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

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Chapter Three

The Teachings of Jesus (Part 2 of 2)

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

John 2:14-17 – Overturned Tables

I would be dishonest to not address the passages that seem to contradict the viewpoint which I am advocating for.  This passage about Jesus in the temple is one of two that are commonly brought up in a discussion about this topic because some claim that  Jesus was also whipping the moneychangers. Let’s take a look at this passage:

“14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”(ESV)

I would like to start off by saying that if Jesus made the whips, and whipped the flawed human beings behind the tables…that would contradict everything that he preached about which is referenced in this chapter up until this point.  It would also contradict his common responses to sin, which is to love and welcome the individual, not the sin; examples being woman caught in adultery, woman at the well, and the man hanging next to him when He was crucified. Whipping people would make Jesus seem like a hypocrite and a lunatic.  

With that being said, I believe that Jesus made the whips like it is written, and drove out the animals with them.  Whether he whipped the animals, or cracked the whip in the air to drive them out is not clear in the text itself.  When it comes to the money changers, I believe that they would have chased their animals which were valuable assets to their business and livelihood, and were thus driven out with them.  I do not believe that Jesus whipped the moneychangers in any way.

If Jesus whipped the moneychangers to drive them out – why did he not do the same to the ones selling the pigeons/doves?  Instead, he addressed them after seemingly driving everyone else out and told them to take their things and leave.  He did this because he obviously would not whip a bird, or throw their cages out of the temple while driving the other animals out, and if he were to whip all of the other animal merchants, he more than likely would have whipped the dove merchants, and released the doves afterward.

To believe that Jesus whipped the moneychangers would require the reader to abandon reason, and context.

Luke 22: 35-38 – Sell your Cloak, Buy a Sword

“35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

This is another passage that is often seen in conflict with Christ’s message of nonviolence.  The issue lies in Christ telling his disciples to buy swords.  At the surface, in that verse alone (v.36), it would be the equivalent of Martin Luther King Jr., who grounded his civil rights movement on faith and nonviolence, instructing his closest men.. “Look guys, I know I said this before, but now, I need you guys to sell whatever you can to buy some guns to protect us”.

It just doesn’t make sense why Jesus would tell them to do this, especially at the end of his ministry, when he was accepting what would be done to him.

So, how can we explain this?

At this point, I’d like for us to re-read verse 37, which says:

“For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”(ESV)

This verse is in reference to a prophecy of the messiah that is found in Isaiah 53:12, and it explains to the reader why Christ would tell his disciples to buy swords; he needed to be counted among those that seemed to go against the law.  If this is not clear, the next verse will clear it up more.

Verse 38:

“And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”(ESV)

If Jesus was telling his group of 11 disciples (because Judas had betrayed him) to buy swords to defend themselves, or Him, how would two swords be enough?  When the people that would oppress them would either be roman soldiers, or religious zealots…how could two swords be enough to protect 11 people?

Two swords was enough for the group to be seen as rebels.  Two swords was enough for Jesus to be “counted among the transgressors”.

To imply that this passage is supportive of Christian self-defense is to completely ignore verse 37, as well as not carry verse 38 to its logical end. When a message and example of peace is so consistently given by Christ, this passage would go against that message if interpreted to mean that Christ told his followers to buy swords to defend themselves.  Essentially, that argument would be making Christ a God who doesn’t stick to his own word when times get rough. Such a view makes Christ appear weak.

The Influence of Christ’s Example Of Nonviolence

There can be no doubt about the influence of Christ’s nonviolence teachings to the early church and beyond.  As I will get to in later chapters, the New Testament writers, the early church, and many early church fathers all seemed to understand Christ’s nonviolence teachings, and sought to follow after them.  Some leaders and theologians during our our time are teaching the same.

Martin Luther King, Jr. urged his followers to not use violence as a means of protest during his civil rights movement, and he based everything on his deeply held Christian faith.  He said the following in his “I have a Dream” speech in 1963:

“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Followers of Christ were expected to go against their natural tendencies in order to serve and worship God. Followers of Christ are expected to do the same today.

If Christ is God, than His words are worth reading, and His example is worth following.


 

Works Referenced

Berman, Mark. “‘I Forgive You.’ Relatives of Charleston Church Shooting Victims Address Dylann Roof.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 June 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Fletcher, Phillip. “The Good Muslim.” Gospel and Humanity. Phillipfletcher.org, 8 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech – American Rhetoric.” Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech. American Rhetoric, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

Morris, Leon. “The Gospel According to Matthew.” Ed. D. A. Carson. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1999. 100-01. Print.

“Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum.” Ancient Christian Texts. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2009. 107. Print.

Shapiro, Joseph. “Amish Forgive School Shooter, Struggle with Grief.” NPR. NPR, 07 Oct. 2007. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Sprinkle, Preston (2013-08-01). Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Kindle Locations 2103-2107). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition

Wink, Walter (2003-04-01). Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Facets) (pp. 10-11). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

*The Works Referenced list above includes all resources from part 1 and two of Chapter Three*

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

Click Here to see all posts in this series

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)”*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Two – Addressing The Old Testament (Part 1 of 2)

Click Here to see all the posts in this series

Addressing the Old Testament

(Part 1 of 2)

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”  Gen. 6:11 (ESV)

In nearly every instance where the subject of Christian Nonviolence/Pacifism is discussed or brought up, someone in the room has the understandable question: “What about all of the violence in the Old Testament?”.  Their question is reflective of a broader question, which is: how do we reconcile the call of Jesus to love our enemies with the call of God (the Father) in the Old Testament to slay them?

Before I go on, it is important to note that I do not believe that the Old Testament by itself teaches the ethics of non-violence as portrayed by Jesus, but I do believe that the Old Testament is heading in that direction, and because I believe Jesus is God, I interpret all Scripture through his message and teachings.  In his book “Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence”, evangelical pastor Preston Sprinkles says the following on the subject of how to address these hard differences between the Old Testament and the message of the New Testament:

“Not everything in the law was intended to embody God’s ideal ethic— His perfect way of doing things for all people of every age. The law, rather, was intended to meet the Israelites where they were and set them on the right path toward the ideal. Many laws given in Exodus through Deuteronomy, in fact, were not God’s ideal moral code— His Edenic ethic, if you will. Rather, they were glimpses of God’s ideal that would be revealed fully in Christ. In other words, the law of Moses was designed to guide a particular nation, living in a particular land, for a specific time and in a specific culture.  What we have in the law of Moses is a moral code that both accommodates to and improves upon the ethical systems of the surrounding nations.” (Sprinkle – Kindle locations 488-494)

As an example of his argument, Sprinkle uses the issues of polygamy, slavery, and divorce to show how God tolerated His people’s flawed views, but that He also worked to improve them, and how the new testament continues that transformation of culture.  However, as tempting as it would be to just say “Eh, different times, different revelations”, that still would leave too many stones unturned.  Sprinkle recognized this as well, and he did a good job in addressing the hard questions and passages surrounding this argument.

The purpose of this chapter is to attempt to communicate that while the Old Testament does not, by itself, support nonviolence, it does communicate the following: God’s perfect will as revealed in the Scriptures, the way God dealt with the Israelites back then and for that purpose,  instances where things were done that seem to be contrary to that perfect will, and it point us to the full revelation of the nonviolent ethic through Christ.  

I will break this chapter up into five segments:

  1. Starting at the beginning: Cain and Abel
  2. The Great Flood
  3. Egypt, Captivity, and Liberation
  4. God’s use of government to carry out His Will
  5. The Canaanite Conquest

Starting at the beginning: Cain and Abel

The Lord created the heavens and the earth… everything was created to be “good”.  God created a Man named Adam, a Woman named Eve, and they lived together in a perfect paradise of plentiful harvest, and they had the opportunity to live like this for the rest of their lives.  They only had to follow one rule: Do not eat the forbidden fruit.  But we all know the story…they ate the forbidden fruit.

This act of disobedience broke their chances of staying in this perfect paradise, and their punishments for eating the apparently tasty looking fruit made life harder for them.  But God did not break communion with them; He still desired to care for them, and to love them.

Later on in their story, they had two sons, Cain and Abel; Cain worked the fields, and Abel tended to the livestock.  These two desired a relationship with God as well, so they wanted to make an offering to Him of the best things in their respective responsibilities;  Cain brought some of his fruits and veggies, and Abel brought in the best animal he could.  (Gen. 4:3-7)

But Cain’s offering was not accepted…And this is where the fallen nature of man comes in; instead of being distraught that God did not accept this sacrifice, Cain became angry.  This anger is reflective of Cain’s heart at the time;  if Cain truly loved God, he would be upset with himself that his sacrifice was not accepted, and he would plead with God to show him what to do to make it right.   The motive behind his sacrifice must not have been pure, and this is most likely why the Lord did not accept his sacrifice.  And so, Cain’s focus turned to his brother as he became enraged that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted.  This then led to what we all know happened:  the first murder in human history happened when Cain killed Abel in a field out of jealously and rage (Gen. 4:8).

