“We Are All A Mixed Bag” (Luke 10:38-42 sermon)

One of the controversies that has engulfed our country the last months has been regarding statues in different parts of our country, of people who had something in their past which is offensive to some people today. For example, Thomas Jefferson has been the target of some of the criticism. He was a slave owner. So was George Washington. Christopher Columbus was involved in the subjugation of the native peoples of America. Some would assert that those with such failings should not have a statue in a public place. But at some point, the question becomes, “Whose statue COULD we put up?” Who has no flaws in their background, no aberrant practices, no quotes or attitudes in their past history, which might be considered controversial today? Who is it, who has no mix of both good and bad qualities in their lives?  Because ALL of us — except the Lord Jesus Himself — are what we might call “a mixed bag” — a mixture of both good and bad. 

A person might look at this passage we have been studying the past couple of weeks, Luke 10:38-42, about Mary & Martha, and ask:  was Martha “good,” or “bad”?  The answer is, YES — she was BOTH! Martha wasn’t all “bad,” was she? After all, the Bible says she had responded to the message of Jesus with sincerity; she “invited Jesus into her home.” She was the host home for the Lord and His ministries in central Judea. She was seeking to take care of Him and the other guests she had in the home. These are admirable qualities, aren’t they? These are “good” things.

But as we saw last week, Martha wasn’t “all good” either, was she? No, we had a whole message last week on “The Maladies of Martha,” of how she substituted busy-ness for godliness, how she accused the Lord, how she tried to tell the Lord what to do, how she focused on her sister’s shortcomings instead of her own, and how she was in essence, very self-centered. That’s quite a few failings! But the thing is, if we knew her better, there would probably be even more things we could have added to that. (I bet her sister Mary might say, “You don’t know the half of it; I could add a lot more to that list!”) 

So was Martha “good,” or “bad”?  She was both. Martha was what you might call “a mixed bag” — you get a “mixed bag” of candy, and you are going to have some good in it, and some bad; some in it that you like, and some that you don’t like. It’s a “mixed bag.” And what we see about Martha here is that SHE is a “mixed bag” as well: she had some very good, and very admirable qualities — but also some that were NOT so admirable, and that we should try to avoid. Martha was “a mixed bag.”

But one of the things this should remind us of today, is that ALL of us mere human beings are just like that.  “We are all ‘a mixed bag.’” Every one of us has both good qualities that others should imitate, and bad qualities that others should avoid. All of us. We are ALL “a mixed bag.”

— Every one of us as human beings has been made in the image of God, Genesis 1 tells us, and there is a glory about us that comes from His image, and there are qualities about every one of us that are praiseworthy and worthy of imitation. 

— But EVERY ONE OF US is also flawed by the sin that came into the world, and it has tarnished every one of our lives. We are all sinners, and we have all fallen short of the glory of God; we all have evil thoughts, bad attitudes, and wrong habits. There is NONE (save Jesus) of whom this is not true.

THE BEST PERSON YOU KNOW IS SERIOUSLY FLAWED. If you think they aren’t, then you don’t know them very well!  If you will get to know them, you will discover that they are!  We are ALL a “mixed bag.”

— We see this in the “great men” of the Bible, like the Apostle Paul. Paul was used by God more greatly than perhaps any mere man in all of history: he took the gospel all over the Mediterranean world at that time. He was used by God to write 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. God used him to start churches, and perform miracles. 

And yet, this same Paul could write in Romans 7:18-19, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” And then he says in :24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from [r]the body of this death?”  Paul would be the first to tell you that although he was “an apostle of the Lord Jesus,” that he was also very much a man of sin, and what we might call “a mixed bag.” 

— Peter was the same way. The Lord used him in amazing ways. He preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3000 people were saved! He picked up a lame man by the hand and raised him up to walk in Jesus’ name!  

And yet, this same Peter, Paul tells us in Galatians 2, came to Antioch and fellowshipped with the Gentiles until some of the Jews came, and then he “feared the party of the circumcision” and backed away from the Gentiles and was “carried away with hypocrisy” :13 says — so Paul “opposed him to his face”!  Peter EVEN AFTER the resurrection of Jesus and Pentecost, was a deeply flawed man. 

