Archive for April 11, 2012
Tags: Egypt, Exodus, God, Israel, Israelite, Lord, Moses, Ten Commandments
If little green men suddenly appeared on this planet and it was your job to teach them about the Lord, what might you tell them? My guess is that nine out of ten people would include “creator of the world” in their first sentence. That is, after all, arguably God’s most famous act. However the first time that God introduces Himself to the world at large, by revealing himself at Sinai and handing down the Ten Commandments, this is what he says: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
What’s the first thing that God wants us to know about Him? Not that He created the world. God wants mankind to know Him as the being who took the nation of Israel out of Egypt.
Now, the Lord performed amazing miracles when He freed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. No one can argue with that. But doesn’t splitting the sea pale in comparison with having created it in the first place?
Many years ago I was teaching a group of teenagers, and we were talking about the existence of God. One of the girls raised her hand and said, “Rabbi, I don’t believe in God. But I do believe in a Creator.” Huh?
It sounds ridiculous, but here is what this girl was really saying — She was saying that she believes that some infinite being created the universe, but is no longer involved in it. That’s why for her, there is no God. Thousands of years after creation, God has no idea that cars and computers have been invented, that nations engage in war, or that I had pizza for dinner last night. He did his job and moved on.
But God wants us to know this: “I’m still here! I always have been and always will be!”
This is why the Almighty wants to be known as the being who saved Israel. He is telling us that not only did He create the world, He runs it, too! God is involved in every single aspect of life. He hears our prayers, just as He heard the prayers of the Israelites. Just as He saved them, God will come through for us too.
We are never alone. Can you see the hand of the Lord in your life? Are there times when things that seemed bad for you turned out to be the best thing ever? Can you find instances where amazing things happened that were beyond your doing? God is with us every step of the way. Always has been and always will be!
Tags: Christ, God, Hypocrisy, Jesu, Jesus Christ, Pharisee, Saviour, Sin
Ye are like unto whited sepulchres–Mat 23:27
The Jewish Background
The imagery of this denunciation would appeal powerfully to a Jewish audience. These whited sepulchres, gleaming in the sun, were a familiar feature in the landscape. You are not to think of them as separate buildings, like the mausoleums of the Romans. They were just caverns cut in the limestone rock, with a great stone set up to close the opening. And once a year these stones were whitewashed, not for the purpose of making them look beautiful, but to warn people that a grave was there, lest they should touch it, and touching, be defiled. Many a time our Lord had wondered at them, when He rambled among the hills at Nazareth. You know how the darkness and the dead men’s bones would stir the imagination of a boy. And now in the glow of His anger at the Pharisees, He sees again those haunting scenes of His youth–”ye are like unto these whited sepulchres, beautiful outwardly, but full of all uncleanness.”
A Figure of the Hypocrite
Now we cannot have a moment’s doubt as to the spiritual meaning of that figure. That figure is enshrined in common speech as perfectly expressive of the hypocrite. The man who is one thing inwardly, another outwardly–who is not really what he seems to be–of such hypocrisy in its most general aspect, I might textually speak here. But I want to get nearer to the text even than that; to seize upon its characteristic feature; to show you how it stands apart amid the many figures of the hypocrite. Now this, I think, is the emphatic thing here–that the Pharisee never shocked nor startled people. He never outraged the feelings of society; never broke through its unwritten laws. Whatever he might be in the sight of God, in the sight of men there was no fault to find. The Pharisee was eminently guilty; he was also eminently respectable. I want then to speak to you upon the subject of respectable sin. I shall do so plainly, and yet I trust in love, as a matter of paramount importance. And I pray God that the result may be that some of us may be led to higher standards, and to set our lives under a wiser scrutiny than that of the society we move in.
