The recent U.S. election campaign that seemed to run for about 6 years sadly did a great job of illustrating what Christianity looks like to many people.
The campaign focused almost exclusively on the problems the candidates saw in the country, in the world, and most of all, in the other person. Too often the church communicates a similarly negative message. In fact, many Christians combine the two messages and seek to create legislation that mirrors their beliefs about morality.
I have no problem with Christians condemning certain behaviours. I believe God does this also.
I do have a problem with this message drowning out the more important messages of the Christian faith.
The biggest problem those outside of Christ face is not that Christians criticise their sexual ethics. Their biggest problem isn’t that they drink too much alcohol. Their biggest problem isn’t racism. Their biggest problem is that they reject Jesus. That’s the problem that Christians need to speak up about.
Another point many Christians seem to neglect is that the parts of the Bible condemning sexual immorality, lying, theft, gossip, slander, anger, and violence are usually written to Christians, not pagans.
When Christians point the finger at other segments of society, rather than ourselves, we communicate that we don’t face those issues. This is why Christians are so often called hypocrites. Rather than growing our own spiritual maturity, we’ve spent too much time and effort pointing out the flaws of others. Just as a negative election cycle failed to generate much enthusiasm, so negative churches will fail to share the Gospel.
I was excited to find in Ephesians 4:17-5:2 how Paul encourages the church not just to put off sinful behaviour, but also to put on godly attitudes and behaviour. Look at these snapshots:
- Put off your old self… put on the new self, created to be like God…
- Put off falsehood… put on speaking truthfully to your neighbour.
- Put off stealing… put on working to share with others.
- Put off unwholesome talk… put on building others up.
- Put off bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice… put on kindness, compassion, forgiveness…
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Christianity is an off and on faith. It inspires us to put off one set of behaviours and attitudes in order to put on another.
As a follower of Jesus, I want to be known for the things I’ve put on. I want to be truthful, generous, encouraging, kind, compassionate and forgiving. I want to hold others to those godly expectations also.
Most of all, I want to walk in the way of love.
Something has gone terribly wrong when the world only hears half the message and the half they hear is terribly off putting.
I’ll give the final word to the apostle Paul. I love how in Romans 8 he takes the negative commandments from the 10 Commandments and reframes them in a positive way. We don’t have to tell people what NOT to do. We can tell them instead to “love their neighbour” and that takes care of everything.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,“ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Romans 13:8-9
Over the next 6 weeks I’m going to be preaching from chapter 3-8 in the Gospel of Mark. To cover these chapters in 6 weeks I’m going to focus upon one word from each chapter. In chapter 3 I’m providing the summary word “Priorities”.
This passage in Mark has a “sandwich” structure. Verse 21 tells of Jesus’ family coming to confront him about his health and well-being. Verses 22-30 describe a debate between Jesus and the Jewish scribes. Then verses 31-35 pick up with Jesus family approaching him.
This literary style uses two stories to emphasise a central point. It then becomes our task to identify the commonalities and learn from that point.
Here are a couple of themes that overlap:
Discipleship – In verses 13-19 Jesus calls The Twelve. These twelve disciples are appointed to “preach and cast out demons”. The calling of the Twelve provides a vital context for examining verses 20-35.
In verses 21 and 22 we meet two groups of people who do not accept the call to discipleship: Jesus’ family think he’s crazy, and the scribes accuse him of being possessed by the Prince of Demons! So when Jesus identifies his “family” as “whoever does God’s will” he is describing disciples. This combination provides a stark contrast. While some sit back and throw stones, even calling the work of the Holy Spirit demonic activity, Jesus’ loyalty is to those who accept the call to discipleship.
Unity – The central point of Jesus’ response to the scribes argues how illogical it is that Satan would cast out demons. That would indicate division in Satan’s kingdom and predict its resultant implosion. Satan wouldn’t do that. Jesus quotes or creates this proverb in v25, “ If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”
With that rebuttal ringing in our ears we turn our attention to v31-35. Although Jesus’ statement that his true family is not his biological family seems harsh, it emphasises the unity of God’s kingdom. Jesus will not desert his new disciples and his ministry even for some of his mother’s famous chicken noodle soup. Having called the Twelve to abandon everything he demonstrates a reciprocal commitment to them.
When I think of all the ways churches divide themselves and the little issues that become big issues I think it makes God sad. It certainly undermines the power of God’s kingdom. While Jesus gave his disciples priority over his family to encourage unity, too often Christians seem more willing to promote division than unity. We would all do well to remember that “ If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”
What do you sacrifice to promote unity in the body of Christ?
Read John 5:31-40 here.
In this passage we find Jesus arguing that people should have recognized him because of all the different things/people testifying to his identity. In verses 39-40 he criticizes his listeners because they spend a lot of time studying the Scriptures (OT) which talk about him, but now he’s here in front of him they don’t recognise him. They were worshiping the Scripture, not the Saviour. Their study of words was more important than the Word. In fact, according to v39 they believed that studying the Scripture could give them eternal life.
I believe that it’s possible for us to fall into this same trap. Why do most churches have a midweek Bible study instead of a midweek benevolence project, or visitation night? Do we emphasise study over action? Are churches better at telling people what to do than they are at demonstrating it? Do our actions imply that “we study Scriptures diligently because we think that in them we possess eternal life?” The following is a paragraph from my sermon:
What if our understanding of the weekly Lord’s Supper is correct, but there’s not enough peace in our family to sit down and have a meal together? What if we can explain the difference between”agape” and “phileo ” love in the NT, but we’re constantly having conflicts at work? What if we solve the question of Calvinism and free will, but we choose to spend more money than we earn and only give God a couple of bucks each week? What if we teach correctly the importance of baptism but never take time to encourage those who’ve been baptized?
Honestly, the emphasis on Bible study is easy for me. I can sit around all day and talk about the Bible, interpretations of various passages, current hot button issues, or Church of Christ debates. But somehow I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he called his followers to live as light and salt in the world! As much as I love God, actually living for Him, being the man God wants me to be, remains a constant challenge.
Verse 40 makes a very clear point: Life comes from Jesus, not the Scriptures. It’s only by following Jesus, living for Him, that we obtain true life. Yes, the Scriptures tell us about Jesus, and yes, we need to study them diligently. Yes, correct doctrine gives us a correct understanding of Jesus. But let’s make sure we don’t overlook the Word for the words.
You can get another take on these verses at a friend’s blog, by clicking here.
Do you have any experiences of how we may overlook Jesus sometimes – even as we express our faith?Songs & Scripture:
I will continue to sing songs about the Bible I suppose, but when I think I’ll keep John 5:39. Do some of the songs we sing actually sound like they’re worshiping the Bible? Can you think of any other songs about the Bible?
- Ancient Words (Zoe Group album Ancient Future – 2003)
- Give Me the Bible
- Sing Them Over Again to Me
- Thy Word (SFP – originally recorded by Amy Grant – 1984)