I bought Nichole Nordeman’s recent album, Every Mile Mattered, as a gift for my wife. We both love her depth and probing questions implied or directly stated in her lyrics from previous albums, so it was an easy decision.
I bought it, but I didn’t actually listen to it. The songs sat on my iPhone and iPad, untouched, although I occasionally placed them in to playlists for Christian music or perhaps nice background music for writing.
I had the latter on shuffle when “Dear Me” came up. It caught my attention–demanded it, really. I stopped what I was doing, googled the lyrics, and felt the message resonate with my being. Her mixture of idealism and sorrow stirred up some old things in the kettle of my heart.
The song captures what I want my faith to look like, and hits me hard because of how often I know I haven’t measured up, how often I believed the convenient party line about God’s blessings for me, instead of the messy and difficult stuff involving loving others sacrificially.
Growing up in church, how many times have I seen the “magic words” of Christian marketing pass like a wave through American middle-class suburban church culture? Whether it’s a WWJD bracelet, or a Prayer of Jabez keychain, or a Purpose-Driven Life merchandise blitz, or some new study or some new worship album or some new website that is the cutting edge of everything God is doing…
How often has the mystery and the transcendent sacred been distilled into the merchandise and the catchy slogan? How often have I gone right along?
When has my faith looked beyond what Christ is and does for me? Do I believe He came so I could live my best life now, or do I believe He called me to live His life in the here and now?
Time and again in Scripture, we see a God who is concerned about the orphan and the widow, the homeless and the prisoner. We see His people judged, not simply because they broke some religious law or strict code, but more often because of how they treated–or ignored–the plight of those less fortunate.
The prophets tell the people of Israel that God is sick of the rituals, the displays of so-called worship, the sacrifices and the religious checklist they maintain. Isaiah 58 is a prime example. “Is this not the fast I have chosen?” God declares, then lists off what He considers real worship: fighting injustice, breaking oppression, feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, clothing the naked, reaching out to others.
I don’t want to get political here, but maybe if we hear those things and think, “Now we’re getting political,” then it says something about our politics and how they line up with Scripture.
Maybe what you’ve been told to believe about Jesus and what He would or wouldn’t do isn’t the same as what your book says He did.
Maybe there are no magic words in there, but there are life-giving words instead…
Ones that aren’t just meant to bless you, but to extend the blessing to the ones God says He cares about the most.
I love the Internet. Practically the sum of human knowledge is available to me at any given time, delivered to my iPhone in seconds.
…Which makes the general ignorance and indifference in our culture all the more inexcusable.
Whether it’s a ridiculous conspiracy “news” post from the Right or a ridiculous slam on a mistaken interpretation of Christianity from someone on the Left, I have no stomach for it.
Here’s a gem that crossed my feed:
Off the top of my head, I think of the verses where Paul deals with predestination. “Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated” is an Old Testament quote Paul used to discuss people that God apparently created knowing their undesirable end. If we’re honest (and knowledgeable) about our Christian theology, this puts a little asterisk on the modern Evangelical “God loves everyone” sales pitch.
But we have to get on those homophobic Christians and make them realize what misguided sheeple they are. Plus it’s comedy gold. It doesn’t need to be true; it just needs to get laughs.
I am not saying God hates homosexuals. And I am saying we (Christians) have NO right or freedom to do so.
Or consider this one:
The latter portion of Galatians 3 is about belonging to the family of God based on faith. “You are all sons of God through Christ” is the verse that immediately precedes this. So Paul elaborates that in Christ we are all on equal footing, regardless of race, social status, or gender.
If Paul really meant this verse to do away with gender and bring in some kind of enlightened spiritual gender identity, then this same Paul would not have written in several other places about the different roles of women and men in the church.
We could discuss what those passages mean, and plenty of varied interpretations exist. But it’s clear from multiple verses that Paul did not think once you become a Christian, you no longer belong to one of the two traditional concepts of gender.
Whatever. It’s making fun of transphobic Christians and their outdated, oppressive beliefs. So who cares if it’s accurate?
Again, I’m not saying we (Christians) should hate on transgender people. In fact quite the opposite is clear. We’re not called to hate or harm, but to love and disciple others.
Instead of defending Christians hating (which I believe is indefensible based on Scripture), the point I’m trying to make is that a theology that survived and grew over the past 1900+ years isn’t likely to be properly captured or lampooned in the few words you can put on an image on social media.
And my frustration is directed at Christians too. We love to post things about how President Obama is doing this, or some atheist is doing that. But people don’t always bother to fact check before posting.
I saw a headline claiming President Obama said the Statue of Liberty is offensive to Muslims, so he wants to remove it.
My rule of thumb is, “If it sounds exactly like what your political extremists want to hear, it’s probably not true.” So I looked closer.
The so-called news site didn’t have any facts or proof. And the two-line “story” was about an impending government shutdown. The President supposedly said that if the GOP doesn’t send him a funding budget that covers Obamacare, he’ll veto it.
Which would likely lead to shutdown.
Which would mean potentially closing national monuments like Lady Liberty temporarily, until the government is funded again.
Nothing to do with Muslims, nothing to do with removing the statue. And this is on the very website making the claims in the headline.
