Friday, June 29, 2012

Not Everything is an Issue

We read in Matthew 17:27 "However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself."  Many commentators use this passage to address paying civil taxes but actually this tax has nothing to do with paying taxes to the state but that isn't to say there aren't some applications to make.  Actually the tax here began back in Moses' day.  All adult men paid a tax to help support the Tabernacle construction.  There is no biblical mandate for this to continue after the first tax but by Jesus' day it was the custom to pay it for the Temple upkeep.

What is important to understand is that this tax was even then voluntary but socially assumed.  It was as much a cultural custom as it was religious, but for sure it was not commanded in the Bible.  The point I want to make here is that Jesus pays it not because God's Word expressly commands him to but because he didn't wish to offend those around him who he was trying to minister to.

I suppose that the majority of people and even Christians tend to live more by the customs of the culture around them than they do the Bible many times.  Our greater danger is usually to compromise with the world more than standing firm in the Word of God regardless of what people think of us.  This is a problem for sure.  But some tend to the other extreme.  Many of us stand against any and everything that isn't expressly commanded in Scripture and see it as compromising if we participate in some custom or activity that perhaps an unsaved person or culture came up with, not because the Bible forbids it but because it isn't found in the Bible.  And so they find a fight on every hill and a reason to condemn just about any and everything simply because it can't be found in the Bible.  Many times they spend a lot of time telling other Christians that they ought not be doing this or that and are mysteriously absent when such things are being done by other saints; I suppose in "protest".

It seems Jesus offers us some moderation here.  He was not under any obligation to participate in the unbiblical customs but he does so and he tells his disciples to do so as to not needlessly offend the world for a reason that had nothing to do with him or the gospel.  Paying the tax simply was neither here nor there; it didn't make a difference one way or the other so why make a big deal over it.

Yes, we are to live by the commands of Scripture and if it means living differently from those around us then our love for the Lord causes us to gladly be considered odd by the world.  But when the Bible doesn't deal with something or considers it a non issue then I believe it is best for us to not make an issue over it as well.  There are plenty of hills to take a stand on without offending people for no good reason.  May God give us wisdom to be able to tell the difference.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mutton or Pets

Rom 8:35-37 says,  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?   As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."   No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  At the risk of jumping into the middle of Paul's thought in this chapter, let me make a few comments.

One thing verse 35 is teaching us is that trials and tribulation won't cause God's elect to become nonelect or to fall from grace.  God's grace is too powerful for difficulty to cause sheep to become goats again.  Verse 36 not only explains one reason why but by inference it teaches us that these trials are purposely sent by the Lord to fulfill his purposes in us.  There are a lot of Churches that seem to miss one or both of these truths.  Many believe you can move in and out of salvation primarily because they see salvation as something we have a part in securing.  And then even more believe that good things come from God and all unpleasant things come from Satan.

But what is vs. 36 saying?  For the purposes of God we endure all sorts of tribulation and he regards us as sheep to be sacrificed, not pets to be pampered.  The early saints knew when they became Christians that it was a call to suffering, not a call to an easier life, nor was it the end of their life.  They weren't going to get caught up to glory but were going to go through some fires before that happened.  Much of our discontentment, complaining and bitterness today is a result of the fact that we don't regard ourselves as sheep to be slaughtered.  Vs. 36 is telling us that we have been marked out for these things; this is what being a Christian is all about!  

To make matters worse for many of us Jesus says in Luk 6:22  "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Luk 6:23  Rejoice in that day, and leap (lambs) for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.  Is he being unreasonable or not?  

Notice it says we are being killed all the day long.  If one is martyred it can happen only once.  And while in a sense it can speak of the church in general I think it goes beyond that.  We have two things spoken of here, the suffering of this life (the groanings of earlier in the chapter) and suffering for being a Christian.  In all these things we are to triumph.  Every day, all day we must endure hardships for Christ because that is what we are called to do.  Verse 37 answers the question of whether these things will do us harm with a resounded NO because these things are actually part of how we serve him; they certainly aren’t going to destroy us.  They are not signs he is against us and they will not cause a sheep to become a goat.

We tend to say that we would gladly suffer for Christ if asked to and even think that that would be easier than suffering the normal trials of life.  But why then do we live in such a way so as not to bring suffering upon ourselves?  If you think that you would gladly suffer for Christ, live in such a way that your friends and family tire of being around you because you must speak of Christ and must live for him and not let them dishonor him without a challenge.  You don’t have to be a jerk, just live for Christ.  But we don’t because suffering for Jesus is a hard thing.  What makes it hard in one sense is because it is completely up to us as to whether we will or not.  We must decide whether we will openly confess to be a Christian or whether we will say something or challenge something or give an answer that will not go over well.  But we have no choice when God sends affliction and so we are forced to deal with submission in that instance.  But when it comes to suffering as a Christian one must consciously decide to take up that cross and we choose to do it less rather than more. 

But I think this explains what is going on here.  We don’t wake up on the morning considering ourselves as sheep for the slaughter but princes and princesses to be pampered; we see ourselves as show ponies, not beef cows!  And that attitude causes us to be conquered not to conquer these things.  Sheep that conquer is just one more paradox of scripture.   Naturally it just doesn’t happen. 

 Vs. 37 tells us that we aren't to muddle our way through the difficulties of life just barely coping and somehow ending up in Heaven.  The Lord sends these things to us that we might demonstrate to this world his glorious person and power.  We are to be more than conquerors or super conquerors which is what the word means in the original. We are to by his might openly be victorious over suffering.  They cause us to trust him more and to enjoy him more.  When he takes away a prized possession and you learn that Christ is better than the lost thing, your love is enhanced where before it might have been overshadowed by your devotion to the other object.  We are super conquerors also because we are lifelong victors who daily must die to self.

But this only happens if we consider ourselves to be sheep marked out for slaughter and not household pets to be coddled and petted.