Both Peter and Paul were “a mixed bag.” And so are every one of us as human beings. Take, for example, some of those “Founding Fathers” whose statues we see all over the country, which have taken on such a controversial role in our society:

I think of George Washington, whose Washington Monument in Washington D.C. (which was also named after him, by the way!) was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1884. It, as well as numerous statues and names of schools across the country, was built to honor the memory of George Washington, who was the first president of the United States. 

But it was not merely that Washington was “the first” president. That is not the only reason for his widespread admiration. By all accounts, George Washington was one of the most dynamic, most unique, most respected, most God-blessed men in all of history. Washington had a fearlessness in battle. While bullets were whistling by him on the battlefield, he sat fearlessly on his horse, directing his men in battle. I was reading this week how a British cannonball hit at his feet, splashing mud up on him, but he never missed a beat — he acted as if nothing had happened. The character of George Washington held the Continental Army together when they had NOTHING — when it appeared that all was lost; he rallied the men, and somehow they held on and followed him. One could very well say, that if it were it not for George Washington, there would not BE a United States of America. We would still be a subjected colony of England. 

But was Washington all good? Absolutely not. He did own slaves — as virtually all land owners in Virginian, his home state, did at that time. There is evidence that Washington treated his slaves well, and that he would not allow them to be sold away from their families, and he wanted an end to the practice but could not figure out a practical way to do it — but he did own slaves.

And that was not all. Washington also had a huge temper. He wrestled with it all his life, and MOST of the time he managed to control it (we’ll talk about this in some more detail another time — perhaps THE decisive factor in his life was that he managed to control his temper when he most needed to) but he was a man who DID lose his temper on the battlefield on more than one occasion. When Charles Lee, a vain and arrogant general he sent to battle, put forward a half-hearted effort to attack the British and then retreated with his men all running in disarray, Washington lost his temper at Lee, and the men around him said they had never heard such a torrent of curse words in their lives!  And these men were in the ARMY!

So Washington too was “a mixed bag,” wasn’t he? He had some real failings and flaws. But he was truly “the father of his country.” America would not exist without him. So is there a place for a statue in our land commemorating a man like that? A man without whom there would not BE an America to later free the slaves from? I’d submit to you, if we can’t have a statue of George Washington, we couldn’t have a statue of anyone. There is no one whose statue we could put up, who is not a mix of good and bad qualities. If we’re looking for perfect people only, we’ll have to do away with statues. But I don’t think we should. I think we just need to recognize what the Bible shows us about ALL men: that we are ALL “a mixed bag.”

This speaks to other men too: like Martin Luther King Jr. There are all kinds of statues of him, and streets named after him, in our country, but I have never felt good about them because I know that although he was a preacher, he was also a serial adulterer. That’s not gossip; that is a well known fact. And I’ve just thought, I don’t really want to support a statue of a man with morals like that. But understanding this Biblical principle, I think I COULD support such memorials — because they did not construct these statues up to commemorate his adultery; they did it because of his labors to help safeguard the rights of a minority who had been oppressed. Is Martin Luther King a mixed bag? Sure he is; but I should be able to appreciate the good that he did, while not approving all of his conduct. And we ought to be able to do with everyone: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. and every human being. Recognize their good contributions, while understanding we are ALL flawed. 

We need to understand that EVERYONE is a “mixed” bag of the glory and grace of God, working in what are all sinful, flawed human vessels. 

There are SO may ways we can apply this principle in our lives and relationships. Let me suggest a few to you:

— This applies to our choice and attitude towards potential friends. If there’s someone about whom you’re saying, I will not be their friend because they have that annoying habit, or disagree with you about something, or whatever; you have to realize, if you start “marking people off your list” of potential friends because they are imperfect, pretty soon you aren’t going to have anyone left! Because everyone is flawed and sinful.

(Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t avoid or cut off a relationship with someone because of some really bad habit or activity in their life – of course you should do that; that is just wisdom for parents and children and their potential friends – but the point is, make sure you realize there is no “perfect” friend; who will agree with you on every single thing; who does everything the way you want to. If that is what you are looking for, you are not going to find it. Every potential friend is a mixed bag. Receive them that way, and show them grace, as they show you grace. That is what a good friend does. 

