doing what is right in the eyes of everyone: our witness

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Romans 12:17-18

Any passage of Scripture has to be considered in its context. The directive to do right in the eyes of everyone is in the context living in the midst of tensions in relationships, perhaps at work, at home, or elsewhere. How do we navigate such?

We do what we can and leave the rest to God. God will take care of any wrong that needs to be made right, aside from any wrong we might need to make right, along the way.

There is a certain basic aspect of being a Christian, of following Christ in which we can’t worry about what the world thinks. We try to be true to Christ, to the gospel, to righteousness and justice as God prescribes, regardless.

At the same time, we must be sure that we’re not causing any offense of our own that will make it harder for people to see the light of Christ. We must not cover that light with our own darkness. Paul expresses this idea perhaps more directly here, again to be considered in its own context, but still appropriate for this problem in general:

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:32-11:1

This should be our passion, something close to our heart. As we seek to follow Christ and his light for ourselves, and in doing so, be a light to others.

 

what carries us away?

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

Hebrews 13:9a

“What are we carried away by?” is a good question. I don’t like to take a passage out of context (click link to see full context). What is referred to here is a fascination it seems over teachings from their old religion, which seemed to have a power in themselves. It’s important for us to consider how that thought might apply and have a hold on us today.

But what I’m thinking of here is whatever we might get taken in by, whatever might get a hold on us and essentially choke out the seed of God’s word in our lives. It can be a fascination over all kinds of things, be it sports, politics, gaming, whatever. It’s not like these things can’t have their place in terms of importance and pleasure, although some to be sure would obviously be wrong. It’s just that we have to always seek to have hearts in tune with God’s will, minds set on submitting to that will, and feet (lives) that follow.

It isn’t easy to avoid being swept off our feet by this or that, especially when we’ve more or less lived there for years. But whatever engagement we have with such needs to be tempered by God’s word in our lives, so that we remain grounded in what really matters: God’s good will for us. In and through Jesus.

leaving everything to follow Jesus

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:10b-11

I’m not sure our Christianity today has enough of this element in it, the idea of leaving everything behind to follow Jesus. Lest we think that was only something for Jesus’s immediate disciples, we should read further, one good example being Paul’s thoughts to Christians in Philippians 3. Like Paul, in Jesus we see something far greater than anything this world has to offer, indeed, greater than ourselves and our own interests.

This might be especially challenging for us who live in relative freedom and plenty. Like the Laodicean church we might still be carrying on as church, but in reality running on empty ourselves (Revelation 3:14-22). It does seem like the sense of need presses us toward following Jesus, although any such following is always a matter of God’s grace in helping us do so. But we have to be careful as to what expectations we have. Our passion should always be about what our Lord’s agenda is: the heart of that being love for God and for our neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). In and through Jesus.

 

 

how Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:2b-3

If I would choose one passage to summarize my life, it might be this, and with a hope so. Jesus begins here, and this is where we need to begin and keep beginning. This is not like a one time thing, and then we move on. It’s something that should always characterize our thought and attitude about ourselves.

We’re ever in need of God’s grace and if we look at our lives honestly, we’ll know that we don’t measure up both in terms of sins of commission as well as omission. That doesn’t mean we excuse ourselves or our sin. But it does mean that we acknowledge our need for ongoing forgiveness of sin through confession, and acknowledge too our utter need of God’s grace to grow spiritually. We should never dismiss or minimize God’s promise to not only forgive our sins, but cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I have often seen Christians who looked down on other Christians or churches as not being “Spirit-filled.” But it has seemed to me over and over again that too often what is exhibited in such attitudes is a demonstration of leaving this saying of Jesus behind. They somehow are beyond that, or maybe to them that only applies to people before they come to Jesus for conversion. Utterly false. I would rather be with the humble, poor in spirit any day, than with the Spirit-filled who have to look down on others. I’m at home with the “poor in spirit,” since I’m most certainly one of them.

At the same time it is the poor in spirit who will actually know more of the work of God’s Spirit in their lives. Especially in terms of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26) as we note that no matter what spiritual gift we might exercise, if it is not exercised with love, it amounts to nothing (1 Corinthians 13). That doesn’t mean we leave the Spirit-given gifts behind, but only that we put first things first.

If we fail to accept the reality that we’re poor in spirit, then we’ll inevitably be proud and compare ourselves with others, favorably for us, of course. Instead we’re to take the way of Jesus who made himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), who was humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). In and through Jesus.

difficult passages of Scripture

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 5:27-30

If you begin to read through the Bible, even through the gospel accounts of Jesus, you’ll find passages which are difficult, and make little sense at least to us. The more we read each part in the context of the whole, the better off we’ll be, the more able we will be to let a difficult reading sit. The last thing we should do is dismiss it out of hand as nonsensical. It may not make sense to us, or it may even be offensive. But we might need to read further and let it sit as we prayerfully consider.

For me it’s obvious in the above passage that Jesus was making a point. Although Christians have actually taken this literally in a physical sense, that is surely not what Jesus was getting at. But I will say this: Jesus is saying we need to deal with this sin ruthlessly, lest this sin deal with us in the same way.

Thankfully there are plenty of Scripture passages which are plainly instructive and encouraging to us. But we have to see those as well in the whole. The Christian faith is not about being happy, but blessed. It’s not about everything being great and pleasant in this life. It’s about following Jesus, come what may, and in doing so, dealing with the sin in our own lives, before we think for a second we can help someone else. It does no good to dwell on the precious promises, if we fail to take seriously the entire word, each and every part of it, even if we struggle to understand. God will help us understand what we need, to continue on the way he has for us. In and through Jesus.

the way of the cross

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:34-38

When we evangelicals think of the cross, we think of the salvation God provided for us, for humanity through Christ’s death and resurrection. And that’s so vitally important, no doubt. But we don’t often think of it in terms of a way of life for us in Christ. We might possibly write that off as true for his disciples when Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to face death. But we somehow against what we see follows in the New Testament and in history ignore the idea that the cross applies to us now. But in Christ we’re called to a cruciform or cross-shaped life.

The question becomes where do we find life? For many that’s in this world, and being successful in it, as well as enjoying much of its allure in what it has to offer. But for us in Christ there’s no turning back. There’s one way, the way of the cross, the way of Christ. And in that we find the true life.

 

worldly thinking

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2

When we convert to Christ, we are under a new rule, and with that comes a new orientation to life. We can no longer see anything the same way we did before. However with that new reality comes the ongoing necessity to continue to change in that difference, or else drift back into the thinking we had before our conversion. There’s nothing in between. We’re either on course, or we’re drifting; we’re either conforming to the pattern of this world, or we’re being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

We should be aware of this in light of everything: family, business, politics, whatever. Anything and everything is under Christ’s rule for us. That has to make all the difference in how we look at everything, or it will make no difference at all. In and through Jesus.