Character and Values

Valiant Warrior?—Judges 6:11–14

Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The Lord looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”

—Judges 6:11–14, NASB

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An ancient Israelite wine press, like the one Gideon used to thresh wheat [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The angel’s greeting to Gideon may be one of the most peculiar in all of Scripture. He finds a man who is hiding fearfully in a wine press and calls him a “valiant warrior.” Then, he tells Gideon to “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.” At the beginning of his story, Gideon does not seem like a valiant warrior, and he seems to lack strength. One could wonder if the angel came to the wrong wine press.

Gideon can be an encouragement to all of us. God called him to step out in faith with strength he did not know he had, to accomplish a mission for which he seemed ill-equipped. Most of the heroes of the Book of Judges are like us. They have flaws. Their human frailties rise to the surface along with their greatest accomplishments. Most of us can relate to that. We are painfully aware of our weaknesses even in our noblest moments. Many of us would like to be heroic like James Bond, but realize we are often more like Maxwell Smart. Gideon was kind of like that too.

Gideon had a few strengths that God could use. For one, he knew Israel’s heritage, and he knew about his God. He knew God had delivered his ancestors from slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea for them, and fed them miraculously for 40 years in the wilderness. But now, they were a defeated nation, oppressed by the Midianites. Regardless of Israel’s present situation, Gideon knew—at least intellectually—that God could deliver them. He just did not know why the Lord was not acting on their behalf.

Second, Gideon had initiative and creativity. As soon as he knew what needed to be accomplished, he would act and he was not afraid to think outside the box to get things done. We see this at the beginning of his story: The Midianites would frequently raid their fields and take all of Israel’s grain. Therefore, Gideon was beating out the wheat in a wine press. This was probably the last place the Midianites would expect to find grain! This knack for initiative and creativity would serve Gideon well as he mustered an army to conquer their enemies.

Gideon had his shortcomings as well. Although he knew God could deliver Israel, he initially looked at his present circumstances. At first, he assumed God had forsaken Israel. He also underestimated himself. He believed he was too low on the social ladder to play a pivotal role in Israel’s deliverance (Judges 6:15). Finally, he needed repeated affirmations that God was with him: miraculous consumption of an offering was not enough to fully persuade him (Judges 6:19–23); he also demanded two omens involving dew and a fleece to be certain of his calling (Judges 6:36–40).

However, eventually Gideon claimed his status as a “valiant warrior.” At first, only God saw him that way. Before long, Gideon accepted this as his identity: demolishing a pagan altar, mustering an army, defeating the Midianites and executing their leaders. When he accepted God’s perspective, he could lead his people with the strength God had given him.

What is your identity? If you are in Christ, God’s seed abides in you (1 John 3:9) and you are a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God can do great things through you. Fix your eyes on him, not your earthly status or present circumstances, and prepare to go forth in the power He gives you to advance His kingdom!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Obeying God—1 Samuel 15:22–23

Samuel Cursing Saul, by Hans Holbein the Younger
Samuel pronounces God’s rejection of Saul, woodcut by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.”

(1 Samuel 15:22–23, ESV)

1 Samuel 15 begins a turning point in the Old Testament’s history of Israel. The Israelites have begged God for a king, so that they could become just like all of the other nations. God chose Saul to be the first king. However, since Saul chose to do things his own way and disobey God, he was rejected as king. In 1 Samuel 15, God declares that He has rejected Saul and will appoint a new king in his place (David, the ancestor of Jesus).

For the sake of brevity, I will simply summarize this chapter (you can read 1 Samuel 15 in its entirety on your own if necessary). God commanded Saul (through the prophet Samuel) to destroy the Amalekite nation. Saul did not fully obey God: he spared some livestock and the king.

God viewed Saul’s partial obedience as full disobedience. The consequences lasted for centuries. Since Saul chose to spare a few Amalekites, more survived. David ended up having to battle them in 1 Samuel 27:8 and 1 Samuel 30. Many commentators believe Haman the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews in the Book of Esther, was a direct descendant of the Amalekite king.

Some of Saul’s excuses sound similar to excuses we hear nowadays. “I did this for God, even if it goes against His Word” (1 Samuel 15:15). “Everybody else was doing it” (1 Samuel 15:21). “Quit making a big deal about it; you’re making me look bad!” (1 Samuel 15:30).