Why would anyone trust this? Why would anyone share it?
It’s what they want to hear. Who cares if it’s wrong?
For nonChristians and Christians alike, there’s a danger in heaping up voices that tell us exactly what we want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).
Ignorance can be fixed with information. But moving past apathy depends on the individual.
And I’m not convinced enough of us care to be bothered with all that effort.
Serious question… sort of. But it’s possibly going to make my atheist readers’ heads spin off, because these are actual discussions Christians sometimes have.
I read a news story recently about some of the folks volunteering for the Mars mission. One is an Army 1st Lieutenant, and–being in the military–this caught my attention. Another is this fantastic article about the man behind SpaceX, Elon Musk and his vision for the future of space exploration. (Warning to my more sensitive readers: there’s strong language right off the bat.)
I mentioned the Army lieutenant and the Mars mission to a Christian friend, and was surprised by their off-the-cuff response.
“I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think we’re supposed to do that.”
I was shocked. I saw no issues with it. I was excited that it’s even a possibility. That humanity could take the first steps to go beyond this little ball of rock spinning around in the vast dark, and propel itself across the expanse to land on another spinning ball of rock in order to start the process of some day establishing human colonies on other planets, and to think I might see that happen in my lifetime? Amazing!
“Why not?” I asked.
“Jesus isn’t coming back to Mars. He’s coming back to Earth to reign for a thousand years.”
My evangelical Christian upbringing wanted to agree. <em>That’s true, that’s in Revelation. What do you think about that? Why</em> didn’t <em>you think about that?</em>
But of course I couldn’t let myself be wrong in any way.
“Is it really wrong to go to Mars? Is that even a topic the Bible attempts to address? No.”
I already knew the answer to my argument. There are a great many topics the Bible doesn’t specifically mention, yet we Christians take various principles and statements contained within, and figure out ways they might apply to those cases. Take the Christian concept of the Trinity: nowhere is that word found in Scripture, yet it’s a central tenet of the faith.
We went back and forth a bit. My friend thought 1) this was reaching beyond the scope of authority humanity has been given, 2) that the debate was fairly silly because there are resources and space aplenty as yet untapped on Earth, and 3) that the point is probably moot because it’s pretty clear from all the signs that the various prophecies of Scripture are coming true and the end is near.
I countered with some optimism both ‘rational’ and religious, like:
“think of what great technological advances the space program has brought about thus far,” and
“why did we explore Antarctica? God didn’t put people there either but we still went there to learn and discover more of the world around us,” and
“Imagine two astronauts on the surface of Mars, and one of them shares the Gospel with the other. Does it not have power to save because they’re not on Earth?”
But most of all, my defense comes down to one question, a question I realized I don’t think my friend is willing to consider.
“What if I’m wrong about this whole faith thing?”
We talked about the end times, but it struck me that Paul and others in Scripture wrote about the end times like they were already happening, like it would all be over in <em>their</em> lifetimes. I recall listening to Christians as I grew up, hearing their proclamations about the end, and thinking it would all be over before I became an adult.
(Ok, let’s be honest, I was afraid I’d never get married… because I was a teenage boy and I was afraid I’d never get to be with a girl. And while going to Heaven would have to be totally awesome, maybe God could hold off on the End of the World thing a little bit?)
Now, I think there are some interesting points about Scriptural prophecy. We’re living in the first time in human history where the Gospel could actually reach every people group on the Earth (Matthew 24 makes that out to be a requirement before the end comes). We’re living in the first time in human history when technology and economics make it feasible that some one-world government could mandate the use of a “mark” worldwide in order to have access to conduct business (Revelation 13 talks about the Mark of the Beast and what all that entails). We’re living in an age of “wars and rumors of wars” and natural disasters aplenty… and though it’s possible they seem to be increasing only because of worldwide 24-hour media coverage, it certainly feels like this world is going through the “birth pains” described by Christ in Matthew 24.
Yet here we still are. And it’s been 2000 years of Christians saying “the end is near.”
I’m not sure I can fault the skeptics for being a little skeptical.
Elon Musk makes the argument that for humanity to thrive, we can’t have all our eggs in one basket. He wants to make sure we get off this planet and start the process of reaching others. His view comes from reasoning about evolution and the risk of catastrophes on a planetary scale which could render this world devoid of life (or at least kill off the vast majority of living things and no doubt cripple or destroy civilization permanently).
While I have my faith, and I have personal experiences and I daresay <strong>reason</strong> backing my beliefs, I have to wonder.
Why wouldn’t humanity go to Mars? Why wouldn’t we reach for the stars? Why shouldn’t we work toward a better future for mankind in whatever time we have?
Because, well, what if I’m wrong?
Is that too serious a question to consider? Can that thought even occupy a corner of my faith-based brain without toppling the house of cards?
We all go through hard times and difficulties. No one is immune. Religion and spirituality are no shield from tough circumstances. It’s not even a question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Bad things happen to everybody.
But God is unchanging. The God we call worthy when the sun is shining – He’s the same God in dark clouds and driving rain. The God we praise on Sunday is the God of Monday mornings.
We all have our “Even though” moments, when everything seems to go wrong. It’s tempting at that point to yell at God and wonder where He is, but then we miss the point. Whatever your “Even though” may be, God is still God in spite of it.
