Day 304: Son of Trash, Son of Treasure (Mark 10:46-51)

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. Mark 10:46

Through the Bible: Matthew 19, Mark 10

Matthew 20:29-34 and Mark 10:46-51 both record Jesus healing the blind at Jericho. In Matthew’s account, there are two unnamed blind men. But Mark focuses on just one blind man, a beggar called Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus may have been his given name, or it may have been a nickname. Clearly, Bar is the Hebrew prefix meaning “son of.” But Timaeus could mean one of two things. In Greek, it’s close to a word meaning “highly prized.” But in Hebrew, tame, means unclean, or polluted.

So Bar-Timaeus could mean “highly prized son” or “son of trash.” Which was it?

It seems obvious how the people in Jericho saw Bartimaeus. He was sitting by the roadside begging (verse 46). When he called out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me,” many people rebuked him (verse 48). Most likely, they believed his blindness was God’s punishment for sin (compare John 9:2). So as far as they were concerned, “Son of Trash” seems like the more likely candidate.

But as so often happened, Jesus singled out someone the rest of the world had written off. When the rest of the world told Bartimaeus to shut up, Jesus told him to come closer (v. 49). When most people (myself included) would either ignore him completely or else toss him some money to male themselves feel better, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (verse 51). Jesus saw his faith and made him well.

Jericho saw a Son of Trash. Jesus saw a Son of Treasure.

Jesus, the Son of David, sees you. He meets you where you are. He doesn’t just offer you a quick fix or some spare change. He offers lasting peace and real change.

You may feel unclean, unworthy, polluted. You may feel anything but “highly prized” by anyone. You may have been told you were a mistake. You may feel unwanted and discarded. Someone may have criticized you for daring to express a need. You may feel like a child of trash.

Jesus always sees a son—and daughter—of treasure.

Church and State (Romans 13:1-7)

October 30, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville

Good morning. Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Romans, chapter 13. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through Romans as much as I have.

We’re in Romans chapter 13. And once again, God’s timing is just so perfect. Remember how it “just so happened” that we talked about Romans 8:28 on 8/28? Here we are again with another coincidence that isn’t really a coincidence. We hit Romans 13, about how believers are to relate to the governing authorities, and in a few days we get to vote on our governing authorities.

This is a great reminder to you to vote on November 8. We have a privilege that Paul and the believers in Rome didn’t have. We have a say in who our governing authorities will be. It is an unbelievable privilege to cast your vote. So don’t blow it off. Thank God for the privilege, and then exercise your right to vote.

Also, remember that our church is a polling place. On Election Day, our entire fellowship hall will be used for voting. So teachers and Awana leaders who use the fellowship hall, please make sure we clear away any personal items or clutter or stuff that needs to be thrown away before next Tuesday. We want to be good hosts. 

So. We participate in our democracy. We cast our vote. And if our chosen candidates win, we clap each other on the back and do a little happy dance and go to bed on election night believing that better days are ahead. And what Romans 13 says about being subject to the governing authorities comes easy. If someone else is critical of the person we voted for, we might remind them what the Bible says in Romans 13, and that we are commanded to pray for our government leaders, and that you show respect for the office even if you don’t agree with the person that is holding that office. We are quick to correct anyone who says, “He’s not my President.”

Again, these are all the things we do when the guy we voted for won. But what happens when our guy loses? What happens if our preferred political party is not in power? Romans 13:1 says we are to be subject to the governing authorities. Does that change? It’s amazing to me that conservative evangelical Christians, who maintain that every word of the Bible is inspired and inerrant can spend long stretches of time—often either four or eight years—acting like Romans 13 doesn’t really mean what it says.

So what does Romans 13 actually say? Let’s look at it together. If you are physically able, please stand as we honor the reading of God’s word:

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated. Let’s pray.

[PRAYER]

Now, I know you’ve got a LOT of blanks on your listening guide. And for the sake of all the people that will get really bent out of shape if we don’t fill in all the blanks, let’s go ahead and get that out of the way first. So, first things first. The blanks.

What is our Responsibility to Government (What we Do)?

First, be subject to the governing authorities. (v. 1). Paul says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

The word translated person is a little surprising. It’s not Anthropos, “man.” The word is psuche, which is usually translated “life” or soul. So I think Paul is saying this isn’t just superficial submission. You don’t just “do the right thing.” This is subjection at the soul level. We submit with our attitudes, not just our actions.

Just in case we miss it in verse 1, Paul says it again in verse 5: We must be in subjection to the governing authorities. Your translation might say, “submit” to the governing authorities. That Greek word is hupotasso and it literally means to line up under. It was used in a military sense to arrange troops in formation under a leader. It’s the same word Paul uses to describe husbands and wives submitting to one another in Ephesians 5:21, and wives submitting to their husbands in Ephesians 5:24 and Colossians 3:18.

Now we could spend all of our time just on verse 1, and it could be our guide for everything else. Because this is a categorical imperative. There’s no qualifiers or conditions on either side of this statement. Who is to be subject to the governing authorities?

Every soul. Every person. Every man, woman, and child…

Is to be subject to: Submit. Line up under. At the soul level, not just superficially.

To the governing authorities: Which governing authorities? All of them. You can fill in the blank with any world leader, past, present, or future, and it’s going to be the same answer. Paul was writing to believers living under Emperor Nero. Be subject to Emperor Nero. The next generation of Christians would suffer horrific persecution under Domitian. The book of Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign, and much of what we read as end-times prophecy, the Christians of the day were reading as what was happening to them. Be subject to Domitian. Well what about Stalin? What about Hitler? What about Xi Jinping, or Kim Jong Un, or Bashar Al-Assad in Syria or Erdogan in Turkey. What do you say to Christians in those countries?

You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.

Well, what about our local school board? What about my AP Us History teacher? What about the woman that runs our HOA and sends me a nasty letter whenever I don’t edge my sidewalk?

You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  

Second, we obey them, for the sake of the conscience.  Verse 5: everyone must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. God commands that we be subject to the governing authorities? Do submit and obey always mean the same thing? Not necessarily, and we will get to that, but after this Paul does gives some specific points in which we are to obey. For example:

Third, We are to pay our taxes: It’s right here, in verse 6. We don’t pick and choose which taxes to pay. Verse 7 says “Pay to all what is owed them.”

