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Weekly Word

Entries in Legalism (3)

Tuesday
Mar102015

Invitation to a Supper

Today we will be looking at Luke 14:1-14.

The setting of our passage today is a Sabbath meal to which Jesus has been invited by a high-ranking Pharisee in Israel.  This is going to give rise to several teachings by Jesus that we will look at over the next several weeks.  This supper will give rise to the wonderful truth that God is inviting us to participate in a marriage supper that He is preparing for His Son.  However, in this case, God allows us to participate in our own invitation.  He in a sense invites everyone who will believe upon His Son, what he taught, what he foretold, and what he accomplished.  Thus only those who properly respond to the open invitation are allowed in to the meal.  In fact, we could say that the presence of Jesus within Israel was technically a wedding feast that went horribly awry.

Legalism Binds Us

As we look at the passage we are at the meal where Jesus sits with a ruling Pharisee and all the others he has invited.  Now the problem with the Pharisees was that they were very legalistic.  They focused upon the letter of the law to the exclusion of the spirit of the Law.  When we are focused upon the letter of the law we really want to know what we can get away with and what we can’t.  It is not about wanting to please God, but rather about wanting to please self without getting in trouble.  However, when we ask ourselves why God gave a certain law, we are drawn into His heart and purposes.  Legalism tends to bind us to things that actually run counter to the purposes and the heart of God.  In fact several are on display at this meal.

First, legalism bound them to looking at each other wrongly.  It says in verse one that they watched him closely.  Now it is not wrong to watch our brother if we are doing it in a humble way that serves him.  We would normally call this “watching out” for our brother.  But legalism binds us to watching our brother for the sole purpose of finding fault.  God wants us to watch each other’s back rather than become nit-pickers.  Most legalists have forgotten that they not only were sinners but are still sinners in need of God’s grace.  Yet, there is one caution here.  It is common today to believe that anyone who points out a problem in our life is being mean-spirited and a legalist.  This is not true.  A true brother will not only watch his brother’s back, but also warn him about pitfalls in front of him.  The legalist does this because they take joy in putting you down a peg or too (i.e. raising themselves).  But the true brother does this because they don’t want to see you killed.  Even then, a true brother realizes that they are not their brother’s Lord.  They will remain humble and stand beside you not over you.

Legalism also binds us to misunderstandings about God’s purposes.  It just happens that a man who has dropsy (a condition where the body is swollen with fluid) is sat across from Jesus on the Sabbath.  Now we know why they were watching him like a hawk.  This meal was a set-up in order to find fault with Jesus.   You see, the Pharisees had developed an interpretation of the Sabbath laws that saw healing as a form of work.  I’ve talked about this in greater depth before.  They saw the Sabbath primarily as a restriction upon us.  Thus it was a bleak and difficult day in which we couldn’t enjoy a lot of good things.  However, God did not give the Sabbath to restrict man.  The word Sabbath means rest.  God wanted his people to quit being driven seven days a week as if they had no hope in God.  The Sabbath was supposed to be a day of rest and “smelling the roses.”  It was a day to gather with friends and family, and give glory to God for His great benefits.  It was about declaring God as our ultimate source rather than our own hand.  Thus God’s purpose was not to prevent us or restrict us from helping each other when one was sick or in need.  But, the Pharisees couldn’t see this.

Legalism also binds us to treating one another as less than human (in fact, less than animal).  After Jesus boldly heals the man of his condition and sends him away, he then challenges them.  If they had a donkey or ox fall into a pit on the Sabbath, every one of them would “work” to pull it out.  But they wouldn’t do a similar thing for this man.  Whenever you see people being treated as animals or especially less than animals, you know that the enemy of mankind has been at work twisting the minds of those involved.  Today we have become a people who will obsess over the death of certain animals and yet not blink an eye at the murder of countless unborn babies.  This dehumanizing of groups is the mode of operation of the devil and those who listen to him.

