My wife and I bought identical silver rings for each other to commemorate the 20th anniversary of our marriage. We chose the design because it represents a three-stranded cord.
And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:12 (ESV)
My wife and I, like others, have looked to this verse through the lens of marriage. The two of us standing in unity might withstand attacks, but with God making up the “third strand,” our marriage is even stronger.
We now live on a small farm, where we raise laying hens and meat goats. We’ve been doing this for about six years, and this is our fourth kidding season. After a tough one year – a bit of a flop – this year was a bumper crop. We had 17 kids born on the farm, and it was a significant increase in our workload… significant. And we found that with the sudden increase in workload, we also ended up having less time to catch problems early-on, and as a result, we had an increase of health problems requiring intervention, including vet visits.
One Saturday evening, I was in the midst of treating several different issues with a variety of different products. One of these problems required us to treat some of the animals with a product called “MTG,” which horse folks will know as a liquid that helps treat skin problems and promote mane and tail growth. It works for some conditions common to goats as well.
It also smells a bit like bacon… which is weird when you’re applying it to a goat, but that’s getting off topic.
We returned to the house, and as I removed my MTG-soaked gloves, I noticed the silver ring on my right hand was completely black.
I had never had a problem with this ring tarnishing, and so as all pastors do, I went immediately into a time of prayer and reflection…
…OK, that’s not true. I went to Google. And of course, I found a few different reasons for silver tarnishing. One is that Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, primarily copper, which reacts with sulfur in the air. The other is that silver itself can react with sulfur in the air, causing a coating of silver sulfide.
The common cause, of course, is sulfur. And, sure enough, the first ingredient in MTG is sulfur.
The “why” solved, I broke out the silver polish, and a few minutes later the ring was back to its original luster.
…until the next morning’s chores, when I removed my gloves to find that the ring was completely black again. It turns out that there was enough residual sulfur in those gloves to cause the same reaction.
Now the good thing about this is that this happened on a Sunday morning. Palm Sunday morning. A Sunday on which I was preaching* at our morning services. Furthermore, though I normally try have my sermons written by mid-week, I had been stumped this week for an illustration regarding the practical application of the message. But now I had one.
Believer, if you’re anything like me, you’re not willing to boast of being 92.5% pure, or even close. Though we are to be in the world and not of it (John 17:15-16), our impurities respond to our environment, and we get tarnished.
Now, we have a choice. We can ignore the tarnish, and let it continue to build until that light patina becomes a dark covering. Scripture teaches: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8), and though we might deceive ourselves and others, we certainly don’t fool God – he can see the tarnish.
But, John continues that passage with this promise:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
So, we confess. We repent. We turn back to the God who tests and refines us as silver (Psalms 66:10). And God removes the tarnish, cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
And he’ll do it again tomorrow.
What is the common “sulfur” in your life? Have you ever felt like you’re too tarnished to be made clean? Do you have a story of how God brought you through trials in a way that you believe refined you?
*You can access the audio files for our sermons, including archives, at the FCBC website. The Palm Sunday sermon was titled “The Power of the Holy Spirit,” on April 9th, 2017.