The Conversations We Need to Have

Look, I know that I post things here sometimes that make people uncomfortable … in the deep hope that it will prod them to ask themselves why a post makes them uncomfortable.

I make no apology for that.

And I understand that many people would prefer that their social media just be filled with humor; encouragement; wisdom; photos of kids, food, flowers, pets, landscapes and unique things — rather that posts that trouble and require thinking and reflection.

I totally get that. Sometimes I scroll past the troublesome, too. I just don’t have the energy for them. Sometimes you should too.

It may seem that those posts of mine are intended to be divisive. That’s not the case. My hope is that they can spark thought and dialogue about reconsidering the values that can make one country or people or generation great.

We need to have these conversations, and this social media forum is a place it can begin.

Does it make us great for political leaders to support and encourage insurrection to defy the voters’ choices with no consequences, or to punish them with (at the very least) removal from office?

Does it make us great for our legislators to baldfacedly lie about themselves, cheat others, perhaps even steal and not face consequences, or for them to be suspended from office until justice takes place?

Does it make us great to be force-legislated into the culture and ethic of one group of controlling people — especially when it represents a particular religion —or to have open dialogue about what is right for all?

Does it make us great to teach future generations a sanitized history or to tell the whole truth about our past and present?

Does it make us great to limit voting opportunities and representation rights for a certain group of people or to give equal voice and vote to all?

Does it make is great to single out certain groups of people and label them undesireable and limit their freedom of self-expression, or to recognize the universal right to be and express oneself — so long as no violence is done to anyone?

Does it make us great to ban books for everyone that make a few uncomfortable, or to let books compete in the free market of ideas?

Does it make us great to have government decide whether a person must bear a child/children, or to let that person decide with access to specialist doctors?

Does it make us great to support a system of health care that can be good for those who can afford it but beyond reach for many, or to see to it that it is available to all without a lifetime of debt afterwards?

Does it make us great to spend trillions on war and defense (more than all of the next 10 highest-defense-spending nations combined) or to see to it that the hungry do not starve, the homeless are housed and the jobless are trained and gainfully employed?

Does it make us great to ensure that anyone can easily have as many of any kind of guns and ammunition they desire, or to protect the lives of citizens — of children in schools — by banning the kind used in the military to obliterate as many lives as possible in the least time with the least effort?

Does it make us great to let the free market pay the lowest possible wage for the highest possible profit, or establish a living minimum wage appropriate to regional cost-of-living so that earners are not burning themselves out on two or three jobs just to make a living?

We need to have this dialogue and regard it as damn important to the future — ours, our kids’, their kids’.

And we need to start making some wise choices.

Anything Goes

Anything GoesWhile that makes a great title for a musical comedy, it does not reflect the thinking of myself and many other folks who are often accused of teaching that “anything goes” when it comes to worship, or living a Christ-like life (which, obviously, are not at all two separate things neatly divided by the tick of the clock from 11:59 Saturday night through 11:59 Sunday night).

Those who make that accusation either haven’t read/listened to those they’ve accused, or they’re exaggerating out of sheer bluster, or they are deliberately distorting the truth in order to oppose and condemn.

Obedience is important, under the New Covenant as surely as in the Old.

What most of us disagree about with our accusers is what we’re asked to obey. When it comes to biblical instruction, I’m all for obeying it – to the letter. Not because it earns me merit points in the Heavenly Father’s book of life, but because it helps my life reflect His glory as revealed through His Son. Because it helps me grow and mature and be transformed into His image. Because it’s good for me, good for others, good for everyone to give up self-desires and fulfill God-desires. That’s the definition of “good.” (If you doubt me, stop here and take a few moments to re-read Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.)

When it comes to non-biblical instruction that’s passed off as the very words of God, I am not all for obeying it – especially unquestioningly, nor for the common good and peace of the church, nor even because it might keep a brother or sister from “stumbling.”

Nope, I oppose that. Because even if the instruction may seem harmless or pious, there’s a lie involved if it’s a teaching of man being taught as the teaching of God – and that throws the teaching into instant suspicion.

It’s not like people in scripture have never dealt with that problem, folks. Jesus tackled it head-on every time He was challenged by the Pharisees, Sadducees, teachers of the law and other experts in entrapment. Paul, Peter, Jude, and John took it on when self-proclaimed teachers, preachers and “super-apostles” were requiring every kind of add-on accessory to Christianity that could be thought of: circumcision, abstention, holidays, unfleshed Christ, flesh-only Christ … you name it.

That used to be called “heresy.”