This verse came to mind recently while I was meditating on another Bible passage. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23–24, ESV).

Modern-day Christians do not rely on sacrifice, in the Old Testament sense, as an element of our spirituality. We do not slaughter sheep and goats and roast them on an altar. We have other ways of serving God that have replaced sacrifice: evangelism, church ministry, worship, prayer, Bible reading, Bible teaching, tithing, fasting, etc. Yet, Jesus calls us to make healthy interpersonal relationships a higher priority than all of these things.

To obey God is better than sacrifice—or evangelism, or serving in the church, or worship, or prayer, or reading the Bible, or tithing, or fasting, or anything else we say we are doing for God.

To wilfully disobey God defiles the sacrifice or ministry. To do your own thing and ask God to bless it defiles the altar itself. For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Matthew 23:19). Far too often, we are tempted to decide to do our own thing and then ask God to bless it. Shortly before He was betrayed, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” We are often tempted to instead pray, “Okay God, this is what I am planning to do. I ask You to bless it and provide what I need to succeed in this.” (Even worse, in some circles they do not ask God to bless or provide: they demand it, bossing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords around by “claiming” the blessing, often by twisting a verse of Scripture to mean what they want it to mean.)

God has called us to obedience and service. He is the Lord, which means our responsibility is to do exactly what He calls us to do. Many live with the desire to one day hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 15:21, 23). That commendation is reserved for those who obey God, not those who look for excuses to do things their way. May we always have a heart willing to hear the will of the Lord and obey.

For a closing thought, I will leave you with this classic song by Keith Green, inspired by this verse:

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Godly Sorrow—2 Corinthians 7:10

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NASB).

We all know the repeat apologizer. Over and over, he or she disappoints us, breaks promises, or does things to hurt us (accidentally or intentionally). He or she then apologizes and promises to stop doing it. However, before long, they make the same mistake and repeat the same apologies and promises. He or she might be a friend, spouse or other family member, or co-worker. If we are honest, we are probably that person to somebody else, in some area of our lives. I think all believers, at some point, are such repeat apologizers towards God.

The apologies and promises sound sincere, but after a while one loses faith in them. Is that person truly sorry, or just trying to manipulate feelings?

St. Paul contrasted two kinds of sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7. The King James Version refers to one of them as “godly sorrow” (or, as the NASB puts it, “sorrow according to the will of God”), which produces a true repentance leading unto salvation. “The sorrow of the world,” on the other hand, leads to spiritual death.

In many cases, the sorrow of the world is primarily being “sorry that I got caught.” From time to time, a politician or celebrity gets caught in a sex scandal. Initial rumors are usually followed by protests of innocence (the alleged adulterer accuses others of false accusations or blackmail), but once the evidence mounts, he publicly apologizes for his wrongdoing, often praising his wife for being such a wonderful woman whom he never intended to hurt. In far too many cases, the cycle is repeated soon thereafter.

It is not only sex. Many people are never sorry for other misdeeds until they are caught: Think of the person who drives while intoxicated until he is finally pulled over by the police, or the co-worker who steals office supplies until the boss figures out where all those pens and reams of printer paper went.

Others may be sorry for the consequences of their actions. A young woman may be sorry that she got pregnant with that guy she just met. Or, the drunk driver is sorry that he totalled his car in the accident.

It is so easy to get angry or frustrated with those people. Yet, how often are we like that with God? We confess our sins during prayer, and it is the exact same set of sins we confessed yesterday. The time, location, circumstances, and other affected or involved persons have changed, but we did the same thing. We tell God we are sorry, but we will probably do it again tomorrow.

Being sorry for getting caught will not bring repentance. It will just train us to find more elaborate ways to avoid getting caught the next time.

Being sorry for suffering consequences may change us for a little while. A few years ago, after a severe gall-bladder attack, I took drastic action to improve my diet: No more doughnuts; no more candy bars; cut back on coffee; avoided fatty foods. However, not long after I recovered from gall-bladder surgery, I was back to my old eating habits. Painful consequences might deter us, but if we can find our way around them, we will go right back to our old ways.