How many of you hate that this is in the Bible? This week I heard a story about a man who had cheated on his taxes, and for weeks after April 15, he had been unable to sleep. Finally, it became too much for him, so he wrote out a check to the IRS, along with a note that said, “Dear IRS: I haven’t been able to sleep ever since I failed to pay you the full amount I owed on last years taxes. So please accept this check, and I apologize for it being late.

P.S.: If I am still unable to sleep, I will send you another check for the rest of the amount I owe.”

The truth is, the believers in Paul’s day had a much, much more oppressive tax system than we do. Here are all the taxes a citizen of Rome was required to pay, according to a Wikipedia articie:

  • Every citizen paid what it’s called the poll tax. This wasn’t a tax to vote. Pol is from the Latin polis, which means people.  It was a tax simply for being a person. So you were taxed for every person in your household. Every male, aged 14 to age 65, every female aged 12 to age 65, just for being alive.
  • If you were an unmarried man or a woman of childbearing age who wasn’t married, you paid a marriage tax.
  • If you owned slaves, you paid a tax. If you sold slaves, you paid a tax on the sale. If you freed slaves, you paid 5% the value of each slave you freed.
  • If you were Jewish, you paid a tax just for being a Jew.
  • Widows and orphans paid a tax specifically to care for the horses of the military.
  • If you received an inheritance, you were taxed 5% the value of the inheritance.
  • There were sales taxes, trade taxes, and land taxes. There was a flat 10% tax for income. There were taxes for roads and harbors. 10% of your grain sales if you were a farmer. 20% of your wine sales if you had a vineyard.
  • Then there was the fish tax. You were taxed on how many nets you would throw out into the lake or into the sea. You were then taxed on every single fish that your net caught.
  • There was a wheel tax. If you had a cart, you were taxed on the number of wheels you had on your cart. Wheelbarrows were crazy popular.

The Roman government had the simplest 1040 ever. [show slide Two lines: How much money did you make? Send it in.]

But Paul didn’t spend time breaking down the tax code and trying to give the believers guidelines for which taxes to pay. Neither did Jesus. One time, the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Do you remember Jesus’ answer?

19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 

Jesus was brilliant here. The money has Ceasar’s image on it, so give it to Ceasar. But guess what, Christian: You have God’s image stamped on you. So you give yourself to God.

Fourth: We are responsible for honoring and respecting our governing authorities. Verse 7: respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Now, sometimes we attempt to do an end-run around this for politicians we don’t like by saying, “Well, so and so isn’t worthy of my respect.” She’s a godless pagan who is pro abortion and anti Second Amendment. She doesn’t deserve my respect.

My only question is, can you prove that from Scripture? Can you point to a place in Scripture where an authority figure was mocked or disKeep in mind that Paul is writing this to Christians who were living under Nero. Can you show me where Daniel ever dissed Darius? Or Jesus disrespected Pilate? Paul would say that they are owed respect and honor because of verse one. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Now, they may not be owed respect because they are good leaders, but we owe them respect if we are to be good followers. So, not to keep beating a dead horse, but this should eliminate about 98% of all memes that you see on social media during an election year.

  • Fifth, and most important, we are to pray for our leaders. This one is not specifically in Romans, but Paul will say it to Timothy a few years after writing this:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Can I ask everyone to do this this week? Make a list of every politician that represents you. Barry Moore, second district of Alabama. Tommy Tuberville and Richard Shelby, our two senators. Kay Ivey, our governor. Maybe you like them, maybe you can’t stand them. Maybe you voted for them, maybe you can’t wait to vote against them. Doesn’t matter.

Add to the list politicians that are in leadership: Mitch McConnell. Kevin McCarthy. Chuck Shumer. Nancy Pelosi. Joe Biden. Kamala Harris. You may like them, you may loathe them. Doesn’t matter. Scripture says we are to make supplication, prayer, intercession, AND THANKSGIVING for them. That may be really hard for you. You may choke on those words. Doesn’t matter. The goal is that we live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way (verse 3), and that all may be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (verse 4).

Listen, you may think a certain politician is the most godless, reprehensible person on the face of the earth. Every time you see his or her picture on the TV, you just want to throw something. You know what you do? You pray harder: “Lord, you desire all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Please… start with him!”

I’ll say this, too: there is a 100% chance that if you are praying for someone, you are not going to break into her home and attack her husband with a hammer.

So this is our responsibility to government. This is what we are to do. Now let’s talk about Why we do it. What is the reach of government? Or maybe this would have been better for your listening guide: What is the rationale for government?

First, let’s all agree that no government is perfect.  Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” No government is perfect. Government has actually been around ever since Genesis 1, when God gave Adam dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). Then family was introduced in Genesis 2. Woman was formed from man, so man is the head, and man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. That’s order. That’s a system of government.

But as Albert Mohler has pointed out, there’s no time at all between the establishment of order and government in Genesis 2 and the fall in Genesis 3. So we have no record of how government is supposed to function in a perfect world.

But second, we can all agree that any government is better than no government? The absolute most horrific statement in the Old Testament is Judges 21:25: In those days, Israel had no king, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. So no government is perfect, but anarchy is horrible. So God gave Israel kings. Most of them were bad. Ultimately Israel and Judah were overthrown, the people went into exile. You get the stories of foreign kings like Nebuchadnezzar, and Xerxes, Cyrus the Persian and Darius the Mede. None of them were perfect. But here’s what Romans 13 teaches:

The source of their authority is God. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Period. Full stop. Questions? None.

Do you remember when Jesus stood before Pilate? Pilate was astonished that Jesus wouldn’t answer him. He looks at Jesus and says,  

10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. 

Daniel 2:21 says that God is the one who removes kings and establishes kings. So even the Roman governor who signed Jesus’ death warrant was put there by God.

Now, in a weird way, our very system of government makes it easy for us to forget this. We get to vote for the people who represent us. So when someone says, “Well, who put so and so in office,” we either say, “I did,” or we say, “It wasn’t me. It was those idiot [fill in the blank with whichever political party you oppose].” So listen: Even though “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” is politically correct, it isn’t theologically correct. We might pull the lever for this or that candidate, but God, in his sovereignty, is pulling the strings.