They did it to exalt themselves, to exalt their “flawless” logic and deduction in obtaining this superior “knowledge,” to exclude others, to squelch hope, to discredit and devalue genuine apostolic teaching.

That used to be called “selfishness.”

So I push back, and so do others, when accused by the legalists and the teachers-of-human-doctrine-as-God’s of proclaiming that “anything goes.”

J’accuse. I accuse them of doing the very same thing with any teaching they’ve inherited or contrived and favor and wish to bolt on to Christianity as if the grace of God through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the free gift of salvation, spiritual strength and eternal life via the Holy Spirit were somehow not enough.

When it comes to adding on to the gospel, for these folks, anything goes.

Laws against anything they don’t like.

Laws against anything they don’t find “authorized” in scripture, unless it’s “expedient” because they like it.

Laws against anyone they don’t agree with.

And the trend I’m seeing is that the accused will no longer abide their accusations quietly.

What Does God Want From Us?

Maybe we should see what God asked of those who served Him.

This is what Moses told the gathered masses after his second journey down the mountain with tablets of stone autographed by God:

“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” ~ Deuteronomy 10:12-13

This is what Moses’ successor Joshua told the two-and-a-half tribes who remained on the far side of the Jordan River:

“Now that the LORD your God has given your brothers rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.” ~ Joshua 22:4-5

This is what David, in his final days, told his son Solomon:

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’ ~ 1 Kings 2:2-4

Micah relayed God’s case against Israel in poetry:

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
   To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:8

This is what was prophetically revealed through Zechariah of the Lord’s charge to a future high priest named Joshua, through whom He would forgive all sin in a single day:

The angel of the LORD gave this charge to Joshua: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.'” ~ Zechariah 3:6-7

Leaders and kings who miserably failed their tasks were said to have walked in their own ways, or the ways of their fathers. Those who pleased God were the ones spoken of as having walked in His ways.

They walked. They moved. Either toward Him … or away from Him.

The good ones kept His commands, yes. But was it just obedience for the sake of being good?

Or was it also that they loved and served the Lord, heart and soul … saw His requirements as for their own good … held fast to Him … believed in His promise … feared His justice, and acted justly … loved His mercy … and walked humbly with their God?

What does God want from us now?

This is what Jesus gave as His commandment to His closest friends after washing their feet:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” ~ John 13:34-35

And they did not forget this simple instruction (Romans 12:10, 13:8; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:2; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Peter 1:22, 3:8; 1 John 3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 4:11-12; 2 John 1:5, et al).

After all of the 613 precepts of the law given by angels through Moses, does that seem too simple?

Jesus said that the law and the prophets pend completely on only two commandments:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~ Matthew 22:37-40

And He said that one instruction – so simple that we teach it to our children as we were taught it when children – summarizes them all in a scant few words:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” ~ Matthew 7:12

If we can master that simple thing, love that acts – and even if we can’t, but try! – we’re equipped to tackle His last instruction:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What does God want from us?

The same thing now as always:

Believe. Fear. Obey. Serve. Walk. Love. Act. Do. Go. Make. Baptize. Teach. Endure.

And He will be right there with us, every step of the way.

Is An Imperative Always a Commandment?

When I was a kid, my dad tried to improve my attitude about the things he told me to do by telling me that they were “get-to’s” and not “have-to’s.” He knew it would be easier on me to regard them as things I get to do, rather than things I have to do; that I would be more likely to do my best at them and have my heart in them if I did them because I knew it made him glad. (I’m not sure I appreciated his effort until I had children of my own.)

In the gospels, Jesus is recorded as uttering a lot of imperatives – things expressed in a tone of instruction or command to do or not do.

His followers, in the books of the New Testament that follow, are recorded as often doing the same, speaking in imperatives.

Are all of them commandments?

There’s a way of looking at such scriptures as “God commanded it, we obey it, that’s all there is to it, and that settles it.”

Is that the way God wants us to regard his word to us?

Let’s look at Acts 2:38-39 as an example:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

(That’s the short version my tribe most often quotes. Sometimes we quit after “the forgiveness of your sins.”) Is the instruction to repent and be baptized a commandment? By far most of the people in the tribe of Christianity I call home would agree that it is. (In fact, I would be one of them.) But is it, strictly speaking, a commandment and nothing more?

There I might diverge with the most. The two verses begin: “Peter replied”. Replied to what?