Jesus tell us that the two greatest laws in Scripture are “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What kind of sorrow will produce true lasting repentance? Only a sorrow that connects with love. If we love God and love our neighbors, we will lay a foundation for godly sorrow which will lead to true repentance.

  • Love the Lord your God: Recognize who He is and all He has done for you. Acknowledge that His will for your life, especially as revealed in Scripture, is better than anything you can come up with. Then, seek to do His will and live the kind of life that will leave no obstacles between you and Him.
  • Love your neighbor: Biblical love is not just good feelings. It is a sacrificial active pursuit of the other’s best interests. It involves caring enough to seek to improve the other person’s life or situation. (Read 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 for a more detailed explanation.) Do we think about how our choices will affect the person we love?

Repentance is the starting point for pursuing a new way of life, and it usually begins with the right kind of sorrow.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Two Sides of Discipleship—Luke 10:38–42

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42, ESV)

Georg Friedrich Stettner (attr) Christus im Hause der Martha
“Christus im Hause der Martha,” by Georg Friedrich Stettner (17th century). © Public domain

Many people are familiar with the story of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. While Lazarus gives us the most vivid illustration of resurrection (besides that of Jesus Himself), it was Lazarus’ sister Martha who would first hear Jesus’ declaration that “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

Lazarus had two sisters: Martha and Mary. Like many siblings, they seem like very opposite personalities. Yet, through them, we see the two sides of a disciple of Jesus.

Martha appears to be pragmatic and active. When Jesus came to town, she did what the woman of the house usually did in those days: Prepared a meal for the guests, provided food, and made certain everybody was comfortable. The men may sit around discussing theology and the great questions of life, or listening to the esteemed rabbi. A woman’s place was in the kitchen, and Martha embraced that role and excelled therein. However, her pursuit of excellence got the best of her; she became distracted, anxious, and troubled, even though she was in the presence of the Prince of Peace.

Mary, on the other hand, chose a different response to Jesus’ visit. She sat at His feet, as a disciple, listening to every word He said. Somehow, we always find Mary at Jesus’ feet [when Jesus arrived to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:32); anointing His feet with expensive ointment (John 12:3; contrary to a common misunderstanding, this was not Mary Magdalene)]. This is the place of submission, where a student seeks knowledge from a teacher, and where a worshipper kneels before God Himself.

Martha had chosen the role of a servant. She followed the normal conventions of society and fulfilled the customary expectations. Mary defied the norms of her day (assuming a position that was normally reserved for men), because in her heart, she was a worshipper. Martha showed her devotion to Jesus by meeting material needs; Mary showed her devotion by showering Jesus with attention, even affection. Mary may have seemed almost brazen in her radical devotion to Jesus, and may perhaps deserve the title of the world’s first “Jesus freak.”

Christian biographer James Kiefer summarizes the sisters by writing, “On the basis of these incidents, many Christian writers have seen Mary as representing Contemplation (prayer and devotion), and Martha as representing Action (good works, helping others); or love of God and love of neighbor respectively.”

Jesus said Mary’s life of contemplation is the better choice. This does not eliminate the need for people like Martha. Perhaps, though, the Marthas of the world should take a cue from the Marys. Contemplation, prayer, and devotion come first, and give direction and momentum to action, good works, and service. Why do we pray? Why do we study the Bible? Why do we worship Jesus? Because, in His presence, we receive direction for our lives. Prayer should not be separated from “real life.” Instead, it should be the foundation on which we build our lives, built upon by works of service to Christ and those whom He loves and came to save. The dichotomy between faith and works (see James 2:14–26) finds cohesiveness when someone begins the day by praying like Mary, and brings the joy and peace of Christ’s love into the rest of their day. Then, one can serve like Martha without becoming distracted, anxious, or troubled. When a Mary rises from the feet of Jesus and brings His presence into the world by serving others like Martha would, discipleship is complete.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Repentance Brings God Joy—Luke 15:7

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV).

The Lord is my Good Shepherd
“The Good Shepherd,” by Bernhard Plockhorst [public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Luke 15 centers around three parables about repentance. Each story focuses on something or somebody that was lost, but which is eventually found. The most famous part of this chapter is the parable of the prodigal son (vv. 11–32). However, the parable of the lost sheep deserves special attention. This is the first parable in the series, when Jesus responds to complaints by religious leaders, who think it is inappropriate for Him to eat and drink with “sinners”:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:4–7, ESV).

