31. Reputation

Meditations in Romans : 31 :  A Question of Reputation

Rom 2:22-24 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

One of the tragic things about the tidal wave of attacks from crusading atheists in the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century in the West, is that although they purport to attack the existence of God, their ability to attack Him on the basis of Biblical doctrine is virtually non-existence. Instead their attacks are based on the behaviour and activities of those who purport to be the Christian Church, past and present. We give them a great deal of ammunition! It should not be! It seems that the history of Judaism and of Christianity both simply go to confirm the Bible’s teaching that man is sinful and gets it wrong – even when they are supposed to have a relationship with God!

Paul is challenging the Jews of Rome who rely upon their knowing the Law and apparently having some sort of relationship with the Lord.  He has been saying that it is not sufficient to know the Law in your head; you need to be obeying it, living it out.  Here he now gives two examples: You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” It’s all very well to proclaim the Ten Commandments (e.g. “You shall not commit adultery – Ex 20:14) but actually if you commit adultery you are dishonouring God and are breaking the commandment. Simply knowing about the command is not enough! Stealing from Pagan temples was obviously a common occurrence. Believers might have justified such behaviour that it was only pagan temples they were taking from. Certainly later in history that happened and one assumes from Paul’s comment that it had probably already happened.

In these two things we see Paul’s charges against these almost-believing Jews to be summarised as  a) you fail to keep the commandments of the Law, and  b) your general behaviour in the world is questionable!  i.e. it’s not only your failure to keep the Law, it’s also your failure to live decently anyway.  As he goes on to say, the result of this is that they dishonour God.  They purport to be followers of God but their behaviour is just as bad as anyone else and so this demeans God in the eyes of the world.

In fact he then goes on to quote the Septuagint version of Isaiah: As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Our version of Isaiah 52:5 reads, “And now what do I have here?” declares the LORD. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,” declares the LORD. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” A similar accusation was found in Ezekiel: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” (Ezek 36:22)

In both cases, Israel’s behaviour was less that would be expected from those who claimed to follow a holy God. In both cases the world was mocking the Jews and deriding the name of the Lord because of the behaviour of the Jews. Such a thing should not have happened but it did.

Thus we say again, today the Christian community worldwide should not be providing fuel for the world to mock.  We more than any others should be living ethically correct lives; we should be showing an example of goodness, kindness, gentleness and love to all around us. We more than others should be peacemakers: those who bring reconciliation, who speak only truth, who refrain from gossip, slander and speaking badly about others. We, surely, should be those who shy away from dubious business practices, away from greed and covetousness and taking advantage of others. We in our churches should, surely, seek to be simple in our worship and adoration of our Lord and avoid charges of excesses.

We, surely, should be bringers of the love of God with respect and gentleness and with honesty and integrity. We, surely, should be lights to the world, doing good things that bring glory to our Father in heaven (Mt 5:14-16). We, surely, should not be argumentative but gently persuasive. In us, surely, should be seen patience and perseverance. But how often do we fail!  How often does the name of the church or the image of the church be derided on TV?

How often is the image of men of the church portrayed in weakness and silliness? How often are people of the church portrayed as weird? We are different but that shouldn’t mean weird! We, more than any others, should be seen as ordinarily good, not freaky but good to be around!  Aren’t we called to be salt and doesn’t salt bring out flavour? Aren’t we those who should enhance the quality of the lives of our communities?  Or do we hide away in religious ghettos? These are questions that leaders of the Church, and we who form the Church, need to face and be honest about otherwise, like the Jews Paul was speaking about, we will continue to let the name of the Lord down! May it not be!

Faith Provocation

WALKING WITH GOD. No.44

Esther 4:12-14 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Left to ourselves we would potter through life untouched by anything that would upset the balance of peace in our lives. It is always nicer to walk the quieter path in life that avoids disturbance of any kind. ‘Leave me alone’, would be our motto if we had our way. However, over the years I have often said that God loves us just like we are and He loves us so much that He won’t leave us like we are – because He has something better for us than we have at present. Thus He is in the process of changing us (2 Cor 3:18). When we understand what the Bible is, we read, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.(2 Tim 3:16) which suggests that every time we come to it with open hearts, it teaches us and possibly rebukes and corrects us. Of course it is the Holy Spirit within us who takes it and uses it to convict us so that we do something to change. Thus it is as Christians that we are never left to simply live a placid, untouched life, never changing, never being disturbed, because all of these processes we’ve just referred to, disturb us.

Our verses today from the book of Esther come at a point in history when the Jews were in exile and one of them, Esther, has been made queen, and she has an uncle, Mordecai. One of the king’s counsellors, Haman, hates the Jews and has got the king to foolishly make a decree that later in the year all the Jews will be destroyed. (The king has forgotten or does not know that Esther is a Jew!) Mordecai’s response to this edict was to put on sackcloth and ashes and to fast and pray in the streets as a public demonstration against what had happened. Esther is told what he is doing and so sends clothes out to him – which he refuses to take. Eventually Esther is told about the edict but her response is basically, ‘so what can I do about it?’ She has a legitimate cause for saying this: “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.(Es 4:11). In other words, unless I get called in, I can’t go, otherwise the king in his anger might have me executed!

It is at that point we have our verses for today. Mordecai is walking the path of faith provocation and Esther is on the end of it. What is Mordecai saying? He is saying, you won’t avoid this disaster by staying quiet, you’re going to have to risk it, for who knows, this may be the very reason that God has allowed you to be king. Mordecai is challenging Esther’s preference for peace, and her desire not to be disturbed, which brings us back to what we were saying earlier about our own desire for peace and tranquility. He is challenging her to come into a place of faith. If we had been Esther, we too would have preferred to keep quiet and hope it would work out all right without our intervention. Perhaps someone else will do something might be our hope. That, so often, is our escape clause, or at least the one we use – perhaps someone else will step in and do something, it doesn’t need me.