Humble Yourself Before God And Man

They had been watching him like a hawk.  However, Jesus had been watching them and gives a parable to point out a fault with those who were seated with him at the table: pride and self-exaltation.  He warns those who are invited to a meal not to try and sit in the highest place.  No doubt there had been much jockeying going on before the meal.  Self-promotion and ambition are powerful traits that enable us to succeed in many things.  However, they lead us to promote ourselves beyond what God has given to us.  It knows no bounds and will often come in conflict with God.  Clearly our attempts to curry favor with the rulers and those with power in this life can reap benefits.  But in the end this mentality leads us into gross sin.  One more honorable than us may have been invited and we will be asked to move down to a lesser seat.  Now that would be a humiliating moment that most of them would seek to avoid at all cost.  Jesus is “the one more honorable.”  Even though the host of that meal may have not recognized Jesus, God the Father does.  Ultimately he is the one having a great supper.  Jesus is the groom who has come to the wedding feast of his bride.  Yet, the Pharisees and their followers wanted to sit in the seat that belonged to Him.  Now that was fine and all before he came.  Someone had to lead.  Yet, now that he arrived, they should have been stumbling over themselves to give the seat to him.  Even worse they seek to put him to death so that their seat will never be threatened again.  When you walk in pride you ultimately offend those with greater honor than you.  In the end you will receive the fruit of pride, destruction.

There is a day coming when the host, God, is going to manifest to the world that Jesus is the one more honorable- the One to Whom the seat of power belongs.  God will render a decision.  Sometimes He settles things in this life.  But do not be deceived, He will settle it in the Age to come.  Our proper place will be established and woe to the person who has kicked against his proper place.  Instead, be humble in this life and let God promote you, so that at the judgment you will have nothing to fear.

Bless Those Who Cannot Bless You Back

Jesus then turns to rebuke the ruling Pharisee who was hosting the meal.  The previous fault focused on what we shouldn’t do, but this fault is couched in terms that encourage us to what we should do.  When you have a meal don’t invite those who can pay you back in some way (social prestige, invite you over to their place, business contacts, etc.).  It is spiritually smarter to invite people who cannot help you back in any way.  Bless people with a mean who cannot bless you back.  Instead of worrying about our position and using our good to increase that position, we should use those good to bless others, period.  Which raises a question, who do we tend to bless?  Eating with others is a social act which strengthens our bonds together and so we tend to invite friends and family.  Jesus warns us to beware this tendency.  Now we shouldn’t be legalistic with this statement.  Yes, we should obey Jesus.  But it is not his purpose to rebuke a family from eating together.  Rather, this is a special meal the Pharisee is throwing.  Jesus is not making a law that we can never invite friends over.  Rather, he is giving us wisdom about how we should live in light of the judgment that is coming.  Whom are you seeking to be blessed by?  If you seek to be blessed by people then all you do will be corrupted by it.  However, if you seek to be blessed by God, then you will learn to be a blessing to others especially when you get nothing out of it in this world.

Jesus mentions that he should invite the poor, maimed, lame and blind.  There are two levels to this instruction.  Believers are called to help those who are less fortunate in one way or another.  In Galatians 2:9-10 Paul recognizes that the “Pillars” of the church instructed him to remember the poor, “the very thing which [Paul] also was eager to do.”  In doing so, God becomes our reward.  Yet, this also has a spiritual parallel.  Jesus has come to heal those who are spiritually poor, maimed, lame, and blind.  Too often we are trying to reach the rich and famous of the world to join our church at the expense of those who do not appeal to us.  This comes from the spirit of pride and self-ambition.  But when we are humble before God and our fellow man, we serve regardless of the station of another.

Ask yourself the question, “Am I seeking to be blessed by men or God?”  Men can reward you, but they can also make you pay.  But God has a reward for those who live this life in service to Him.  To serve Him is to serve one another in His name.  The humble person knows that the only sure reward and the only sure position is that which God gives.  All else is simply grasping after the wind, here today and gone tomorrow.  Are you able to say with Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!”? 

