Redeemed Natures: Appendix – Book Recommendations

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures Series from the start)

Book Recommendations

There are a few books that I would recommend to you for different reasons and different purposes.  Some of these will be an easier read than others, but I think they will serve you well.  I have not read every book in the field, so please take that into consideration, but these are the books that I would recommend to you after reading them myself.  I don’t necessarily agree with these authors 100% in every area, but overall, I am thankful for their contribution to this field of study.


If my book was the first book that you have read on the subject, and you would like a second step in the direction of going through the Old Testament, I recommend:

Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence

-Preston Sprinkle, David C. Cook Publishing 2013.

Preston is an evangelical/reformed minister who came to Nonviolence later in life through his study of the Scriptures.  I really appreciate his contribution to the discussion because his approach to the bible is something that is needed.  He attacks the hard questions, and goes into more depth than I could in my own writing. Too many nonviolent writings and spokespeople stop at Jesus, but unfortunately, more people need more of a defense for a radical idea besides Christ’s words.

He might push you to think in new ways, and you may not agree with his approach in some things, but I truly appreciate his writings, transparency, and in standing for nonviolence in the evangelical area of the Church.

Preston also blogs at “Theology In The Raw” on Patheos, and has a podcast by the same name.


If my book was the first book you’ve read on the subject, and you’d like another book to read that hones in more on Christ’s teachings and example, and how that is in contrast with the world, I recommend:

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

-Brian Zahnd, David C. Cook Publishing 2014

Like Preston Sprinkle, Brian Zahnd is an evangelical pastor who also came to nonviolence later in life through his own study of the Scriptures.  Zahnd even writes about how he used to preach in favor of our nation’s wars, and told of how his nationalism/patriotism affected his theology.  I liked his contribution because it shows the contrast between this radical teaching of Christ, and the world’s ideas of justice.


For those who really want to dig deeper in this field of study on a more intellectual level, I would recommend the following books:

The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking

John Howard Yoder, Brazos Press 2009

What Would You Do?

John Howard Yoder, Herald Press 2012

John Howard Yoder is a big name in the nonviolence field of study; particularly among Mennonites.  Yoder contributed well-thought out and well-backed up arguments to the discussion, and his legacy continues.  The first book is a good summary of his beliefs on nonviolence as it’s a collection of essays and other writings placed together in a coherent order.  The second book is the theologian’s response to the famous situational ethics question that so many raise.

A quick note for transparency’s sake:  John Howard Yoder was accused of sexually abusing, harassing, and assaulting women during his time as a professor.  He was never tried for his crimes, but was eventually placed under church discipline.  In short, I cannot recommend the Man to you, but I maintain that the writings which the flawed man produced are valuable.


For those who enjoyed the chapter on the early church and nonviolence, I completely recommend picking up a copy of the source book that I used:

The Early Church on Killing:

A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment

Ronald J. Sider, Baker Academic 2012

If you are looking for even more examples of how the early church viewed the issue of killing/military service, Sider’s book is truly a masterpiece that anyone studying the subject should pick up.  I also really appreciated the holistic scope of the book in also including early church father quotes on abortion and infanticide.


To learn more about religious Conscientious Objectors who refused to fight because of their faith, I would recommend:

Peace Was in Their Hearts: Conscientious Objectors in World War II

Richard C. Anderson, Correlan Publications 1994

As someone whose Grandfathers on both sides served in CPS out of a religious objection to war, I believe it is important to learn from these men who stood for nonviolence when everyone else told them that the needed to fight.


From a secular and historical perspective on the idea and movements of nonviolence, I would recommend:

Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea

Mark Kurlansky, Modern Library 2009

I appreciated that the author, a journalist who has written on a variety of subjects, took to writing about nonviolence; he showed how various faiths have accepted it, and his coverage on Christianity was good in that an outsider saw how a strict following of Jesus’ teachings would necessitate an abandon of violence.


There obviously other books to look at and read, but the ones I recommended here should be a good start to you if you would like to continue your own study.  I would also recommend steeping yourself in the Gospels, and studying how Christ interacted with others, what he taught, what he did, and how his followers followed him.  

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Redeemed Natures: Chapter Six – Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 1 of 3)

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Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 1 of 3)

““If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies … whom have we to hate?

– Tertullian, Apology. Chap. 37

Throughout the Church’s history, there has been a lot of instances in which violence has been wielded through the arms of the church.  The Crusades are one famous example of the church wielding violence, but there has also been a lot of violence being done in God’s name through governments that have a close relationship to the Church.  The violence done in the name of God.  Whether that be The Crusades, or nations which claimed that every action that they committed was the will of God.  Regardless of if the violence came through the hands of the church, or through the hands of a country claiming to be doing the will of God, the resulting question remains:  How does this align with Jesus, who is the fullness of God (Col. 2:9)?  

When Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles that said “Gott Mit Uns”, meaning “God with us”, was that in the Will of God/Christ?

When the Crusaders fought in the name of God, through the arms of the church… was that in the Will of God/Christ?

Early Christians dealt with these issues as they found themselves, jews and gentiles, together united under a new faith.  In his book, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, author and journalist Mark Kurlansky examines the idea of nonviolence through several cultures, and religions, and has this to say about the early church, pre-constantine, on the subject:

“For 284 years, roughly the same span of time as from the end of Louis XIV’s reign in France to the beginning of the twenty-first century, Christians remained an antiwar cult. Christian writers emphasized the incompatibility of warfare with Christian teachings. Some characterized warfare as the work of evil spirits and weapons as cursed. They labeled the taking of human life in warfare murder.” (Kindle Locations 356-358)

Two hundred and eighty four years sounds like a lot, and just for perspective’s sake:  Americans declared independence from Britain in 1776, which is STILL not up to 284 years ago yet.  We will get to why things shifted in a little bit, but I wanted to point this out as a testament to the roots of the nonviolence movement – it’s not an idea imposed on the bible by “hippies and liberals”…It’s something that people DIED and were beaten for throughout Christianity’s history.  Early Christians who refused to fight back against their persecutors.  Anabaptists who refused to fight back against other Christians in the late 1600s.  Christian african-american activists who refused to fight back as they were beaten as they nonviolently protested the racist laws that governed the way that they lived. And many others.

The earliest Christians refused to take up arms, and had strong convictions about it.  Christians who were not too far removed from when Jesus walked the earth, or when Peter, John, and Paul were still preaching and writing, refused to take up arms when it sometimes costed them their lives.

For this chapter, I will be using several sources to point out specific examples of early Christians advocating against warfare, and/or violence, and advocating for peace, and nonviolence.  A wonderful sourcebook on the topic has been written by Ronald Sider, and it is this book that I will use predominantly.  Please see the book information below, and consider reading it for further study on this subject matter:

Sider, Ronald J. The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print.

I am not a historian, and so, this chapter will not be as weighty with my own personal interpretations as the chapters on the study of the Scriptures were, but it will more so serve as a glimpse of the opinions of the early church on the matter, and hopefully will encourage further research by the reader.

The Didache – 80-120 A.D.

“Didachē, ( Greek: “Teaching”, ) also called Teaching Of The Twelve Apostles,  the oldest surviving Christian church order, probably written in Egypt or Syria in the 2nd century. In 16 short chapters it deals with morals and ethics, church practice, and the eschatological hope (of the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time) and presents a general program for instruction and initiation into the primitive church.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Didache served as a statement on how to live, as well as made statements on church order.  It is a glimpse into how the early church may have functioned, and a look into how they thought.  The work is broken down into 16 chapters, or sections, and the first section starts with saying that there are two ways – one of life, and one of death.  The way of life is described in the first chapter by Loving God, Loving your Neighbor, following the golden rule, and immediately after that, it says:

“Bless those who curse you,” and “pray for your enemies.” Moreover, fast “for those who persecute you.” For “what credit is it to you if you love those who love you? Is that not the way the heathen act?” But “you must love those who hate you,” and then you will make no enemies. “Abstain from carnal passions.” If someone strikes you “on the right cheek, turn to him the other too, and you will be perfect.” If someone “forces you to go one mile with him, go along with him for two” – From Didache 1 as seen on ccel.org

To the early Christian writers of the Didache, the Sermon on the Mount and more specifically these teachings from Matthew 5, were very important for the Christian to live the “way of life”.  The first chapter in this ancient work follows what Christ said were the two greatest commandments, which is are Love God, and to Love others, and it didn’t stop there, but it also instructed its readers of the love that doesn’t come easy – loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors, and going the extra mile of good for the person who shows you no goodness in return.  Not only did the New Testament text confirm Christian nonviolence, but this early church document did as well. Nonviolence is not a new idea.

Justin Martyr – 100 – 167 A.D.

Justin Martyr is known for being one of the earliest Christian Apologists, or defenders of the faith.  He started out as a philosophy student, and then came to find Christianity to be the truest philosophy, and so his arguments incorporated philosophical reasoning.

A few of his writings have lasted through time, and I will be quoting excerpts from his First and Second Apology, and from his Dialogue with Trypho.

First Apology

“We who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with people of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live according to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all” – from Chapter 14 of Justin’s First Apology, as quoted in “The Early Church on Killing” by Ronald Sider, pg. 24

The above excerpt is from Justin’s First Apology, written to Antoninus Pius, Emperor of Rome, which was a plea for the emperor to not persecute the Christians by explaining the faith to the emperor, and how this faith does not make Christians disloyal citizens, or rebels as they were seen.