— This applies also to pastors and staff and others in church. There IS no “perfect pastor” or staff member or church member. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  Somebody may say “I don’t like this pastor (or staff member — or church member or whomever) because they have some certain weakness.” Well, you know what? You can say that about ANY minister — or church member you find. Don’t put your pastor or staff member on too high of a pedestal. We are all but men — and ever one thoroughly flawed. God can use us all; but we are all flawed; every one.  We all have strengths and weaknesses. If you “mark off your list” every one who has any flaw, or  that you disagree with on anything, you aren’t going to have anyone left!

— This applies to sermons and books and other spiritual input. There are some people will read a book, or listen to a sermon, up until the point where they disagree with something they hear or read. And then they write it off, and “mark it off the list.” They regard it as “heretical,” because they disagree with them on that one thing. But we need to realize: there is not a person on earth about whom you will agree about EVERYTHING. You have to understand that we are all “a mixed bag,” and everything you read or listen to is a “mixed bag,” and you need to learn to take the good that is there, and disagree with the bad. But don’t miss the good they have to offer just because there’s something you may disagree with. 

When I was recuperating from my illness in Norman, Oklahoma, while we were between churches, I had the opportunity to meet every week with Max Barnett, who has been a great discipler of college students the past couple of generations. I remember one week Max gave me something to read, and he said, “Now, as I give you this book, I want you to know I don’t agree with everything in there” — but then he added:  “But hey; even a cow is smart enough to eat the grain and leave the chaff!” 

And I think that’s the tack we should take with things like that. 

— Do we agree with everything any pastor or teacher says? No, but we can get the good out of it.

— Do we agree with everything we read in a certain book? No, but we can take the good and leave the bad. 

We need to learn to do that in all kinds of ways. We are all “a mixed bag.”

— And this certainly applies to politics, doesn’t it? 

If you look at ANY candidate under a microscope, you will find something wrong with him or her. Because we are all a “mixed bag”!  Especially when you have basically a two-party system like we do in America right now, you are often going to be faced with the choice to vote for someone that has some serious flaws — some things you really do not admire, or disagree with — but they may still be the best option to vote for. Are they the perfect candidate? Absolutely not. We might wish there were a better candidate on the ballot. But there is not.

But the thing we may need to keep in mind, that this text reminds us about, is that THERE IS NO PERFECT CANDIDATE. We have to choose the candidate that best lines up with our Christian beliefs:

Is there a candidate who supports the right to life of the unborn child?

Is there a candidate who will uphold the traditional role of marriage as between a man and a woman? 

Then we may find ourselves in the position of voting for this candidate, even thought they may have many other flaws, because THERE IS NO PERFECT CANDIDATE. “We are all a mixed bag.” 

This just reminds us that there is no “political savior” for our country today. Donald Trump is not our country’s Savior. Joe Biden is not our country’s Savior. There is ONE SAVIOR our country needs to be calling out to right now, and that is Jesus Christ! And in the meantime, we need to vote for the best, flawed, imperfect candidates that we have in front of us. And trust GOD to do in our country what only GOD can do. God is perfect. But every politician is going to be “a mixed bag.” 

— We talked about marriage last week, and this really applies to marriage as well. Too many people are foolishly looking around for the “perfect person” to marry. Now, in case you haven’t figured this out, I”ll announce it to you today: There IS no “perfect spouse.” I believe there is a person God has for you, but you need to realize that just because He has someone for you, does not mean that they are a “perfect” person by any means. Whomever you marry, is going to turn out to be fatally flawed. Because “we are all a mixed bag” — and that includes your marriage partner.

Understanding this can save your marriage. Because if you go into marriage thinking this is just the perfect person, you are soon going to find out they aren’t, and maybe think you’ve married the wrong one. But you need to realize, they are not the “perfect person” — and NO ONE IS!  If you think someone appears to be perfect, that is only because you haven’t lived with them yet! 