 

Invitation to supper audio

Tuesday
Jun042013

Understanding the Gospel II

Last week we talked about the importance of understanding the Gospel leading up to salvation.  Today we will talk about the importance of understanding the Gospel after salvation.  The Law teaches us that we will never approach God through it.  It begs the question “Is there another way?”  The answer is yes there is only one way and His name is Jesus.  What does the life of a Christian look like?  Or, what should it look like?  Two common mistakes happen in the lives of believers.  We either see Jesus as a new and improved “Law” that we need to keep, or, we see Jesus as the reason why we don’t need to do anything.

In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul lays out the proper understanding for believers to have.  When we truly understand the horrible predicament we were in and the awesome love that Christ showed for us at the cross, our lives will be impacted in very practical ways.  Let’s look at the first 4 verses of Colossians 3.

Seek The Higher Things

You might read chapter two to get a better feel for Paul’s point here.  It is clear that some of the Colossians were caught up in a legalistic asceticism, which basically focused on what you couldn’t eat, touch, or handle.  To them Christianity was still the Law, but under new management.  Paul’s argument at first sounds like he is saying there are no more rules.  But the truth is that they are looking at all the wrong things.  They are focused upon things of this world that are consumed and then gone.  He tells them to turn their focus and aim at a higher thing.  This is very different then saying, “Do anything you want because it doesn’t matter anymore.”  Paul is turning their attention up towards Christ.

When he uses the “If” conditional, he is not implying that some of them were not saved.  Rather he is emphasizing the logic of where our focus should be.  This logic was not only taught to them but also illustrated in their water baptism.  Colossians 2:12 says, “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith by the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”  Water baptism symbolizes my death to sin and this world and my new life with Christ.  If Christ is my new life, why is my focus on everything but Him?

The present location of Christ should help to draw our heart and affections toward God.  We long to be with Him, but he is not here.  However, we can fellowship with Him by the Spirit.  The focus should be up towards Christ is now.  Think about it this way.  Jesus did not come to Earth because he wanted to enjoy the “Local Color.”  He came to Earth because of the heart of His Father.  God desired eternal fellowship with men.  Thus the earthly endeavors of Jesus were from a heavenly reason.

Now some have said, Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.  This may be true of some, however the opposite can be stated.  Many people are so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good.  Think of the Pharisees.  On the surface they were all about God’s business.  But, in truth, they really weren’t.  Their political machinations were very much about themselves and things on this earth, not God and his heavenly purposes.  Believer should impact this world from the directive of heaven.  Anything short of this will fail to bring lasting impact.  Now let’s look at verses 5-8.

Cut Off The Lower Things

After telling them to seek the higher things of Christ and the heart of the Father in heaven, Paul then tells them to put to death or cut off the “lower things.”  When you read his list of these “lower things,” it is clear that he is not just talking about anything that has to do with the natural world here on earth.  Rather, he is talking about motivations of this life that are not of God (the higher), but are of our flesh (the lower).  Let me give an example.  A family is not in and of itself a higher or lower thing.  It just is.  However, the motivations behind my interactions with that family are of a higher or lower quality.  Even the giving of money to a charity can be done for base, lowly (read that fleshly) reasons.

These lowly motivations are not just “on the earth.”  It literally could be read that they are “centered upon” the earth.  They are lowly because these motivations are solely focused upon earthly reasons and ends without regard for The Maker of all things.

Another reason why they should cut off these lower things is because they are the very reason that God’s wrath is going to be poured out upon all the earth.  We must not fool ourselves.  The judgment of God is coming upon the earth, and precisely because of our sin.

Abortions, homosexuality, adultery, war, destruction of the earth, pride, atheism, false pretence, theft, anger...(the list is practically infinite), not only are sins against each other but they fly in the face of God.  Why would I continue to embrace what God has pledged to destroy?  Each true believer must seriously ask themselves this question and remember Lot’s wife.  Lot’s wife did not perish because no one loved her.  She perished because even when she knew it was being destroyed, she loved the things of this world.