In the excerpt quoted, in part 14 of his Apology, Justin conveys the transformative nature of the Christian faith by highlighting how their quarrels with those different from them has ceased, and how they even have begun praying for their enemies. This would have conveyed that the Christians were not violent rebels, but a people of faith focused on peace and reconciliation.  In the face of persecution, prejudice, and social alienation, Christians were praying for their enemies, and making amends with those who may have wronged them.

Second Apology

“We have been taught that God did not make the world aimlessly, but for the sake of the human race; and we have before stated that He takes pleasure in those who imitate His Properties, and is displeased with those that embrace what is worthless either in word or deed.  If, then, we all kill ourselves, we shall become the cause, as far as in us lies, why no one should be born, or instructed in the divine doctrines, or even why the human race should not exist; and we shall, if we so act, be ourselves acting in opposition to the will of God.  But when we are examined, we make no denial” – from Chapter 4 of Justin’s Second Apology. Sider, 25

The Second Apology of Justin was written “to show that the Christian faith alone was truly rational. He [Justin] taught that the Logos (Word) became incarnate to teach humanity truth and to redeem people from the power of the demons.” – Christianity Today

The excerpt above showcases how Christ redeemed people from their sinful natures so that they are able to go against their desire to kill their enemies, or others.  Justin argues that if Christians kill their fellow human beings, they take away those person’s lives, the lives of their possible unborn children, and their chance to hear the Gospel.  He then follows the logic through that if retaliation was resorted to by all whom wrong was done against, the human race would dwindle so much that we should question why we even deserve to exist.  If Christians, he says, kill their fellow human beings, they are acting in opposition to the Will of God.

Dialogue with Trypho

Justin’s “Dialogue with Trypho” was written to a Jewish man with the purpose of arguing that Christianity should be accepted if one properly understood the Jewish scriptures. Within this dialogue, after quoting Micah 4:1-7, which is a passage about turning swords into ploughshares, Justin says the following:

“We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons – our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, – and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified” –   from section 110 of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho. Sider, 26.

In order to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, that Christianity is the true carrying out of the Hebrew scriptures and prophecies, Justin stated that Christians gave up their yearnings for violence, and embraced the way of peace through changing the way that the lived and interacted with others in order to be obedient to God’s Will.

Irenaeus – 130 – 202 A.D.

Irenaeus was the Bishop of Lyons France from 177 – 202 A.D.  He is best known for his work “Against Heresies” in which he refuted Gnosticism, and in doing so, he provided a look at second century Christianity, and the issues that it was trying to combat.

I am going to highlight two excerpts from Irenaeus’ writings that highlight his positions on the topic of Christian Nonviolence.

Against Heresies

“But if the law of liberty, that is, the word of God, preached by the apostles (who went forth from Jerusalem) throughout all the earth, caused such a change in the state of things, that these nations did form the swords and war-lances into ploughshares, and changed them into pruning-hooks for reaping the corn, that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smitten, offer also the other cheek, then the prophets have not spoken these things of any other person, but of Him who effected them.  This person is our Lord.” – from 4.34 in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. Sider, 28.

Jesus is the Messiah who conveyed messages focused on instructing the Will of God on how His people ought to live, and gave his life in order to reconcile fallen human beings.  Jesus’ messages of enemy love, and nonviolence were radial to his audience, as we covered before, and as seen in this quote from Irenaeus, the writings of Justin, and others, his teachings of nonviolence, and the early Church following these teachings, were seen as a fulfillment to the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah about swords into plough shares.  

Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

“Therefore also we have no need of the law as pedagogue….For no more shall the law say: … thou shalt not kill, to him who has put away from himself all anger and enmity….Nor an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, to him who counts no man his enemy, but all his neighbors, and therefore cannot even put forth his hand to revenge.” – from chapter 96 in Irenaeus’ Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. Sider, 29-30.

The previous chapter, chapter 95, in this work ended with the following sentence: “Now the love of God is far from all sin, and love to the neighbour worketh no ill to the neighbour” (as translated by Roger Pearse) , and so the next section would then be the fulfilment of that ethic, which would be the transformation of a follower of Christ so that they would not have to be told to not kill, for they would not have the desire to do so, as they have been radically changed by the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Tertullian – 160 – 225 A.D.

Tertullian is regarded as one of the most important early church authors and theologians who wrote in Latin prior to Augustine, according to Sider on page 42.  It is in Tertullian’s writings that we find perhaps the most convincing arguments against Christian’s going to war, or utilizing violence.

Apology

“If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies … whom have we to hate?  If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands?’

‘For what wars should we not be fit, and ready even with unequal forces, we who so willingly yield ourselves to the sword, if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slain” – Two excerpts from chapter 37 of Tertullian’s Apology. Sider, 45

Again, we see an early church father take Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence quite literally in asking, how can we hate, when we are told to love our enemies? Or how can one be a soldier when our faith teaches us that it is better to die, than to kill?

On Idolatry

“But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military [man] may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments.  There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness.  One soul cannot be due to two masters – God and Caesar’

‘But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?  For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.  No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action” – Two excerpts from chapter 19 of Tertullian’s On Idolatry. Sider, 50-51

In this chapter, Tertullian writes that Christians should not be in the military, no matter the position, or likliness of involvement in violence, for two reasons.  

The first reason Tertullian gave against Christians joining military was because a Christian has no business taking part in Sacrifices, which were to a pagan god(s).  Essentially, being a part of the military necessitated involvement in pagan religious ceremonies, which a Christian could not do, due to fact that there is only one God.

In modern American times, the military is divorced from any sort of religion on an official level.  Chaplains exist for soldiers to find spiritual guidance in whatever faith they follow, but there is no state-sponsored religion.  And so the question comes down to:  Does Tertullian’s first argument against Christians in the military still hold any weight?

I would argue that it does because the root of the problem was Christians being commanded by their government to do that which is contrary to the Will of God, and that the government would demand allegiance of that Christian’s life in all things.  Patriotism/Nationalism can be extremely damaging to the Christian faith if the love, or devotion, of country overrides their love and devotion to the Lord.  I doubt many sincere Christians would renounce their faith if their government tells them to…it’s not as obvious as that.  The danger happens when political views and religious views meet and politics come into theology, and starts whispering in the ear, “Jesus didn’t mean it like that” so that Christians become more willing to go to war, support its government’s wars, and utter the phrase “For God And Country”.  

Nationalism hard-wires the brain to believe that we are better than people in other countries because of lines on a map, and when that mindset infiltrates our theology, our interpretation of the scriptures and their calling to our lives, become, in part, dependent on what we believe is congruent with our political and social identity.  This is why Christians were Nazis. This is why Christians owned slaves. This is why, currently, some Christians in the hard political right look in disgust and scorn at the poor, instead of out of a place of compassion – regardless of who they believe is responsible to provide them aid.  This is also why some Christians in the hard political left accept the pro-choice rhetoric as a societal good – without advocating against abortion and for adoption within the walls of their churches.  Politics can infiltrate theology like how a cancer can gradually take over the body.  And so serving in a governmental position, or any position for that matter, where you would be expected to do/support things contrary to the Will of God is not wise for the Christian, just as it wasn’t wise in Tertullian’s day.  

The Second reason Tertullian gave against Christians joining the military was that Christianity, as he understood it, did not allow for the taking of life.  His basis for that belief came from Christ’s teaching, and in how he told Peter, after Peter struck the ear of one of the men trying to capture Jesus, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51), and “Put your sword back into its place” and “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).  His writing, as quoted above, says that by disarming Peter, Jesus disarmed every soldier who identified as Christian. And if that was not enough to give his audience pause, he wrote “No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action”.  Note that he was not talking about governmental laws, for he was speaking about the enforcers of those laws, and agents of a government.  He was talking about the government committing unlawful action against the law and Will of God for the Christian.

What is confusing then is why many other Christians throughout Church History advocated for their country’s military, and for the Christian’s involvement in it, when the texts that Tertullian used to found his arguments were available to all of his predecessors.  We know through my covering of the Old Testament that there are some passages within it that could cause someone to believe that Christians can go to war, but when it comes to Jesus, there is simply no permission to do so. Christians have debated this conundrum for centuries, saying we have to look at Scripture holistically, or saying that Jesus is the prime authority on the matter, but the debate still continues.

I would like to submit a question:  If this debate has been going on for centuries, and if you can see, at minimal, how both sides arrived to their conclusion, which side would be safest to take, theologically?

If a Christian decides to join the military because they do not see a conflict with their faith, but the Will of God is for them to abstain from it, they would be going against the Will of God, and would be held accountable for any blood on their hands.

If a Christian decides to abstain from joining the military because they see a conflict with their faith, but the Will of God allows for them to join the military, they commit no posible sin in abstaining, and are merely wrong in their understanding God’s Will, without going against it themselves.

The debate of self-defense, or the defense of others, is not to be had at the moment; we will get to that in the Appendix section.  This question is purely asking – what measurable good comes out of a Christian joining the military, when the Church has been divided on whether or not killing in warfare is a sin for centuries?

From a pastoral perspective, how a pastor, or church leader, handles this topic hypothetically is also very important.  For many church goers, their church leaders are their prime source for spiritual guidance, and some will make whatever decision their church leader points them toward, believing that it is within the Will of God.  This is one of the reasons why this debate should not be glazed over to be left up to personal choice, but should be deliberately thought about by church leaders.