Well, verse 37, of course:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

So, to me, the context of this verse indicates that what Peter said was the reply to a heartbroken, guilt-drenched plea for help and mercy. Why? Because they heard something, and for that something we have to back up one more verse, to 36:

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

God made us, and knows us, and knows that when we are convicted in our hearts by His Spirit when we have done something wrong that the conscience He gave us fills us with a need to do something to try to make it right; to set right our relationship with God once again.

The problem is, there is really nothing we can do to un-do what we’ve done.

Until there was Jesus.

Knowing this about us, God extravagantly provided not only His Son, but other gifts by which we could accept His Son and begin a new life in Him: penitence and baptism. Penitence has been around since there were two trees in the middle of Eden, but there really wasn’t a way for it to give it the power to turn lives around until Jesus came, was crucified, buried and raised to life again.

So He also gave us baptism, the pledge of a good conscience; the washing of rebirth; the means by which God chooses to perform His initial saving work in us – and a tangible way for us to express an intangible new Truth in our lives, as well as our gratitude for Him and our faith in Him and our willingness to host Him and partner with Him in good works and truth-sharing.

Even Jesus Himself was baptized – not because He was somehow being baptized into His own yet-to-come death, burial and resurrection for forgiveness of any sins He had committed – but “to fulfill all righteousness.” He did it because it was the right thing to do; an example to others of an experience that God wants for all of His children to remember and cherish and treasure – and build their lives and ministries upon!

So, among all the imperatives in scripture that we call or think of as commandments, has there ever been even one of them which (even if seemingly arbitrary to us) was not given to us as a gift by the God who made us and loves us and knows us – and that has been given for any other reason than it is the right thing to do before God, and therefore good for us?

Look back at verses 38-39 again, above. There’s a promise attached to this imperative: yet another gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the means by which God empowers us to partner with Him to tell others about His Son – just as Peter and the other disciples did on that Pentecostal day recorded in Acts 2. How much of that gift do we need to share the Way, the Truth and the Life? Isn’t a life turned 180-degrees away from self and toward God pretty miraculous all in itself?

Is there anything God asks us to do that He has not been willing to do Himself? That He won’t partner with us to do through His Spirit?

Put that way, it all sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

I don’t know how you feel toward Mike Huckabee – and I’m not sure I would want him serving as President – but he did a remarkable job of working with legislators to reduce the amount of red tape and unnecessary paperwork and pointless hours of waiting to renew your Arkansas automobile license plate. The first time I went in to my local branch and zipped through the process in about five minutes, I was astonished. As I wrote my check, I asked the clerk “Are you sure that’s all? No sacrifice of my first-born son, or anything?” As deadpan as Ben Stein, she replied, “No, the Legislature won’t let us do that anymore.”

Does it really suit God’s purpose to load us up with as many commands as possible, making it as difficult as it can humanly be to divinely do what He wants to do with us and through us?

Is there anything that God wants FROM us that He does not also want FOR us?

Should we regard the things He asks of us merely as “have-to’s”?

Or are they really “get-to’s”?

What Jesus Wants Us To Do: Epilogue

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Jesus is directly quoted in only a few instances outside of the Gospels: early in Acts, mid-way through I Corinthians, and in the Revelation to John.

Though there are a few imperatives in the first chapter of Acts, they are directed to His followers (“…stay in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high”).

The instruction in I Corinthians 11:24-25 parallels gospel accounts:

  • “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” ,,, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

It’s an important instruction, addressing the selfishness of some of the believers in Corinth, eating before others arrived and not sharing; not keeping Christ as the focus of the celebration. It was causing division. It was not proclaiming Christ.

In the opening chapter of the Revelation, the One clothed with the sun echoes some of Christ’s earlier admonitions to the awestruck John:

  • “Do not be afraid.”

… and also tells some of the seven churches:

  • “Do not be afraid.”
  • “Repent therefore!”
  • “Only hold on to what you have until I come.”
  • “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.”
  • “Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”
  • “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

It’s interesting to me that He has messages that fit each of these churches, according to their faithfulness. They range from rebuke to recommendation to affirmation.

After many instructions to John – often through an angel or elder – the Revelation closes with this peculiar imperative:

  • “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.”

It sounds like there’s more than one degree of faithfulness spoken about here – just as there was more than one degree of faithful church at the beginning of the book.

It also sounds like it’s too late for some people to change. The prophecy should not be sealed up because its fulfillment is at hand; its words will judge those who have waited too long to repent. Biblical scholars may disagree with me – and they’re certainly entitled to – but this and many other internal evidences convince me that this book was written right at the threshhold of Rome’s destruction of the temple and Jerusalem; not twenty-some years later. The book is prophecy that foretells near-future events of judgment on Israel; foreshadowings of God’s judgment on all mankind.

