The Only Difference


…my friends, the only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to the Scripture, is what they did and didn’t do.
—Keith Green from the song “The Sheep and the Goats” (riffing on Matthew 25: 31-46)

I believe one of the most obfuscated verses in the Bible is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Notice my emphasis there. What is the whole point of knowing the Scriptures? It’s to be equipped for good works. Christ and the cityThose good works include such things as evangelizing the lost, training the young, feeding the hungry, fighting injustice, stewarding the Earth, and befriending the friendless.

Some might think that knowing the Scriptures just to do those things seems like a waste of good biblical knowledge. But it’s not about knowledge. It’s about loving others.

Who gave one of the most impassioned defenses of Christ in the Scriptures? Stephen, the man who waited tables, who fed the widows and orphans. Read Acts chapters 6-7. This was a servant, folks. And he knew the Scriptures.

In the days ahead, I’ll be writing more on this intersection of social responsibility and the Gospel.

Stay tuned.

6 thoughts on “The Only Difference

  1. I believe there were more than the obvious reasons why Jesus wanted the rich young man to sell his possessions: 1) The poor, by and large, will find no practical use for the rich’s riches (e.g., after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, people sent deep winter clothing and gear, which sat on a dock unused); the poor need the basics: cash, food, clothing, shelter — not jewelry, tea sets, and plasma-screen televisions; 2) if the possessions were given away, then the rich man could brag about what a steal the recipient was receiving (i.e., “I bought this for thirty pieces of silver, and you’re getting it for free!”); and 3) the rich man would be forced to face what happens to most of our possessions: depreciation, goods sold for pennies on the dollar.

    The “intersection of social responsibility and the Gospel,” however, seems to have an inherent contradiction: We tell the rich young man to sell his possessions, but we tell the buyers not to buy the possessions, because buying is materialism and consumerism. Either way, whether the rich young man refuses to sell and/or the buyers refuse to buy, the poor end up the same way. With squat.

  2. Interesting word; “work”. John gave the word, as used in the verse in question, quite a workout, in both the gospel of John and in Revelations. You know the last mention of the word (ergon, in greek) is Revelation 22:12?

    “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”

    I wonder how Kennedy would rephrase the answer to his question about why Christ should let people into His heaven, based upon that scripture?

    “Work” in the scriptures is very concrete. Prayer is not considered work, worship is not considered work. Prayer is food, worship is sacrifice. Work is, well, work: The thing we used to do with our hands, that made callouses and burned up calories. Now it seems we consider picking up 3-bean salad at the deli section of Wal-mart for the potluck after church, “Work”. Interesting, isn’t it? If there is no effort on our part, then is it really “work”?

    A response to Michael Rews comment, I think the reason Jesus told the rich young ruler to give away all he owned was fairly simple: The young man wanted salvation, but he also wanted his stuff. Jesus told him he had a choice: Your stuff, or Me? Which will it be? It wasn’t about giving to the poor, it was about giving up what he desired most.

    “Good Works” have, as their primary function, giving up our pride, selfish desire, and ambition. Secondary is meeting needs. Like forgiveness, it is for our own good. In order to be good workers, we need to have the mind of Christ, and we can’t have that without being inculcated with the word of God.

    You’ve been building a good head of steam, Dan, I look forward to the days ahead.

  3. Heather


    This is exactly what the Holy Spirit has been teaching my husband and I in the past few years. We have found ourselves shutting books, turning off the computer, being much more selective in “Bible studies” joined, and obeying what He has already told us to “do.” When we prayed for Him to lead us to people in need, we were naive. Because He actually did, and it’s quite intrusive on our comfortable, predictable life. This keeps us humble.

    I ran across this quote on Dave Black’s website this week and thought of it when I read your post.
    ——– this quote from Bonhoeffer’s sermon preached on Reformation Day, November 6, 1932 (as quoted in Georg Huntemann’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Reassessment [Baker], p. 285):

    No one who knows today’s church will want to complain that the church doesn’t do anything. No, the church does immeasurably much, and also with much sacrifice and seriousness; but we all do precisely too many second, third, and fourth works, and not the first works. And exactly because of this, the church is not doing what is crucial. We celebrate, we represent, we strive for influence, we start a Protestant movement, we do Protestant youth work, we perform charitable service and care, we make propaganda against godlessness†“but do we do the first works which are the basis of absolutely everything? Do we love God and our brother with that first, passionate, burning love that risks everything†“except God? Do we really allow God to be God? Do we leave ourselves and our church to Him completely? If that were the case, things would have to look different, there would surely be a breakthrough.————–

    Heather in Ohio

  4. I’m with you, Dan … a lot of our confusion about “works” would be resolved if we stopped looking at them as “our” works and started seeing them as “God’s work through us.”

  5. BTW, all, my son is much better. He threw up last night and I think it’s because of post-nasal drip. He tends to get phlegmy sometimes (bad cold or allergies) and then can’t stomach the drip. I think yesterday was allergies.

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