*All Sources Quoted in parts 1-3 of Chapter 6 will be in the Works Referenced section at the conclusion of part 3*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

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Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

There exists an apparent contradiction in viewing Romans 12 and 13 as a Christian; for we see that the very things that Paul instructs the Christian to not do, he states that the government has the authority to do.  A good amount of Christians today look at these chapters as independent and uncorrelated with one another, at least in practice, and most would pick the chapter that seems more akin to their own personal position on the subject of government and war, and nearly ignore the other.  The political pacifists will harp on Romans 12, and the Christian Political Right will harp on Romans 13; we are naturally drawn to what fits most comfortably with our own views.  However, to view these passages as independent of one another is a hermeneutical(interpretive) error; those who seek to come to the scriptures honestly must look at and wrestle with them both; not as two separate ideas, but as one idea related to various peoples.  The purpose of this chapter of my writings is to communicate the stance that I take, which is best defined as Christian non-resistance, by going through Romans 12 and 13, and honestly wrestling with each chapter.

As mentioned before, most people side with the chapter that is most akin to their current position. This is not to say that there are no exceptions to people choosing one chapter or the other, for there are Christians who are pacifists in their personal lives who believe that Christians should never kill, regardless of whether they are a mere citizen or a government official, but they may also state that the secular government does have the authority to issue justice in the form of violence and even death.  There are also those who believe that Christians in the government are permitted to kill when the government is issuing justice, but who feel that the Christian civilian should act the same as the Christian pacifist civilians and not take violence into their own hands.  This group would push for Christian involvement in politics because they feel that they need to maintain the law of God through their nation’s politics.  Wayne Grudem in “Politics according to the Bible” states:

“Good government and good laws can prevent much evil behavior, and they can teach people what society approves, but they cannot by themselves produce good people”(pg.54).

Grudem states this in order to convey that although pushing for God’s law within politics can prove to be beneficial, people are still sinners who need a Holy God.  Both of the positions described are honestly seeking what they believe the Lord desires, and they each wrestle with the question of how Christians respond to government and injustice.

As stated many times in this book already, the position I hold is one that states that the Christian is not to commit violence under any circumstance unless directly commanded, blessed, or instructed by God to do so (Something that seems highly unlikely).  Therefore, in presenting my view, the reader has to understand that I believe that in order to understand Romans 13, it must be viewed in light of Romans 12.  Any good book written on biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) should inform you that the surrounding text of a verse, passage, or chapter is useful to understanding the meaning behind the portion of scripture you are studying.  

On Romans 12

The context of Romans 12 is that it was written after the Apostle Paul explained the mystery of the Gospel (Romans 9,10,11), which is that Gentiles were grafted into God’s plan and household, and this is why Paul writes the following transition:

Romans 12:1-2

“1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The “therefore” is there as a bridge between Paul’s previous point about the mystery of the Gospel, and his point in chapters 12 and 13, which is broadly summarized as instructions to the Christian on how they ought to live.  Paul writes that we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices that are willing to lay down our lives metaphorically and physically for our devotion to Jesus Christ and His work.  He then goes on to verse two which states that we are to be transformed in our mind and lives because of our belief and adherence to God, which would then strengthen our ability to discern what is, and is not, the will of God with careful study, counsel, and prayer.

As English speakers, readers, and writers, we have the Bible in many different versions and translations to read from.  These Bibles are the God’s words to humankind, and are worthy of our study, and our application of its words to our lives.  Through the Bible, we can begin to discern what would be, and would not be, the Will of God. However, we must remember, in as much possible, to seek to put our political, religious, and personal opinions aside, and seek to understand what the text says; a troublesome concept for us all.  

Coming back to Romans 12, after writing about unity in the church in verses 3-8, Paul moves on by stating something that is quite reflective of Christ’s life and ministry on earth, and is quite challenging for most of us if we truly look at the passages that follow.  

Romans 12:9-13

“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

This first passage is in reference to how Christians should treat one another, as well as how they should view faith; by being “fervent in spirit”, serving the Lord, rejoicing, patient through trials, constant prayer, and to not be “slothful in zeal”. Paul is telling his audience here that God desires more from His people than simply going to church, and having belief; God desires for us to act out our faith by adhering to His Son’s example, and following the other guiding words of Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.  Paul states that we are to contribute to the needs of the saints, and to show hospitality; how often does the church ask of the needs of its congregation’s members, be it financial, housework, or other things?  We must love our brethren better.

Romans 12:14-21

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In this passage, Paul is writing about how the Christian should act toward those who persecute them, as well as all people in general.  In verse 14, Paul writes that we are to bless those who persecute us, and not curse them.  He continues this thought in verse 17 by stating that we should not repay evil for evil; that we are supposed to do the honorable thing [to “overcome evil with good” – v.21].  It is important to note that the statement “repay no one evil for evil” is a quote from the Old Testament in Proverbs 20:22.  This is important because it shows that the message of the believer’s command regarding vengeance is the same in the Old Testament, as it is in the New Testament.  For as we discovered in the chapter on the Old Testament, Humankind is always subject to God, and violence was only permitted with God’s command and blessing.  The Zondervan NASB Study Bible in its notes on Romans 12:17 state the following about the high moral call to the Christian:

“Christian conduct should never betray the high moral standards of the gospel, or it will provoke the disdain of unbelievers and bring the gospel into disrepute (See 2 Cor 8:21; 1 Tim 3:7)”.

Many people that you come across who have negative views towards Christianity, usually have the same frustration:  Hypocracy.  They are tired of Christians saying one thing, and doing another.  They are tired of Christians who claim to follow Christ being the voice of hate in our culture.  It is in this observation that the relevance of the above quote comes into play; when Christians betray their high moral standards, unbelievers disdain them, and the message of the Gospel is injured.

To further this idea of a high moral standard, and repaying no one evil for evil, Romans 12:18 states that as much as it depends on us, we are to live peaceably with ALL.  Keep in mind, Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were being persecuted when he wrote them this message.  But what is most alarming about this passage is found in verses 19-21, which state in verse 19 that we are never to avenge (which is a synonym for taking revenge for) ourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is his to pay, for He is Just.  In addition, C.E.B. Cranfield in his Romans: A Shorter Commentary writes on the topic of the Lord’s Vengeance in verse 19 by stating the following in why the Christian ought to allow for God to have vengeance, and not take matters into their own hands:

“If one is to continue to live by grace, then one cannot do other than make way for this wrath – to do otherwise would be to cease to live by grace.  To give place to the wrath is to leave vengeance to God in the knowledge that He is the God who smites in order to heal”(pg. 316).

Cranfield reminds us that God is perfect and just, and if we were to live as if we understood that, we would live by grace by not taking God’s place in avenging people that are just as vile as we are if we were without the salvation of Christ.  Cranfield also reminds us that God desires for all to be saved, and God’s wrath may be a way to reveal himself to them for God smites “in order to heal”.

Moving on to verse 20, Paul instructs us to even feed, and give water to our enemy (basically looking out for their best interest) to “heap burning coals on his head”.  The burning coals on his head part of this verse seems completely out of place here because many people’s first thought is: We should be nice to them so that they get angry at us, so that they are punished, etc..  However, Matthew Henry gives the following interpretations for this part of the verse:

Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head; that is, “Thou shalt either,”

  1. “Melt him into repentance and friendship, and mollify his spirit towards thee” (alluding to those who melt metals; they not only put fire under them, but heap fire upon them; thus Saul was melted and conquered with the kindness of David, Sa1 24:16; Sa1 26:21) – “thou wilt win a friend by it, and if thy kindness have not that effect then,”

  2. “It will aggravate his condemnation, and make his malice against thee the more inexcusable. Thou wilt hereby hasten upon him the tokens of God’s wrath and vengeance.

The two reasons that Matthew Henry gives is that being kind will either conquer your enemy’s hatred to spur them to love you, or it will continue to show the corruption in their heart, and they will therefore have to answer to their maker one day.  The role of the Christian is not to take vengeance, but to love others, leaving vengeance up to God, and seeking His Will each day.

Verse 21 summarizes these points by stating, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.  By instructing us to not be overcome by evil, Paul is meaning that we should not be passive in our dealing with evil against us (we are to pray, look out for our enemies best interest; showing them undeserved Grace), but we should not add to the evil being done by committing evil ourselves.  Again, Christians are called to rise above our natural instincts in the pursuit of following Jesus.

Based on this study of Romans 12, a Christian is not permitted to “play God” and carry out violence without His blessing.  I add “without His blessing” because that is the only way that violence was permitted in the Old Testament.  I will say, however, that there is no instance in the New Testament where followers of Christ were ever told to carry out violence.  Instead, God, and His heavenly armies, are the only ones who did, or were foretold to carry out judgement.

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*Works Referenced in this post will be within the Works Referenced section in Part 2*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Four -Selected New Testament Writings and Letters

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Chapter Four

Selected New Testament Writings and Letters

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” – 1 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

Jesus had a ministry in which nonviolence and redemption were intricately woven into his teachings, example, his salvific work on the Cross, and in the resurrection.  The Lord God, Holy and blameless, became one of us, and took all of our sorrow upon himself so that we can be set free from sins that afflict us, and walk with God in this life, and in the next. Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies, and he showed the good in their enemies through the story of the Good Samaritan, in which someone who was an enemy showed one of their own people more love than their religious leaders.  Additionally. Christ showed them how to respond to sinfulness in the story of the woman caught in adultery.  He showed them how to respond to persecution by not harming those who harmed him, and by willfully carrying his cross on his aching and torn back, and taking the nails on the cross, while praying to God, “Bless them Father, for the know not what they do”.  Christian Author Preston Sprinkle writes in his blog “Theology in the Raw” that:

“Christ defeats evil by submitting to violence—by dying rather then killing—and rises from the dead to tell the tale.” 