The story is simple enough: A man has 100 sheep. He loses one of them; most likely, the sheep has wandered away. Think about it, though: Is it worth the risk to look for that one sheep? It may already be dead, eaten by a wolf or another predator. Many more may wander off while he is looking for the lone sheep. Nevertheless, he goes off looking for his sheep, finds it, and then invites his neighbors to a party to celebrate the return of the lost sheep. (The party would probably cost more than the sheep would be worth.)

This is a picture of the grace of God. It is radical. It defies logic. It assumes a great risk when it seeks to save the lost. Most importantly, it cares about an unworthy individual.

Jesus tells us that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than there is over ninety-nine righteous people. God is not satisfied with those who are already following Him. He is seeking more lost souls to add to His kingdom and welcome into His family. When one child of God backslides, He is seeking to draw them back. No matter how many people are living in fellowship with Him and on their way to heaven, it is not enough.

No matter how far any of us may stray from Him, it is not far enough to draw us away from His care. Your sins are not bad enough to bring God’s love to an end. If you have strayed from Him, or if you have never entered a relationship with Jesus Christ, He still loves you; no sin will change that.

This parable also speaks against self-righteousness. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, were asking, “What kind of great religious leader spends time with people like these guys? Jesus, do you know what that guy over there does for a living? Do you know how many crimes that one has committed? Do you know what that one is smoking, or drinking? Do you know who that woman is sleeping with?” It does not matter to Jesus: He came to seek and save that which was lost. These are the people He came to receive: People who know they need forgiveness and salvation. He came for those who know that they deserve eternity in hell, instead of salvation and the love of God.

When Jesus speaks of the ninety-nine who have no need of repentance, it is sort of like a trick statement. Nobody is truly righteous. To another leader, Jesus would say “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Romans 3:23 reminds us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So, in reality, we all need repentance. Some of us have been fortunate enough to realize that and come to Jesus already. Others need to repent of sins that have become socially acceptable, or that many churches think are “not so bad.” We may look good and moral to others, but we still need the grace of God.

It does not matter how far you have wandered, or in what kind of mire you have soiled your soul. Forgiveness is available. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is seeking you. Run into His arms for protection and preservation. He is looking for a reason to celebrate.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tempted from Within—James 1:13–15

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:13–15, ESV)

“The devil made me do it.” Those words were made famous by Flip Wilson’s brash female character, Geraldine Jones. They have been repeated by numerous people, including many Christians. They echo Eve’s excuse for eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:13).

The devil gets a lot of free advertising these days. A recovering alcoholic yields to temptation, gets drunk, and has a car accident. “I don’t know what happened. I was doing OK, and then the devil got a hold of me.” I recently spoke to a friend who was afraid his church could split because somebody had left, and a few other people were having conflicts. (By the way, there are several hundred people in this church.) In his mind, Satan was causing division.

The devil is real, but he probably had little to do with any of these circumstances. For one, unlike God, he cannot be everywhere all of the time. At most, maybe one of his demon friends could be involved in one of these situations. However, if they are present, they are merely providing added influence. The real problem arises with the people in the situation.

The alcoholic drank because, to some extent, he wanted to drink. Maybe there was a false sense of comfort in the bottle; perhaps he felt like he needed beer to relax. Satan was not in the bottle, though. He had been lured and enticed by his own desires.

When relationships are strained, it is usually not a demon who is to blame. It is the sinful attitudes, or the history of hurt in the hearts of the people. One person is overly sensitive and takes it as a personal attack if things do not go their way or if people disagree with them. Another assumes they know what is best for everybody around them. Still another is easily offended if people do not do the things they ask. Often, past hurts are replayed in current conflicts. Friendships, families, and fellowships fall apart.

