Archive for August 18, 2012
Tags: God, Gospel of Matthew, Jesu, Levite, Lord, Matthew, Parable of the Good Samaritan, Pharisee
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39
Jesus’ life and ministry dramatically demonstrated that the word prejudice is not in His vocabulary. In fact, He hates prejudice in any form. He detests racism, classism, and religious snobbery. Why? Because it defies who He is and what He came to do. No one escaped the embrace of His love and concern. And He calls us to love as He did—without limits. But prejudice blocks our ability to love as he did and denies us the privilege of being like Him in our world.
When the Pharisee hoped to embarrass Jesus by asking Him to name the greatest commandment, Jesus answered that we should love God with the totality of our being. And although it was more than the scheming lawyer had asked for, Jesus added the second most important command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Not “second” meaning less important, but sequentially. In other words, the authenticity of our love for God is measured by our attitudes and acts of love for others.
Ironically, the Pharisees prided themselves in mastering their love for God but were dreadfully lacking in love for their neighbor—which, in Jesus’ book, would break the first command. Their prejudices—often supported by their self-constructed theology and traditions—reduced their circle of involvement to people who were a lot like themselves. When the “expert in the law” asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), Jesus’ concern was not identifying who our neighbor is, but whether or not we are acting in a “neighborly” way to others regardless of who they are.
The important dynamic in the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan is not that the religious passersby were too busy to help the dying victim. It is rather that they were the true victims. The priest and Levite, trying to avoid ceremonial defilement, were victims of a distorted view of righteousness. And that distorted view disabled them from keeping the law’s most fundamental command about loving those in distress regardless of who they are.
Which should give us modern folk pause about any thoughts or attitudes that might blind us to the needs of others outside our usual circle of concern. Because quite simply, if we can’t love them, we can’t love Jesus!
Lord, as difficult as it may be, I pray that you would bring to mind any prejudice that keeps us from loving others the way you love us. We want to love the way that Jesus loved—to be like the Good Samaritan in our willingness to tangibly care for those outside our usual circle. Please give us the strength, grace, and courage to love our neighbors. Amen.
- Do you struggle with prejudice against a particular person? Against a group of people?
- What traditions or beliefs might stand in the way of being a good neighbor?
- What action steps could you take to demonstrate love to others?
Tags: Christianity, God, Jesu, Jesus and the rich young man, Jesus Christ, Lord, Luke, Religion and Spirituality
When he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich —Luke 18:23
“Sell all that you have . . .” (Luke 18:22). In other words, rid yourself before God of everything that might be considered a possession until you are a mere conscious human being standing before Him, and then give God that. That is where the battle is truly fought— in the realm of your will before God. Are you more devoted to your idea of what Jesus wants than to Jesus Himself? If so, you are likely to hear one of His harsh and unyielding statements that will produce sorrow in you. What Jesus says is difficult— it is only easy when it is heard by those who have His nature in them. Beware of allowing anything to soften the hard words of Jesus Christ.
I can be so rich in my own poverty, or in the awareness of the fact that I am nobody, that I will never be a disciple of Jesus. Or I can be so rich in the awareness that I am somebody that I will never be a disciple. Am I willing to be destitute and poor even in my sense of awareness of my destitution and poverty? If not, that is why I become discouraged. Discouragement is disillusioned self-love, and self-love may be love for my devotion to Jesus— not love for Jesus Himself.
Tags: Damascus, Gamaliel, God, Jerusalem, Jesu, Jew, Lord, Satan
I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but I was brought up in Jerusalem, educated as a disciple of Gamaliel in the strict way laid down in the laws received from our fathers, and devoted to God, as you all are.
You know what I did in the past among the Jews. You know how bitterly I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it and how in my zeal for the laws and customs handed down from my forefathers I did more than any of my fellow countrymen. I indeed believed that it was my duty to do all in my power to oppose the cause of Jesus of Nazareth. This I did in Jerusalem. With authority from the high priests, I put many of Jesus’ followers in prison. When they were put to death, I voted against them. In all the synagogues I often punished them and tried to make them speak against the name of Jesus, and in my insane fury I followed them even to distant cities.