Respectable Sins Are Not Secret but Socially Acceptable
Now the first thing I want to say is this, that respectable sin is not just secret sin. I do not mean by respectable sin that sin of which others have got no suspicion. It is true that so long as a man’s sin is secret, he may still keep the respect of the community. If he is cunning enough to hide his shame, he may still pass as a reputable citizen. But the point to note is that that respectability depends upon the keeping of the secret. The moment the sin is trumpeted abroad, the man becomes an alien and an outcast. It is not such sin that is respectable. It is sin that, when known, carries no social stigma. It is sin that a man may openly commit, and yet not forfeit his place in the community. It is sin that is tolerated in general opinion; that is not visited with social ostracism; that does not shut the door in a man’s face of the society in which he loves to move. There are some sins that are socially fatal. If a man commits them he becomes a leper. You never meet him again at honoured tables. His name is struck from honourable clubs. But there are other sins, and in the sight of God these other sins may be every whit as guilty, and yet the men and women who commit them may move in society uncondemned.
We may illustrate this distinction between sins by one of the most remarkable moments in the life of Christ. I refer to the incident of that poor woman of whose shame and misery we read in Joh 8:1-11. They dragged her before Jesus when He was standing in the Temple court. He said never a word, but stooped down, and wrote upon the ground. And then He rose, and spoke a single sentence, and they all went out. They had come there to be the woman’s accusers, and everyone of them went home condemned. They were not sinners as the woman was, for she had broken the barriers of womanhood. They were respectable, and went to synagogue, and violated no rule of society. Yet to Christ, who saw into the heart with eyes that pierced like a flame of fire, these men were further from the kingdom than the woman who lay dishevelled at His feet. “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.” He knew her story and knew how she had been tempted. He was filled with a great pity for the woman–a pity that was mighty to redeem. But for the men who charged her, Christ revealed no pity–they were so cold, so bitter, and so loveless. Hers was the deadly sin of wild passion. Theirs the deadlier sin that was respectable.
The Middle Class Prone to Respectable Sins
I should like also to say this in passing, that this is peculiarly the temptation of the middle classes. No class is so prone to respectable sins as the class to which you and I belong. There are two sections of society which are notorious for their defiant sin. The one is the smart set of fashion; the other the sunken and degraded poor. We have a proverb which says that extremes meet, and certainly in this matter it is so, for it is in our highest and our lowest classes that sin is most reckless and defiant. Have you ever thought why that is so? Well, I shall tell you what is the reason for it. It is not merely that these are the idle classes, ensnared by the perils of the idle. The reason is that in the heights and depths public opinion is almost non-existent; there is no general judgment to be feared: no common sentiment to be considered. No one in the smart set cares a straw about the reputation of its women. No one who is detected thieving is banished from the society of criminals. And it is this absence of a social standard, this lack of a public and controlling judgment, that in the heights and depths of our society makes sin so flaunting and so unashamed. But in the middle classes it is different. There is a certain moral standard there. If a man flout it, he has to suffer for it–to suffer in his business and his family. Hence men who are prudent shrink from open vices, and from things that their class reckons as disgraceful; and the whole power of the devil is employed to tempt them to sins that are respectable.
Christ’s Judgment of the Respectable Sins
Now when we study the earthly life of Jesus, there is one thing that we soon come to see. It is with what terrible and dread severity He judged those sins we call respectable. There is often an element of unexpectedness in the moral judgments of our Saviour. He is sometimes severe where we should have been lenient; He is often lenient where we should be severe. And nowhere is this more remarkable than in His attitude towards actual sins, as He saw them in the streets of Galilee, and in the homes and in the marketplace. All sin was hateful to Jesus Christ, because all sin was rebellion against God. He never condoned sin in any form; never thought of it as the other side of goodness. And yet undoubtedly the sins that stirred Him most were not the sins of passion or of weakness. They were the cold and calculating sins which masqueraded as respectable. Think for example of the Temple traders. Did anyone think the less of them for trading so? Was not that traffic a general convenience, allowed by society without protest? Yet never in all His life was Christ so angry–so filled with a passion of tumultuous scorn–as when He knit His scourge, and drove them forth, and hurled the charge of robber in their teeth. It was not in that way that He spoke to Peter. It was not thus that He had addressed the Magdalene. Toward them, in the whole conduct of the Saviour, there is the throb of unutterable tenderness. But towards the Pharisees and towards the traders I look for any such tenderness in vain. Christ hurled His bitterest and sternest judgments upon the sins of respectability. If that be so there must be reasons for it, for the judgments of Jesus Christ were never arbitrary. I shall therefore, in closing, try to make plain to you why Christ was so severe on respectable sin.