So, just to be clear:

  • If your car breaks down, it is probably not caused by a demon. It is a mechanical problem, caused by the laws of physics. It may have been expedited by your careless stewardship of the things you own (e.g., if you were too cheap or lazy to do regular maintenance).
  • Your emotional reaction to the car breaking down is not caused by a demon. You said those words yourself. A demon did not jump into your mouth to say them.
  • If there is fighting and division in the church, it is caused by the same things that cause fighting and division throughout society (James 4:1–3). Greed, pride, ego, passion, selfishness, hatred, unforgiveness: These are human character defects, manifestations of sin, and indications that people are not perfect. Hostility and fighting are manifestations of human sin: you do not need a demon to break up a church. [Besides, Jesus Himself said that the church would prevail against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18); if Satan is defeating your church, it is still a reflection of weakness in the congregation. The Body of Christ should have the victory, because Jesus said we would!]
  • If you are in financial trouble, make sure it is not caused by your sin. Yes, there will be hard times when money is tight. But, many people get into financial problems because they buy things they want when they cannot afford them. If you are living beyond your means, the problem is probably your greed: It is not a demon eating your bank account.

I hope you get the point. The root of your temptations usually lies within your heart. Yes, demons and circumstances may edge us closer to temptation and sin, but only by exploiting our own weaknesses. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9, ESV). “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16, ESV). Acknowledge that it is truly YOUR sin, YOUR temptation, YOUR weakness, and then turn to Jesus to receive the forgiveness that He is offering to YOU.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Fulfillment of the Law—Matthew 5:17-20

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20, NASB.)

Christians seem to have many different opinions about the relationship between followers of Jesus and the Old Testament law.

Many live and talk as though we are still bound by a series of rules and regulations. Even though they may believe that some of the rules no longer apply to us (e.g., eating pork, observing the Sabbath), they find new rules which they believe all Christians should follow (for example, thou shalt not listen to rock music or anything that sounds like it; thou shalt not dance; thou shalt not drink even the tiniest sip of alcohol). When someone violates one of those rules, these people may assume that this person does not know Jesus.

Then there are those people who believe that since we are no longer under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14–15), we can just ignore the entire Old Covenant. In fact, we can even ignore those passages in the New Testament that sound like commands straight from the mouth of God.

Clearly, neither is correct. Paul’s teaching in his letters, as well as much of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, proves that rules and regulations do not save us. But, when Jesus says that those who annul even the smallest stroke of the pen are least in the kingdom of heaven, it is clear that we cannot simply live as we like.

How do we answer this paradox? I will suggest a few basic principles that we can learn from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:17–20, which will help us balance our relationship with Jesus and our obligation to rules and regulations in Scripture.

First, remember that Jesus has fulfilled the law. The central message of the Gospel is that God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus died for you! You are forgiven! That forgiveness is a gift, freely received by faith! You do not earn it by trying harder, or by paying God back. Stop beating yourself up if you fail: All of your sins, whether by failure to resist temptation or by open rebellion against God, are forgiven when you confess Jesus as Lord of your life.

Second, the entire law is summed up in loving God and loving your neighbor. In Matthew 22:37–40, Jesus defined the greatest law of Scripture by saying:

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

The love Jesus speaks of is not just a warm feeling. It can hurt. Remember John 3:16—God so loved the world that He did something drastic and sacrificial for us. In the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus sums up the two great laws, He taught the parable about the Good Samaritan: In that story, a man went out of his way to take care of a crime victim who probably hated him, surrendering his own time, money, and energy to care for somebody in need.

Because of this, in some ways the New Covenant calls us to a higher standard. We can no longer face ethical dilemmas or personal decisions based purely on the questions, “Is there a rule against this? Am I allowed to do this?” Instead we must ask ourselves deeper questions:

  • Since Jesus dwells in me and I am part of His body, how would He act?
  • What would He do about this?
  • How can I show love for this person in this situation?
  • Not only is it allowable, but also, is it profitable? Is this the best way to seek the best for other people?

These are challenging questions to ask ourselves as we face the daily challenges of life.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Judge Not

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, NASB)

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In last week’s Scripture Sabbath challenge, I discussed Philippians 4:13, particularly considering how many believers claim this verse without considering its context. This week, I would like to take a few minutes to look at a verse that is probably abused even more frequently by ignoring its context. Jesus’ instruction, “Do not judge,” is abused even more frequently, since the misapplication comes from those who are in open rebellion against God. Regrettably, many Christians have swallowed the bait of falsehood that has been presented to them.