In the cross, Jesus showed us the full expression of Love and Mercy, and in the resurrection, he showed us that that Love was true and hopeful.

The argument for Christians to live nonviolently should be able to rest within the words and example of Christ alone.  However, many still are resistent, and for good reason.  Nonviolence calls us to accept the seemingly improbable, impossible, and unlikely way to address a problem.  Nonviolence takes away our first instinct and tells us to do that which doesn’t make sense.

It would be easier to dismiss Christ’s teachings if the rest of the New Testament did not advocate for nonviolence, or if it even endorsed a Christian’s use of deadly force against evil.  If this were the case, one could say of Christ’s teachings “Well, he is talking about his millennial reign”, “that’s really only for Christians who are normal civilians and are not in government”, or even a vague statement like “It is a good teaching, but that doesn’t apply to…[name scenario]”. As someone who takes Christ’s words so seriously…I don’t think that I could make these conclusions, even if no other writings of nonviolence existed in the Bible, but it would at least be understandable. However, the other New Testament writings DO address nonviolence.

This chapter is going to cover some selected writings, and the next chapter will be a more specific chapter on Romans 12 and 13, and dealing with the question of Christians and Governments.

1 John 4:19-21 – Love one another

Christian love is unique in that it demands love when love is not necessarily our first response.  It demands us to love those we don’t want to love.  It demands us to love those who have wronged us.  Why do we love?

“19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Within the book of first John is a powerful call for Christians to radically love one another, and others. This Love was a defining attribute for these early believers.  

1 Peter 2:21-25  – When He was reviled, he did not revile in return

The Apostle Peter wrote pretty plainly in the following passage about the influence that Christ’s example should have over our own lives.

“21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

In context, this passage was written to slaves in first century Israel, within the broader context of Peter writing to all people to be subject to authority, and calling them to put away all sin – “all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander”(1 Pet. 2:1).  Despite harsh and/or powerful authorities over them, followers of Christ were expected to follow His example, and to not retaliate evil for evil.  

1 Peter 3:8-12 – Seek Peace and Pursue it

Although that last passage, in my mind, refers to all Christians, some may think that it was originally written to Christian slaves, and therefore may be simply an instruction for slaves to not retaliate because that is not what slaves were expected to do in that time and culture.  I understand that, and so I want to provide this next passage from the same book and author.

“8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

Peter states nothing to the new testament reader that had not been alluded to/taught before.  He informs his audience to not repay evil for evil, to be unified, loving, tender-hearted, humble, as well telling them to bless the one doing evil against them.  He also adds that the Christian is to not only seek peace, but to pursue it; for the Lord is against “those who do evil”.

This passage contains a repeating theme that I have been noticing during my study of this topic, which is: Go above and beyond the normal.  Show the world that something about you is different.  Be your “brother’s keeper” to your friends, as well as to your enemies; instead of cursing them, bless them.  See the humanness in all.  Evangelical Pastor, Brian Zahnd, affirms this truth in his book “A Farewell to Mars” by stating:

Humanity’s worst sins and most heinous crimes occur when we follow the way of Cain as the founder of human civilization and refuse to recognize the shared humanity of our brothers and fail to acknowledge our responsibility to be our brother’s keeper. When vicious competition and blind commitment to tribalism become more valued than the brotherhood of shared humanity, we let Satan loose in our midst. When we denigrate those of differing nationalities, ethnicities, religions, politics, and classes to a dehumanized “them,” we open the door to deep hostility and the potential for unimaginable atrocities. If we believe the lie that they are “not like us,” we are capable of becoming murderers and monsters. And it’s been going on for a long, long time.”

Dehumanization leads to us being comfortable with that which Christ preaches against.  For if our enemies, or those who have done us wrong, are forever cursed in our minds, than how can we have the desire to even think about loving them? Instead, we should see that all of us, if prompted enough, if desperate enough, if lost enough, can be guilty of the same evil; we can become murderers, racists, terrorists if we do not consistently fight against dehumanizing others.

“How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love…

My enemies are men like me…”

-Derek Webb. From “My Enemies are Men like me”  Album: Mockingbird

Acts 5:40-42 – Rejoicing in Persecution

“40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

In context, this quote is in reference to a meeting composed of the senate of the people of Israel (5:21), and was in reference to the Apostles who were put in Prison for preaching about Christ (5:17-20).  The Apostles were then set free by an Angel, and were later seen preaching in the temple (5:25).  They were charged for going against their jewish laws, and Peter’s response to them was this:

Acts 5:29-32

We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.

The apostles were not afraid to follow God, even unto death, and saw evangelism as incredibly important.  Even when they were beaten and jailed, they REJOICED that they were worthy to suffer for their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Please take note that they did not only refuse to revile, but they rejoiced in their suffering.  

This is in harmony with the writings of James, which could speak of literal persecution, or going through another tough spot in our faith walks.

James 1:2-4

“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Acts 7:54-60 – The Martyrdom of Stephen

“54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In carrying out the thrust of what Peter was doing in the previous section, Stephen went against the laws of man to preach the Gospel because His true authority was God.  Not only is Stephen a great example of having a faith that lasts through suffering, but he is also a great example of how to love our enemies.  While he was being stoned to death, Stephen echoed Christ’s own words and asked God to not hold the sin of stoning him to death against those casting the stones.   His love for Lord, his passion for the Gospel, and his love for others was so great that he did not desire even God to punish his persecutors.  It is a crazy enough thing to think about when Christ said this as he hung on a cross, but Christ was Divine.  Stephen’s devotion to Christ and His teachings is an example for us all to follow.

Nonviolent Action

The last two sections touched on not fighting violence with violence when you are being persecuted for your faith.  Within these sections, we found that Peter told the council that was accusing him of breaking their laws that “we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)”.  After being jailed for evangelizing, Peter evangelized once again after he was set free.  In this way, he was saying to the authorities – “I do not care about your laws, I have to do what God calls me to do.”  In the same fashion, Stephen was martyred in Acts 7 for preaching the truth of the Gospel, while knowing the consequences for doing so.  

Many people believe that nonviolence is a worldview that does not allow for resistance; that we would allow people to trample our loved ones, or that we would passively stand by as we watch the world burn. But to assume such is to make the statement that the only solution to violence, is violence.  To assume this goes against even the Just-War position, which is supposed to attempt many ways in resolving an issue before resorting to war/violent retaliation.

As I will cover more later on, the nonviolence ethic is not passive, but it quite active, and for this and other reasons, Pacifism does not accurately describe the nonviolence teachings and example of Jesus.  American journalist and author, Mark Kurlansky in his book about nonviolence had the following thing to say about the the comparison between pacifism and nonviolence in regards to Christianity:

Nonviolence is not the same thing as pacifism, for which there are many words. Pacifism is treated almost as a psychological condition. It is a state of mind. Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than non-violence, which is dangerous. When Jesus Christ said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence. Nonviolence, exactly like violence, is a means of persuasion, a technique for political activism, a recipe for prevailing. It requires a great deal more imagination to devise nonviolent means—boycotts, sitins, strikes, street theater, demonstrations—than to use force.

One of the reasons why I am writing this book is to hopefully share what I believe to be God’s will for Christians on the matter of responding to conflict and our enemies in order to hopefully spark a movement in individual’s hearts to embrace the way of nonviolence.  After this, I would hope that all of us can be motivated to show the Crazy Love of Jesus through nonviolent action to our hurting and broken world so torn apart by bombs and bullets.

Leaving Vengeance to the Lord

Just as we are to non-violently promote peace and seek resolution to conflict, we are also called to trust that the Lord is capable of carrying out justice – whether that be in this life, or the next.  Recognizing that God will Right the Wrong makes accepting the call of nonviolence to the believer a little easier.  In the New Testament, there are a couple examples of Divine Justice that I will go over briefly in this section.   

The Case of Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:1-11

Ananias and Saphira sell some of their land, and agree to keep some of the profit, and give the rest to the church.  However, they acted as if they were giving all of their profits to the church, but they only gave some of the proceeds to the apostles from the land which they had sold.  The early Church shared all of their possessions, as seen in Acts 4:32-37, in order to support one another, however, it is not said that they were required to do so.  And so, Ananias & Sapphira wanted to keep some of the money, but make it seem like they were giving up all of the money.  They lied when they didn’t have to, and did so for their own social good – more money, and being recognized as giving all of the money.

The sins of Ananias and Sapphira are not only lying, but also hypocrisy.  They were struck dead – not by a human hand, but they each fell down, and breathed their last upon being convicted of lying to God. We cannot fully grasp the extent of how offensive this incident was to God, for we still wonder in a quiet whisper, why did this have to happen, God?  And as much as we may toss and turn over this passage, we eventually have to accept that what was written happened, and that it happened by the hands of a completely righteous and just God.  

I know.  It doesn’t sit right.  It may not ever sit right with us.  But in this instance, we see God carrying out justice through his own hand, and his followers played no part in issuing this lethal justice.

