And The First Commandment?


I can’t get the ongoing discussion prompted by Pastor John MacArthur’s Social Justice and the Gospel statement out of my head. What the discussion has reminded me of is a question I’ve asked myself from time to time

You see, I’ve heard any number of great messages about the second command, as Jesus labeled it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These are excellent, Biblical, needed.

What I don’t recall hearing much are sermons about the first command:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matt. 22:36-38)

My thought is, if this is indeed the greatest command, shouldn’t we hear sermon after sermon about how we can actually love God with all of who we are?

Maybe that’s embedded in particular messages.

For instance, I heard one pastor whose sermons are on the radio, preach about abiding in Christ. Just recently I heard a message about being filled with the Holy Spirit, and a different pastor preached about the need for revival, in the Church but in our hearts first.

I’m not sure those are the same thing as the First Commandment. Isn’t loving God with our heart, with our soul, with our mind something we should do intentionally along with abiding in Christ and being filled with the Spirit?

Maybe having our relationship with God revived would address how, or to what extent, we love God. I’m not sure. The pastor made a good point that revival is for believers. You don’t revive dead people, and unbelievers are spiritually dead. We the Church need revival. The rest of the world needs to hear the gospel and respond for the very first time.

I’m thinking now that perhaps the angelic addresses to the seven churches in the book of Revelation were calls to revival. And to one of them the angel said, You have left your first love. In other words, you don’t love God with all your heart, soul, and mind any more.

Makes me think of what the prophet Joel said to the people of Judah:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

The chapter goes on to describe what can only be stated as sorrow for sins. Repentance.

So one part of loving God, I think, would have to include keeping short accounts with Him. Short and shorter. And when we sin, instead of just making it right with the person we have sinned against, perhaps above all we should make it right with God.

Not that our sins are somehow undoing our salvation. But they harm our fellowship. I don’t know how it works. God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. Not just past sins, but all sins. Then how can they harm our fellowship with God? I don’t know. Maybe because we remember them, because we need to bring them to the cross to know that yes, that too, God has forgiven. All I really know is, repentance restores my soul. It simply does. It’s not a psychological thing. Not a trick of the mind. When my sins are removed, the are removed! And it’s something that only other Christians understand.

What else does loving God with heart, soul, and mind entail? Jesus said we love Him if we keep His commandments. That’s kind of interesting. Usually we think of keeping commandments to be a physical thing: do this good deed, make this sacrifice, give up this thing, stop doing that thing. But the command to love God with our heart, soul, and mind, would seem to be saying that loving God starts inside. So extrapolating on that, keeping Christ’s commandments starts first in our hearts, souls, minds.

Now I know that the First Command is recorded in other gospel accounts, like Luke 10:27, which add “strength.” So yes, we’d have to say there is a physical component in loving God.

That makes me think of the parable that Jesus told about the King, after He separated the sheep from the goats, said for those on His right to come into His kingdom. Why? because they had fed him, give Him a drink, clothed Him, visited Him when He was a prisoner, taken Him in when He was a stranger, came to Him when He was sick. When did we do that, the people asked. The King answered, “‘Truly I say to you, 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. 25:40b).

And therein lies social justice, I think. It’s tucked inside our love for God. We care for the lest, the lost, the left out, because we love God.

But we can’t leave out our heart, our soul, our mind. Loving God starts inside. It doesn’t start by what we do. Nor is what we do, the sum of our love for God.

Loving God isn’t measured by how high someone lifts their hands in worship, and it isn’t measured by how much food they provide for the homeless ministry. There’s more. And I want to learn what all that is.

Years ago, Christians talked about “practicing the presence” of God. I never really understood what that meant. Just like I’m not sure what it means to abide in Christ or be filled with the Holy Spirit.

In all this rhetoric, I keep thinking, it shouldn’t be that hard. I just want to be with God, to cling to Him, to depend on Him, to please Him, to rejoice in Him, to celebrate Him. I don’t want to fight Him or ignore Him or stray from Him. I don’t know that these things come naturally, so I wouldn’t mind hearing a sermon or two on the First Commandment.

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Social Justice And The Gospel


There’s a bit of a kerfuffle in the cyberworld because of a statement Pastor John MacArthur made, and thousands of other evangelical Christians signed, about Social Justice and the Gospel.