There is a twofold reason Paul says government exists. Paul says government is to be God’s servant on earth for two reasons, to protect and to punish. Government is the servant for our good (verses 4 and 6), and the administrator of God’s wrath (verses 3 and 5) To protect the community and to punish the criminal.

By the way, if you are looking for scriptural support for capital punishment, here it is. The government bears the sword as an avenger of God’s wrath against the wrongdoer. Police officers are the government officials who fulfill these roles the most. And notice how Paul describes them: Twice he calls them servants. You’ll recognize that Greek word—its diakonos, where we get our word deacon.

TR, Josh, Mike, did you know you were deacons of the City of Prattville?

When is the last time you got pulled over by a police officer, and thought, this is a servant of God. [CH Spurgeon story?]

But Paul is intentional with his language here. Governing authorities occupy a divinely appointed office. We should thank them for enforcing the law. But I now make it my point, whenever I see a police officer, somebody in government, to thank them for their service.


So we’ve talked about our responsibility to government: what we do. We’ve talked about government’s responsibility to us, which helps us understand why we are to be subject to them. But now, let’s turn to the key question for our time: Is it ever appropriate to resist the government?

Resistance to Government: (Should We Ever Not Do It?)

Remember I asked you earlier if “being subject to” meant the same thing as obey? Well, it actually doesn’t. Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out that there are other words in the New Testament that mean obey. The most common is hupakouo, which means “to hear under.” This is what was used when Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to be still, or demons to leave. That’s different from our word in Romans 13:1, hupotasso,  which is line up under.

So it is possible to be lined up under the authority of the government, or under the authority of a ruler without obeying that authority. This means you acknowledge their right to punish you for breaking the law, and you are willing to accept those consequences. This is what you see throughout Scripture. Shiphrah and Puah were the two Hebrew midwives who refused to follow Pharaoh’s order to kill all the male Hebrew babies. It’s what you see all through the book of Daniel, in all the stories of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They didn’t dispute the king’s authority to throw them into the fiery furnace .

This isn’t in your notes, but you see it in Esther, when she dared to come into the king’s presence without an invitation. What did she tell Mordecai? If I perish, I perish.

Peter and John, when they were told to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. “We must obey God, rather than men.”

You see it outside the pages of Scripture as well. There have been numerous times throughout history that Christians have opposed the state, knowing the consequences of doing so.

Do you remember what Benjamin Franklin said when he was signing the Declaration of Independence? “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” He was acknowledging that Great Britain had the right to hang them as traitors. All of the civil rights protestors in the Sixties recognized that the State had the right to take them to jail for sitting at a whites only lunch counter. They expected to get arrested, and they were arrested.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany in the 1930’s who dared to speak out against Adolf Hitler. Ironically, the majority of churches in Germany fell in line with Hitler’s policies, and used Romans 13:1 to justify it. So when the cross was replaced with the swastika in their churches, they went along with it, saying, “Well, we must be subject to the governing authorities.” Bonhoeffer said no. And in April, 1945, less than a month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged in a concentration camp.

So there are times when it is appropriate for a Christian to resist the state. Not just appropriate, but necessary. Christians can’t give up their voice in the public square. We vote. We speak out. We write our leaders. We educate ourselves on the issues so we can advocate where we need to advocate and oppose where we need to oppose. We accept that the state has the authority to punish, but we are willing to accept the punishment.

And as we get closer and closer to the return of Christ, we recognize that this will become more and more necessary. Here’s some homework for you. Go home and take your listening guide, where you have Romans 13 printed. But open your Bible to Revelation 13, and read them side by side. You’ll read in Revelation 13 that the Beast was given authority for 42 months to utter blasphemy. Romans 13 tells you who gave him that authority. You’ll read in Romans 13 that the state wields the sword. Then you’ll read in Revelation 13 that

If anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword he must be slain.

So how do you know when it is right to oppose the state. When are you required to obey God rather than men? Here are some questions to ask:

Questions to ask:

  1. Will obeying the government disobey a commandment of God?
  2. Am I being asked to do something immoral?
  3. Will obedience violate my conscience?
  4. Will my disobedience be consistent with my Christian witness (Can I disobey like a Christian?)

A good Christian is to be a good citizen until being a good citizen means being a bad Christian.

Day 303: When You Stand by Yourself at Church (Luke 18)

Detail of The Pharisee and the Publican by James Tissot

11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ Luke 18:11-12

Jesus tells a parable of two men who were at the Temple at the same time, but they weren’t at the Temple together. Notice that each of them is standing by himself. The Pharisee stands by himself apparently because he thinks he’s too good to get near a tax collector. He begins thanking God for all the things he isn’t. He isn’t an extortioner. He isn’t an adulterer. And he certainly isn’t a tax collector.

On the other side of the Temple, “standing far off” is a tax collector. Apparently, he thinks he’s too bad to get near a Pharisee. He doesn’t thank God for all the things he isn’t. He begs God for mercy because of the thing he is: a sinner.

The explicit point of the parable is that this man, and not the Pharisee, went home justified. But I see an implicit lesson in this parable as well. There are way too many people today who only ever stand by themselves when they come to church. I’m not talking about singles, or widows, or people who are the only believers in their family. I’m talking about people who hold themselves apart from community. Either too proud or too ashamed to admit their weaknesses, they stand alone when they come to church, or they don’t see the need to come at all.

The Internet has made it much easier to believe that you have worshiped God in any given week because you watched a service online. That you’ve been fed because you listened to a service. That you “got your worship on” because your car radio is tuned to a Christian station. But you haven’t been knee to knee with other believers in a very long time.

We Americans have always prided ourselves on our self-sufficiency and independence. And in many ways, we’ve fashioned Christianity in our own image. We’ve made it a personal thing that we keep to ourselves. If we share anything at all with our fellow believers, its often just the highlight reel of how great the job’s going, how wonderful the vacation was, and how everything is fine. We may be at church at the same time, but we are standing by ourselves.  Jesus told a parable about two men who came to the temple. One went home self-satisfied. One went home justified. But don’t miss the fact that both of them went home lonely. And when you go to church next Sunday, don’t stand by yourself.