The Final Judgement – Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 19:11- 20:15

Perhaps the most descriptive passages about Divine Justice comes from these passages dealing with Christ Jesus judging all of the earth, alive and dead.  To separate the “sheep” from the “goats”.  

It is hard to discuss these passages without going into interpretations about the end times, which is not what this chapter, or book, is about.  Some believe these passages to be metaphorical, some literal. Many disagree on the order of events, and on a myriad of other things. But what we can gather, no matter what interpretation that you take, is that God will Right all Wrong, He will bring Justice to the Wickedness of the world, and in doing so, he will Redeem the world.

God will do this, and it is not said that he needs our help doing so; Christ and the heavenly armies are more than capable of handling whatever that they will handle.  In the meantime, we have to trust that He will Right all Wrongs as we seek to live our lives following the Lord, and loving others.


 

Works Referenced

Kurlansky, Mark (2009-01-16). Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) (Kindle Locations 163-168). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sprinkle, Preston. “A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence.” Theology in the Raw. Patheos.com, 21 Nov. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

Webb, Derek. My Enemies Are Men Like Me. Derek Webb. Fair Trade Services, 2005. MP3. Album: Mockingbird

Zahnd, Brian (2014-06-01). A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace (Kindle Locations 502-507). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Three – The Teachings of Jesus (Part 1 of 2)

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Chapter Three

The Teachings of Jesus (Part 1 of 2)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matt. 5:9 (ESV)

When the typical evangelist talks about Jesus to someone who is not a Christian, they usually speak little to nothing about who Jesus actually is, and more about what he has done for those who believe in Him by saving them from Hell.  But  this method of evangelism is lacking in content, and it needs a follow up.   

Christians have to be careful to not only use this simple evangelistic method as the basis for their theology of Jesus.  We have to be careful that our theology of Jesus goes beyond emphasizing the importance of Christ’s miraculous birth, the last supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.  If we leave this theology with only those four points, our theology is only based on what God has done for us, when it does little in showing us who God actually is, and how he wants us to live, as revealed in Jesus.  I say this not because I know a secret formula, but because I have observed Christians become so consistently hateful towards others that it consumes them, while Jesus commands his followers to always put other people first, to treat them kindly, and to care for the poor and the oppressed.  I have been that jerk of a Christian…I am sure that many of my readers have as well…But Jesus calls you and me to MORE.

When a new member is officially a part of a Church in a ceremony, the congregation is usually called by the pastor to follow up with this new member; to make sure that he or she is cared for, as well as to hold that person accountable for the beliefs in which they had professed during that ceremony. Likewise, when a person is baptized in a church, the congregation is called show that same care and guidance to that individual, or in support of their parents if a child is baptized.  And so, my question to all of us is:  Do we, as Christians, follow up with others, and with ourselves, to see if we are truly seeking to live for Christ?  Or do we simply say “the prayer”, go to church, and keep on going through our normal lives? It is easy to follow a god who doesn’t demand anything radical..Jesus is not that god.

If you believe that Christ is Lord, that He is the promised Messiah, that He is GOD, then His words are incredibly important.  His teachings are worth following.  If we are to go against His teachings, we go against God in the most direct way that is possible at this current time; for in Christ, the fullness of God dwells (Col. 2:9).  However, though His teachings are important, it is essentially impossible to avoid going against them.  From that anger you hold towards a car in front of you in traffic, to the little “white lies” we tell, or in harboring hateful, prideful, or impure sexual thoughts; we are sinful people.

But the road doesn’t end there with us saying “oh well, it’ll never stop”; Jesus calls us to more because there cannot be a true relationship and connection with Him if Jesus keeps trying to get our attention, and we hit “ignore”. We are desperately in need of a Holy God to redeem us, restore us, and to give us the power to overcome evil within our own lives.  

If Christ is God, and If Faith is serious, Then His teachings are worthy to be followed.  For the purpose of the topic we are studying in this book, I would like to delve into some of the passages that seem to support the idea of a Christian not being involved in killing of any kind, and even to not be involved in violence apart from the Lord’s command or allowance.  The scripture passages presented to you in this chapter are Christ’s Words, and should be taken seriously.  

The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:2-12

“2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)

In these famous beatitudes, Christ elevates the weak to showcase how transformative the Gospel can be to those who follow Him.  He blesses the merciful, the peacemaker, and the ones being persecuted, and He tells them how their persistent faith will be rewarded.  

The beatitudes are a collection of statements that convey blessings for people throughout time to give them hope, and to give them a purpose. The later blessings are things that all Christians should strive to be:  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, those who are peacemakers, and those who are so faithful to God that they are willing to face persecution because of that faith and desire for righteousness.  As Christians, we can read these blessings and see that we are to be more than what the world expects from us, and should always strive to be identified as having the attributes amidst persecution.

“Blessed are the peacemakers”

Matthew 5:9 is the verse which I would obviously point out here with the line “Blessed are the peacemakers”.   We must examine what it means to be a “Peacemaker” because violence is innate in our human nature; we seek justice, and we desire to give justice with violence because it appears to be the quickest solution to overwhelming problems.  Therefore, to be a Peace-Maker is in contrast with the natural inclination of humankind.  In The Pillar New Testament Commentary “The Gospel According to Matthew”. Leon Morris writes the following on what it means to be a Peace-Maker:

“There is a quality of peaceableness, a disinclination to engage in disputes, that is admirable, but Jesus is talking about more than that.  He refers not to peace-keepers but to peace-makers, people who end hostilities and bring the quarrelsome together”(pg.100-101).

Morris writes that a peace-maker is active, not passive, when he states that they “end hostilities and bring the quarrelsome together”.  To be a peace-maker is to be in the pursuit of peace; seeking to end things that hinder the progression of peace through means consistent with Christ’s ethic of nonviolence.  The Christian is called to this type of active role, and is told to rise above the norms of natural response.

It is extremely easy, when we are talking about Christ’s teachings on the subject, to water down the words to fit our current understanding.  For instance, I am sure that when some of these familiar passages like “Blessed are the peacemakers”, “Love your enemies”, and “turn the other cheek”, were read to us as children, our well meaning Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, or even our Pastor may have explained it by saying, “Don’t be mean back to a person who is mean to you”, or in relating the word “enemy” with the school bully, a gossipy friend, or someone you just don’t like…  But just a reality check here:  Jesus was addressing Jewish people who were under the thumb of Rome, and who desired independence; so much so that some formed a group called the Zealots who sought to overthrow the government violently (Source: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Zealot).  In fact, the Jewish people of the day were so focused on breaking free from roman rule, that they desired a militant messiah who would lead them out of Rome’s grasp, and establish them as their own nation once again (which is one of the reasons that many did not accept Jesus as the Messiah).  Jesus told people who felt oppressed to love their enemies.  Jesus was radical.  Jesus is still radical today.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you…”

Matthew 5:11-12 says:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)

Jesus was instructing his followers that although they will go through persecution..that they are to rejoice because their reward in heaven is great, and He reminded them of the great men and women of God who were before them who were persecuted.  In these two verses, we discover two things of great importance.

The first point is is that followers of Christ will be persecuted.  In His audience’s time, they would be persecuted by their jewish peers who did not accept Christ as the Messiah, and by the romans who eventually would hunt them down under the rule of Nero from 54 – 68 A.D.  These followers of Christ would at times be verbally, physically, and socially persecuted all for believing that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, and that He is God.  Even at the point of death, these believers refused to renounce their faith in Him.  

Throughout time, men and women of the Christian faith have been persecuted by nations, societies, and  even from other sects of Christian belief (Catholic vs. Protestant, the persecution of Anabaptists, etc.).  Today, there are still countries where Christians have to meet in secret in order to escape persecution.  

American Christians are even crying out that they are being persecuted by the secularization of America!  Wait a second, side bar: for these American Christians, I have news for you – you are extremely fortunate to live in the country that you do, and it’s time to grow some thicker skin.  Jesus told us that we would be persecuted for following Him, and what you may think is persecution, is but a scratch while others experience tragedy each day.

The fact is, despite what prosperity preachers and some others would have you think, the people of God will be persecuted against, and we need to accept that.  And not only do we have to accept it, but we should rejoice in that we are following God faithfully if persecution happens (easier written than implemented, I know).

This leads to the second  point, which is what is left out of this verse: We are not to respond to persecution with violence, but instead trust that God is in control, and that we will be with Him for eternity, on this earth, as well as in heaven.  Notice how God did not tell the persecuted “Blessed are the persecuted, for I will give them strength to overthrow their enemies”.  God did not give them a manual on overthrowing their enemies, but instead essentially told them, “blessed are you who are persecuted in my name for your faith…don’t worry, I got this – you will be rewarded in heaven”.  

Some of you may be saying that this is a stretch.  I admit that my thoughts on this are attempting to read between the lines, but they are not unfounded.  I arrived to them through thinking about the context of the Sermon on the Mount, including the  “Love your enemies” verse, which we will get to soon.  I also came to this thought through passages such as Romans 12:19, which says: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”(ESV).  As much as we think we can take revenge, and as much as we feel that revenge is justifiable…God is in control, and we should trust His judgement, and keep our eyes on heaven.