Respectable Sins Can Deaden the Conscience
In the first place, sin that is respectable has an unequalled power of deadening the conscience. In the mirror of the society he moves in, a man sees nothing to alarm or terrify. When you glance at the mirror in the morning, and see the usual signs of health upon your face, you take it for granted, in a general way, that you are in your customary well-being. And so when in the mirror of society a man detects no sign of disapproval, he too is apt to think that all is well. No one around suggests that there is danger; and so the feeling of danger disappears. Others are not shocked by what we do, and so we come not to be shocked ourselves. So is born that deadliest of states, in which we are complacent and self-satisfied; no longer ill at ease with our own selves, because others are not ill at ease with us. Think of the Pharisee and publican in our Lord’s parable. The publican could never forget he was despised. He saw it in the face of every child, in the contemptuous looks of every woman. Wherever he went his sin was mirrored to him in the attitude of every honourable Jew. He tried to disguise what he was from his own heart, but his society stripped his disguise away. His was a disreputable sin, but it was not the most dangerous of sins. There was a warning in every man he met, in every child who drew away from him. Until at last, utterly sick at heart, and with a conscience stabbed into activity, he flung himself upon the Temple floor, crying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Now compare with that, the Pharisee. He had no mirror to show him to himself. There was nothing in the society he moved in to warn him of what he was in God’s sight. He read himself in the respect of others; came quietly to accept the general estimate, until his heart was hard, his conscience deadened, and himself on the verge of being damned. Had his sin cast him out of human fellowship, he never would have been tempted so. Had honourable doors been barred on him he would have soon lost his self-complacency. And so you see his peril lay in this–not in the bare fact that he was sinful; but in the deadening of conscience that had come, because his sin was perfectly respectable.
Respectable Sins Are Pernicious in Their Influence
Then lastly, is this not true of respectable sin, that of all sin it is most pernicious in its influence? I think that Jesus Christ condemned it so, because He was the lover of mankind. There is nothing in the forger to attract us. There is nothing in the drunkard to allure us. When we see vice in all its shame and misery, there is that in it which disgusts us and appalls us. Every profligate with his diseased body, every embezzler with his ruined home, is waving a red danger-flag, and telling us audibly that death is there. But with respectable sin it is quite different. In it there is nothing shocking or disgusting. It has not the look of death upon its face; it has the look of health and prosperity. And what I say is that just on that account it is a thousand times more tempting and alluring than such a sin as drunkenness that reels to a degraded home, or rots upon the pallet of the hospital. That is why Jesus was so hard on it. He saw its untold power to allure. He saw how mightily it would appeal to natures that would turn in loathing from coarse vice. And therefore did He terribly denounce it, out of His great love for foolish men, who are so ready to think that anything is right when they can do it without social censure.
Tags: Christian, Epistle to Philemon, God, Jesus, New Testament, Onesimus, Paul, Philemon
“…you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.”
Several years ago, we interviewed Lauren Winner for the High Calling when she was at Laity Lodge. She challenged our thinking about work when she said boldly, “My problems with work are not most people’s problems. I have work that I really like, and I have work that pays me a living wage.” Reading Philemon, it isn’t hard to see a parallel between Onesimus, the slave, and people who are working at mindless jobs that don’t provide a living wage.
Of course, as a slave, a doulus, Onesimus was in a powerless situation. In theory, the working poor can gradually earn their way toward better jobs. Though such advancement is harder than it sounds, the working poor are not literally slaves. Still, the working poor are poor. If I work at minimum wage forty hours a week for fifty weeks a year, I will earn $14,500 annually. This amount is just above the poverty line for a single person and far below the poverty line for a family. This is before we even begin to address issues like health insurance and retirement plans.
Of course, these are complicated matters. Many different groups have proposed solutions to this political problem, but not many people deny the problem of poverty. As Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you.” I do not believe Jesus said this in resignation, but as a challenge to Christians to continue to do what we can to help the poorest people in our culture. If you are reading this, you do not likely work for minimum wage. You are probably in the position that is more analogous to Philemon, the boss, the master, the kurios. Paul calls Philemon to recognize and value Onesimus for his humanity. He is more than chattel; he is a dear brother to both Paul and Philemon.