One would think that God would simply smite Cain for what he had done, and the situation would be resolved; after all, Adam and Eve did have many other Children (Gen. 5:3-4).  However, God doesn’t do this, but instead punishes Cain while letting him live:

“9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”  -Gen. 4:9-12 (ESV)

In this passage, God punished Cain by taking away the ease of his labor in working the ground; making it harder for Cain to do what Cain knew how to do best.  This would serve as a regular reminder of the wrong which he had done, along with the second punishment he received, which was for Cain to be seen as a fugitive, and for him to be a “wanderer on the earth”. We see in this punishment that God is neither a God who is unforgiving, or a God who never punishes those he loves; God recognizes the wrong, forgives the wrongdoer, but at that time before Christ, Cain had a real earthly punishment that he had to receive upon himself.

The story could end there, but it doesn’t.  God’s Grace extends even further past what we could imagine when the following conversation between Cain and God transpired:

“13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” Gen. 4:13-15 ESV

We see here that not only did God spare Cain’s life, but He also protected it from others.  This is undeserved Grace in clear form, and it is in this that we see that although Cain took a life, and according to the Old Testament laws that would come later, he deserved death, God spared his life, and protected it; God boldly declared that even the life of a murderer was worth saving.  

God declared, in this instance, that retributional killing is against His perfect will.  It is in this example that we can see the perfect will of God apart from a culture that had been corrupted by generations of paganism and barbarism.

The Great Flood

I would like to briefly touch on the context surrounding the bible verse that I placed under the title for this chapter.  To refresh yourself, please read it again below:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” – Genesis 6:11 ESV

This verse is within the greater context of God becoming disgusted by the evil ways of man, and these ways included their use of violence.  Contrary to all of the rainbows and happy animals that we remember on the flannel-graphs of our Sunday school classrooms, the story of “Noah’s Ark” and the Flood is actually a pretty problematic story for the Christian to consider;  God was willing to kill all of the earth’s inhabitants, except for one family, in order to start over because he was disgusted by the corruption of humankind; their godlessness and their violence.  

Through the earth’s history, we have personally seen how violence begets violence, and how it consumes humanity with its enticing lure for revenge, but that revenge is never quite satisfying.  It is like when we were all children, and we do something to get back at someone if they wronged us, scared us, or whatever it is, and then that person somehow refuses to see that we are now “even”, and they retaliate back.  Violence is an enticing “cure” that never heals, and it can, in many instances, cause even more problems.  

God’s perfect will for the world and its people does include violence.  We see this with Cain, with the Great Flood, and in Revelation when violence is no more…it’s time that we Christians start acting like what God ultimately desires for us to act.  We have the Blueprints, we just keep pushing off the project until a later date…

Egypt, Captivity, and Liberation

Alright, I want everyone to get serious here:  Imagine that your people group has been in slavery for 400 years, and that you have seen the slashes and bruises on your relatives backs and bodies all of your life, and then suddenly, two guys named Moses and Aaron come along and basically tell you, “God told us to go to pharaoh and say “Let my People Go!”.

I feel like after all of that oppression, the Hebrew people desired more of a “bang” than two guys coming back and saying they’d ask Pharaoh, and when Pharaoh said no, God would intervene.  It is kind of like how the Israelites of the first century expected a militant messiah to free them from Rome, and then along came Jesus who had another motive.

In all seriousness, the story of the Exodus is very important in this topic because it informs us that God is more than capable of fighting for His people, and freeing them of their slavery without the need for them to take up arms themselves.  And while at other times, God used Israel in battle and conquest, in this instance, he chose not to.

Here are the plagues that God sent upon Egypt:

  • Water into Blood (Exodus 7:14-24)
  • Frog Infestation (Exodus 7:25 – 8:15)
  • Lice/Gnats/Fleas – depending on how its translated (Exodus 8:16-19)
  • Swarms of Flies (Exodus 8:20-32)
  • Diseased Livestock (Exodus 9:1-7)
  • Boils (Exodus 9:8-12)
  • Thunderstorms of Hail (Ex 9:13-35)
  • Locusts (Exodus 10:1-20)
  • Darkness (Exodus 10:21-29)
  • Death of the firstborn (Exodus 11:1 – 12:36)

At this point, it is important for the reader to note that each of these plagues were administered because Pharaoh refused the request of Moses and Aaron to let the Israelites go each time before each plague struck.  In knowing this, we should also look at the types of plagues poured out, and the order of them.

The first plague is in turning the water to blood.  This killed the fish and other aquatic life, and made a big stink, but otherwise, the Egyptians still had livestock and grain to keep them going.  The second, third, and forth plagues were more of a nuisance than a life altering event.  However, a great nuisance they were, and they got in the way of everyday life.