Anger: Matthew 5:21-22

“21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.(ESV)

Jesus tended to take things just one step further that what people thought he was going to.  In this section, Christ equates anger with murder by saying that if a man has anger towards another, they murder them in their heart.  Likewise, In Matthew 5:27-28, Christ tells this same audience that if a man even looks at a woman with lustful intent, he has already committed adultery in his heart.  Jesus looked beyond actions, and went into how what a person thinks about another can be just as terrible as an angry, or lustful action.  

But is all anger bad? Is all lustful thinking bad?  

Certainly some anger is good; our reactions to injustice, our anger towards words that mock our God…and certainly some lustful thinking is good – a married couple sharing the joys of one another.

What is being addressed in these passages is anger and lust in the wrong contexts, and Jesus was against both.

Matthew 5:38-42 – Turning the other Cheek

“38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.(ESV)

When Christ states “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, He is referring to a passage in Exodus 21:22-25, which is in reference to paying back a man or group of men who beat a pregnant woman; it is about giving punishment to a crime, even repaying life for life.  This law was given to the budding Israel, and as we covered earlier, God did not reveal his perfect Will all at once, but instead worked with His people at their time.

In the next verse, Christ revealed the complete revelation, which is to “turn the other cheek” when struck.  However, before we get there, the beginning of that verse says: “Do not resist the one who is evil”, which sounds like followers of Christ cannot be a part of bringing about change at all, if that change means resisting evil.  But this does not make sense because Christ himself seemingly went directly against the first century Jewish understanding of the laws of God; thereby resisting the pharisee’s whole religious construct while being proclaimed to be the messiah of their faith.  And so, not resisting evil at all does not make much contextual sense, so this passage may have been be an incorrectly translated, dating all the way back to the KJV, which is what a lot of translations, ESV included, use to base their phrasing off of.  Walter Wink, author of Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, says the following:

“When the court translators working in the hire of King James chose to translate antistēnai as “Resist not evil,” they were doing something more than rendering Greek into English. They were translating nonviolent resistance into docility. Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would have been absurd. His entire ministry is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea. The Greek word is made up of two parts: anti, a word still used in English for “against,” and histēmi, a verb that in its noun form (stasis) means violent rebellion, armed revolt, sharp dissention. In the Greek Old Testament, antistēnai is used primarily for military encounters— 44 out of 71 times. It refers specifically to the moment two armies collide, steel on steel, until one side breaks and flees. In the New Testament it describes Barabbas, a rebel “who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15: 7; Luke 23: 19, 25), and the townspeople in Ephesus, who “are in danger of being charged with rioting” (Acts 19: 40). The term generally refers to a potentially lethal disturbance or armed revolution.

We can see through the point made in this quote that a Christian is not permitted to resist evil through violent means.  In accepting this idea, the whole passage makes a lot more sense: Jesus was all about revolution…but he wanted the heart of that revolution to be love and light in order to bring about change in the hearts of His followers’ enemies.

Finally, in getting to “turning the other cheek”, we come to a bizarre scenario.  Imagine that the school bully was picking on someone right in front of you, and slaps them in the face.  The struck person then turns his other cheek to the attacker, as if to say “go ahead, I have another”.  The scenario sounds bizarre because it is.

Getting slapped in the face is always both hurtful, and insulting;  it is a dehumanizing act that makes the attacked feel trampled on.  It is only natural to strike back. But Jesus says not to.

There is an ancient Christian text called the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, written in the 5th Century A.D, that has a good thought on these verses.  It is a commentary on the Book of Matthew and I am drawing the text from a commentary collection aptly called “Ancient Christian Texts”.   The author states the following as a commentary on verses 38-39 on Matthew 5:

“But you say that the one who struck you contrary to the law deserves to be struck back. True.  But you do not deserve to be the one to strike back because you are the disciple of the one who, when reviled, did not revile in reply and who, when struck, did not strike in return and who, when crucified, prayed for those crucifying him”

The author makes the correct reasoning in stating that vengeance is up to God, and that we do not have the right to administer justice, even if it does need to be done.  I will explore this issue of vengeance further in my writings on Romans 12 & 13.

Verses 40-41 are about the idea of going the extra, undeserved and unasked for, mile, even for someone who has done you wrong.  It is about showing God’s love to someone who doesn’t deserve it, and it is in doing so, that we see how undeserved God’s love is for even us to receive.  “Going the extra mile” humbles us, and beckons us to overcome our selfishness for the sake of serving God, and serving our neighbor – which is a term which we can apply to any person whom we cross paths with, or shares our world with us; in short, our “neighbor” is everyone.

Verse 42 beckons the follower of Christ to be charitable of their resources, and to not show partiality to the poor, but to help all.  This flies in the face of some who would refuse to aid the poor at all because of fear that “their” money would be used to buy drugs or alcohol.  However, there are other ways in which to help, and Christ does not give us the privilege of picking and choosing the receivers of our aid.

In short, this passage that contains “Turn the other cheek” says a lot more than encouraging followers of Christ to be nonviolent in the face of trouble; it in fact advocates for active resistance through Love.

Matthew 5:43-48 – Loving your enemies

“43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.(ESV)

Like the preceding passage, Jesus took a current understanding, and provided God’s perfect Will on the matter.  We cannot blame anyone who would hate their enemy; especially because in the Old Testament, the Israelites killed their enemies with the blessing of God, but Jesus, again, takes things further than where we would naturally go.  He tells us to not only love our enemies, which is hard enough to grasp, but he also tells us to pray for those who persecute against us.

Did he mean for us to pray for our enemies to be killed?  No.

He meant that we should actually pray for them as we would our neighbor; as we would those who we do not have a problem with.

The purpose of praying for our persecutors and loving our enemies is to be Holy as God is Holy.  For just as God sends nourishing and refreshing rains to our land…he also sends that same rain to the land of our enemies.  Loving our enemies goes above and beyond anything that we would do on our own volition.  Loving our enemies is therefore an evidence of a “redeemed nature” which goes against our natural nature. Just like how “going the extra mile” in the passage before this one is evidence of our redeemed natures to the world, the notion of loving our enemies and praying for them is even more foreign to our natural natures that are filled with revenge, pride, and hate.  For just as the passage states (paraphrased) :  “What good is it to love only those who are good to you?  Doesn’t everyone do that? “

Therefore, following Jesus in his teachings on nonviolence and caring for the needy is meant to make us look and be so different from those around us, that we are living examples of Christ doing amazing works within us.  Our obedience is meant to be a way in which we show Christ to our world.

Preston Sprinkle says the following:

“The Sermon on the Mount constitutes Jesus’s radical kingdom ethic. Heads will turn as we turn our cheeks. Our inexplicable behavior will call attention to our inexplicable God. Light will beam across our dark world as we love the spouses who don’t love us back, keep our word when it hurts, judge ourselves rather than others, and— most shockingly— love our enemies who are harming us. When we are cursed, we bless. When we are hated, we love. When we are robbed, we give. And when we are struck, we don’t strike back with violence. A person who chooses to love his or her enemies can have no enemies. That person is left only with neighbors.” (Kindle Locations 2103-2107)

Does anyone dare to scoff at the truth of this?

In recent times, there are two popular real-life examples in which a faith community did the impossible and forgave and prayed for people who killed their loved ones.

In October of 2006, a man went into an Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 young girls, killed five of them, and then killed himself.  One would expect the attacked community to react in anger, to possibly go after the home of the attacker to find some type of revenge and closure.  However, the Amish said that they forgave the shooter, but not only that…some of them attended his funeral, and hugged his grieving wife.

This incident sparked a huge reaction from the media because they could not believe that ANYONE would go to such great lengths as showing love to the shooter’s family, and in even uttering that they forgave the shooter.  Before the days when social media consumed our lives, this act of undeserved forgiveness was widely recognized and known, and it shook everyone to the core.

In June of 2015, a white shooter attended a wednesday night bible study at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, SC (A predominantly African-American church).  After the bible study was over, the young shooter opened fire and killed nine people.  After the incident, when the shooter was in custody, some family members were able to speak with him, and they used this time to express their confusion as to why he would do something like this, but they also used this time to offer their forgiveness to the young man who killed their loved ones in the name of racism.

In both of these instances, the affected family members did not negate their hurt, or their confusion as to why this sort of thing would happen to them; they chose to love the shooter intentionally…even though a natural, and understandable reaction would be to hate them.

In both of these instances, the world was flabbergasted by the Crazy Love and Forgiveness of these people affected by a horrible evil, and in both instances, their faith in God was highlighted as the reason for their undeserved showing of Grace. They were able to look past the evil committed, in order to see the humanness in their enemy.

Luke 10:25-37 – The Good Samaritan

The story of the Good Samaritan conveys this humanness in a people group that his Jewish audience did not like. Please read it below to keep things fresh in your mind.

“25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.

In asking Jesus what needed to be done to enter heaven, the reply was to love God, and love their neighbor. The snarky listener then asked “Okay, well, who is my neighbor?”, and then Jesus replied with something that the listener did not want to hear.

The Story of the Good Samaritan is more than just a story about what it means to do good.  This Story told Jesus’ audience about the good in the people that the Jewish people despised and rejected based on their different culture, faith, and ethnicity.  In a sense, this story helped them see the good, or even the humanness, in their enemies.

In recent times, with the 9/11 attacks, the many middle eastern conflicts and wars since, as well as the rise of ISIS, there is a disturbing hatred/scepticism towards all muslims coming from the Christian Right in America based on the actions of extremist muslim terrorists.  