Day 302: The Other Time Jesus Got Mad (John 11)

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[e] in his spirit and greatly troubled (John 11:33).

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it (John 11:38). 

If you ask Bible readers to name a time Jesus got mad, most of them would talk about when Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12-13). Probably none of them would say, “What about that time Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead?” But that’s only because we haven’t done a great job translating a key phrase in John 11.

Twice in this account, we see that Jesus is “deeply moved,” according to the English Standard Version. This is actually a pretty tepid translation of the Greek word embrimiomai, which literally means “snort with anger.” Of all the English translations, the New Living Translation is the only one that gives you this sense: “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him.”

I can understand why most translations chose to go with “deeply moved” instead of “deep anger.” It’s confusing. What was Jesus deeply angry at, or who was He deeply angry with? The mourners, making all that racket? The sisters, for not believing hard enough? Neither one of those options seems to fit with the gentle, tender, compassionate Jesus who mourns with those who mourn and weeps with those who weep.

Instead, I think Jesus was angry at death itself. I think he was indignant at the interruption death causes. Jesus was with God in the beginning. He knew God’s design for humans—that we would never die. That we would continue in unbroken, uninterrupted fellowship with God forever. But sin messed everything up. When humans chose to follow their own way, death disrupted the divine design.

And I think Jesus hated it the way a brilliant architect hates any modification to his blueprint. He knew what He intended. And He knew that the pain and loss and anguish these two sisters were experiencing was not supposed to be part of the blueprint.

One morning recently, I got to my office at church, and the first person I saw was Mr. Joe, the old man who restocks our benevolence closet. Normally he greets me with a smile, his eyes twinkling behind his thick glasses. Today, the glasses were off, and the eyes were red and puffy from tears. Mr. Joe’s daughter is in the closing days of her fight with cancer.

Joe knows the Lord. And he knows his daughter knows the Lord. He has cancer himself, and he and I have already planned his funeral. His faith is strong.

But still. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children. Cancer isn’t supposed to disrupt the design. But it does. All the time. And when I saw the pain on this dear man’s face, then I felt just a touch of the divine indignation Jesus felt against the Great Interrupter.

And even though I know that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; even though I know that death does not have the final say, it still frustrates me that death has any say at all. I don’t want to “pardon the interruption.” When death says, “Excuse me,” I don’t want him to butt in.

So Lord Jesus, thank you that it made you mad. Thank you for “snorting with anger” at the tomb of your friend Lazarus. Help me to be a little angry at every graveside. And thank you for interrupting the Interrupter.

As you did with Lazarus, one day You will loose us all and let us go.

Day 301 (Again): What We Learn From Not Understanding (Luke 16:1-10)

I wanted to write about the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. To me, it is the most confusing of all Jesus’ parables. So I figured I would write about it and find some brilliant insight that would make people say, “I’ve never thought about it that way! Thank you!”

So I read, and re-read, and listened to podcasts, and looked at study Bible notes, and read commentaries, and none of it helped me make sense of this parable, I prayed Tara-Leigh’s five prayers in earnest, especially the third one (“God, help me see something new about you I’ve never seen before”) and the fourth one (“God, correct any lies I believe about you or anything I don’t understand”).

And after all that, I’m still left with Jesus telling a story about a dishonest middle manager who gets commended by his rich boss for cheating him out of money that was owed him, simply because the middle manager wanted to make sure he had friends who would take care of him after he lost his job.

What’s the point? It’s hard to discern from the text what Jesus intends the takeaway to be. Is it verse 9?:

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭16‬:‭9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Or is it verse 12? Or verse 13?

“And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭16‬:‭12‬-‭13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I still don’t know. I still don’t understand. And I am frustrated.

I remember a seminary professor saying that a skeptic feels he must understand in order to believe, while a child of God believes in order that he might understand. But what happens when you believe, and you still don’t understand?

As I was praying through this today, God reminded me of a conversation I had with the family pastor on our staff the other day. We were talking about the verse in Romans 10:9 where Paul says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Cody was making the point that we tend to make salvation knowledge based. We want to make sure a new convert can articulate the gospel, and has a clear understanding of sin and redemption, grace and atonement.

And while all that matters, that’s not what Romans 10:9 says. There is a difference between demonstrating that you have a right understanding and confessing that Jesus is Lord. Lordship, after all, is about obedience. When a knight swore fealty and allegiance to his king, the king didn’t quiz the knight on the history of the monarchy or the divine right of kings. The knight simply said, “I don’t have to understand. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I am your man. Here is my sword, I am yours to command.”

I thank God that in His grace for me, He does indeed explain Himself to me in so many ways. He answers my prayer for wisdom (James 1:5). He gives me the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:11).

But He is not required to answer all my questions. And at the end of the day, I should be less concerned with what I don’t understand in the Bible than with what I do understand, but don’t obey.

I am thankful, then, for the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. Not because I understand it, but because I don’t have to. Jesus, you are my Lord. I am Yours to command.

Day 300: What Does “Prodigal” Actually Mean? (Luke 14-15)

The Prodigal Son, by Kristi Valiant Used with Permission

22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:22-24)

Tim Keller wrote a book several years ago whose title raised eyebrows: The Prodigal God. It confused a lot of people, because we misunderstood what prodigal meant. Doesn’t it mean someone who wanders away from home? Doesn’t it mean rebellious, selfish, wasteful? You know, like the Prodigal Son?

See, we think we know what prodigal means because we know the story of the Prodigal Son. However, the word “prodigal” doesn’t actually appear in the story, and so it’s a mistake to base our understanding of the word on the story. To quote one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, “I do not think that means what you think it means.”

Tara-Leigh defines Prodigal as wasteful, but it could also mean “recklessly extravagant.” It has the same root as the word “prodigy,” which we use to describe someone who is ridiculously talented, like Mozart. It’s also the root for “prodigious,” which typically means an unexpected turn of good fortune.

So Keller rightly asks the question, who is the most recklessly extravagant character in the story? Certainly the younger son is prodigal in his spending. But the Father is even more prodigal in His giving.