God is the One who brings me through.
There is often no magic escape to the hard times in life. There’s no ejection handle, no parachute strapped to our back. David writes, “even though I walk through the valley…” not around it. We don’t get to avoid trouble in our lives. Sometimes the trouble is exactly what we need to go through in order to get to where God wants us to be.
God is the One who calms my fears.
When trouble comes, and my eyes get fixed on the storm and the winds and the waves of life, I need something bigger, something stronger, something deeper and lasting to fix my eyes on. Like the lighthouse on the shoreline, God gives us that beacon of His presence in the midst of the storm. Think of Peter, walking on the water. As his gaze turns to the violent weather, he begins to sink. As he realizes the danger of his situation, he cries out to Someone greater.
God is the One who is with me.
The arm of Jesus lifts Peter from the waters “immediately.” God is never distant in the midst of the chaos around us. We may not notice His nearness. We might be distracted by the waves and winds. But God is there, close at hand, close enough to grab us “immediately.” David thinks about this Shepherd-God who stays close by His flock. The shadows and the noises of the valley may put fear in the hearts of the sheep, but they are never forsaken, never abandoned.
God is the One who fights my enemies.
David thinks of the rod and the staff. The rod was like a club the shepherd carried to fight off any threat to the sheep. If you’re being told that the “rod” is how your spiritual leader has a position of authority to discipline the sheep, then I submit that you’re being misled. The shepherd isn’t there to beat the sheep. The rod isn’t meant to strike the flock. The rod is meant to strike anything else that would try to sink its teeth into the sheep. There’s a place for discipline in the church, no doubt. But if you feel beat by your spiritual authority, maybe you don’t have a real shepherd. The rod is a comfort to David, because David knows that his Shepherd is fighting off anything that would try to devour him.
God is the One who pulls me back.
Unlike the rod, the staff is for the sheep. The shepherd’s crook at the end is meant to catch the sheep going astray. I remember learning to swim at the local pool. The lifeguards had a long pole with a green plastic hook they called a shepherd’s crook. If someone is drowning, flailing, or-God forbid-floating in deep water, the crook is there so the lifeguard can reach in and pull them to safety. So it is with God as our Shepherd.
God is the One whose oversight comforts me.
Everyone sooner or later has a boss that drives them nuts. Maybe it’s a personality clash, but more often than not, it’s an issue of management style. Again, I’ll point to those so-called shepherds who think they carry a rod in order to beat the sheep. Note in all these verses the servant-leadership of the Shepherd David is thinking about. This Shepherd doesn’t treat the sheep like they exist to serve Him, even if that really is the case. “The good shepherd cares for the sheep.” The Shepherd gives up His time and energy to provide for the needs and the comfort of the sheep in His care.
It seems backwards to think of a King who stoops down to help the beggar and the needy, a Lord who takes the towel from the servant and washes the dirty feet of His subjects. The God of the Universe should be worthy of our devotion and attention, our service and worship. And yet He took the form of a man, made Himself of no reputation, and let Himself be put to death on a cross like a criminal.
Even though He did nothing wrong, Jesus submitted to our whims, because He was submitted to the Father’s will. The Son of God was forsaken and abandoned by His Father, left in the valley of the shadow of death, beaten with the rod of wrath that our sins deserved, so that we could be caught up in the Shepherd’s crook of mercy and grace, and comforted in the presence of God.
God is the One who comforts me, pulls me back, protects me, stays with me, and calms my fears in the midst of everything I go through, no matter what.
(Note: I’ve created some new categories for posts. One of these is the “Monday Morning Snack,” which will contain thoughts from whatever Scripture I happen to be reading. These were going to be random and occasional, but now I aim to post them each Monday.)
My Bible app gives me a verse of the day, and it sparked a thought this morning:
but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 1Pet 4:16 NASB
This made me consider what it might mean to “suffer as a Christian.”
The Bible tells us often that if we’re true to the faith, the rest of the world isn’t going to like us. No one really likes having their sin pointed out, or being told they’re not good enough based on their own merit, or hearing that they are born in sin and naturally at enmity with God until they come to saving faith in Christ Jesus as their Redeemer.
It’s not a popular message. God obviously didn’t read How to Win Friends and Influence Peoplebefore coming up with this plan of salvation.
The problem is, in my experience, believers are often too quick to assume that anyopposition is based on the offense of the Gospel. If someone doesn’t like me as a Christian, of course I’d rather believe that they’re upset because of the counter-cultural message of my faith. But maybe they’re just mad because I’m inconsiderate or lazy at work.
A good example is Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A fame. Whether you agree with him or not, the statements he made (which sparked the whole controversy over same-sex marriage) were a simple declaration of what he believes based on the Bible. He wasn’t spewing blatant hate or disgust. He was merely professing his faith, and I submit he did it in a respectful way. The withering criticism came because of what the Bible says and how the majority of Christians in the West interpret Scripture on the subject of homosexuality.
If only all the Christian responses to that controversy were as calm, respectful, and precise.
Peter writes in this passage that “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing,” and “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (vv. 13-14). But he also makes the point that there are other reasons why one might suffer: “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (v.15).
