"Because You Are Precious"

November 5, 1995 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Exodus 20:15 and Isaiah 43:1-7
(part of a series on the Ten Commandments)

"You are precious in my eyes," God says through the prophet Isaiah. Precious. For some strange reason, the word "precious" conjures up for me a haughty, little poodle on some rich lady's lap. To be "precious" in that sense, would involve being pampered, coddled, spoiled, babied. Is that what "precious" means in this passage from Isaiah? Somehow, I don't quite think so.

If that were the case, it would be a rather strange theme for Junior High Sunday, wouldn't it? What 6th, 7th, or 8th grader wants to be babied? Well, maybe there is a part of each one of us that might find that idea slightly appealing. But, again, is that what it means to be "precious" in God's eyes?

To be precious is to be highly valued, esteemed. Think of a Jeweler who picks up a rock, examines it. and pronounces it a gem. Such a precious stone is considered expensive. It would cost alot of money to buy. Well, according to this word from Isaiah, God considers his children precious - not in a desire to baby them, but in an appraisal of their worth. "You are precious in my eyes."

Can you imagine God saying that to you? Maybe, like many other persons, you struggle to imagine anyone saying that to you, least of all yourself. Self-esteem gets alot of airplay these days. Rightly so. Too many of us don't think very highly of ourselves. We often act out of a sense of worthlessness. Worthless people, in their own eyes, are desperate people. When you consider yourself trash, the garbage dump is not too many steps away. Low self-esteem can lead to alot of rubbish. As today's upside-down philospher, Forrest Gump, says: "Stupid is as stupid does."

This is a good entryway into the commandment for today. Yes, I still am plugging away at this sermon series on the 10 commandments. The word for this morning is: "You shall not steal." Again, like the 6th and 7th commandments, this is very brief - two words in Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament): "Don't steal." While we might spend alot of energy figuring out all the technicalities, this injunction is fairly simple and straightforward. Behind this negatively worded commandment, as well as behind all the others, lies a positive affirmation. But we'll get back to that later.

In becoming more specific this morning, let me address the problem of cheating. An educational psychologist surveyed high school students in 1969 and again in 1989. In 1969, 34% admitted using cheat sheets on tests; by 1989, that figure had doubled. In 1969, 58% of students had let others copy their work; by 1989, 98% said they had. In another survey of 3,100 top juniors and seniors conducted for Who's Who Among High School Students, 78% said they had cheated, and 89% said cheating was common at their schools. Yet another survey of 3,000 college students found that 67% admitted cheating on tests in high school. (from "Cheating in Our Schools: A National Scandal," by Daniel R. Levine, Reader's Digest, Oct. 95, p. 66) Cheating is but one form of stealing - taking from another something that is not ours.

I'm sure that the justification for such action comes along the lines of "everyone is doing it." Or, that the system either makes it easy or necessary to cheat. Furthermore, "good guys always finish last." At least that's what they say. Still, stupid is as stupid does. Or more in line with this morning's theme: "worthless is as worthless does."

"Worthless is as worthless does." Consider that passage of scripture from Isaiah read earlier. To whom was it addressed? Did Isaiah speak those words to the high and mighty, the successful folks who had it all together? No, his words were directed to people who saw themselves as worthless. Recall, with me, that the children of Israel were a defeated people at this point. Jerusalem was an ash heap, destroyed by the powerful forces of Babylon. God's people were dragged into enemy territory to do the garbage work of their new masters. "Worthless is as worthless does." Exactly.

It was to these very people that God spoke those radical words through Isaiah. "The LORD says to you right now, the One who created you, who formed you (listen): Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (i.e. you don't belong to these other so-called masters). When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Now listen closely, for here comes those radical words of God: "Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you."

Clearly, "precious" here isn't about babying the over-indulged. It's about worth and value, and the reason behind doing what's right. "You're not worthless," God says. Quite the contrary. Others may see you as trash, but not me. I consider you precious, of far more value than any gem. In fact, I the Lord honor you - you are distinguished, glorious in my eyes. Why?, because I love you with a fierce, never-say-die love. Nothing you can ever say or do can change the fact of my love. This love leads me to pay a high price for your freedom...

In Isaiah's day, that price involved a great many things on the global scale. But at a later point in history, the ante was raised, and God paid dearly to redeem, to free his people from their worthless estate, their exile, their slavery to a powerful master: Sin. Such was God's love. Jesus was the price God paid for us. You know the story! Of course, looking at this Son of God, one could say, "they strung him up on a cross - see, the good guys always come in last." However, the folks who do anything to come in first have often sold their souls to get there. And in the long run, they themselves come in last - they themselves are trash. "Worthless is as worthless does."

Remember, though, these words from Isaiah, as relevant to the children of Israel then as they are to us today. "You are precious in God's sight." This is the positive affirmation behind the negatively worded commandmant. When you hear, "You shall not steal," think "Because I am precious in God's sight." That statement is not a justification to do what's wrong, but a reason to do what's right. "Because you are precious in God's sight" ... "don't steal," whether such stealing involves cheating on a test, or sneaking away something that doesn't belong to you. You are worth much more than that. You don't belong to that old taskmaster, that garbage-maker known as sin anymore. God paid the price to set you free.

The virtue known as Humility begins with the realization of our value. Such worth is something we can't steal. Humble people are not persons who think they're worthless. The truly humble are those who know they are precious in God's sight. Because of this, they can set aside the need to control their world, to steal what they think they need to get ahead, or even just to survive. Humble people are not desperate people. They are loved people, loved by the only One who's love really matters: God.

If God loves me, if God looks at me as I am and thinks: "precious," "valuable," "worth paying the highest price," then by God (and I'm not swearing here) by God I am worth something. I don't need to be like somebody else. I am who I am because God made me that way, and God considers me precious. Such is the beginning of true self-worth. Again, though, that's not a justification for doing what's wrong. Some folks up and make that mistake. Rather, it's a reason for doing what's right. Am I sounding redundant? Well, some times we have to say some things over and over again before they sink in.

You are precious in God's sight. Remember that. We need to say that to each other more often, don't we. We need to preach that good news frequently, in more than just words. You are precious in God's sight. You are precious in my sight, also, as God helps me to see by faith. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:20, "you were bought with a price." That doesn't mean you're an object to be bought and used, then sold or thrown away. No, it means you're worth much more than that. Jesus gave up his life for you. "You were bought with a price," Paul wrote, "therefore glorify God in your body." That's the same thing as saying, "You are precious in God's sight," therefore, "don't steal." Following this Jesus, don't be a taker, be a giver.

Why? Do I have to say it again? "Because you are precious..."

1995Peter L. Haynes

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