In George Eliot’s classic English tale, Middlemarch, one of the main characters was Dr. Tertius Lydgate, who moved to town to establish his medical practice, and he meets young Rosamond, the prettiest girl in town, whom, after some acquaintance with her, h believed to be the epitome of womanhood:
“Lydgate thought that after all his wild mistakes (of his youth) and absurd credulity, he had found perfect womanhood —felt as if already breathed upon by exquisite wedded affection such as would be bestowed by an accomplished creature who venerated his high musings and momentous labors and would never interfere with them;  who would create order in the home and (financial) accounts with still magic, yet keep her fingers ready to touch the lute and transform life into romance at any moment …”. (George Eliot, Middlemarch, p. 352)

We might chuckle as we read that, but if we laugh it is because we KNOW that beautiful dream is not reality — not for anyone. (It was not for Dr. Lydgate; she was NOT “perfect womanhood”!) Because Marriage is not the uniting of any two “perfect people,” but it is always the union of two very imperfect people. God does want to use this special person to bless you, yes, but He also wants to use them to further His purposes in what He is trying to accomplish in your life. Sometimes that means that they have weaknesses that He wants you to learn to have patience with. Sometimes that means that He will use them like “sandpaper,” to “smooth off the rough spots” of your life. We need to realize that He didn’t give them to you because they are the perfect one to do everything for YOU, but because they are the perfect one for YOU to learn to practice real love on.

It can be a great help to you today in your marriage, to realize that your spouse (like every single other person on the face of the earth) is a “mixed bag.” It can take you a long way towards a more understanding marriage. OF COURSE your spouse has flaws; we ALL do!  And so do you! So be patient and understanding towards them. And let God work in your life through them the way He intends to.  Let Him build true love in you towards them: not “feel good” love, but what I Corinthians 13 says love is: patience and kindness and enduring all things, and a love that never fails. And pray that THEY will be patient and understanding towards all of YOUR flaws and imperfections, which are many as well!  

CONCLUSION

Of course, the most important person you can apply this to, is YOURSELF!  Like today’s title states, “We are all a mixed bag” — and that includes YOU, and me! And that’s why the Gospel is so important. Because NONE of us are perfect. None of us can hope to deserve to get into heaven on our own. 

Psalm 14 makes this clear. It says:

  • “There is no one who does good”
  • The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
  • They have all turned aside
  • Together they have become corrupt
  • There is no one who does good, not even one”

ALL of us are flawed, the Bible says. The depravity and sinfulness of man is one of the foundational Biblical doctrines, which if you don’t understand, will give you an entirely wrong perception of reality in our world. We are ALL flawed; we are all a “mixed bag;” and a “mixed bag” of sin and good deeds, is not good enough to get us into heaven. 

I don’t cook very much, but sometimes I will make some eggs for breakfast on Saturday morning. My wife Cheryl has trained me that when I crack the eggs, to crack them one at a time, and put it in a little glass bowl, to make sure it’s good, and THEN put it in with the others to scramble. Because ONE bad egg, will ruin the whole thing.

I remember years ago Dr. D. James Kennedy said if you have ONE bad egg in an omelet, it will ruin it. You can’t just think, “Well, the others are good; so it’ll be ok.” No, ONE bad egg, ruins it. And he said it’s the same with our lives before God. Our sin has corrupted our lives. Adding a few good deeds to it, doesn’t save us.  We’re still “spoiled” spiritually. Our “mixed bag” of sin and good deeds is not good enough to make heaven.

And that is why Jesus came: Jesus, 100% perfect God, came to this world, born of the Virgin Mary, becoming a man, and not just “a” man, but THE ONE, PERFECT man. The only One who was not “a mixed bag.” The Bible says: 

— “He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)

— But it also says that “He who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (II Corinthians 5:21) Jesus died on the cross, Perfect God Man, to pay for our sins, to GIVE a perfect righteousness to everyone who asked Him. Not a righteousness that we earned or deserved, but which He GIVES to us, by faith in Him and what He did for us on the cross. 

— If you’ve never realized your sin before God, and never trusted Jesus to save you by HIS righteousness, you need to do that today. 

— And if you HAVE received that saving righteousness from Him, then you need to make sure that you have an appropriate attitude towards other people as a result. You can’t “look down” on anybody as if you were better than they are. YOU are not saved by your own goodness; you are a “mixed bag” of sin yourself! There’s nothing more odious in the eyes of God or man as a person who looks down on others with a “holier than thou” attitude.

This week I read in my own quiet time about the Pharisee in Luke 18 who “trusted in himself that he was righteous”, and it also says he “looked at others with contempt.” I thought, what a sad way to live life: “looking at others with contempt.” 

No, as Christians, we are not going to look down on people with contempt. We’re going to look on them with understanding — because we realize that outside of Christ, we just like they are. “We are ALL a mixed bag.”  

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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