Certainly I hope none of those are true of any of us! But the meaning is clear: it is possible that we suffer not because of Christ or the Gospel or our faith, but because of our individual flaws.
I have to ask myself:
Are people upset by what Jesus taught and what the Bible says, or how I am saying it?
Are people irritated by my sincere acts of faith in Christ, or by my hypocrisy in other areas of life?
Is the message the source of the offense, or is the messenger?
“Your values aren’t our values. We know about your plans to open doors in our city, and we want you to know you’re not welcome here.”
Maybe… but I’m not talking about Chick-Fil-A and Boston (or Chicago… or probably a list of cities that will want to jump on this bandwagon to show how progressive and tolerant they are…)
I’m talking about Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and the unremarkable but apparently controversial mosque being built there.
Based on the estimate in the July 19th news story in the link, the worshipers might have already had their grand opening. I sure hope so. I hope they’re having the best Ramadan ever.
And I hope their opponents are choking on bile as they see it happening.
There’s a thing called the First Amendment in the Constitution. It goes something like this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In this case, no one’s worried about Congress. The Federal government is (to my knowledge) not involved at all. But what the folks in Tennessee seem to be forgetting is that the amendment that lets us freely step into our churches on Sunday wherever we’d like is the same amendment that permits Muslims to build a place for worship wherever they’d like.
Intolerance and fear are clearly a part of the issue. One resident talked about the Buddhist place of worship in town and how no one seems to pay those guys any mind.
“Well, with 9/11 and the whole terrorism thing, people are just a bit nervous about having a mosque in town.”
That’s a paraphrase, but you can read the sentiment in the article for yourself.
To that I’d say,
“With the vandalism and arson on private property, and the open hostility, maybe the Muslims are a bit more frightened of you than you are of them.”
I’d say that, but I’m afraid that (were they ever to read my pointless rant in this corner of the Web) the perpetrators of this fear-mongering would feel proud at the thought. “Look at how we stood up to those Muslims! We sure let them know they’re not wanted here.”
Yeah, good job. Way to go against one of the key reasons America was founded. Way to stand up against one of the freedoms men and women have fought and died to protect for the last 226 years. Take that, religious expression!
Regrettably, our freedom of speech (see First Amendment quote above) doesn’t create any hindrance or safeguard concerning spewing ignorance. Anyone can say pretty much whatever they want.
I approve that. I applaud that. I don’t want the government telling us what is approved speech and what is not. And I know the vast majority of Americans feel the same.
But that allows for voices of thinly-veiled hatred to speak terribly insensitive and frightening thoughts.
Horrible thoughts like the North Carolina preacher a few months back with his “I got an idea… we build an electric fence, and we take all the gays an’ put ’em behind it.”
Horrible thoughts like the mindless venom pouring out of the mouths of Westboro Baptist Church members. I won’t even quote their signs. You’ve seen them on the news, or you can google them and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Horrible thoughts like that of one of the leading opponents of the Murfreesboro mosque. “I know we weren’t going to win the legal battle… I just wanted to show ’em they’re not welcome here. And I plan to keep up the fight.”
What fight? Once the mosque is built, as is permitted by local, state, and federal government, and by our fundamental freedoms inAmerica, what fight is there?
I have several friends and coworkers who are gay. Some have made the point that they have come out in public because they don’t want to give anyone the impression that they will sit quietly while people malign or threaten them. They’re all sensible, thoughtful people who would love to leave that part of their lives off the radar. It’s such a minor thing to them, and it’s so not anyone else’s business. But oftentimes the terrible treatment they receive from others necessitates a harsh response, so they stand up and are counted. They stand up and say, “This mistreatment will not stand,” because they know there’s probably someone else sitting in quiet fear, too afraid to speak out in their own defense.
To my fellow Christians, I’ll say, how long are we going to sit in peace and quiet, shaking our heads, muttering a little tsk-tsk in shame, looking at stories like Murfreesboro or Westboro or the electric fence guy? I’ve often heard people ask, “Where are all the moderate Muslims to denounce what the radicals are doing?”
Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Maybe we think it goes without saying. “Everybody knows” that Westboro Baptist Church is a bunch of nutjobs that have nothing to do with Christianity. “Everybody knows” that what that NC preacher is saying is horrific and wrong. “Everybody knows” that the First Amendment protects the rights of these Muslims in Tennessee.
Apparently everybody doesn’t know.
It’s time we stand up and be counted. Make sure that those who would wrap themselves in the American flag while clutching a Bible to their chest properly understand the significance of both of those symbols.
Make sure we speak out to those who would spread hate and fear in the name of Christ, and let them clearly understand:
“Your values aren’t our values. We want you to know you’re not welcome here.”
15 And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:13,15 NASB)
There’s this whole “Wawagate” thing going on in the news lately…
Well, in some news outlets, I guess.
A reporter on MSNBC showed a video of Mitt Romney giving a speech. In it, he talked about this “amazing” experience of going to a restaurant, tapping a few buttons on a touch screen, and like magic, your sandwich is being made. The video was very reminiscent of the old story of President George H. W. Bush seeming to express surprise at a checkout cashier’s scanner in a grocery store. The implication the reporter made was similar. “Mitt Romney is out of touch. He’s a wealthy politician who is far removed from the average person’s experience.”