Now in some ways, what Paul is saying sounds like regulations again.  Seek this, kill that.  But let’s recognize that the difference is in the word Relationship.  Regulations do not care about God and His heart.  It is not about a relationship other than slave to master.  However, God has called us into the relationship of a child with a father, or a wife with her husband.  In each case we will focus on certain actions and get rid of others, but, for very different reasons: the reasons of love.  Love embraces things and gives up others for the sake of relationship.  Christ is not coming to simply destroy those who eat pork or worship on the wrong day.  He is coming to destroy those who have rejected relationship with Him and have turned towards hurting others.  In the end, sin always hurts our self and others.

Without such a relationship with Jesus, we are powerless to follow Christ.  That is why Paul said in Colossians 2:23 [following man-made regulations] have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.  Many people who are strong at controlling the outward appearance of their flesh will find that God is not pleased.  (Do you remember the instructions Jesus gave about lust in our mind and heart and how it is the same as adultery in the flesh before God?)  When you understand the impact of that statement you will realize quickly how powerless you are without Jesus.

Put Off The Old Man Put On The New Man

In Colossians 3:9-10 Paul changes the metaphor of higher and lower and uses “old man,” “new man,” and getting dressed.  Here the new man seeks the higher things of Christ, whereas, the old man lived for the lower things.  Thus if you are going to follow Christ you need to strip off that old man and its lower motivations and put on the new man which is motivated by Christ himself.  If I truly turn from my old life towards a new life in Christ it will make an impact in my life.  This “clothing” is not merely new and better rules, but rather, a new focus, attitude, and source of power.

Paul says that the new man is renewed by knowledge.  Specifically, this is the knowledge that we have been given by Christ.  It is the Word of God and our knowledge of the true Gospel and God’s real judgments.  This will enable us to be renewed into the image of Jesus who is our pattern.  This is where our focus should be; the desire to be like Jesus, not because we will then be saved, but because he has saved us, out of love.

Final Thoughts

Our flesh does not want truth in this area.  Even when we turn to Christ our “Old Man” remains hostile to the things of God.  Just try to pray every morning before you go about your day and you will see how true this is.  Our flesh will either be unbalanced towards legalistic regulations of pride or it will be unbalanced towards “sloppy agape.” 

The truth has more tension in it then either of these two extremes.  Following Christ is filled with tensions that we are tempted to relieve in all the wrong ways.  Don’t run from the tension.  Rather relieve the tension by turning to God in prayer for strength and surrendering to His grace for peace.

 

Understnding Gospel II Audio

Tuesday
Aug072012

The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, Part 3

We have seen how Matthew 16 and Matthew 18 demonstrate the Keys to the Kingdom that Jesus has given to his church.  First, the truth about God and His Son Jesus and, second, How believers and the church as a whole deal with sin.

There are no other passages that tie into the terminology of these passages to suggest other keys.  However, it is easy to see how many aspect become "key" to helping people into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Love and humility in all we do is Key.  Mercy and Grace are also Key.   But these things are the how to the above whats.  Today I want to tie together some concluding thoughts on this subject by starting in Luke 11.

The Old Testament Saints Had The Key of Knowledge

The key to the kingdom of heaven was not a new thing.  God had already given it to Israel in his Law and then reminded of it through his prophets.  The problem was that the religious leaders kept missing the point because of their sin.  In Luke 11 starting in verse 52, Jesus holds the religious "lawyers" accountable for taking away the Key of knowledge.

This knowledge that they had been given was about who the Creator was and how men could please him.  Clearly the Law was misunderstood.  The religious leaders who were responsible to interpret the law for the people improperly used the law to build up their own traditions or ideas.  They ignored the warnings and revelations of the prophets and instead fixated on a technical keeping of the law.  In fact they didn't even do that well.  It is important for us to understand that the Law that God gave Moses was to help us understand who He is and what He desires of us.  It is the very words and judgments of God.  Thus it is not something that we can twist and manipulate looking for loopholes and technicalities.  When we do this we are shaping God in our own image, our own thinking.  This is a political attitude that is not only found in courtrooms but also in the halls of government today.