When I was travelling to Damascus on this business, with written authority from the high priests, I saw, on the road in the middle of the day, a light from heaven, more dazzling than the glare of the sun, shining around me and those who were travelling with me. We fell to the ground, and I heard a voice say to me in Hebrew, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” I asked, “Who art thou, Lord?” and the Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Rise and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you to appoint you to be my servant and a witness to what you have seen and to the things that I will show you. I chose you from the Jews and the other peoples to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of their sins and a place among those who have given themselves to me because they believe in me.”
When the God, who had set me apart even from my birth and called me by his love, chose to reveal his Son in me that I might tell to other races the good news about him, I at once went into Arabia instead of talking with any one else or going up to Jerusalem to see those who had been apostles before me. When I came back I preached first to those at Damascus. There the governor, appointed by King Aretas, put guards in the city to arrest me, but I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall and so escaped from their hands.
After three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw no other apostle except James the brother of Jesus.
Tags: Christ, Christianity, Faith, God, Jesus, Matthew Henry, Nay, Samuel Rutherford
“The just shall live by faith.” (Heb. 10:38).
Seemings and feelings are often substituted for faith. Pleasurable emotions and deep satisfying experiences are part of the Christian life, but they are not all of it. Trials, conflicts, battles and testings lie along the way, and are not to be counted as misfortunes, but rather as part of our necessary discipline.
In all these varying experiences we are to reckon on Christ as dwelling in the heart, regardless of our feelings if we are walking obediently before Him. Here is where many get into trouble; they try to walk by feeling rather than faith.
One of the saints tells us that it seemed as though God had withdrawn Himself from her. His mercy seemed clean gone. For six weeks her desolation lasted, and then the Heavenly Lover seemed to say:
“Catherine, thou hast looked for Me without in the world of sense, but all the while I have been within waiting for thee; meet Me in the inner chamber of thy spirit, for I am there.”
Distinguish between the fact of God’s presence, and the emotion of the fact. It is a happy thing when the soul seems desolate and deserted, if our faith can say, “I see Thee not. I feel Thee not, but Thou art certainly and graciously here, where I am as I am.” Say it again and again: “Thou art here: though the bush does not seem to burn with fire, it does burn. I will take the shoes from off my feet, for the place on which I stand is holy ground.”
Believe God’s word and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it is not the Rock which ebbs and flows, but your sea. –Samuel Rutherford
Keep your eye steadily fixed on the infinite grandeur of Christ’s finished work and righteousness. Look to Jesus and believe, look to Jesus and live! Nay, more; as you look to him, hoist your sails and buffet manfully the sea of life. Do not remain in the haven of distrust, or sleeping on your shadows in inactive repose, or suffering your frames and feelings to pitch and toss on one another like vessels idly moored in a harbor. The religious life is not a brooding over emotions, grazing the keel of faith in the shallows, or dragging the anchor of hope through the oozy tide mud as if afraid of encountering the healthy breeze. Away! With your canvas spread to the gale, trusting in Him, who rules the raging of the waters. The safety of the tinted bird is to be on the wing. If its haunt be near the ground–if it fly low–it exposes itself to the fowler’s net or snare. If we remain grovelling on the low ground of feeling and emotion, we shall find ourselves entangled in a thousand meshes of doubt and despondency, temptation and unbelief. “But surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of THAT WHICH HATH A WING” (marginal reading Prov. 1:17). Hope thou in God.
–J. R. Macduff
When I cannot enjoy the faith of assurance, I live by the faith of adherence. Matthew Henry
Tags: Body of Christ, Christ, Christianity, Church, God, Good Shepherd, holyspirit, Jerusalem
The Church: the Body of Christ
The universal Church is the body of Christ, the bride of the Lamb, the habitation of God through the Spirit, the pillar and ground of the truth. The local church is a community of ransomed men, a minority group, a colony of heavenly souls dwelling apart on the earth, a division of soldiers on a foreign soil, a band of reapers, working under the direction of the Lord of the harvest, a flock of sheep following the Good Shepherd, a brotherhood of like-minded men, a visible representative of the Invisible God. It is most undesirable to conceive of our churches as Works, or Projects. If such words must be used, then let them be understood as referring to the earthly and legal aspect of things only. A true church is something supernatural and divine, and is in direct lineal descent from that first church at Jerusalem. Insofar as it is a church it is spiritual; its social aspect is secondary and may be imitated by any group regardless of its religious qualities or lack of them. The spiritual essence of a true church cannot be reproduced anywhere but in a company of renewed and inwardly united believers.
