“But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9 (CSB)
To eat or not to eat? That was the question in Corinth. Was it okay for Christians who felt the freedom to eat meat sacrificed as part of pagan rituals to do so? Or should they abstain from eating if it would harm some of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s answer to both questions: yes.
We would do well to apply his conclusions to the positions and actions we take today. We may be within our “rights” to do something, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary or helpful to do it. Christianity is not about declaring our rights. It’s about laying them aside for the good of others. After all, we follow a Savior who did not cling to his rights but willingly relinquished them for our salvation. The least we can do out of gratitude is treat others the same way.
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24 (CSB)
As a summary to his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus illustrates the difference between those who merely hear his teaching and those who actually put it into practice. The assumption is that followers of Jesus who have rightly understood his words will integrate them into their lives. It is important to note the order. We are to hear and then do. This is a principle seen throughout Scripture. We listen to the Word of God and respond accordingly.
In response to those who are all talk and no action, it is sometimes said that what you do is more important than what you know. That’s not entirely accurate. Spiritual maturity is more than just hearing – but it’s never less than that. Our actions must be driven based on what we have heard in the Word of God. Otherwise we risk doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. And if there is anything we learned from Jesus in his sermon, it’s that the inside matters just as much as the outside. To be his follower means that we are completely and totally transformed from the inside out.
“Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (CSB)
We all want justice, mercy, kindness, and grace for ourselves, especially when we are in the wrong. We want people to give us the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the motives and reasons behind what we say and do. It sounds simple because in one sense it is. I am to treat you the way I would want to be treated. What’s so hard about that? Yet our inability to actually live this way shows how difficult it is.
The ethical vision in the Law and the Prophets is beautiful. It points to a world where total peace and harmony is the norm. This is the Hebrew idea of Shalom. Israel failed to live out this vision. The incredible news for us is that we are not left to try and live this out on our own. We have the indwelling Spirit who convicts, reminds, and enables us to treat others the way they deserve to be treated. We continue to stumble and fall but by God’s grace, we do so in a forward moving direction. What’s more, we look forward to day when we will fully and completely experience Shalom.
Our culture has lost the art of disagreement. We see it play out all around us. When controversial issues are raised, we don’t just dismiss the other side, we vilify it. We throw around weak, straw man arguments and build caricatures around positions that don’t even exist. We attribute the opinions, words, and actions of a few to the many. We don’t seek to understand. We don’t allow for the possibility that our position might be wrong or our understanding of the issues incomplete. We simply attack. Not only is it unhelpful, it’s flat out wrong. It’s sinful. If we as Christians have engaged in this kind of behavior then we need to repent. We must remember that people have the right to be wrong and still be treated with respect.
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use.” Matthew 7:1-2 (CSB)
No statement from the Sermon on the Mount is quoted more often today than “do not judge.” What is viewed by many as a prohibition – an absolute one no less – is actually more sobering than that. Jesus is issuing a warning to his followers. To judge is to pronounce one guilty before God. This is more severe than identifying sin and inviting someone to repent (something Jesus graciously did and expects his followers to do). This is about putting ourselves in the position of God in relation to others. When we do this, we are violating the first commandment and making ourselves worthy of judgment by God.
Most of us don’t think we do this. It’s an unconscious process. But if we examine the beam in our own eye long enough, we will see it. Every time we think, “I can’t believe a Christian would do that,” or “there is no hope for him,” we are playing the role of God. We are deciding how far his mercy and grace is allowed to extend. That’s not to say we affirm or overlook the sin of others. We should always graciously invite repentance for that which God has clearly revealed as sin. More importantly, we must model repentance in all areas of our life.
“So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Matthew 6:31-32 (CSB – emphasis mine)
Not only are Jesus’ followers invited to call on God as their heavenly Father in prayer, they are invited to escape the worry and anxiety that plagues the rest of the world. Jesus makes no guarantee that life will be simple and free of pain nor does he say we will get what we want (or think we want). The guarantee is that our Heavenly Father knows what we need, period. In his way and in his time, he will provide for us. Which begs the question, why do we worry? After all, what loving father – especially a perfect one – doesn’t have the best in mind for his children?
“I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.” – 2 Timothy 1:5 (CSB)
I’m old enough now to have seen peers walk away from the Christian faith. It’s always tragic and discouraging. It’s also a reminder of how important it is for me as a parent to pass along the Christian faith to my children. A solid foundation of faith begins in the home. That involves more than just church attendance (which is indispensable) and occasionally talking about God. It means actively passing on the tenants of the faith to our children and demonstrating that a relationship with Christ is of utmost importance. Could they still choose to walk away? Of course. But our job is not to make them believe. We are not responsible for the outcome. We are responsible for passing along our faith and showing them how to live as a follower of Jesus.