The lawyers showed their true self once they were rebuked by Jesus.  The Bible says, "Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you, rebuke a wiseman and he will love you."  Of course Jesus' job is to reveal the true self of these hypocritical posers.  Luke says that they began to assail him vehemently.  Not only at that time, but also from that time forward, they did not listen to what he said.  They only watch him like a hungry wolf for any point of weakness in which they might attack.  Doesn't that just about sum up politics and the courtroom here in America?  I am not judging everyone.  However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that politics and justice in this country has become a bunch of posers who do not debate.  Rather they look for loopholes and leverage points in the law and the words of each other in order to better their position.  This will not work with God.  He will not be mocked by our psuedo sophistry, or our false wisdom.  We will be held accountable and believe me we know too much.

The attitude of the lawyers is that of a dog in the door.  I don't mean the lazy dog picture.  But rather the pit bull that stands in front of the door barking and foaming at the mouth.  They don't go in but rather stand at the door keeping everyone from getting in.  Their is a need for religious leaders, but not those who make a mockery of the Truth of God, not those who attack anyone who tries to really know God.

So the Old Testament saints had enough knowledge to enter the Kingdom. However, the religious leaders had so confused the issue that God had to send Jesus to clarify and give greater definition to the truth.

By Faith We Already Live in Christ's Kingdom

In Colossians chapter 1 verse 13 we have a powerful verse.  "He [God] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love."  This is a picture of a military incursion.  Although it is not a physical airlifting from one country to another, that is the picture spiritually.  We once were in a kingdom of darkness and ignorance to the Truth of God.  But now through the life, miracles and teaching of Jesus we have been airlifted into a kingdom of light that is ruled by the Son of God's love.  Yes we are physically in this world, but spiritually we are not of it.  We are of a heavenly kingdom.  That kingdom will one day physically come to earth.  But until then we spiritually participate in it now through our faith in Jesus.  Jesus told the pharisees of his day that they would not see the kingdom of heaven come.  Rather it would be in the hearts of people.  That is where we have been for nearly 2,000 years.  However, he is not saying that it will never "really" come, that it was only meant to be spiritual.  So we are to live today in the light of a future kingdom.

What does kingdom living look like?  In Galatians 5:6 it says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love."  The first thing I would point out is that Kingdom living does not fixate on the technicalities of God's Law but rather looks to the spirit of what is being said.  That doesn't mean we don't obey it.  However, we don't stop there.  Rather, we realize that the rejection of sexual immorality speaks of a deeper rejection of spiritual harlotry, adultery and promiscuity. 

Instead of working on a list of do's and don'ts, our faith in Jesus expresses itself in loving actions towards God and our fellow man.  This is the life God has called us to.  A life that is lived with an ear to the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of Truth.  The previous method of technicalities and loopholes may look godly, but it is empty and powerless to accomplish anything spiritually.  However the life that is lived by faith expressing itself through loving actions, this life is the life that pleases God and transforms our life.  It is powerful because the Spirit of God is within it.

Here are some practical thoughts for Christians.  Make sure you have fully entered into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Challenge yourself by looking into the mirror of God's word.  Have I been a dog in the door towards others?  Have used technicalities and loopholes to my advantage and yet disadvantaged others with them?  Have I judged others strictly and yet hypocritically justify myself at every turn?  God is not pleased with such actions and calls us to repent and walk by faith in Jesus Christ and in the power of His Spirit.

Another challenge for us is to not trust the mind of man.  No matter how brilliant a theologian is, we must trust God's Word over the top of man's attempt to explain it.  The Rabbi's were very creative and brilliant in their analysis of the law and the creation of traditions.  However, they were completely off track.  They missed it.  Don't turn God's word into a document that you can twist and find technicalities in.  Don't look for loopholes and what you can get away with.  Instead see it as a glimpse into the heart of God.  God has revealed his heart and we need to respond in faith through the actions of love rather than looking for was around it.

Keys to the Kingdom P3 Audio