In essence MacArthur’s statement is a call for Christians to hold fast to the teaching of God’s word and not get swept up in the rabbit trails the world would lead us down.

I’ve been listening to MacArthur most mornings for about the last six months or so. Maybe longer. I have to say, I often disagree with him. Not substantively, but in places where he is so absolute, so dogmatic, that he doesn’t leave room for honest disagreement by others who are just as serious and knowledgeable about God’s word as he is.

From my perspective, I think he comes across a little arrogantly. I say this with love, mind you. Because I do think he cares deeply for God’s word and makes a great effort to help people grasp the truths of Scripture. And hold on to them. Without error. But still, at times he can be abrasive and seemingly, callous. But he’s right more than not.

As anyone who is paying attention knows, error does and has and is creeping into some bodies of the Church. Hence, in a recent blog post, MacArthur states

The besetting sin of pragmatic, style-conscious evangelicals has always been that they shamelessly borrow fads and talking points from the unbelieving world.

I don’t disagree with him.

Our sin is no different from the people of Israel worshiping Yahweh and some Egyptian idol or Canaanite god. Sadly, we are just as prone to look around, see what people in the world are doing, and say, “Let’s do that!” Because, you know, people will like us better. People will come to Jesus more, and isn’t that our goal?

That actually puts in the best light the desire to do what the world is doing, but some groups have motives that aren’t that noble. Yet even the most upright of motive misses the point that we don’t save anyone. The Holy Spirit does. We are to do the works of righteousness, to be ambassadors for Christ, telling the world near and far that we have a Savior who will rescue us from the kingdom of darkness.

But recently we’ve headed down some of those cultural rabbit trails that MacArthur is warning us about. We’ve set the gospel aside to proclaim social justice instead.

The confusing thing is that the gospel is all about social justice, so by proclaiming it we are simultaneously, and more effectively, dealing with the glaring ills of society.

In some ways you could think of social justice as a subset of the gospel. I think it’s sort of like the Pharisees who locked on to the command to keep the Sabbath. After all, some of the prophets reamed the nation of Israel for not keeping the Sabbath—a contributing cause of God turning them over to Babylon and Assyria.

I suppose the Pharisees were determined that would never happen again, so they came up with an elaborate system of laws to make sure that someone didn’t work on the Sabbath. Their motive seems like it was good, but they were not dealing with a person’s heart. They were simply concerned about the outward appearance.

Social justice is like that in many respects. There are needs—homelessness, crises pregnancies, homosexual lifestyles, gender confusion, race relations, and more. So let’s clean up these problems, social justice seems to say.

But the real problem is in the heart. Cleaning the outside of the cup will only give a cup that looks clean, but all the germs are still on the inside and that’s what can cause real problems.

The Bible takes on the heart first, but also requires believers to take on the things that create confusion in our culture. Not by creating a Moral Majority or an evangelical voting block or some other system that copies the world. We already have our “system.” It’s called the Church.

And the Church is designed to equip the saints to go out into the highways and the byways and preach the gospel and love our neighbors and tell the world about Jesus.

Sadly, the poor we will always have with us. And yet we are to create a Church environment that makes room for the poor. We are to care for widows and orphans in their distress. We are to share Christ with the tax collectors and the Samaritan woman equally.

But we aren’t simply to clean the outside of the cup. That’s inadequate and doesn’t address eternal needs.

Back to the internet controversy about MacArthur’s statement, I think there is some disingenuous opposition and some genuine concern. Some people say, a lot of his statements give those who are racist a reason to hate and claim that they are doing so according to the Bible.

That’s a sad misreading of the text, of both Scripture and MacArhur’s. One can only reach that conclusion by ignoring the clear statements that present what the Bible actually says about Christian unity. Of course, there very well might be some people who want an excuse to hate. I don’t know that the Church can do anything to change that, apart from proclaiming the truth to them, too.

On the other hand, there are people who believe what the world is saying about feminism and homosexuality and gender, and they simply hate what the Bible says about those issues. Their criticism of MacArthur and his statement is disingenuous. They don’t really have a quarrel with him. Their quarrel is with the Bible because they don’t want women to accept roles that aren’t identical to men’s roles. They don’t want to bow to the authority of Scripture when it comes to sex.