Starting at the fifth plague of diseased livestock, the plagues begin to become more drastic and life-altering, until finally with the tenth and final plague, God takes away the life from the firstborn of every family who did not have the blood of a lamb painted above their doors.  

FINALLY, Pharaoh lets the people go, and a short while later, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened again, and he ordered his men, chariots, and horsemen to chase after them to bring them back to Egypt.  The Lord put a pillar of cloud behind the Hebrews and the approaching Egyptians as He made a way for the Hebrews to cross the red sea on dry land.  The Egyptians followed, and in the morning, the Lord put a pillar of fire and cloud that caused the Egyptians to panic, and as the Hebrews were making their way across the floor of the sea, the waters came together again where the Egyptians were crossing, and the Egyptians, consumed with rage, perished in the sea. (Exodus 14:15-31)

Throughout the whole Exodus story, not a sword was raised by a Hebrew against an Egyptian…GOD freed the Hebrew people.  And this story not only communicates God’s capacity to work FOR his people, it also communicates God’s divine authority to take life from those who are defiant to His will.

Since I hold the position that I do in regards to believers of God taking life, it is easy to place myself in a box that doesn’t allow for God to take life, or administer justice violently…but I simply cannot do that if I am honestly reading the scriptures.  On this point, I could change my understanding (Lord knows that I would love to be able to write off divinely administered death), but for the moment, I stand in my statement that God has the authority to take life no matter how uncomfortable that makes me. However, even in this example, Pharaoh was given ample time and opportunity to let the Hebrew people go peaceably, and so the Grace of God shines through.  


All Works Cited from parts 1 &2 are posted at the end of part 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 Six – Matthew 7:15-29

**This post is the sixth 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 – The content in the last section was a little separated, but the theme was as follows:  “Every one of us is on a journey in life, and each one of us isn’t perfect.  We should not lose sight of our own imperfection and judge others, instead, we should pray for help, or pray for any need we have, and we should always treat others as we would wish to be treated.”

In this next section, the theme is best said by: “Do God’s Will if you believe”

Bear Good Fruit – Matthew 7:15-20

Jesus made an analogy of what it means to truly follow Him by using trees that bear fruit.  A healthy tree will bear good fruit, but an unhealthy tree will bear bad fruit.  If a person follows Christ, they will/should bear good fruit; if they do not follow Jesus, they will bear bad fruit.

Trees that bear bad fruit are not good, and they are not healthy trees.  If a persons claims to be a Christian, and their actions and words do not match up…is their faith truly defining their life?  Is their faith really real?

“I Never Knew You” – Matthew 7:21-23

This passage is pretty dramatic. In this passage, Christ says that some who call Him LORD, will not enter heaven; only those who do the Will of God.   These people who Christ says will not enter heaven had prophesied in Christ’s name, had cast out demons in the name of Jesus, have done many mighty works – all in the name of God.  And yet, Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you”.

Why?  Because these people may have called Jesus LORD, but they did not see Him as LORD over their own lives – they did not do what their Lord would have them to do, only religious acts without the heart behind it.

Again, we see that doing the Will of God, following Jesus’ teachings, words, and example, are VERY important for the Christian faith.  Works alone will not save anyone, but if one has Faith in Christ, following HIS Will is important.

A Solid Foundation – Matthew 7:24-27

Most of us have heard the parable of the man who build his house on the Rock, and the man who built his house on sand.  The house on the rock withstood the tests of time and weather, and the house on the sand could not withstand the wind, rain, and floods; it washed away.

What Jesus was saying in this parable was that those who hear His teachings and DO them – they are like the man who built his house on the Rock.  But everyone who Hears, and does not do, builds a house on the sand; therefore having a false sense of security when in reality…their faith rests on only themselves because they do not want to fully commit to the calling of following Jesus.

The Authority of Jesus – Matthew 7:28-29

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,  for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”(ESV)

Jesus’ teachings were unlike what the crowd had heard before; they knew that something was special about them, and that something was special about Jesus.  Though they did not believe him to be the Messiah at this point, they did see him as someone worth listening to; some even saw him as someone worth following.

Conclusion

Jesus calls us to more than belief; Jesus calls us to Active Faith.

Is your life Centered on Christ, or is only your faith only a belief, and not an Active Belief?

What does it mean to live like Jesus?  How can we follow Jesus in practical and every day ways? Comment below.

 

 

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Five – Matthew 7:1-14

**This post is the fifth 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 with the last section in this series (Matthew 6:19-34), which could be summed up by the following theme:  If we want to follow Jesus, we should know that earthly possessions do not matter as much as trusting the Lord in all of life’s circumstances.

