Part 4 of 11
I grew up in a house that was in a constant state of flux: we were always remodeling something. Now I own my own home and it is in the same state. I was thinking about this class and maybe a better title for this study would be: Made in God’s Image: Remodeling the Unbiblical Portions of the Framework of Our Thinking About Human Activity. It doesn’t flow as nice as: Understanding Human Activity in God’s World, but it is certainly more descriptive. I say this because we all have frameworks of thinking, a portion of that thinking relates to the place for and impact of human activity, and we are currently using these frameworks. We are living in the home that we are remodeling.
With this in mind, during the following weeks, we will move between lectures concerning the reformation of our thinking, where that is necessary, and lectures concerning the necessary outpouring of biblical thinking into biblical practice. Remember the goal of this class: To motivate Christians to take an active role as parts of the body of Christ, and specifically, to motivate Christians to consistently and proactively reach out to those in need.
It might be tempting to think that theory and practice are two unrelated things, or can be divorced from one another. It might even be tempting to hide in the shadow of the “should-be” in order to avoid the reality of the “should-do.” But an unavoidable truth is that our practice reveals what we truly believe. At a given moment, our behavior can be identified as that which was associated with the strongest motive. Actions flow from belief like water from a spring. And a salty spring will not produce fresh water any more than a fresh-water spring will produce salt water.
Another temptation, found at the other extreme, is to think that if we believe all of the right things, good actions will automatically follow. This error is based, to an extent, upon the idea that we are neutral and – much like a computer – will behave according to the program entered. As you know, we are not neutral. We require not only the right information: that which comes to us through the Scriptures, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand it – but we are also morally destitute and in desperate need of God’s regenerating and sustaining power.
We all know the ending of: “He is so heavenly minded that he…”
Right. “He is so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly good.” I propose that the Christian who is described as “heavenly minded” but is useless during his or her stay upon this earth is not heavenly minded enough. For true heavenly mindedness will lead us to reach out to those around us in charity. Indeed, true religion is inextricably linked to the care of the needy: the fatherless and widow, the poor and the hungry.
To what extent is your life built in accord with what the Bible tells you? Are you about the things that God is about? The way I have framed the previous two posts is instructive: You can see by the way I have approached this subject that I know that what we believe makes a difference. Further, the way the Bible approaches us is instructive. We learn of God and His attributes, we hear what He requires of us, and we learn who we are. Then we hear these things again, and again, and again. This is instructive in the sense that we see that knowing the right information does not constitute the whole left side of the equation equaling a godly life. How many times was the covenant with Israel repeated; and how many times did the people promise to obey; and how many times did they break God’s covenant and do detestable things in God’s sight? Had they forgotten what was required of them? No. Had they forgotten who had made such requirements? No. To that left side of the equation equaling a godly life we must add to knowing the right information: admonishment, and exhortation, and correction, and reminder, and prayer, and, most importantly, the authorship of God Himself: His Holy Spirit working in us.
It is detestable in God’s sight to neglect the poor and the needy. For example, when we think of the city of Sodom, we usually remember the destruction brought upon it by God and we associate this destruction with sexual sins. But is that the whole story? Please consider Ezekiel chapter 16, verses 48 through 50.
“‘As I live,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘Sodom, your sister and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. (God is comparing Sodom to Judah and Jerusalem.) Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me Therefore I removed them when I saw it.’” Their gluttony, laziness and neglect of the poor and needy led to arrogance and the committing of abominable acts. In turn God brought the city of Sodom and it’s inhabitants to nothing. As I said, it is detestable in God’s sight to neglect the poor and the needy.
Please also consider Ezekiel 18, verses five through 13: “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right – if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully – he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD. If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.” We see listed among the actions of the righteousness the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked and the showing of mercy and justice. These are placed alongside worshiping God alone, avoiding adultery, and walking in God’s statutes. We see among the list of abominations to the Lord, such as idolatry, fornication, adultery, usury, and theft, the oppression of the poor and hungry.
Good is as active a verb as evil. To be pronounced good is to be found as one who does good, just as the evil one is described as a worker of iniquity. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:35). The judgment of the sheep and goats, which was discussed in the first posts, is a judgment of all people and it is a judgment of all people concerning how we responded to the needy among us. Remember the words of Paul in Romans chapter 2, verses six through 11: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-11).
Let us return to the book of Ezekiel once more; to the 22nd chapter; consider verses 23 through 31. What we will read here is a statement by God concerning the coming judgment of Jerusalem by the hand of the Babylonians and why this judgment is coming.
“And the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, say to her, you are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation. The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, “Thus says the Lord GOD,” when the LORD has not spoken. The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.’”
The outpouring of ungodliness and evil will produce fatherless children and widows. Evil and sin leads to broken families: children without fathers and mothers without husbands. Evil and sin leads to neglect of the weak among us. Little ones with little food wandering on sidewalks with diaper rashes and empty stomachs. This is happening around us: the little ones wandering – it will happen this very night. Isn’t this part of what makes abortion such a despicable abomination: the strong preying upon the most defenseless among us? What is God’s disposition toward the poor and the needy? Will God act on their behalf? There are some wonderful promises in Scripture concerning what God shall do: He will place them in the safety for which they long (Psalm 12:5). He will deliver them from the one too strong and from the one who robs him (Psalm 35:10). He will hear them (Psalm 69:33). God will defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the children of the needy and crush the oppressor (Psalm 72:4). “For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72:12-14).
How shall God bring about these wonderful promises of protection and deliverance? He will do it through his people; through those who have positions of power and authority – people like you and me. The context of those last verses I read is important, and instructive. They are from Psalm 72; please consider Psalm 72 and hear a prayer of David for his son Solomon: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72).
I recently read an essay by Ben Aalbers entitled: WEIGHTIER MATTERS: A PRESBYTERIAN’S REFORMATION. An Essay Concerning the Tendency of Conservative Presbyterians, And the American Church At-Large, to Neglect Ministries of Justice and Mercy. The title struck me; it struck me because I perceive the same situation, not only in my own life but also in the church. An excerpt from that essay also struck me: “We must feel the insanity of the homeless who cannot get a job because they do not have a home but who are unable to buy a home because they do not have job; the inconvenience of not having private transportation; the pain of hunger; the chill of a room without heat; the feeling of intimidation that accompanies the alien nearly every hour of the day; the loneliness of a prisoner or widow; the distress of not being able to afford prescriptions or healthcare; the boredom and frustration that millions of people feel as they perform menial jobs because they cannot afford an education; the helplessness of an abused spouse who feels that she does not have the financial means or family and church support to leave; the futility of a single mother whose paycheck is barely enough to pay for her daycare expenses; the anxiety of a person with depression as they are discharged from the hospital knowing that they are too ill to work and too fearful to approach a church full of ‘normal’ people to ask for help. We must go to those who we are tempted to abandon to their fate. The rich are not called to trade places with the poor. They are called to share and remedy their afflictions.”
Shall God say to you when He comes in His glory: well done good and faithful servant?