Every Christian has fallen victim to this lie of the devil. (Yes, I will go so far as to call it demonically-inspired.) You say, “I believe in the sanctity of all human life and believe abortion is a sin.” The response: “Remember, Jesus said, ‘Do not judge.’” Or, you might say, “I believe in traditional marriage, between one man and one woman.” You hear the same response.

Do those who tell us that we cannot judge really believe it is an absolute rule that we can never say that something is immoral or wrong? Many of the same people who tell Christians that Jesus told us not to judge are quick to judge certain actions: Do they believe an adult should have sexual relations with a five-year-old? Do they think we should abuse animals? Do they think history has been too hard on Adolf Hitler, and maybe we should just assume he was doing what he thought was best for his nation? Can we murder? Can we steal? Is it wrong to own slaves, or to force teenage girls to be sex slaves? Many of the same people who will accuse Christians of being judgemental can get pretty vocal about these things.

It is a form of demonic deception. In Genesis 3, we read how the serpent (Satan) tempted Eve. He tricked her into believing that God’s command (you shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) was not true, or that it meant something different from what God had said. (Note that, in Genesis 3:3, Eve says that God forbade them from even touching the tree. God only said they could not eat its fruit. Adam and Eve were probably allowed to pick the fruit and throw it at the serpent’s head.)

Today, Satan has hijacked Matthew 7:1 away from Jesus and the church, and Christians have abdicated their authority to proclaim God’s word to the world. It has reached a point where many ministers are afraid to even confront sin amongst Christians, thereby failing to fulfill the last part of the Great Commission (“teaching {disciples} to observe all” that Jesus commands).

To understand the passage more clearly, let us look at the context (Matthew 7:1–6):

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

How does this passage affect how we speak about sin?

  • First, although Jesus came to forgive our sins, that does not mean He ignores them. Sin is still sin. The one who said, “Do not judge” and proclaimed forgiveness also told an adulterous woman, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:10). Sin still exists, and it would be a lie to pretend that it does not.
  • Immediately after saying, “Do not judge,” Jesus tells His disciples not to give holy things to dogs, and not to cast pearls before swine. How do we obey Jesus if we do not discern that we cannot give them what is holy or pearls? (This is an entire subject in itself!)
  • We should apply a consistent measure for ourselves and others. We commit the sin of judgementalism when we condemn others for a sin that we have in our own lives. We also sin if we commit a similar sin. For example, someone who is hooked on pornography really cannot look down on somebody who is having sex outside of marriage.
  • Before looking at other people, we need to look at our own lives. We are tempted to point out other people’s sins, but our responsibility is to deal with our own struggles.
  • Our job is to make disciples and teach them to observe all Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18–19). It is a ministry of reconciliation, which grows out of Christ’s work of redemption. Ours is not a ministry of condemnation.

It is true that some Christians go too far and focus too heavily on the sins of others. However, we have an obligation to proclaim God’s word, to show people their need of a Saviour, and to invite people to repent and come to Jesus for salvation. Let us fulfill Christ’s calling and not surrender our authority to the father of lies.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—Luke 18:9–14

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9–14, NASB)

The prayer of the Pharisee is more common than most of us are willing to admit. I have said it a few times. That is not easy to admit. We Christians have learned over the years that, when you see the Pharisees in the Gospels, you know they are the “bad guys.” Therefore, whatever they are doing must be wrong.

However, there is a sense in which the Pharisee’s prayer makes a lot of sense. Everything that he says about himself is Scriptural. God does not want us to be swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or crooked. Fasting and tithing are noble activities, commended and commanded elsewhere in Scripture (even in the New Testament). In fact, if you can make the Pharisee’s bold claims, you should thank God (as he does).

So, what is wrong with his prayer? Why does Jesus say that the tax collector went home justified, but not the Pharisee? We could stop by simply saying “he exalted himself,” but what does that mean? The Pharisee’s prayer was flawed on several counts.

For one, he made other people his standard of righteousness. “I thank You that I am not like other people…or even this tax collector.” Romans 3:23 tell us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, not the glory of another person. We can all find another person who is worse than us in some way. “I have killed less people than Hitler” is not exactly a reason to brag.