The theme in Matthew 7:1-14 is more like:  Every one of us is on a journey in life, and each one of us isn’t perfect.  We should not lose sight of our own imperfection and judge others, instead, we should pray for help, or pray for any need we have, and we should always treat others as we would wish to be treated.

“Judge Not” – Matthew 7:1-6

People tend to look at the imperfections of others in higher standing than their own.  It is easy to look at the flaws of others while ignoring the prideful and arrogant lenses that we view them through.

Christians have a bad reputation for judging others, both other Christians, and those who are not Christians. This reputation hurts the spread of the true good news of Christianity greatly because instead of one person making a positive impact for Christ, one person could single-handedly blacken the name of Christ to another.

When we judge others, we look past the “log in our own eye” and concentrate on the “speck” in another’s.  Jesus said “Judge not, that you be not judged”, emphasizing that God forgives abundantly, God is the only one to judge anyone, and that if we judge someone, we will be held accountable for the judgement by God.

Ask & Receive – Matthew 7:7-11

The greatness of Christianity is the ability to have fellowship with God; the ability to communicate our thoughts, concerns, praises, and requests, directly to the same God who created life and light.

Jesus tells us to ask of him, and you will receive; seek, and find.  Jesus said this after instructing them to fix their own flaws first, as well as telling them in teh previous chapter to not worry about wealth. We can come to God with anything, and he WILL answer.

The Golden Rule – Matthew 7:12-14

Jesus instructs his listeners here, after talking about judging and wealth, that we should treat others in the way in which we would wish to be treated. Would we want to be judged by others? No. Would we want to be called names? No. Would we want to be looked upon as anything less than a human being? No.

A pastor who I met in college had this saying that he tried to live by:  “Nothing in the Bible permits me to be a jerk”.   Followers of Christ should not have the stereotype of being judgmental, mean, or insensitive.

Directly after Jesus communicated “The Golden Rule”, He made mention that we are to be on teh narrow gate (or go through the narrow gate), for the gate is wide and easy on the path to destruction.  But the narrow road is tough.  The narrow road requires a love that supersedes our natural tendencies; a love that treats others the same or better than we wish to be treated.

How have you made an impact to others?  Have you been a positive image, or a negative one?

There are things that I regret doing, and saying, years later; even after I have sought forgiveness. The key is learning from our failures, and striving to live like Jesus to those around us.

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Four – Matthew 6:19-34

**This post will is the forth 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 with an overall message of:  If we want to follow Jesus, we’re called to love, pray, and worship genuinely.  It’s all about the nature of our hearts; the motives behind our worship need to be pure.

In this next section in Matthew 6, verses 19-34, the overall theme is best summed up as: If we want to follow Jesus, we should know that earthly possessions do not matter as much as trusting the Lord in all of life’s circumstances.

God and Money – Matthew 6:19-24 

Money can consume us; whether we are in need or not.  We can spend so much time thinking about how we are going to pay the electric bill in a very hot or cold month, how we’re going to fill our tank up again, or how we’re going to advance further, financially, in our life time.

Jesus warns us how money can become an idol – where we may have a lot of treasure, but none of that matters when you pass on to the next life; your spiritual treasures are what matters.  So wich are you focused on?

Jesus said that the eye is the lamp of the body, so is your eye on God, or on money?  If it is on money, you will notice that money consumes your thoughts, and you are never really satisfied with what you have.  If God consumes your thoughts, though money is a natural part of life, it will not be the focus of your life.

Trusting God through observing nature – Matthew 6:25-34

Life seems simpler as an animal sometimes.  You wake up, search for food, build nests or dens, sleep, repeat.  Animals don’t have bills, they don’t have to buy clothing, or food; they just live. Is life hard for them? Yes – predators could get to them, and they have to survive the harsh winters and the hot summers.

For humans, its hard to say that God will provide for us sometimes because we know that some Christians die of starvation, some are homeless, and although these things happen, some of these people STILL are joyful.  Why?  Because they know that heaven is greater, that God is loving, and they let that hope carry them through, instead of letting their worries gain control over their tomorrows.

This passage seems to indicate that God knows and provides for our needs.  I am going to be honest and say that I have a hard time accepting the view that God provides for the needs of a Christian when the starvation and homelessness of Christians exist.  It would be easy for me to believe that God provides all of our needs because I have all of my needs…but what about those who don’t? Its difficult; its messy.  For now, I have to trust in the God who gave me the greatest gift of faith, and pray for clarification for the rest. If you have any thoughts on this, please leave a comment!

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?