The only trouble is that it does need you. Someone has said something like, “Evil men prevail only when good men stay quiet.” We are called to be salt and light in our world (Mt 5:13 -16) and we do that passively (living by example) and actively (by speaking out). It’s not one or the other; it’s both. Esther’s fears were laid down as she said she would do it, but only if Mordecai and the other Jews would fast and, by implication, pray for her. Very often we stay quiet because we fear an outcome and so we would do well to follow Esther’s example and pray about it AND, if it is possible, get others to pray about it as well. We need to seek wisdom from God to know what to say, how to say it and when to say it, and we can also ask the Lord to prepare the heart of the one to whom we go to speak. It may be something at home, at school or college, at work or in the community. We know the right thing would be to speak out, yet fear of consequence stops us. If that is so, check it out. Like Esther, this may be your time, the time appointed by God and you are the one chosen by Him to bring change. Seek Him for wisdom, seek others who will pray with and for you. “For such a time as this?

Good Reputation

Readings in Luke Continued – No.24

Lk 7:3-5 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

Can we remind ourselves to start off why we are doing these particular meditations? Yes, they are meditations about Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, but they focus on the parts of his Gospel that are unique to Luke. Within the Gospel there is material that is common to all three Synoptic Gospels indicating a common source, there is some common to Matthew only and some common to Mark only and some unique to Luke, and it is this latter material that we are focusing on. We are doing that because it brings an emphasis, a very human emphasis that perhaps only a doctor (which is what Luke was) would bring. That is especially true of our verses above. Luke picks up on the very human touches in the Gospel accounts.

Matthew is the only other one who records the incident with the centurion in Capernaum and it is clearly the same incident. But Matthew, we have noted previously, sometimes tends to be rather brief on descriptions and when it comes to this centurion he simply says, “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.” (Mt 8:5) which is the gist of the opening words above, except Luke picks up from his sources something else, something quite endearing and which appeals to him and so he includes it. It is that this centurion who resides in Capernaum clearly has a good reputation in the eyes of the local Jews. He is on sufficiently good terms with the local Jewish elders that he asks them to go on his behalf, to appeal to Jesus on his behalf, and on the behalf of his servant.

In what follows it becomes obvious that there is both integrity and humility in this man. So why doesn’t he come himself straight away? We aren’t told directly but it appears clear that he doesn’t have a domineering attitude as a Roman, and recognises that when it comes to asking for healing it is not something you can demand. Moreover it may be that Jesus wouldn’t want to have any dealings with a Roman ‘oppressor’, so for this reason he uses his friendship with the Jewish elders and asks them to appeal to Jesus on his behalf. It is only when they have appealed to Jesus that the man comes himself and enters into dialogue with Jesus.

Now note that when these local Jewish leaders come to Jesus they don’t come half-heartedly on behalf of this Roman. No, they pleaded earnestly with Jesus to help this man. Now there is something important here that we could miss. These Jewish elders actually believed that Jesus could heal this servant. We usually tend to think that most of the Jewish leaders were against Jesus and didn’t believe in him. Well these leaders clearly did, otherwise they might have dissuaded their friend. No, they have heard about Jesus, perhaps seen him in action, and realise that he can help their Roman friend IF he wishes.

Now their approach has a certain Jewish legalism about it. Note what they say: “This man deserves to have you do this.” Well, no, nobody has earned the right to have Jesus heal them; he does it as an act of grace – always! We need to remember that when we are asking for healing for ourselves or for others. Jesus doesn’t heal us because we have earned it, but because HE has earned it on the Cross. All sickness is ultimately the result of sin in the world and Jesus has died to take out sin, our punishment and the effects of that sin. Thus he has earned the right to bring healing to us. We don’t deserve it and we can never earn it, but he gives it freely as an act of grace.

But they go on to give reasons for their thinking: “he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” Wow! This Roman has almost become a Jew it seems. He is not there as an oppressor, he is there as a friend. He is obviously a wealthy and influential man, this Roman centurion, and has paid for and directed the building of their local synagogue. No wonder they feel good about him. Now this man has certainly earned his reputation and that in itself is quite remarkable. He has come into a foreign culture and he has blessed the people he has found there. He has not imposed his own Roman ways on them but has enabled them to express their own ways more fully. This is a good man, an apparently righteous man – but he’s still a man with a need that is beyond him; he has a sick servant who he obviously cares for (another good aspect of this man’s life) but he doesn’t have the power to heal him. We may be good people, but we are still limited and need God’s help. Whoever we are, and however good we are, this still applies.

I wonder what sort of reputation we have? It worries me sometimes, the obvious lack of reputation that is there often is within the Christian community. Jesus taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” (Mt 5:16) which indicates that Jesus expects us to have a good reputation in the eyes of the world around us as we cact as salt and light. Are we gracious in the way we disagree with the world’s immorality? Have we learnt to speak about righteousness graciously, or do we upset those around us by our declarations of their sin? Do the good things we do soften the hearts of those around us? Are we seen as the best and most conscientious workers or students, or are we seen to be those who do the bare minimum and then scuttle away back to our Christian ghettos? I don’t want that to sound hard, but that is often how it appears and I know because that is how I used to be for much of my earlier working life. It was how we were taught – to come out from among the godless people around us, except that is not how Jesus was. He got in among them and acted as salt and light and blessed them and showed them his Father’s love.

Yes, there will always be those who are against us because we shine and show them up for what they are, and in their defensiveness they will be against us, but do we give them grounds to feel hostile? This centurion stands out as a foreigner who blessed the local population. Can we be the same and thus become a channel for God’s love which opens people up to receive Him for themselves?