Turns out the video was heavily edited, going from about three minutes to about 30 seconds.
In the unedited video, the candidate makes a completely different point. He’s not talking about how amazing it is to order food off a touch screen. He’s comparing the technological efficiency of the private sector to the paperwork bureaucracy and inefficiency of government.
It’s quite a different video if you don’t cut out 80 percent of it.
Some of my co-workers and friends like to discuss religion, and one of those discussions prompted a few questions that need answers.
Did Jesus really command obedience to the 613 rules found in the Law of Moses?
Did Jesus mean it when He said our righteousness had to exceed that of the Pharisees in order to get to Heaven?
Was Paul completely wrong about all he wrote concerning the Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Does modern Christianity claim the writings of Paul trump the teachings of our Savior?
I’ve been addressing some of the differences and similarities between Paul and Jesus in this series, and now I’d like to answer the remaining questions from the introduction:
Are we terrible Christians who don’t even follow the faith we claim? Aren’t we failing to obey God, and thus damning ourselves to hell?
And aren’t we simply picking and choosing parts of the Bible we like while ignoring parts we don’t?
“Paul isn’t Jesus, so if Jesus says one thing and Paul another, Paul loses.”
I was not impressed by MSNBC’s video editing skills. I admit, the video looked pretty clear-cut. It was all in order, and the way it was edited, the story made sense.
But it was still a gross misrepresentation of what actually happened.
That’s why I don’t like the way these questions view Paul and Jesus.
The Apostle Paul stood before the Twelve in Acts 14 and explained what he had been teaching to the Gentiles. Paul ran his ministry by the guys who had spent three years in direct contact with Jesus Christ. He did this to ensure that his teaching lined up with the Apostles, and to make sure they knew exactly what God was doing in and through him.
No, Paul wasn’t Jesus. But using that as an excuse to ignore everything Paul wrote is the same as editing away 80 percent of a video and calling it accurate news reporting.
Paul’s epistles have been a part of Christianity ever since the first century. His teaching was foundational in the early church. His opinions and doctrine were evaluated by those who knew best what sounded like Jesus and what didn’t measure up.
And if you have faith, Paul’s understanding came from revelation given directly by God.
What sort of Christians would we be if we blew all of that off simply because Paul wasn’t Jesus?
As best as we understand it, Jesus didn’t write down His teaching in a neat and tidy Gospel for us. (Well, again, unless you have faith to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus didn’t do this.)
So what we have in the Gospels are accounts written by witnesses or by writers interviewing witnesses. I suppose since Luke and John aren’t Jesus, we should also throw out anything they have to say, by the same logic as what’s been presented to me.
I find that faulty.
Throwing Paul out is unnecessary. As I’ve tried to point out in the previous posts, it’s better to understand how his teachings and the words of Jesus align. They’re saying essentially the same core message. It’s just that the timing and audiences require two vastly different approaches.
Despite what my friends might think, we are not horrible Christians as a result of our adherence to the whole Bible and our willingness to reconcile the different messages. On the contrary, we would be horrible Christians if we ignored what Paul wrote. His teachings are central to the Christian faith, tying the Old Testament promises to the New Testament fulfillment and making all of the work of Christ abundantly clear.
And since it is also clear that Jesus didn’t really mean for us to follow the example of the Pharisees, or to follow a Law that He came to fulfill, we are not damning ourselves to hell by supposedly ignoring our Savior’s words on the subject.
And neither do we pick and choose which words of Jesus apply, whether they come from one of the Gospel writers or from Paul’s letters.
Jesus says a lot that we would do well to pay attention to.
We do not have license to sin wherever, however, whenever we want. Jesus reminds those to whom He ministers, “Go and sin no more.” More than that, His parables show us how we ought to live. He tells us that we’ll be known by what we do, no matter how much we say “Lord, Lord!” And He reminds us that what matters most is how we treat “the least of these,” those who most need love and care.
Paul likewise argues with those who would claim we have freedom to do whatever we please. He wrote that we should use our freedom to go do good, and not to return to a bondage to sin. Paul encourages us to set aside all the best the world has to offer and to ignore the worst the world throws at us, all for the purpose of knowing Christ. “Everything is permissible, but I will not be mastered by anything. Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.”
You can have recording and editing software. Just be sure to use it in support of the truth, not to cut something up and make it what it was never intended to be.
Paul vs. Jesus is a contrived conflict; it’s the edited video missing most of the important parts. It sells well to a particular crowd, sure. You can watch and believe it, if that’s the reality if you want.
Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. — Jesus Christ (Matt 5:20 NASB)
Justin, my seven-year-old son, is often frustrated by the freedom his older siblings enjoy. Being the middle child is notoriously difficult. He wants to know why Deborah (13) and Jonathan (11) get to go outside by themselves, or stay home by themselves. He wants to know why Deborah can have a cell-phone. Why does she get to go to a special weekly church activity for girls her age, but he has to stay home? (That one’s easy. There’s no activity for his age group that night.)
He’s like the kid at the carnival who’s too short for the biggest ride. It’s easy to look at that roller coaster you can’t ride and forget all the other activities you’re free to enjoy.