The father gives the son his share of his inheritance at the beginning of the story. We’re tempted to say, “I get it— that was recklessly extravagant.” But that doesn’t come close to the prodigal-ness of what the father gives at the end of the story.

When the son returns, beaten, humbled, and shamed; there are four gifts the father gives to the son. None of them are deserved. All of them our extravagant. And since we don’t know exactly how the parable ends, the gifts could be considered reckless: does the son stay home forever after that? Does he run away again? What if he did? Would he exhaust the good graces of the father if he came back for a third chance?

We don’t know. But let’s look at these ridiculous gifts of grace as we consider our wonderfully, recklessly extravagant, prodigal God:

The Robe: “Bring quickly the best robe:” Throughout scripture, robes are associated with righteousness (see Job 29:14; Isaiah 61:10; Revelation 19:8). The father swaps the pigsty rags for righteous robes.

The Ring: “Put a ring on his hand:” A signet ring was what the head of a family would use to seal official documents. It had the family crest on it. To wear the ring meant you were part of the family. Romans 8:15 assures us that we have received the spirit of adoption, by which we call out “Abba! Father!” We are part of the family.

The Shoes: “And shoes for his feet:” Members of the household wear shoes. Slaves went barefoot. Paul tells us that we are members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).

The Sacrifice: “Bring the fattened calf and kill it”: And this is the most prodigal gift of all. Not because of the celebration, but because of the sacrifice. For sins to be forgiven, blood has to be shed (Hebrews 9:22). For the son to be restored, something had to die.

The gospel is this: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Hallelujah for the prodigal Father! His grace to us is extravagant.

Take a second look at the image at the top of the post. It popped up on my Google search, and now I’m obsessed with this painting! It’s by a children’s book illustrator named Kristi Valiant. She graciously gave me permission to use the image. Prints are available at www.kristivaliant.com

Day 299: What did Jesus Mean About Leaven in Luke 13:21?

“And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭13‬:‭20‬-‭21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Through the Bible: Luke 12-13

One of the stranger parables of Jesus is in Luke 13:20-21. On the surface, it seems like Jesus is saying a work of God might have an inauspicious beginning but can change the world. After all, this parable comes after the parable about the mustard seed, which is pretty straightforward. “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,” says Jesus. “It starts small, but then grows into a tree big enough for the birds of the air to make nests in its branches” (see Luke 13:19).

So the parable about the kingdom of God being like leaven hidden in three measures of flour is saying the same thing, right? Big things from small beginnings. Got it. I’m ready for the next lesson.

Not so fast. The confusing thing is that almost nowhere else in Scripture is leaven talked about favorably. In the Old Testament, God commanded the people to eat unleavened bread as a reminder that when they were brought out of Egypt they left with such haste that they didn’t have time for bread to rise. Thus, at the beginning of Passover, every household was to purge the house of leaven. Only once were the Israelites commanded to make an offering of leavened bread to the Lord. It was at the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost (see Leviticus 23:17).

In the Gospels, Jesus always used leaven to represent the false teaching of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6-12). In today’s reading, Jesus tells the disciples to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Jesus also warned them to beware of the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15), although He didn’t say exactly what that meant. So it would be a pretty major departure for Jesus to suddenly talk about leaven in a positive way.

Notice how Paul talks about leaven in 1 Corinthians 5:

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭6‬-‭8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

For Paul, leaven represented boasting (v. 6); sin in general (v. 7), and malice and evil (v. 8).

Now, maybe Jesus really is saying that the Kingdom of God is like leaven in that, just a little bit of Christian influence can impact the entire culture. Our friends at GotQuestions take this view. They acknowledge that this is a different take on the leaven symbolism, but still argue that Jesus is speaking positively about the expanding of the kingdom of God. You can check it out for yourself here.

But maybe Jesus is saying that within the kingdom of God, there will continue to be false teachers and hypocrites, whose teaching and attitudes can contaminate the whole church. That would make sense in the context of Luke 13, which begins with Jesus referencing two current events to make the point that without genuine repentance, his listeners were no better off than the Galileans executed by Pilate or the victims of what may have been a construction accident (Luke 13:1-6). After this, He tells the story of the fig tree that didn’t bear fruit (Luke 13:6-9).

Finally, Jesus follows up the parable of the leaven with the warning that at the judgment there will be people who thought they were in, but are really out:

“Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭13‬:‭26‬-‭27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Compare this with the parallel teaching in Matthew:

““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7‬:‭21‬-‭23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Heartwarming vs. Heart Warning

So what’s our takeaway for the day? We’ve talked before about how some parables teach by comparison, and some by contrast. (See Day 286: Persistence, Impudence, Shameless Audacity…Whatever). In the same way, there are some parables that warm our hearts, but others warn them. I praise God for the heartwarming parables like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.

But I am also thankful for the heart warning parables like this one. And the warning is this: not all growth in the kingdom of God is God honoring and kingdom expanding. False teaching, backbiting, hypocrisy and sin are also attitudes that can start small but spread. Without genuine repentance, a big, busy church with lots of programs and a huge budget may be full of people to whom Jesus will ultimately say, “I never knew you.”

Day 298: Seventy Two Others (Luke 10)

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. Luke 10:1

In today’s podcast, Tara-Leigh talks about the debate over whether this account of Jesus sending out the seventy-two is the same story or a different story from when Jesus sent out the twelve in Matthew 10. I think it’s two different stories, mainly because Luke also talks about Jesus sending out the twelve in the previous chapter.

But it is still a fair question as to why there were two separate sendings. Both groups were given the same instructions (compare Luke 9:1-6 to Luke 10:1-6). Both delivered the same message: the kingdom of God is near. And both groups had the same mission: heal the sick.

So why not send them all out at once? One answer the text gives us is that the groups themselves were different. The first group was the twelve apostles. These were the disciples. Jesus’ inner circle. His students. The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.”

But Luke 10 says that Jesus sent out seventy-two “others.” The word “others” is the Greek word heteros, and it means, well, others. Not the apostles. Not the sent-out ones. Just normal, everyday, ordinary, garden variety others. No seminary degrees. No Bible college. Just, others. 