Tags: Christ, Christian, Epistle to the Philippians, Hamilton, Jesu, Jesus Christ, Josh Hamilton, Philippi
Texas Ranger baseball player Josh Hamilton has battled the demons of drug and alcohol addiction. So when his team won their playoff series in 2010, Hamilton was concerned about the postgame celebration. He admitted that it’s not good for a recovering alcoholic to be in the midst of a “rainstorm” of champagne. But something beautiful happened. Instead of champagne, his teammates stocked the locker room with ginger ale so that Hamilton could be included in the celebration. What a great picture of community and putting others’ needs above your own.
This is what Paul meant when he commanded the Philippians to count others as more significant than themselves (2:3-4). Being united to Christ made the Philippian believers members of the same family and gave them a special bond. Thus their attitude toward one another was to be expressed in practical ways: unity in love, sacrificial service, and discovering how to help others even when they didn’t realize they needed help. The motivation for this type of normal Christian behavior is the example of Jesus Christ.
Like Hamilton’s teammates, let’s carry each other’s burdens. When we selflessly love our neighbors, we are expressing our love for God.
Tags: Bible, Christian, Epistle to the Romans, God, Lord, Paul, South Africa, United States
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
When I was sixteen years old, I received my first driver’s license. That precipitated a moral crisis for me. I noticed that most of the cars on Southern California freeways exceeded the speed limit by a few miles. But I knew that Romans 13 instructed me to obey the law as a part of my Christian discipleship. Did this mean I always had to drive the speed limit, even if it was unsafe? Could I ever justify going even a few miles over the posted limit? Such were the earth-shaking quandaries of a sixteen-year-old Christian (who did, by the way, get a speeding ticket in the first couple months of driving).
Then I went to college, where I encountered much more troubling conversations about Romans 13. Many Christians, who were solidly committed to biblical authority, were concerned about statements that seemed contrary to common sense. Paul writes, “For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong” (v. 3). Yet we were only too aware of how the South African government, a supposedly Christian government, implemented the unjust system of apartheid. Were Christians in South Africa simply to submit to their rulers? Was it ever moral for Christians to exercise civil disobedience? Would revolution ever be appropriate? Was it right for the American colonists to revolt against England, for that matter? What about the Declaration of Independence? Questions like these challenged us in our effort to understand who we were as Christians and how we were to relate to Scripture.
I won’t be able to address such questions in my Daily Reflections, other than to offer some general observations. But I do want to say something up front about what we should do when, in our devotional reading, we come across biblical passages that trouble us. First, we should pay attention to our unsettledness, rather than pretend it isn’t there because we always have to be “fine” with what’s in the Bible. Often our discomfort with a passage of Scripture is leading us to a deeper encounter with God and his truth. Second, we should take our concerns to the Lord. If you don’t like something that you read in the Bible, tell God, and tell him why. Third, ask for his help. Ask for understanding and for openness to whatever God wants to say to you. After all, it may be that your unhappiness with Romans 13 stems from larger theological concerns. But it may be that you’re trying to avoid the instruction to pay your taxes. Or maybe you’re a sixteen-year-old who wants to drive way too fast!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you respond to Romans 13:1-7 when you first read it? Do you have theological concerns? Could God be saying something to you about your response to the government?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, you know that this passage has troubled me for years. Honestly—and what other way should I speak with you, besides honestly—I still haven’t come to peace with the meaning and application of this passage, though I’ve learned plenty over the years.
So I ask you, first of all, to help me understand this passage truly. I expect that part of my unsettledness with this text reflects my failure to interpret it correctly. But I also ask that you help me to know what you’re saying to me through this passage. It would be so easy for me to get caught up in all sorts of theological intrigues and therefore to miss ways in which I need to relate to the government. I wonder how often I let my intellectual puzzles get in the way of hearing your voice. What a convenient excuse to miss what you want to say to me.
So help me, Lord, to understand your Word so that I might hear your word for me and do it. Amen.