I try to remind him that he has far more freedom than Judah (1.5 years old). Judah has to be watched constantly. Judah needs a car seat. Judah has to hold our hands while walking just about anywhere. Judah doesn’t get to go play outside with his friends unless we go with him.
The rules change depending on the both the situation and the child in said situation.
The question was raised: Do Paul’s statements about the Law conflict with Jesus’ teachings?
The verse at the top is early on in the most famous sermon Jesus ever preached, the “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7.
Jesus is preaching to His disciples, but there are multitudes of listeners present, and these listeners are Jews. They’ve been brought up to follow the Law of Moses. They’ve been instructed in the Law by the scribes and the Pharisees. Their entire culture was based on their status as God’s special chosen people, and part of that deal was that they were given 613 commandments to follow. These ranged from the common no-brainers we often hear today:
(Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery)
to some stranger rules for obscure situations that seem like nit-picking to modern eyes:
(Do not sew clothes with two kinds of fabrics, do not mix crops in your field, do not permit people with a wide range of physical conditions into the place of worship)
Remember that the Law was given to Moses, thousands of years prior to Christ’s birth. People were to be cast out from the community or even killed for breaking a variety of commandments. This was serious business, and the rest of the Old Testament shows a people who go back and forth, straying from God’s commandments, then repenting and returning to obedience, lather, rinse, repeat.
Along the way, the religious leaders developed interpretations of exactly how the Law applied. They turned these into traditions and created additional standards that weren’t “God’s Word” per se, but were treated as authoritative. The traditions as taught by the religious leaders became a sort of cushion… as long as you didn’t break the tradition, you weren’t breaking the Law, and you’d be considered “righteous” or right with God.
The Pharisees and scribes were quite good at “righteous” living, and they didn’t mind letting you know where you were going wrong.
They set up a sign: “You must be this obedient to be righteous.”
So along comes Jesus, and He tells this audience that He’s not getting rid of the Law. Instead, He’s there to fulfill it. And not one tiny letter will change in the Law until the end of the world. Oh, and by the way, you need to do better than those Pharisees, or you’re screwed.
Yet the Old Testament makes it clear that “no one is righteous, not even one.” The Prophets remind us that “we all have gone astray like sheep, each of us going our own way.” Even the good deeds we do are considered like “filthy rags” compared to the righteous standard God expects.
But by the time Jesus was preaching, the people were being told that yes, you actually COULD be righteous, and not everyone goes astray, and some people’s good deeds were good enough to earn them God’s acceptance. If you followed the strict tradition and the standards of the scribes and Pharisees, then you’re deemed pure and righteous… at least by the scribes and Pharisees.
Paul says this about his early life as a Pharisee.
4 If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh (in the good deeds he or she has done), I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6 NASB)
By all religious accounts, Paul had it all together.
But he says he equates all of that to poop compared to knowing Christ and being found ” in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” (v. 9)
The religious righteousness of the Pharisees, the right-standing with God based on following the Law–that meant nothing. It was of no value.
So, wait, is Jesus wrong?
No, not at all. Jesus said pretty much the same thing Himself.
How did Jesus define the righteousness of the Pharisees?
In Matthew 23, Jesus points out that “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” (v.2-3 NASB)
They’ve taken a position of authority, so they have to be obeyed. But Jesus hardly points to them as an example of righteousness. Note what He says about them immediately after this:
They do not enter the kingdom of God, and they keep others out.
They make new converts “sons of hell” just like they are themselves.
They make traditions more important than the sacred.
They focus on the letter of the law (tithing even their herbs and spices) instead of the spirit (justice, mercy, faithfulness) –straining a gnat and swallowing a camel.
They are clean on the outside and full of selfishness on the inside.
On the outside they look righteous. On the inside they are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
He ends by saying to them that they are serpents, a brood of vipers, and He asks how they think they will escape judgment.
Hardly the picture of “perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Jesus confronted the religious leaders before, and challenged their understanding and passion for the Law. He told them they missed the point. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40 NASB)
Life and righteousness don’t come from following the Law. That wasn’t the point of the Law. The point of it was to testify about Christ.
Paul agrees with this and expounds on it. “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law… 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:21, 24-25 NASB)
Jesus, speaking to a Jewish audience under the authority of the Law of Moses, told His listeners that no part of the Law was going away. He also told them that He had come to fulfill or complete that Law.
When He died on the cross, His final cry was “tetelestai” in Greek — “It is finished!”
“The debt is paid.”
“It is fulfilled.”
Paul, with the benefit of hindsight, looks at what Christ accomplished and thus is able to explain more clearly the point of the Law. The Law was not given as a system by which we could attain righteousness. It was given to point us to our inability, so that we would be willing to come to Christ and find life.
Our righteousness is not based on the deeds we do. Our righteousness is Christ’s righteousness imparted to us. Paul explains to us that Jesus doesn’t hold up a new sign with a much higher arrow for us to measure up to. “No really, you must be THIS obedient to be righteous.”
That’s what the Law did. That’s what the Pharisees tried to do.
That’s not what Jesus does.
He smashes the sign and extends the offer to “whosoever will come.”
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
So begins the Declaration of Independence.
