What is more important, mercy or religious duty? The only New Testament command for rest is when Jesus encouraged people to come to him for rest (Matthew 11:28-12:8). His hungry disciples plucked some grain, violating the letter of Sabbath commands regarding gathering food like manna. Jesus quoted an Old Testament principle — God desires mercy and not sacrifice. He called himself Lord over the Sabbath — meaning he had the authority to decide what was lawful on that day. As the author of the law, it is his interpretation of it that counts. Man-made religious restrictions often contradict God. The central doctrines of Christianity are not our man-made traditions or fads, but the teachings of Christ. The question as to which is more important, mercy or religious duty is a false dichotomy. Mercy is an important religious duty.
Some Christians seem to be really straight-laced, prim and proper. They would never be seen at a pub or party and this generation criticizes them for it. Other Christians, may be seen at social gatherings and some even spend a lot of time with immoral and corrupt people and this generation criticizes them for that. Non-Christians have often criticized Christians because they are out of step with each other's values. Jesus said that believers would be criticized no matter what they do. John the Baptist was as ascetic as they come, and was criticized as having a demon. Jesus mingled socially with sinners and was criticized as a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:16-19). John was seen as too holy and Jesus as not holy enough. However, both were right in God's sight, despite criticisms from their generation.
How do we harmonize Jesus’ teachings about being a peacemaker and taking the kingdom by violence (Matthew 11:12-15)? This certainly is not a passage about being a passive Christian. On the other hand, authoritarian leaders who coerce their churches, violating the consciences of people are reprehensible. The Greek here is difficult to interpret and there are several schools of thought on the specifics of what Jesus meant. However, one thing is very clear, that passive Christianity is not an option. John the Baptist suffered violence and that is the context of Jesus saying that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. In a world with increasing persecution of Christians and escalating pressure for Christians to become wishywashy and weak-willed, it is a time for people of faith everywhere to stand up for their beliefs and be strong in the Lord.
Is the New Testament Church meant to be about grace or law? Is it about turning comments made by Paul into new laws more burdensome and oppressive than the old? Why has Paul’s advice to Timothy and Titus on a few considerations for office become an overbearing obstacle course which discourages both men and women from seeking ministry? How did Paul’s recommendations about not offending become a rule against even moderate use of alcohol, when even he recommended a little? Since when did Paul’s cultural comments about hair turn into permanent rules about hair length for men and women? How did Paul’s discouragement of legalism as a different gospel become more laws than the 613 Old Testament commands? What would Jesus say? Would he say we worship him in vain, teaching mere commandments of men as doctrine (Matthew 15:9)?
Labels: Matthew 15
The Bible condemns alcohol right? Wrong! Only drunkenness! Wine is a blessing (Genesis 27:28). Wine was an offering (Exodus 29:40) which pleased God (Numbers 15:7). It is a blessing from God (Deuteronomy 11:14). God encouraged worshipers to drink wine in his presence (Deuteronomy 14:23). God permitted spending money on wine and strong drink (Deuteronomy 14:26, Proverbs 31:6). God blessed Israel with grain and wine (Deuteronomy 33:28, Isaiah 36:17). God gave wine to gladden the heart (Psalm 104:14-15) and life (Ecclesiastes 10:19). Mountains shall drip sweet wine (Amos 9:13). New wine ferments, needing new wineskins (Matthew 9:17). John abstained from wine, but Jesus did not (Luke 7:33-34). Jesus turned water to wine (John 2:3-9). Paul encouraged Timothy to take a little wine (I Timothy 5:23).
Billionaires with their stretch limos, mansions and yachts set a certain standard. They are great examples of diligence and tenacity. But, they are not the real heroes of the world. Their philanthropy usually occurs without great self-sacrifice. They often pay folks minimum wages so they can live in opulence. There is a real hero that none of them can match. He became poor so that his people could live a better life (2 Corinthians 8:9). Are there such people in corporate life? Where are the billionaires who continue to run their companies for the benefit of others and live a life of self-sacrificial poverty? Who is genuinely there to enrich each and every employee's family? As God, Jesus was richer than them all. He sets the true billionaire standard. It remains the highest standard for all to attain.
Labels: 2 Corinthians 08
How do we handle religious harassment? In the west it is minimal. In some countries Christians are jailed or murdered for their faith. We are sheep in the midst of wolves, as Jesus said. Jesus taught to be crafty as snakes, but innocent as doves, wise but harmless. Be cautious of dangers, deception and corruption all around us. At times we may need to defend our faith in public, but Jesus promised that God would give us the words we need. We should not be surprised if even family members bully us for our beliefs. Even today, some Christians need to move to another city to escape persecution. The Christian life is definitely not for cowards, but we are not called to be martyrs unnecessarily. Jesus advised his disciples that there is a time to flee persecution (Matthew 10:16-23).
How do we handle resistance to our faith? When we tell people about Jesus, should we worry whether or not they are receptive? Rejection of the Christian faith is nothing new. The first disciples experienced it too. However, some people will be interested. Jesus' advice to his disciples in Matthew 10:11-15, when he first sent them out to tell others about the Gospel, was that some would reject them and their words. But, some would receive them gladly. For those who reject the message of Christ, Jesus simply said that they too would be rejected. Symbolically, the disciples shook the dust from their feet, a gesture that Jews practiced when returning from an unclean, gentile land. Rejecting God's message has grave consequences. Those who receive the envoys that Jesus sends and their message receive a blessing of peace.
Matthew 10:8-10 reveals a different exercise for the disciples’ first proclamation of the Gospel. It was not the standard for all such efforts, as later instructions were different, but it does show what can be done in faith. What was their target audience? Some today pick a certain demographic. Jesus' target audience for the disciples was the spiritually, mentally and physically unwell. As they went about announcing the Gospel, encouraging people to repent and turn to God, Jesus did not teach them to stay at the equivalent of a five star hotel. He encouraged them to rely upon hospitable hearers of the Gospel for their food and lodging. Unlike today, such hospitality was common in the culture of the time. It is perfectly appropriate for a preacher of the Gospel to live off of the proceeds of that message.