They are like the children of Israel who made alliances with the nations they were to steer clear of, who later wanted a king rather than God to lead them, who drifted from worship until the temple was in a ruined state and the Law had been forgotten.

This is what John MacArthur is warning the Church about. When we follow in the footsteps of the people of Israel, we are jeopardizing our witness in the West.

No fear. The Church will flourish. The gates of hell won’t prevail against it. But maybe in the West, the lamp will go out. Like it did for a time in Ephesus and Laodecia and the other churches in Revelation. It just might depend on what this generation does.

Christians And Social Justice


A number of things that have become causes in the general populace here in America actually stem from teaching found in the Bible. For instance, the Apostle Paul wrote more than once that there is no Jew nor Greek in the Church. Clearly he was not supporting nationalism. He also said that in Christ there is no slave nor freeman—no economic barriers that separate believers. Finally, he also stressed that there is no distinction between men and women when it comes to believing in the good news of the Messiah’s coming.

In truth, Christians should lead the way in such social matters.

Once upon a time, here in America, we did. Christians were at the forefront of providing literacy for all, dealing with sickness and injury, freeing the slaves.

Of course, not all Christians got on board with such causes, but the fact remains—there likely would not be a Harvard, Princeton, or Yale; a Red Cross or a civil rights movement if Christians had not stepped up.

Throughout the Old Testament, God reiterates more than a few times that His heart is for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the oppressed.

Sometimes God gave a command to the people of Israel to care for those in need: Exodus 22:22 ““You shall not afflict any widow or orphan,” and later Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do good; / Seek justice, / Reprove the ruthless, / Defend the orphan, / Plead for the widow.”

Sometimes the direction came with a promise: Deuteronomy 14:29 “the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Sometimes there was a particular command to make those on the fringe of society welcome in their religious ceremonies: Deuteronomy 16:14 “and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the =orphan and the widow who are in your towns.”

Sometimes God gave strict warnings about the judgment He would bring on those who did not treat the needy as they should: Malachi 3:6 ” ‘Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,’ says the LORD of hosts.”

Jesus lived out those Old Testament instruction. He did not turn away the poor and needy. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. He touched the leper and drove out the evil spirits from the demon possessed. He didn’t make a distinction between needy women or needy men. He came to the Jews, but He included Gentiles who came to Him.

I think the Church today continues to care for the needy in many ways. I know of people serving in pregnancy centers, people who have been involved in prison ministries, others who serve among the urban poor.

But surprisingly, the politics of Christians doesn’t seem to follow suit. I’m thinking here specifically of globalism. I mean, the Church of Jesus Christ, made up of Jews and Greeks, also has Italians and Chinese and Puerto Ricans and Egyptians and Irish and Kenyans and Guatemalans and Brazilians. Why should we care if America is great again? Or great at all?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my country. I’ve lived in a few other countries and visited far more, and I do not see a place I would rather live. America is abundantly blessed—with natural resources, an ideology that has been informed by Scripture, and a people united most by our humanity. It’s a unique place, and I am happy to call the US home. For now.

But my greatest allegiance lies with God who is the Sovereign Lord. His Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom, according to Psalm 145, and His dominion endures throughout all generations.

As such, it seems logical to me that Christians should be far more globally minded than the average American. We should be far more concerned about the oppressed and the strangers and the widows. It seems to me that those issues should drive our politics, more than those who don’t know God.

In some ways, it seems to me that we who consider ourselves to be conservative, who believe in life for the unborn and that God didn’t make a mistake when He created a Man or a Woman with the gender parts He gave them—it seems to me that we ought to be leading the way when it comes to advocating for the needy, welcoming the stranger. Instead, it seems we have let those who do not believe in God usurp those causes.

What do we stand for? Merit-based immigration? Walls?

Again, I want to be clear. I believe our government should not be so naive or cavalier as to allow terrorists and criminals to move in. It’s not easy to discern who is in need and who wants to take advantage of our open hand.

But I think that’s the principle which should drive our politics. We should want leaders who will treat all people well—rich and poor, natural born and naturalized and strangers.

And by “we” I mean Christians. We should not allow American politics or the American dream or any other factor to override God’s heart for people in need.

Think about it. Ruth—King David’s great grandmother—was a Gentile. And a widow. And Boaz, a kinsman redeemer, came to her aid when she was most in need. What a picture of Jesus Christ.