Because of this hatred and scepticism, blogger Phillip Fletcher wrote an article retelling the Good Samaritan as The Good Muslim.  He conveys the story as such:

A man was going from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, and he was car-jacked by several persons, who stole his clothes, seized his smartphone, broke his ribs, cracked his skull, leaving him unconscious on the side of the road.  Now it happened to be the time of a great conference and a pro-life group was passing by, and when they saw the man, they passed on by. Likewise a missionary group who just returned from India, when they came to the exact same location, they too passed on to the other side.

But a Muslim, as he traveled to work, saw the man on the side of the road, and when he saw him, he entered into his suffering. He pulled out his first aid kit, tended to the man’s injuries and then called 911 for emergency assistance. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and sat over night with the man in ICU.  Next morning he told the hospital billing office, “Here is my credit card. Take care of him and whatever he needs.

In this retelling, fletcher accurately captured the cultural distrust of Muslims by the Christian Right, and related it to the Good Samaritan.  This parable is really about non-hostile cultural differences, and less about nonviolence, though it brings to light the humanness is those that people dehumanize.   If Christians are called to love our enemies, how can we do so through the barrel of a gun?  If Christians are to love our enemies, how can we do so by actively dehumanizing them?

*All sources will be compiled into the “Works Referenced” section at the end of “Chapter Three (Part 2 of 2)”*

“There was not a Needy person among them…”

In my personal reading, I have been wading thoughtfully through the Book of Acts, and studying how the Early Church functioned.  After Christ’s ascension, a whole new faith existed; it was Judaism coupled with the revelation and teaching of Christ.   This new faith became known as “The Way”, and eventually, its adherents would be called  “Christians”.

Something that I have seen as a fundamentally good and Christ-like practice that they did in the early Church, and that is not necessarily a focus of the modern Church, is to sell your earthly possessions, and distribute the church’s communal wealth so that the needy would not be in need any longer. Two passages that communicate this practice are: Acts 2:43-47, and Acts 4:32-37.

I’m not saying we’re to become homeless and wear rags, but I am trying to suggest that for the Early Church, meeting the needs of the Poor among them was very important.

Church, Are we meeting the needs of our Poor?

Biblical Insight

Internal:

  • The church takes care of their own so that there is “not a Needy person among them” (Acts 4:34, NRSV).

External:

  • Luke 14:13 – “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” – Jesus
  • James 1:27:  “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

The early church in the book of Acts, as well as other writings from the Scriptures, clearly communicate that the CHURCH is commanded to aid the Poor.  The poor are in our communities, and the poor are within our Church doors. There is no Excuse why people should starve or freeze within a close distance from a Church of God.  And there is absolutely no excuse why any member, or regular attender, of a Church of God should ever be lacking in food, clean water, shelter, or warm clothing.

Stop for a moment . . .

Think about your own Church.

Is there any person, or family, within your own fold who is suffering financially – whether because of unforeseen life expenses, loss of a job, or even bad spending choices?

Sometimes, people in need will not make mention of it out of fear of judgement, or out of embarrassment.  Does your church have a system in place that allows them to discreetly tell you their needs, and a board or committee that discerns how to address these needs?  If your church has something in place to address the poor within their doors, they are doing well.

What does your church do to help the poor with your doors, and/or outside of it?  Please leave a comment.

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.” – The Prayer of St. Francis

**All Scripture passages are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible**

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Seven – Summary

**This post will is the seventh and final post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! You can read the whole series in order by Clicking Here**

A Summary of Matthew 5-7

In the last six posts in this series, I have gone section by section through Matthew 5-7, commonly known as, “The Sermon on the Mount”.  In this famous sermon, Jesus covered a lot of topics for Christians to consider, and gave a lot of instruction on how a Christian is Called to Live.

We have learned that Christianity is NOT just saying a prayer and going to church.  Christianity is NOT just about writing sermon notes, reading the bible, or wearing a cross necklace.

Christianity IS About committing to a life centered on Jesus by:

  • Striving to be defined by the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)
  • Being Salt and Light to the World (Matthew 13-16)
  • Fighting our Anger (Matthew 5:21-26)
  • Fighting our Lusts (Matthew 5:27-30)
  • Fighting Against Divorce and Bad Relationships (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • Not taking Oaths (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • Non-Violence and Loving our Enemies (Matthew 5:38-48)
  • Giving to the Needy with a Humble Spirit (Matthew 6:1-4)
  • Seeking God’s Will and Kingdom (Matthew 6:5-13)
  • Forgiving Others (Matthew 6:14-15)
  • Praying and Fasting Humbly (Matthew 6:16-18)
  • Not letting money become a God (Matthew 6:19-24)
  • Trusting God with our lives – whether poor, or whether rich (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Not Judging others (Matthew 7:1-6)
  • Asking the Lord for Help (Matthew 7:7-11)
  • Treating Others the way we would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12-14)

And finally, following Jesus is about having faith in him, and following him with all that we have, so that our actions, words, and thoughts are reflections of His influence on our lives.  (Matthew 7:15-29)

Following Jesus is a high calling that EVERY Christian is called to.

Are we ready to LIVE like Jesus?

Are we ready to APPLY His teachings to our lives?

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Three – Matthew 6:1-18

**This post will is the third post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! You can read the whole series in order by Clicking Here**

Recap – We left off at the end of Matthew 5, verses 17-48.  The topics covered in this section were The Law (17-20), Anger & Lust (21-30), Divorce (31-32), Oaths (33-42), and Non-Retaliation and Enemy Love (43-48).   Christ’s theme in all of Chapter 5 seems to be something like, “If you want to follow me, You’re called to more than what is expected of you from the world”.

In this next section in chapter 6, verses 1-18, Christ’s theme seems to be something like, “If you want to follow me, You’re called to love, pray, and worship genuinely”.

We’re Called to Love Genuinely – Matthew 6:1-4.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:1-4 that when we practice our faith in ways that would seek attention, we are not doing those good actions from a pure heart, but from a selfish heart.   When we help the poor, and when we try to quench the thirst of poverty…we should not do so in ways that would attract attention to ourselves; trying to save face.  We should be doing these things in ways that would Not attract attention, and our motives should purely be centered on serving God, and serving others.

Following Jesus is a religion of humility before a righteous God, and of service to your fellow human being.  Following Jesus is NOT a religion of selfishness, or of self-exclaiming pride

We’re Called to Pray Genuinely – Matthew 6:5-15

Like we learned from the previous passage, we should not pray in order to be heard, or to get attention, but rather, prayer is to be a special moment shared between us and God.

This passage also teaches us that when we pray, repeating the same request over and over again does not make God hear us more;  it does not change how God is going to respond to our request.

In verses 9-13, “The Lord’s Prayer” is said by Jesus as an instruction on how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that has been said throughout Christendom for hundreds of years; some traditions state that its usage dates back to the first century with the early Christians.  Some traditions still incorporate the Lord’s prayer into their weekly services because they believe Jesus instructed that the Lord’s Prayer should be said regularly, while others say it would be vain repetition to say the same words over and over again.  Regardless of our personal opinion on its usage in today’s world, we can at least observe what the prayer intended to communicate to its original audience.

The prayer starts by acknowledging the Lord’s divinity through showing reverence to his name.  It then petitions the Lord to usher His kingdom into the world, and that His Will would be done.  The next part is asking for “our daily bread”, which has been interpreted to mean either literal food, or it could also be a metaphor for spiritual food.  The prayer then closes with asking for forgiveness, while acknowledging our need to forgive others, and to also keep us from the temptation to fall again.

After the prayer, verses 14-15 continue to stress the importance of forgiving others.

We’re Called to Worship Genuinely – Matthew 6:16-18

Matthew 6:16-18 is about fasting, and it ties into the theme of this whole section of Matthew 6:1-18; the idea that we should not do acts of service, prayer, or worship because we want to gain attention; but because we are simply trying to serve the God we love.  

Fasting is meant to be a time of withholding from something for the purpose of worship of God, prayer, and/or praise.  Some observe this practice today, and others do not.  Regardless of what your practice is, the principle for this whole first section of Matthew 6 is summed up in the meaning behind verses 17 and 18, which says:

“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”(ESV)

When a person would fast, their hair, hygiene, and overall appearance could look poor because of their lack of food for whatever amount of time they chose to fast.  Because of this, Jesus gave the literal teaching to make your hair look nice, clean up, and go about your day as if you were not fasting so that what you are doing for God would only be seen by God.  Again, the purpose for this was to tear down people’s perceptions of what it meant to worship as shown to them by their religious leaders, which was public and attention-seeking worship.

Conclusion

Worship is meant to be done for God, and is between him and us.  Different people worship different ways. Some worship God best through contemplative reading, thought, and prayer.  Some worship best through Service, and others worship best through music.  Regardless of the mode of worship, we should never lose sight of the purpose of Worship.

Following God’s Calling: What does that even mean?

**To my readers: Please excuse my lack of any posts over the last few weeks, I intend to get back to my Sermon On The Mount series soon, though I realized that I needed to post something today so that I remain motivated to continue posting and to get back to a regular schedule. 