The Pharisee assumed the worst about the tax collector. Granted, first-century Jewish tax collectors often earned their bad reputation due to corruption and greed. However, the Pharisee could not see what went through the other man’s heart. For some reason, the tax collector was begging for God’s mercy. His life and conscience were troubling him. Why had he chosen this career? What temptations did he find irresistible once employed by Rome? How many corrupt things had he done, which he had initially promised himself he would avoid? Maybe other questions like these kept him awake at night. The tax collector knew his own heart, and so did God. Perhaps all of us bear some shame or regret known only to ourselves. Other people may know the rumors, and maybe they know the facts. They may not know why you have followed a certain path in life, or made some of your choices.

However, the Pharisee’s greatest mistake was that he did not search his own heart to find out where cleansing was necessary. We ought regularly pray, as the psalmist did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23–24). The Pharisee knew what he was doing right. What was he doing wrong, though? Maybe his sins were not as obvious as the tax collector’s. Sinful attitudes, including pride, greed, and hatred, can cause as much damage as sinful actions. It is easy for us to condemn the sins that do not ensnare us. Unfortunately, it is even easier to make excuses for our own mistakes, to make it sound like our sins are somehow acceptable. At the very least, we often pretend our sins are not as bad as those committed by the other guy.

May we always ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our own sin to us. He can work in our hearts as well as the hearts of others. However, we have to open our hearts to Him. May He do His perfect work in our hearts, as we trust Him to deal with other people’s hearts in His own time.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—Luke 13:1–5

“Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’” (Luke 13:1–5, NASB).

I usually try to avoid writing or posting about a Bible passage shortly after hearing someone else preach about it. However, during the Scripture reading this morning, something grabbed my attention, and the pastor did not really address it. So, I will deviate from my rule this time.

This passage appears in an extended series of teachings that Jesus is giving to the crowds who are following Him. During His teaching, someone told Him about an incident where Pontius Pilate had apparently had some Galileans killed while they were offering sacrifices at the temple. It is not clear whether this is the first time Jesus heard about this or not. What is important is the way Jesus confronted a common view of human suffering.

The people of Jesus’ day viewed suffering as a sure sign of divine justice or judgement. If a Roman official could have you killed while you are worshipping God, you must have deserved it; if you were innocent, God would protect you. Likewise, if a tower fell upon you and killed you, then you got what you deserved. By this logic, everybody who died on 9/11 must be in hell.

Although I believe strongly in divine justice, this view is simplistic, erroneous, and evil. God is just, but this life is not always fair. We will see divine justice finalized in the next life, even though a lot of evil goes unpunished in this world and a lot of good does not see its reward. (I add that this is part of the reason that I find universalism—the belief that all people will be saved and nobody goes to hell—to be an absolutely heretical false teaching, completely incompatible with the Christian faith.)

Jesus simply does not allow His hearers to ponder the fate of others. He turns the question back on those who are present. He confronts us as well.

It should not matter to us so much what God is doing about other people. Yes, they are sinners who are doomed if they do not receive forgiveness. But, so are we. Every one of us has sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If we have not repented, or do not repent, we will give a reckoning to Him on the day of judgement. Maybe my sins are not as blatant or scandalous as those of some politicians, serial killers, terrorists, or morally reprobate celebrities. Still, I do not need to worry about what God will do to the Kardashians. I need to make sure that I am doing His will and allowing Him to work through me.

Which brings me to the other point: How should we react when we see evil or disaster? Should we rejoice when a sinner “gets what he deserves”? Should we rejoice that God finally did something our way when natural disaster devastates a region and kills many people?

It is not our job to judge: When disaster or tragedy strikes, our job is not to analyze, but to minister in Christ’s place. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the east coast, especially Long Island. Some may have asked if this was God’s judgement upon the liberal northeast. Maybe it was, but it was not my job to proclaim God’s wrath. At that time, real Christians (along with other people of good will) were donating clothing and money to help those who had lost possessions; they were donating time to help people clean out their flooded homes; they were inviting homeless or displaced friends and relatives to stay in their homes. They were manifesting the love of God.

Let us always keep our eyes on God’s will for our own lives, seeking to minister to the victims when life is not fair, and to repent of the sins that infect our own souls.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge

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This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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