On July 4th, 1776, the document was signed by 56 representatives from the American colonies, to explain to the King of England and indeed the world why exactly English rule was no longer acceptable.The Declaration lists all the grievances of the Colonists with their government, and tells the reader why independence from England was the chosen course of action. While this might be informative for the people living in the colonies, the intended audience is the rest of the world.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The U.S. Constitution is a much different document. Written to delineate the powers and roles of the new government, it starts out with “We the People” and speaks of “ourselves and our Posterity.” Although it might be informative for the rest of the world, the intended audience is the populace of the United States.
The intended audience matters, and changes how we talk about a given subject.
The question was raised: Did Jesus change or get rid of the Law of Moses?
Are Christians free from following all 613 of its commandments?
Doesn’t Jesus clearly command obedience of the Law?
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 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. 19 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. (Matthew 5:17-20 NASB)
First, consider the audience and the timing here. Jesus is speaking to a crowd of Jews who have been taught the Law all their lives. He is talking to people who live under the authority of the Law. And He is talking prior to finishing the work He came to do–fulfilling the Law.
This is very different from Paul addressing Gentiles and Jewish believers after the cross and the resurrection of Christ. Just like the Declaration and the Constitution are written to address different groups of people for very different reasons, Jesus and Paul are addressing people in very different conditions.
Early on in His most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems to make it very clear that the Law is meant for us to follow. It has a purpose, and not a single bit of that Law is going away until the purpose is accomplished.
But then Jesus goes on to explain what that means. He begins a series of statements in this formula:
“You’ve heard that it is written X, but I say to you Y.”
And Y is always more stringent than X. And Y is always an internal issue of the heart, not just an external action.
“Do not commit murder” becomes do not be angry or hate your brother because that will send you to hell.
“Do not commit adultery” becomes do not lust, because lust will send you to hell.
“A certificate of divorce makes divorce ok” changes so that it’s only acceptable if a spouse commits adultery–not just for any reason, like tradition had taught.
“Make no false vows, and fulfill your oaths to the Lord” becomes “don’t make oaths; tell the truth all the time.”
The “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” standard of justice and repayment becomes “accept harm and allow yourself to be wronged; be generous.”
“Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” changes to “love your enemy.”
And at the end of this, Jesus tells them, “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.”
It’s a tall order. It’s impossible, in fact.
And that’s the point.
Several times, we see Jesus ignoring the mandate of the Law and instead preaching something different.
For example, He encounters a woman in John 4 and engages in a religious discussion. That in itself is a violation of social norms, and given the sort of woman she is, she is unclean under the Law.
She is a Samaritan, and they believe that a particular mountain is the “right” place of worship instead of the Temple in Jerusalem. Note that the Temple is a necessary location for the Jews, as many of the mandated sacrifices and ceremonies in the Law can only be conducted by having either the Temple or the Tabernacle available.
It’s the center of worship under the Law.
And Jesus doesn’t seem to care.
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”
Not worshiping in Jerusalem at the Temple means not fulfilling the Law. Yet that’s what Jesus says here.
Elsewhere, a “sinful” woman comes to Jesus weeping. She washes His feet with tears and dries them with her hair. The religious leaders present judge Him for allowing an unclean woman to touch Him in such an unacceptable manner. And He praises her act of worship instead.
Later, in Matthew 12, Jesus’ disciples are strolling along behind him on the Sabbath day of rest, and they decide to grab some grain to eat as they walk. The religious leaders jump on this as a violation of God’s Law, and Jesus confronts them about the purpose of the Sabbath. “Was the Sabbath made for man, or man for the Sabbath?” He asks. He also points out violations of the Law in the Old Testament and shows that God was less concerned about the rule and more concerned about the heart.
Immediately after this, He finds a man who has a deformed hand, and He pushes the issue again. “It’s unlawful to work on the Sabbath,” the Pharisees would say. And yet Jesus heals the man, in defiance of the religious anger of the Pharisees.
Jesus went about preaching that His followers should eat His flesh and drink His blood in John 6. Of course, most Protestants call this symbolic, and Catholics believe it is literal, and this leads to debate about the Eucharist. But that’s beside the point of this discussion. The key point right now is to note that cannibalism is portrayed in the Law as a horrible barbarism, a potential consequence of disobedience.
The story at the beginning of John 8 is not found in the earliest New Testament manuscripts available, but it matches up with the compassion and grace Jesus becomes known for. When a woman is caught in the act of adultery, the religious leaders know that the penalty under the Law is death. But they hope to trap Jesus, and so they ask, “What do you think we should do?”
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
In spite of what the Law clearly stipulated, Jesus chose to focus on forgiveness and mercy.
He did not strictly follow the Law, so it’s hard to believe that His intention was to teach that we should strictly follow the Law.
We see a few places where He distills the message of the Law and the Prophets into vague but powerful standards:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Matthew 7:12)
Love God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:36-40)
He says that these “fulfill the Law and Prophets.”
That’s a lot different than a list of 613 rules.
And Jesus’ disciples bear witness to this lack of emphasis on the Law. In Acts 10 and 11, we see the Apostle Peter experiencing a vision from God, in which Peter is told that all manner of creatures are acceptable as food. Peter counters, “No, I’ve never eaten anything unclean.” In other words, I haven’t violated the Law.
And he is told, “Do not call unclean what I have made clean.”