I have another theory for why they were not sent all out at once, and it is just that–a theory, so I hold it very open-handedly. But I wonder if, after the twelve returned from their preaching mission, Jesus made each of the twelve responsible for three pairs of missionaries themselves. Maybe He said to them, “Ok, guys–Phase one was you watching me do this. Phase Two was you doing it on your own. Now it’s time for Phase Three: I want you to train some others to do the same thing.”

Again, this is speculation. There is nothing in Luke’s account that even suggests this. But I think it is a cool coincidence that seventy-two divides evenly into 12, giving each disciple 6 apprentices. (Yes, I know there are some translations that put the number at 70 instead of 72. So maybe Judas Iscariot had 4 instead of 6).

Also, it is consistent with what Paul would later tell his apprentice Timothy:

2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men,[a] who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim 2:2)

The call of Jesus is not just for the apostles. It’s for all of us. You don’t have to get a paycheck from a church or missions agency in order to share the gospel with people. In fact, there are some places you will be able to go that an ordained minister will not. You may have access to public schools that a minister couldn’t. If you have teaching or engineering skills, you could be allowed into countries that would otherwise be closed to overt Christian missionaries. Praise God for the heteros, who can be sent where the apostolos can’t go!

Notice this also: when the seventy-two return from their mission, and tell Jesus all they had seen and accomplished, Jesus says to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (10:18). Jesus affirms the work they did. He seems to be saying, “You guys just put a huge dent in Satan’s dominion. Well done!”

Then, Luke records something that is nowhere else in the gospels: Jesus rejoicing. This is not to say Jesus wasn’t a joyful person. But Luke 10:21 is the only place that explicitly says Jesus rejoiced: “that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Jesus rejoiced when His normal, everyday followers were released and empowered to do kingdom work. And He still rejoices today. 

On One Thousand Views

This week, my blog hit a couple of milestones. Earlier this week, it surpassed 50,000 views. According to the WordPress stats page, people from over 130 countries have clicked on at least one blog post.

The blog has been around since 2017, but it wasn’t until this year that I began posting nearly every day, primarily to go along with a chronological read through of the Bible. My goal has been to post a devotional thought, insight, or some additional background information to go along with each day. I’ve missed a few (mostly when we were slogging through Ezekiel), but for the most part have kept up with it. And now that we are in the homestretch of the New Testament, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

I want to thank all the people that have encouraged me with this project, especially those who are part of The Bible Recap Facebook community. Your encouragement has been a huge factor in keeping this going.

But the second milestone is for one blog post in particular. Back in April, I preached a funeral for a young woman who died of a drug overdose. I took my manuscript for the funeral sermon, edited out her name, and titled it Funeral for An Addict. Unlike most of my other posts, I didn’t share this one on my Facebook page, because the pain the family was feeling was still fresh. But I felt like the message might be an encouragement for other people that had lost someone to addiction.

So I was surprised that of all the posts I’ve done for The Bible Recap, as well as poems, sermons, book reviews, and random musings, “Funeral for an Addict” was the first to surpass a thousand views. By a wide margin. “Funeral for An Addict has been viewed four hundred more times than the second most-viewed post.

My conclusion is that it struck a chord with a whole lot of people. And I have become increasingly aware of how many of my friends have someone in their family or their circle that struggles with substance abuse. If this is you, please know you aren’t alone. And please, please get help. Your life matters. There are people who will miss you. Jesus loves you more than any of us can possibly comprehend. I pray that whatever emptiness you are trying to fill, or whatever pain you are seeking to numb won’t overwhelm you to the point of overdose.

Please, get help.

The Love Manifesto, Part 2: Love on the Outside (Romans 12:14-21)

I heard a story about two little boys—little third graders, playing on the playground during recess. So there they are, playing with their trucks in the sandbox, or whatever, when the prettiest girl in third grade walked past them. The two little boys watched her walk past, and one boy turned to his friend and said, “You know, whenever I stop hating girls, I’m gonna stop hating that one  first.”


I’ve got a question for you. Who is it you need to stop hating first? Now, I know that question seems harsh. Your first thought is, “I don’t hate anybody.” And that may be true. I hope it’s true. But the fact is, we all have some biases and prejudices and some outright contempt for some groups and some people that are outside the walls of the church, and today’s Scripture passage forces us to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and confront those attitudes. So I’m going to ask you again at the end of the message, “Who do you need to to stop hating first.”

We are in part two of looking at Romans 12:9-21, which we are calling the Love Manifesto. If you were here last week, you’ll remember that A manifesto is a radical statement of beliefs that call for visible action. Radical doesn’t mean out there or fanatical; it means fundamental, at the root of things. And “Manifesto” comes from the word “manifest,” which means visible. So a manifesto is a radical/fundamental statement of beliefs that translate into visible, obvious, demonstrable action.

This passage gives us four words, four attitudes, and four questions. The four words we covered last week, when we talked about our love for one another inside the church from verses 9-13.

There’s agape, which is Christilike, sacrificial, self-giving love.

Philadelphia, which is friendship or brotherly love;

Philostorge, or family love.

These are the ones that many of us who’ve been around church for a long time have heard before. But in verse 13 Paul throws out a bonus word for love: philoxenia—Love for outsiders. Love for people who are different from us. We don’t always think of it as love, because it’s translated as hospitality. But it sets the stage for this pivot Paul makes, from talking about love on the inside of the church to love on the outside. Let’s read verses 14-21 again. If you are physically able, please stand to honor the reading of God’s Word:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Let’s pray

[pray]

You may be seated.

We touched on this last week, but its worth repeating: in these 13 verses, Paul gives us no less than 29 commands. Do this, don’t do that. 29  exhortations, all dealing with love, the very heart, the very motive of the Christian life. And these last seven verses deal with our relationships with people outside the church.

Paul begins with talking about four attitudes believers are to have toward those who have a general hostility toward Christians. They don’t know you personally, but they have formed an opinion about how “all Christians are,” and so they treat you accordingly.

The first is in verse 14: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.