If you are new here, please take some time to read some of my other posts, including the start of My Sermon on Mount series, which you can read by clicking here.**

What is a “Calling”

A “calling” to me is where your passions or talents, and God’s will for the world, come together.  This is usually something that you do that causes you a lot of joy, and/or a sense of great purpose, even though it could be really challenging.  A calling can either be vocational, or non-vocational; therefore, a priest is following his calling just as much as the full time working woman who teaches softball in her spare time is following hers.  A person in business who has dreams of helping people, and helping his or her customers/clients is following their calling just as much as an international missionary.  As long as we are pursuing what we believe God wants us to do, or doing something that we feel advances the Kingdom of God, it does not matter if its related to our Job or not; your calling does not have to be your job, but it can be.

I am not trying to over-spiritualize things here because, as I stated before, a calling could simply be you doing what you feel most passionate about, and that thing happens to be something that can be used to show love to those affected, and perhaps even show them Jesus through you.

For me, my “calling” is helping people by encouraging them to be independently interested in matters of faith, family, community, and many other things.  I would like to do this through church ministry, bible studies, missions trips, financial budgeting, music, etc..  I have a degree in Business, many college courses in biblical studies, a lot of music experience, and a decent amount of ministry experience; therefore, my “calling” is taking what I can do, and using it for the betterment of others, and for the advancement of the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom through words, actions, and deeds.

I have recently accepted a full-time position as the “Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries” at a church in the town that I grew up in.  I am beyond excited to start this new venture in my life because the job description incorporates everything that I would like to do in order to help people, and in order to share the good news, which is transformative and wonderful (Read my blog post on a transformative Gospel here)

I will be afforded the opportunity to fulfill my calling within my vocation.  Before this ministry position, I was working a desk job within an international corporation, and I had little time to really invest in any other things besides my work and my new marriage to my lovely wife.  The workplace was negative, and I did not have a lot of time to talk to others, so I felt pretty burned out at the end of the day. However, I know of others who’s calling can be fulfilled in the workplace, and they do it well.  I know of others who may work a job they hate because they desire the betterment of their children and family; my dad is an incredible man for showing my own family an example of sacrifice in order to provide for us.

Follow Your Calling

Your calling may be, or is fulfilled in, teaching, finances, construction, music, art, full-time ministry, providing for your family, or a long list of other things.  The importance is that A) You follow it somehow in some way, and B) You use it for God’s glory.  Each Christian is called to be a light in the darkness, a city on a hill, and a lantern revealing the Hope that is present in Christ.  God Can and WILL use you for His purposes , and when you sense a direction that you should go: follow it!  Each one of us has spiritual and practical gifts, talents, and abilities, and not one of us is more qualified to be used by God than any other.

What is your calling?  Are you following it?

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Two – Matthew 5:17-48

**This post will is the second post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! And if you have not already, read the first post in this series my Clicking Here!**

Welcome to Lambtheology.com!  I am excited to write again after not posting in several days!  Please join me in this second post in my series on The Sermon On The Mount, focusing on Matthew 5:17-48!

Recap – We left off of the first note on an idea that those who claim Christ as Savior are expected to Strive after him, and to be different from, and enrich the world.  We now continue in Matthew 5 to the end of the chapter; looking at some of the wild and challenging teachings of Jesus.  While going forward, please keep in mind the surrounding context of these three chapters in Matthew, which was stated in the first post.

Matthew 5:17-20 – The Law

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus sates that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When a lot of us come to this passage,  we either skim over it because we do not know what to think, or we get conflicted over whether or not we should have had those pieces of crispy bacon for breakfast.  In other words, is Jesus saying that all of the Old Testament laws apply still for today?  I would wager that if we take this interpretation we will miss the entire meaning of this passage, which is that some of the Old Testament laws are lasting, but some of the jewish religious leaders of the day had the wrong interpretations of those laws because they did not have the full revelation of Jesus.

Christ came to explain God’s law in a way that could not be done before, to fulfill some of the law which is unneeded for to day, and to do away with faulty and harmful interpretations that put unnecessary constraints on those seeking to follow the Lord.

Matthew 5:21-30 – Anger & Lust

Based on what was said in verses 17-20, we come to Matthew 5:21-30, which would have been a profoundly complex and challenging message to the original audience, and has continued to be so throughout all of time.  In this passage, Christ takes what is known to be wrong, actions of anger ,and adultery, and he calls those who seek to follow God to not only refuse to actions of anger, or commit adultery, but to seek to sensor your thoughts because even they can condemn you of doing the actual act!

Anger – The first issue addressed in this passage is anger.  The text says that if you have anger in your heart for someone, than that is the same as committing an action of anger – murder, fighting, etc..  To be angry at someone means that you do not wish good to come upon them; in essence you want their quality of life, or perhaps even their literal one, to be diminished or stopped.

Jesus tells these people, and us today, that having anger towards someone, or insulting them, is worthy of the same punishment as killing them: separation from God. This is an extremely high calling for the Christian, and one that reminds us to keep our anger in check because Anger should never be a defining adjective of a Christian.

Lust – One of my favorite stories from the last youth group I led was when a 15 year old boy comes up to me after a lesson which included the passage on lust, and he asked me, “Jon, Jesus didn’t REALLY mean what he said for 15 year old boys, right?  We do that all the time!”.  After laughing a bit at his honestly, I simply said something like, “The thing is, Jesus didn’t tell this to a people that Didn’t deal with this issue – Its meant for all of us.”  All of us deal with lust, but the difference comes in how we respond to the temptation of lust.  When a lustful thought comes in our mind, do we try to do away with it right away, or do we let it sit there a while for us to mull over?  It is not something thats easy to do, but over time and intentional effort, lustful thoughts can become less frequent or fade.

When we think lustfully about someone, whether we are a man, or a woman, we disrespect their own worth as human beings – as being made in the image of God. So when we talk about lust, we have to remember to look inwardly first.  Lusting after anyone who is not our spouse, in action or thought, is not surrendering your life to following Jesus, and to Love others.

Matthew 5:31-32 – Divorce

The topic of divorce is touchy.  We all know someone, maybe it is ourselves, who has been affected by divorce.  This is one of those topics that Jesus speaks on in the Sermon on the Mount that some want to leave out because a stance like the one of Christ’s is hard for a lot of us to take.  I believe in and work for my own marriage, and I pass no judgement on those who have had a different story than my own.  With that being said, let us get back to the text at hand.

Christ begins this short teaching in verse 31 by restating a known writing of Moses which allowed for a certificate of divorce (reference), and then going seemingly against that teaching to take it further in saying that anyone who divorces their spouse, except for reasons of sexual immorality, will then make that person an adulterous.  Why would this be?  Because marriage was meant to be till death, and just because the legality of a marriage is gone does not mean that the substance of that marriage before God is gone. When the vows are exchanged, and the blessing of God is uttered, that marriage is a consecrated covenant between two people and God.

Matthew 5:33-37 – Oaths

In this passage, Christ tells the audience to not take any oaths, which was based on an Old Testament teaching that followers of God should not swear falsely.  Again, Jesus took it one step further.  He does not want His followers to swear by anything in heaven, or on earth because we would be swearing by things that are not ours, but are God’s: “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King”(vv.34-35).  We are not even permitted to swear by our own body – for we do not have true ruling over our own bodies like God does.  Instead of swearing Oaths, Christ tells us to simply let our words be all the proof and backing that we need; for our words to be words of integrity that they would not need oaths to be spoken. 

Matthew 5:38-48 – Non-Retaliation & Enemy Love

It is in this passage that most of the argument revolve around in regards to the Sermon on the Mount.  Humans do not want to be told to do something that is drastically opposed to our nature; humans do not want to be told to “turn the other cheek” or to have any sort of love for any sort of enemy.

Christ tells his audience that when someone would slap you on the cheek, to turn the other one to the attacker also.  Some cheapen the application of this passage down to simply mean that in light confrontations, be the better person, and don’t fight back.  But in taking that interpretation, the entire surrounding context of first century Israel is thrown out of the window because the main agitators of the day would not have been comparable to your angry neighbor, but were Roman soldiers who ruled by the Iron fist of caesar.  Followers of God are not to violently retaliate, even in the extreme instance of an oppressive military force.

Moving on to Christ speaking of loving your enemy, lets remember who the “enemy” was to first century Israel, and let us not reduce “enemy” to only be applied to the town gossip, or town drunk. Christ, again, takes an old teaching of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy, and takes it a step further by saying that a follower of God is to try to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them.  “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have”(v.46).

The question then comes down to how we view this passage and apply it to our lives.  We should not stand by interpretations that cheapen the contextual meaning of this passage by only trying to apply the word “enemy” to individuals in our communities and schools who pose no physical threat; the word “enemy” may apply to such individuals, but it is more aptly applied to physical and violent enemies.   What do we, as 21st century people, do with this teaching?  Can we reconcile the natural human urge to violently retaliate and to hate our enemies, with the words of Jesus?

I’ll leave you with that.  I am sure the topic will come up again in the existence of this blog.

Conclusion

Christ called the jewish people then to more than what they had previously thought was required of them, and he does the same for us.  It is not enough to merely say a prayer and go on with life; Christ calls us to FOLLOW after Him and His teachings and Actions REGARDLESS of how against those instructions are to our natural inclinations.

Are we willing to follow?

Holy God, we come before you to confess the errors in our ways of esteeming ourselves above you. We confess that we are not perfect; we need your love, and we need your continual redemption of our lives, and our minds.  Transform our hearts to reflect the desires of you to Love you with all we have, and to love others as much, or more, than we love ourselves. We pray these things in teh name of Jesus Christ, Amen.