Shortly after that, Peter finds himself sharing the message of Jesus with a bunch of Gentiles–pretty much all those NOT-Jews in the world. And not long after that, Paul goes out preaching to the Gentiles throughout the known world.
After Paul’s first missionary journey, a dispute comes up in the early church about just how much of the Law should the Gentiles follow:
Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
The apostles go off to discuss this. Keep in mind that this is the collection of guys who walked with Jesus and learned directly from Him for three years. One might hope that they would know pretty well what Jesus meant by some of His comments about the Law.
Peter concludes that enforcing the Law of Moses on the Gentiles is a mistake:
10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”
Discussion continues, and instead of 613 rules, the apostles come up with a few essentials to pass on to the Gentile believers:
28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; [p]if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”
The guys who lived night-and-day with Jesus somehow got the point that Jesus was not requiring absolute obedience to every stipulation of the Law of Moses. It’s hard to believe that we have a better insight into what Jesus taught than they had.
Not surprisingly, Paul agrees that the focus needs to be taken off of external actions like circumcision and obedience to the Law.
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love… 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:6, 14 NASB)
10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “ Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “ He who practices them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “ Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Just as the Constitution lays out powers and responsibilities of government, the Law of Moses lays out a list of commands and expectations placed upon God’s people, the Jews. Jesus naturally referred to this often while addressing the Jews who were under that system.
And just as the Declaration of Independence served to point out to the world everything that was wrong with England’s governance over the colonies, Paul’s epistles go into great detail explaining the role of the Law- especially everything the Law couldn’t do – in order to express our liberty and freedom from the Law as a result of all Christ accomplished.
The two documents in American history do not contradict each other; they just serve different purposes. Likewise, the two perspectives presented by Jesus and Paul are complementary even if they appear quite different at a glance.
Peanut butter is different from jelly, too. But no one complains.
You put them together, make a sandwich, and are satisfied.
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “ The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe. (Matt 23:1-3 NASB)
One of the challenges of military life is that you must follow those in positions of authority over you, whether they are great leaders, horrible tyrants, or complete incompetents.
Naturally, following a good leader is easy.
Less so in dealing with the power-hungry or the clueless imbeciles.
For the Air Force, the rank of Chief Master Sergeant is a good example of this (and I expect the same is true in other service branches).
A “Chief” usually earns that rank through years of dedication, service, and commitment not just to the Air Force but to the people under the Chief’s command. Usually, a Chief Master Sergeant has earned a great deal of honor; even if you don’t get along with the individual on a personal level, you can respect what they have achieved to reach that rank.
But there are a few who are so incompetent, abrasive, or self-serving that use of the term “Chief” pays disrespect to all those others who have earned that position. For these select few, many enlisted simply refer to their pay grade. “I work for E-9 So-and-so, and I can’t wait to get out of the service.”
Still, E-9 So-and-so wears the rank insignia of Chief Master Sergeant on his or her sleeve, and so the rest of us have to follow the lawful orders we’re given, regardless of how ridiculous they seem. All they tell you, do and observe.
Christians often point to various Bible verses as an explanation for why we hold particular moral stances. Our opponents (rightly) wonder why we might quote one verse and say it applies, then declare that another verse is “not for today.”
A perfect example of this is the question of the Bible’s stance on homosexuality. Some Christians quote Leviticus or other passages to say that homosexuality is a sin. People on the other side of that debate then look at everything else that Leviticus instructs its audience to follow, and rightly ask why in the world we ignore so many other commandments.
What commandments apply?
What commandments don’t?
What commandments are Christians supposed to follow?
(Note that “commandments” does not refer to a nice list of ten of them. It refers to the whole Law of Moses, the 613 rules given to Israel to follow in the first five books of the Bible.)
Maybe Jesus has something to say about this. The religion is named after His title as “the Anointed One,” so we probably should pay attention to Him.
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 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. 19 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.
20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 5:17-20 NASB
This passage, the quoted passage from Matthew 23 above, and several others raise a series of compelling questions for modern Christianity.
First and foremost, does the Law of Moses apply to Christians today? Are we expected to follow all those commandments? This overarching question leads to others, which are the point of this series.
Did Jesus tell us to keep all of the Law? Did His teaching and ministry do nothing to change it?
We often look at Paul’s epistles and the other books of the New Testament to justify our position on this matter, so another question is raised:
Does Paul’s “gospel” conflict with what Jesus taught? Is Paul mistaken?
And some ask, aren’t we simply picking and choosing what parts of the Bible we want to follow and ignoring the parts we don’t?
Doesn’t that make us terrible Christians who don’t even follow the faith we claim? Doesn’t that failure to obey the commandments mean we’re condemned to the same hell and damnation we preach?
Answering may take a while, but these questions do deserve answers.
Because if the answers are “yes,” then Christians really need to course-correct our faith and shut our mouths until we get our story straight.
So… on the one side we have Jesus, ostensibly the Messiah, the promised Savior of the world, the Son of God revealed to mankind. And He says:
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
On the other side we have Paul, one of those oft-maligned Pharisees, a shining star among the religious leaders of his day, a learned teacher of the Law of Moses and an unlikely follower of Jesus Christ. And Paul says:
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.