Should Christ’s Church be less than a living example of His love and care for the orphan and widow, the oppressed and alien?

Impulse Control


MacDonald'sAs I was driving out of the mini-mall with groceries in the trunk, I came to a stop sign. A young mom was walking with her son and her daughter who she held by her hand. They’d just finished crossing the street from the McDonald’s they must have visited because in the mom’s other hand she held a food item wrapped in the bright, cheery colors of the fast-food giant.

As she reached the near side of the road, I waited. Which way was she planning on going? As it turned out, she was no longer going at all. She reached the corner near the stop sign, mostly out of the traffic lane that led to the McDonald’s drive-through window, released her daughter’s hand, and opened the food parcel—a cheeseburger, by the looks of it.

Once set free, the daughter, who I’d judge to be about four, reached toward her mother with both hands.

With the little girl now free to run into traffic if she chose, I had added incentive to wait until I knew the mom and her charges were safely out of the way.

The harried woman proceeded to stand where she was and break off a piece of the sandwich to give to her daughter.

Really? I thought. Really? In the middle of traffic? You can’t tell your daughter to wait until the car goes by, at least?

But of course she couldn’t. We are a society of instant gratification, and we’re training our kids to our way of living.

How this societal trait contrasts with the Christian worldview! In Galatians 5, for example, we learn that the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control. In 1 Corinthians 13 we learn that love is patient. Even the idea that we are to wait for Christ’s return as victorious King, shouts of a need to harness our impulses and do what’s right, not what we feel like doing.

Romans 6:12-13 speaks to God’s standard for us:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

In the first eleven verses Paul explained how our identification with Christ through baptism enables us to walk in newness of life, no longer slaves to sin. But the clear implication of the verses above is that we can still live as if we are slaves to sin, or not. If sin reigns, then we obey our lusts—our impulses, our selfish desires, what we want, no matter who it might hurt or offend or inconvenience or put in jeopardy.

If you want it, why by all means, go for it! seems to be our new motto. In other words, our lusts are reigning in our mortal bodies. Sin is reigning in our mortal bodies.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the little girl was sinning because she wanted some of the sandwich. But the mom clearly missed a teaching point. She could have shown her daughter that she needed to wait because the circumstances weren’t safe. They may have had that conversation before they crossed the street—I don’t know. But if so, the mother was either not a good judge of “safe” or she had caved to her daughter’s insistence that she get what she wanted NOW. For clearly the little girl was being insistent.

Sadly the church in the west seems to be rapidly incorporating the values of society instead of standing for God’s standard of patience and self-control. Just recently I received a newsletter from a Christian that boldly proclaimed, “I’m learning to say YES to myself.”

I don’t think the problem is that we haven’t said yes to ourselves.

I’ve been reading the biography of George Müller, who established homes for over a thousand orphans in England during the middle to late nineteenth century, all by faith in the provision of God and without asking for donations to meet any of their needs. I tried to imagine this man of faith saying that he was learning to say YES to himself. It doesn’t compute.

For Müller, the only thing that was important was seeking God and His righteousness.

To be honest, there is a movement in the church to be “missional,” by which those who use the term mean, working for social justice. But the aim seems less concerned with God’s kingdom and righteousness than with fixing the brokenness of our society.

Müller could be the cover boy for social justice. I mean, he was accepting into his orphan homes any and all children, regardless of their social status or financial means. At the same time he established an Institution of Spiritual Knowledge Home and Abroad which educated and provided for needs in various places.

But undergirding all this activity was prayer and faith and a desire for others to see God as He is—a loving Father who provides for the needs of His children, who answers the prayer of faith in the contemporary world just as He did in Bible times.

Müller’s life and way of working stand in sharp contrast to the self-indulgent lifestyle of today. I suspect he eagerly embraced, and undoubtedly taught, Paul’s admonishment not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies so we won’t obey its lusts.

Today we’re more inclined to ask, What is sin? Some might go so far as to say, Paul simply didn’t know how harmful it is to restrict a person from pursuing his or her natural inclinations. In other words, the Bible is Wrong!

Well, actually God knows us quite well, being that He came in the form of a man and lived among us. Not to mention that He created us.

Since I know myself to a degree (and because I trust Omniscience), I’m inclined to agree with God, here: I need impulse control. We all need impulse control.

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