Rome was becoming a hostile environment for believers. Paul wrote Romans in AD 57. Three years into the reign of Emperor Nero, who became Emperor at the age of 16 after the death of Claudius. Now, at the time, there was not yet widespread persecution of Christians in Rome. There was in other places. Paul himself had been responsible for a good bit of it. And Paul knew it was coming. Sure enough, just seven years after Paul put his letter to the Romans in the mail, a massive fire broke out at the Circus Maximus in Rome. It burned out of control for six days destroyed as much as 75% of the city. And while there is a lot of mystery over how the fire got started, Nero pinned the blame on the growing community of Christians. And from that time on, Christians were systematically rounded up and tortured. They were fed to lions, torn apart by dogs, and set on fire to light Nero’s garden parties at night.  

So what is Paul’s advice? What kind of attitude should Christians have toward those who are persecuting them? Paul says to bless those who persecute you. Bless AND do not curse them. It doesn’t say Bless “OR,” at the very least, don’t curse them. This isn’t like your mom saying, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone don’t say anything at all.” It’s bless AND do not curse. The word for bless is “eulogeo.” It means to speak a good word about them. It’s where we get our word eulogy.

How in the world are you supposed to do that? This is even a step beyond what you read in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” Now, it’s “Blessed are those who persecute for the sake of righteousness.” How in the world are you supposed to do that? How are you supposed to seek good for someone who opposes everything you stand for?

It’s not just difficult; it’s impossible. We can’t do that. What we can do is remember the example of Jesus. What was Jesus’ attitude toward the people who were nailing Him to the cross? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

Listen, church: people who hate you because you are a Christian don’t know what they are doing. They either oppose you because they have had a bad experience with a harsh, unloving, legalistic, dogmatic, oppressive version of Christianity, or they oppose you because they have been so blinded by Satan that they think anyone who questions their choices or their lifestyle or their behavior is just trying to limit their freedom.

They aren’t your enemy. And if all they can take is your life, they aren’t even that much of a threat. It’s that perspective that allows us to say, father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

Let me say it again. The Black Lives Matter activist is not your enemy.

  • The Pro choice Democrat is not your enemy.
  • The Pride Parade marching, rainbow flag waving, flamboyant member of the LGBT community Is not your enemy.

At best, they are fellow Americans who are just as patriotic as you, but they have a different idea of how to solve our country’s problems. At worst, they are not your enemy, but they are captives of your enemy.

You know what the most powerful prayer you can pray for someone who is captive to sin? “Lord, bless them.”

You’re like, what in the world? Shouldn’t you pray that they would feel the consequences of their actions so they would repent?

Well, that might be what makes sense to us, but the gospel isn’t about what makes sense to us. And the Bible says that it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). So our prayer for the most militant atheist should not be, God, smite them, but God, bless them.

Now that sounds good on paper. But let me say this. That is impossible. Apart from being plugged into Jesus Christ. If you try to do this on your own, you’ll fail.

But here’s the good news. When you’re plugged into Jesus, you’re abiding in him, you’re connected to him, you have an endless capacity to show love. You’ll never get to a place where you go, I’m out of love. It just ran dry.

God pours his love into us, and that never stops, so that the love we pour out to others can never stop. We have an endless capacity to show love because we endlessly receive it from his capacity.

The Second Attitude is empathy for those who are different from you.

Verse 15: Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

I want to make sure you understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is feeling for. Specifically, feeling sorry for. It’s pity, but at the same time, there’s relief. “I feel so bad for her, but thank God that hasn’t happened to me.

But empathy is feeling with, instead of just feeling for. When you empathize with someone, we enter into their pain with them. Sympathy moves into problem solving. Empathy is problem sharing. 

And Paul says “Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

Now, how many of you, if you are being really honest, have an easier time weeping with those who weep than rejoicing with those who rejoice? (Remember, we are talking about our relationships outside the church). Somebody is suffering. Somebody is crying. Somebody is in anguish. It’s not a hard thing to walk up to them, put your arm around them, and I’m so sorry. Let me pray for you. It’s going to get better, and encourage them. Even if they aren’t a Christian, you generally don’t have a hard time expressing empathy for that person. And by expressing concern and compassion for them when they are grieving, you get an open door to display Christlikeness to them. So weeping with those who weep is actually pretty easy.

But what about rejoicing with those who rejoice? A coworker gets a raise, and you didn’t. The two of you are both wanting the same promotion. She gets it. You don’t. How hard is it to rejoice with them? What if it’s someone you don’t like? What if it’s someone whose lifestyle goes against everything you believe? What if it’s the obnoxious, hard drinking, dirty-joke telling, racist bigot that gets the promotion? How hard is it to rejoice when good things happen to them?

Here’s the reason it’s so important to rejoice with those who rejoice. Because God is much more concerned with what is happening on the inside of one of his children than he is with what is happening on the outside of someone who is not one of His children.

Here’s what I mean. When you hear of something good happening to someone that you don’t think deserves it, there’s two sin triggers that are tripped in your spirit. The first is envy: I want what he has. And I want what he has so badly that I would wish bad things for him in order for good things for myself. That’s envy.

The second is pride. “What did she do to deserve this?” I’m the one that been putting in the hours. I’m the one that never misses a day of work. She missed three Mondays in a row last month. And I know it’s just because she was hung over from partying all weekend. Doesn’t my boss see how much more deserving of this promotion I am instead of her?

You know, pride and envy are what got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden in the first place! Adam and Eve became convinced that they deserved more than what we were getting. They wanted what God had. And when pride and envy took root in Eve’s life, she was easy pickings for Satan to tempt her. Don’t you see how these sinful attitudes are so much more important than this other person’s circumstances?

So what if the command to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep is more about what God is trying to cultivate in you than whatever is happening to the people around you?

Here’s the third attitude: Harmony with those who disagree with you. (v. 16)

Verse 16: Live in harmony with one another. 

Raise your hand if you have any kind of musical knowledge whatsoever. I’m doing this for Mike, because he’s always recruiting choir members. Some of you aren’t raising your hands—you’re in the “make a joyful noise” crowd. I get that.

But even if the only musical instrument you play is the radio, you know the difference between unison and harmony.

Unison is what: When everybody is singing the same thing. So what is harmony? Harmony is when everyone is singing something different, but it sounds really good together.

