not dependent upon his imperfect efforts, but upon the completed work Jesus did for him.
So why envy those who have more than you have, materially speaking? For you have a cup that overflows with blessings far greater than anything this world has to offer: grace, hope, joy, peace. By the way, the overflowing cup that David speaks of in our text for today served as a powerful symbol back then. Hosts would use it to send a message to their guests. As long as the cup was kept full, the guest knew he was welcome. But when the cup sat empty, the host was hinting that the hour was late and it was time for the guest to leave. But on those occasions when the host was really enjoying the company of his guest, he would fill the cup to overflowing. He didn’t stop when the wine reached the rim; he just kept pouring until the liquid ran over the edge of the cup and onto the table.
My friends, don’t miss the message of the overflowing cup. It simply means that your Heavenly Shepherd, the Creator and ruler of the universe enjoys your company and wants to spend as much time with you as possible. And I guarantee you, that’s one invitation you don’t want to pass up.
Close with Harold Barton’s poem, “Gift of Glory…”