When I began to write this post, I looked for a dozen passages in the Scriptures that Christians in the West largely ignored in practice, despite mentally assenting to the truths contained therein. But what scared me as I delved into this was that far too many passages of the Scriptures are simply ignored.
So I started focusing. Eventually, I narrowed down a dozen sayings of Jesus from the book of Matthew alone. A sad state of affairs, indeed, that I can cull a dozen passages from just one book that are largely ignored by enlightened Evangelicals. But there you have it. Perhaps if we were more serious about the Scriptures, we’d spend more time putting these words into practice and less time obsessing over the petty little kingdoms we build in our own names.
1. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….”
We love to hate our enemies, don’t we? In like manner, we don’t seem to much believe in the power of prayer to either change our enemies or change our own antipathy toward them. It’s a double-edged sword that continues to cut the Western Church to shreds. Do we love people in Al-Qaeda? Do we love Iran’s leadership or North Korea’s? Do we pray for those enemies?
I didn’t think so…
2. “No one 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. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. ”
I think it would be telling if God raised up a prophet within His Church who was able by word of knowledge to point out those in the Church who loved money more than God. The awful truth may be that God doesn’t need such a prophet; I suspect that most of us in the West would fail that test, no supernatural revelation needed.
When we look at how we spend our time, most of it is devoted not to doing the Lord’s work but accumulating the trappings of an opulent society that has forgotten God and believes too much in its own ability to provide. We devote outlandish amounts of time to making money and next-to-nothing for the eternal Kingdom of God. I believe that any one of us can run the numbers on our own lives. This is no sacred/secular division test, but one of the heart. We will devote our time to what we love. And most of us are devoted to what will burn and not to the Lord who made us and who calls us to be a holy people separated unto Him.
3. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. ”
Love first. Again, love first. It’s funny how loving first seems to temper any judging that may follow.
I find it difficult to criticize anyone. My own failings are ever before me. If I have energy left at the end of the day, it is best spent cleaning up my own house rather than telling my neighbor how to clean up his.
The world has largely closed its ears to the message of the Gospel because Christians can’t seem to get their own house in order before telling everyone else how to clean up theirs. That’s pride. And God hates pride more than just about any other sin.
4. Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit. We have too many living people in the Church and not enough who are dead to the world. Dead people have nothing to lose in battle. They fight with abandon. They fight despite overwhelming odds. They fight with weapons that are not theirs simply because they own nothing of their own anymore. Therefore, God equips them with His weapons and His gifts. And those dead people change the world.
The cross is death to the self. And until we’re dead, we’re useless to the Kingdom.
5. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. ”
I’ve never heard a sermon on this passage. This to me is a crime.
Christian, do you understand this passage? The world does not own you. Nor do you owe it. You are free.
Yet how many Christians out there are in bondage to the world? Many are weighed down by the cares of accumulation and keeping up appearances. Others cannot move beyond the past. Some are in bondage to the future. Many are trapped in the hell of legalism and performance.
These are people to be pitied.
Christian, you are free! It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you or asks of you. You are a son or daughter who only answers to the Father.
Now start acting like free men and women.
6. And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
No adults make it into the Kingdom of Heaven, only children. Only children have the faith necessary to believe in a world bigger than the one they see with their eyes. This is how heaven is, the place where God dwells. And only the children can see it.
We place too much emphasis on “mature faith,” yet my experience has been that those who self-label as mature are often the most faithless people. They claim to know God, yet they sell Him short whenever anything miraculous is needed. Their favorite word is but.
Where I come from, that kind of “faith” is no faith at all.
7. And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
I once wrote a post claiming that the more in-depth parallel passage in Mark is the least-believed passage in the Bible.
Christians in the West believe in what their eyes tell them. They believe in science. They believe in the rational. But they do not believe that mountains can be cast into the sea by faith. And this is why so many lost people have given up on the Church. When even the believers no longer believe, what then is the point?
8. But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I hear too many complaints from people concerning memorizing Scripture. Anyone can memorize Scripture if he loves the words of God found in the Bible.
I firmly believe that if all Christians everywhere were to memorize this one passage and live it, the world would be transformed in one generation.
Instead, we seem to love ourselves, love the stuff we accumulate for ourselves, give God a passing mention, and think about our neighbors only when they are threatening our selves or our stuff.
And we wonder why no one in the West cares to hear what the Christian Church has to say. When even the rankest pagan knows this passage and is astounded that most Christians don’t get it, why should we then be surprised that they have no time to hear anything else from us about the Lord we claim to serve?
9. “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
We love our hierarchies, don’t we? We all want to be the bigshot. We love titles, and degree designations, and certifications, and anything that smacks of privilege—but Jesus said it is all bunk. The real bigshots are the least likely people, the ones who serve.
What would happen in the average church if the measure by which people gained status was by humble service? The irony is that the genuine servants would serve despite the status, even if they got punished for the service rather than accruing spiritual brownie points. They realize the Lord they ultimately serve is a gentle, humble servant Himself. And one who grades on an entirely different scale than the Western Church or the world does.
Do we believe we are all equal before the Lord? Or do we ascribe to an Orwellian Animal Farm philosophy where some are more equal than others?
10. “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
People are known for what they serve. And they are known for that service by their preparation for it. A firefighter trains for the fire. A pilot trains for the flight.
What is our service and how do we prepare for it?
It’s very simple: We do not live as if the Lord may return tomorrow. We don’t, and we have no excuse. The Lord holds out His hands pleading for the Church to be the Church, but we instead want to be the World. So little work for the Kingdom goes forth because we park ourselves in front of our favorite form of entertainment, shop for more crap that will burn on Judgment Day, or complain about how bored we are.
Meanwhile, the thief has robbed our house and left us with nothing that will survive God’s holy fire come the Last Day.
11. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Both the sheep and the goats called Jesus Lord. The only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to what Jesus says here, is was what they did and did not do.
God help the goats. Too many of them are sitting in the pews. Worse, too many of them are leading our churches.
If we believed this passage, the orphanages would be empty.
12. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I haven’t had a stranger attempt to share the Gospel one-on-one with me in decades. Rank chance would tell us that with several million Evangelicals in this country, the odds of not having heard the Gospel one-on-one from a stranger goes to zero.
The only explanation that it is not zero, in fact far from it, is that virtually no one is interested in making disciples. The population of born-again Christians is stable or declining in the United States. The reason is a failure to take this closing passage in Matthew seriously.
Someone else will do the work, we subconsciously think. Isn’t that what we pay pastors for?
It doesn’t matter whether your gift is evangelism and teaching or not. Each Christian is commanded to make and raise up disciples.
Twelve sayings of Jesus with the power to change the world. That it is not being changed on our side of the planet can only be explained by our inability to believe what Jesus said.
And if we cannot believe what Jesus said, how then can we truly call ourselves His disciples?