There is something subtle going on in the Greek here. Paul reminds Philemon that he too is a slave to the Lord. The word for Lord, kurios, is the same word to describe the owner of a slave. It is as if Paul is saying, “Philemon, you are not the master of Onesimus. God is. And God is your master too.”
Most readers of the High Calling live in a free market society. Paul doesn’t try to start a slave uprising, but he does insist that slaves be treated as fully human, children of God. I love the economic system of my country, but I also hear a challenge from Paul here. Am I so focused on success and socioeconomic status that I don’t treat everyone the same? I must remember: it is just as much an honor to serve God and earn minimum wage as it is to serve God and make five, six, or even seven figures.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Where do you fit in the socio-economic scale of your community and workplace? If you are low in the power structure, are you still working joyfully for those above you? If you are high in the power structure, are you remembering to treat everyone well, respecting them as humans and children of God?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, this passage from Paul fills me with anxiety. I am so blessed to be in a position where I can feed my family well and take care of their needs. I even have two weeks of paid vacation every year! Thank you so much, Lord, for the blessings you have given me. Forgive my ingratitude that sometimes creeps into my heart because of petty jealousies and unhealthy ambitions.
Instead, let me be ambitious to lift up others. Let me not merely condescend to their level with patronizing charity, but let me truly respect the human needs of everyone I meet at work, at home, at church, and in my community.
And I thank you most of all, that you are my final authority. You are the big boss in my life. You are the master, and I am the slave. You sacrificed yourself to purchase my freedom. Let me live in a way that shares that freedom and joy with others. Amen.
P.S. from Mark Roberts: The Daily Reflections for this week have been written by my friend and colleague, Marcus Goodyear. He has penned a wonderful five-day series based on the New Testament book of Philemon. I know you’ll find these to be engaging and encouraging. In his “day job,” Marcus oversees The High Calling website and digital community in his role as Senior Editor at Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is a teacher, poet, writer, speaker, and top-notch editor, not to mention husband, father, and valued friend. I know you’ll appreciate Marcus’ thoughtful reflections this week. I’ll be back with you on Saturday.
Tags: Christian, Christianity, First Epistle to the Thessalonians, God, Jesus, Paul, Preposition and postposition, Religion and Spirituality
The From’s and To’s
The evangelical Church today is in the awkward position of being wrong while it is right, and a little preposition makes the difference. One place where we are wrong while we are right is in the relative stress we lay upon the prepositions to and from when they follow the word saved. For a long generation we have been holding the letter of truth while at the same time we have been moving away from it in spirit because we have been preoccupied with what we are saved from rather than what we have been saved to. The right relative importance of the two concepts is set forth by Paul in his first epistle to the Thessalonians: “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). The Christian is saved from his past sins. With these he simply has nothing more to do; they are among the things to be forgotten as the night is forgotten at the dawning of the day. He is also saved from the wrath to come. With this also he has nothing to do. It exists, but not for him. Sin and wrath have a cause-and-effect relationship, and because for the Christian sin is canceled wrath is canceled also. The from’s of the Christian life concern negatives, and to be engrossed in them is to live in a state of negation. Yet that is where many earnest believers live most of the time.
Tags: Christ Jesus, Christianity, Domestic worker, God, Jesu, Lord, New International Version, Religion & Spirituality
Paul wrote: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (vv.5-7 NIV). In order to serve God you must focus on others rather than yourself. Much of what we do is self-serving. We serve to be admired, or to achieve our own goals. Some of what we do is more manipulation than ministry. We’re really thinking about ourselves and how noble and wonderful we are. We even use serving as a bargaining tool: “God, I’ll do this for you if you’ll do that for me.” No, true servants don’t use God for their purposes, they let God use them for His. God is always more interested in your attitude than your achievements. King Amaziah lost God’s favor because “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart” (2Ch 25:2 NRS). Self-forgetfulness is a daily struggle, a lesson we must learn over and over. You can measure your servant’s heart by how you respond when others treat you like a servant. How do you react when you feel taken for granted, bossed around, or treated as an inferior? Jesus said, “If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life” (Mt 5:41 TM). You say, “It’s not fair. I keep giving to this person but they never give back.” Just keep serving, knowing “the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does” (Eph 6:8 NIV).