Can you imagine how dull music would be if there were no parts? What if Simon and Garfunkel was just Garfunkel? What if there was just one Everly Brother? What if the Hallelujah Chorus was just altos? (Sorry, altos).

Now, remember that this whole section deals with how believers relate to people outside the church. So this isn’t really about agreeing with one another in the church. This is about how Christians will benefit from hearing and respecting the perspectives of people outside the church. I’m not saying you have to agree with them. That would be unison. But it is possible to live in harmony with people who don’t agree with you. In fact, I think it’s vital. Part of the reason our culture is so divided today is that its so easy to completely surround yourself with people who agree with you. Social media populates your feed with people that are watching the same things as you, going to the same places you go, voting for the same politicians you vote for. You choose news sources that confirm all your biases, to the point that when you hear a different opinion, your first thought is, “How could any intelligent person believe that?”

And verse 16 says, Live in harmony with one another. That doesn’t mean you need to agree with them. It just means you don’t have to be so quick to turn down their voice. Maybe don’t unfriend them right away. Maybe think twice about posting something where the language you use or the images you share are deliberately designed to provoke or offend people who don’t agree with you. Listen: if your sole motivation for posting or retweeting is to “own the libs,” then you are part of the problem. You are being disobedient to Scripture.

Verse 16 says “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” And that brings us to our fourth attitude we are to have toward people who have a general hostility towards us simply because we are Christians. We are to bless those who persecute us. We are to have empathy toward those who are different from us. We are to live in harmony with those who disagree with us. And fourth, we are to fellowship with those who have less than us.

The word haughty literally means to be “high minded.” It is the attitude of self satisfaction that comes from enjoying the success that comes from your own hard work. It’s what makes us want to yell “Get a job” to people we see asking for money at intersections. Or makes us self-righteously angry whenever people talk about student loan forgiveness. Or causes us to be suspicious of any immigrant asking for political amnesty.

I understand these are all hot button issues. I know we have problems with border security, and I know that there are people who can work but don’t work, and I know that somebody somewhere has to pay the bills whenever there’s talk of student loan forgiveness or anything else that looks like free money for people that didn’t work for it.

Still, Scripture says “Do not be high minded, but associate with the lowly. Don’t be wise in your own sight.” It’s worth remembering that none of us chose the color of our skin, or the place of our birth. There is nothing we did to not be born in Chennai, India, or Port Au Prince Haiti or South Central LA or the projects in Montgomery. All we have, we have by grace.

So what does it mean to associate with the lowly. “Associate” means spend time with, but it also means identify with. Even if you don’t agree with their politics, seek to understand. Seek to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Don’t be haughty, and don’t be wise in your own sight.

So those are the four attitudes that will help us deal with people who have a negative attitude toward Christians. Cultivating these attitudes will help build bridges instead of walls, and they will create more opportunities for gospel conversations. Because here’s the truth: You will never convince someone that Jesus loves them if they are convinced that you don’t like them.


But now let’s make it personal. What if someone doesn’t like you?  What if this isn’t about general animosity, but specific hostility? Let’s look at what Paul says about how Paul says we are to respond. I want to give you four questions to consider.

The first question: What is honorable?

Verse 17: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”

Revenge is fun. We like revenge stories. We love The Count of Monte Christo, and the Shawshank Redemption, and The Terminal List.  There’s a reason there was a popular series a few years back called Revenge, but there’s never been one called Reconciliation. We’ve all heard the phrase “Fight Fire with Fire.”

But God’s word says just the opposite. It says to do what is honorable in the sight of all. At the very least it means taking the high road and refusing to stoop to the level of those who are attacking you. But maybe it means not just “doing what is honorable” but actually showing the other person honor. Listen: you may have every right to be angry, or hold a grudge. And you might talk to your friends and they will affirm you that they would have done the exact same thing in your shoes.

But what if you sought to honor the person that was unkind to you? What if you acted in a way that was different from what everyone expected? If you act the same way anyone without a relationship with Christ would act, that’s just normal. I think sometimes God calls us to be weird.

Second question: What depends on me? Verse 18 says

18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

This is one of my go-to verses when talking about conflict resolution with people, because it acknowledges that sometimes it’s not possible, and it doesn’t always depend on you to live peaceably.

But your obligation as a Christian is to do everything possible to make things right with the person you are in conflict with. That starts with asking the question “Is this my fault?” Ask it to God. Psalm 139: Search me O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me. Take the conflict to God. Then, take it to the other person. Make the first move.

Sometimes you aren’t going to going to be able to make peace. But never let the possibility of reconciliation stay on your side of the fence.

Verse 19 and 20 says.

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

What’s all this about heaping burning coals on the head of your enemy? Paul is quoting Proverbs 25:22, and there’s two possibilities that are given in the NIV study Bible about this verse. One is that it is talking about horrible punishment. In Psalm 140, King David prayed that “the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused. Let burning coals fall upon them.” So it’s possible that this is in line with Paul saying, do not avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.

Another possibility is that this may reflect an Egyptian ritual in which a guilty person, as a sign of his repentance, carried a basin of glowing coals on his head. This was meant to be a sign of public humiliation and shame, sort of like being put in the stocks in the public square. And the idea would be that when you feed your enemy and don’t seek revenge, you shame them, and it will be like hot coals being piled on.

Maybe it really is one of these. But maybe the idea is that the best way to deal with your enemies is to make them stop being your enemy.

[Les Miserables clip]

Fourth Question: How is evil overcome?

Verse 21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God’s strategy has always been to destroy his enemies. Sometimes it’s through judgment, but sometimes it is by making them not His enemies anymore.

Isn’t that what Jesus did? On the last night Jesus was with his disciples, did He know what Judas Iscariot was about to do? Scripture says he did. John 13 says that

During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 

And He washed His enemy’s feet. In less than an hour, those feet, having just been washed by Jesus, would carry Judas Iscariot to the temple courts, where he would arrange for Jesus’ betrayal, and then to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he would kiss Jesus—what was supposed to be a sign of love—but what was instead a sign to Jesus captors to move in and arrest Jesus.


Who will you stop hating first in the hostile world that we’re in?

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