Archive for February, 2020
“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Romans 15:1-2).
Who are the strong among us? Is it not those who can do what others cannot? The context of Paul’s admonition reveals an unexpected twist; that for the greater benefit of others, the strong person is one who forgoes what he is fully entitled to do. While immature believers view their liberty in Christ as a license to do as they please; recklessly flaunting their freedom in a manner detrimental to the faith development of others, maturity and true strength of character is seen in those who understand and practice freedom in terms of responsibility. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Look around…It’s not just about you.
“If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell” (Matthew 18:9).
Some would expect these harsh words to be directed toward pagan nations, not faithful followers. Such has always been the case, however. God utilized the prophets to speak messages of warning to his own people. Even Peter says judgment will begin in the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). Though some consider the doctrine of hell and judgments of eternal condemnation incompatible with a loving God, it is the most loving person the world has ever known speaking these words to his own disciples. Our influence serves a Providential role in shaping the fate of many…if not our own.
“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8).
The good news is the negative behaviors of one’s life, that would cause others to stumble, can be corrected. The remedy prescribed by Jesus in Matthew 5:27-30 for the protection of individuals from sexual objectification, he now offers as a safeguard for the impressionable and vulnerable intersecting our lives each day. Though utilizing hyperbole, it captures how seriously Jesus considers the abuse of our influence. It begs the question, “What practice, habit, liberty, association, or freedom do I need to put away that the life of someone else might be strengthened?”
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
That these we must not cause to stumble believe in Jesus means they have a desire to understand the life they are called to live. On numerous occasions, Jesus would ask his own disciples if they understood his teachings (See Matthew 13:51). Though they would answer, “Yes,” their later actions proved otherwise. If the Master Teacher, himself, had this much difficulty in getting his own disciples to understand the life of faith, then how much more guarded and cautious we must be as the vulnerable and impressionable observe our lives, hear our words, and see our attitudes. From such as this, they will draw their conclusions about what it means to be a follower of Christ.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
While responsible for whatever influence we might wield in the life of others, it is especially true in regard to the “little ones” (literally, one of the least) that God entrusts to our path each day. To cause one of these to “stumble” (skandalizo), that is, to cause a loss of faith, or to rob of eternal salvation, is scandalous. Think about the children entrusted to you as a parent. Consider your church attendance and participation. In public, how do you speak of the church? When sharing scripture, is it done in a way that is truthful to its historical understanding, or is it contextualized for the sake of cultural accommodation? For good or bad, how we respond to each scenario has an influence on those around us and plays a formative role in their understanding of the life of faith and its practice.
“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me” (Matthew 18:5).
Jesus personifies how our mission as the church is fulfilled—identifying with the weak, the needy, those with no status. So connected was he to the likes of these, he would say, “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt.25:40). Where are “these” found? Within your family, at school, work, your neighborhood, if you have eyes to see, you will find those deemed little and insignificant by everyone else. If you truly want to deal constructively with your earthly, ambitious desires, identify these individuals and redirect your energies to caring for them. Point your arrows toward their need and your selfish desires, preoccupations, and self-obsession will find fulfillment in ways you would never have expected.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…’” (John 20:17).
Like Mary, many consider the life of faith to be a sentimental recovery of what once was. However, if Abraham is held forth as the father of faith, then the life we should desire is best understood as an adventure leading to a place we do not know and forever transforming us along the way. The missional objective of the church isn’t a recovery but a pursuit. We reach forward to what lies ahead.
“Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8).
To speak of the journey of faith implies a forward movement toward an ultimate destination. Sadly, there are always those, within every organization, who think they have arrived when, really, all they are doing is blocking the road. For the followers of Jesus, however, there is no staying put. We are either going forward and gaining ground or staying put and losing ground.
“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).
That humility is the pathway to greatness is paradoxical; it seems to contradict itself. Understand, however, to humble oneself isn’t to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less. Scripture is filled with a variety of such paradoxical depictions of the life of faith—we see unseen things, conquer by yielding, find rest under a yoke, become wise by becoming foolish, triumph in defeat, and live by dying. The life we pursue is a contradiction to everything this world says brings success and reward because ours is a life given to the greater good of others.
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
The cost of conversion is the loss of a former life; the constant abandonment of all status and earthly definitions of success. Conversion is the starting point of recognizing how all secular ambitions kill all heavenly aspirations. The single-minded devotion of a child to the most, seemingly, insignificant task, models for us the preoccupation we are to have toward those the world has deemed little and insignificant. While the world will say, “That’s not the way to get ahead,” it is the only way to get a “Well done!” from the heavenly Father.