And they echo the imperatives given so often in the Gospels when Jesus spoke of His return in judgment: “Watch.”

John of Patmos watched … and he witnessed.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

What Jesus Wants Us To Do, Part IV: John

Part I | Part II | Part III | Epilogue

John approaches Jesus very differently. Perhaps he was familiar with one or more of the other gospels and had no intention of duplicating them, but rather adding what was left out. Perhaps it is because of his focus on what Jesus did and taught that most of Jesus’ imperatives are expressed as “if…then” or “unless … then” statements, or promises of what He will do for us, or both.

  • “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
  • “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
  • “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
  • “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.”
  • “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (to those about to stone an adulterous woman)
  • “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (to the woman caught in the act)
  • “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (upon washing his followers’ feet)
  • “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
  • “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”
  • “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”
  • “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
  • “Now remain in my love.”
  • “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” … “This is my command: Love each other.”
  • “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (to His disciples)

I’ve left out a lot of the “if…then” imperatives, because they are really more promissory in nature than commands. I’ve stretched (again) to include some items spoken directly to individuals or His closest followers/apostles rather than as general pronouncements. If I hadn’t, this summary of John’s telling of the good news would seem almost void of imperatives.

But one command stands out – and I’ve boldfaced it because it does stand out in the absence (or at least, rarity) of other imperatives or commandments in John’s gospel.

It stands out in contrast because it is foundational to all Christian relationships. It is the intersection of our relationship with God and others. It is the crossing point of the cross, where God and man meet face-to-face.

We love others as He has loved us. Sacrificially, unselfishly, unquestioningly, undeservedly as we love Him undeservingly. We make the first move toward others in proactive love, just as God did in Christ. Then they choose.

Just as so many of those “if … then” statements imply, Christ has done the work in love … we choose what we wish to do in response to it. Once we’ve chosen, we become ambassadors of that love to others so that they choose.

One, simple, extremely complicated and difficult commandment.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Epilogue

What Jesus Wants Us To Do, Part III: Luke

Part I | Part II | Part IV | Epilogue

Luke records these imperatives from Christ’s lips:

  • “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ” (to Satan)
  • “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (also to Satan)
  • “Blessed are you when men hate you,  when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.”
  • “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
  • “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.”
  • “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. “
  • “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
  • “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”
  • “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
  • “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
  • “Go and do likewise.” (referring to the actions of the good Samaritan)
  • “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (teaching about prayer)
  • “Be on your guard about the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (to His disciples)
  • “”I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”
  • “… And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
  • “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
  • “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.”
  • “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. … But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
  • “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”
  • “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. … You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
  • “”Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.”
  • “… But unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
  • “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
  • “So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
  • “Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them.” (to His disciples; on false messiahs)
  • “… For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
  • “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.
  • “”This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

There are a lot of Jesus’ imperatives directed toward His followers generally in Luke’s gospel – but not nearly so many as the 613 precepts of the Law. So, in that sense, His yoke really is easy, and His burden is light.

But a lot of the things He asks of us are really hard to do. Self-sacrificial, in fact.

So we can be like Him.

Part I | Part II | Part IV | Epilogue

What Jesus Wants Us To Do, Part II: Mark

Part I | Part III | Part IV | Epilogue

Here are the imperatives I found in Mark’s very active gospel; the things Jesus wants us to do:

  • “Repent and believe the good news!”
  • “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
  • “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more.” (Not exactly imperative, is it?)
  • “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’ “
  • “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
  • “… what God has joined together, let man not separate. … Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
  • “… anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
  • “You must be on your guard. … Therefore keep watch … What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ “
  • “Take it; this is my body.”
  • “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

Pretty much overlaps the Matthew imperatives, doesn’t it? Mark’s record doesn’t include a lot of requests or imperatives, and I’m probably stretching to include some of these among the ones addressed to us. In this gospel, Jesus teaches and does things: travels, heals people, casts out demons, performs miracles. He leads by example. That seems to be the writer’s choice of emphasis.

Is there something in that very style of writing that speaks to us today?

Part I | Part III | Part IV | Epilogue

What Jesus Wants Us To Do, Part I: Matthew

Part II | Part III | Part IV | Epilogue

I opened a co-op blog a few months back called What Would Jesus Do Next? in hopes that fellow-writers would help me recapture some of the freshness and awe in our perception of Jesus by recounting the unusual things He did and said – perhaps from a first-century first-person point-of-view.

John Alan Turner went a slightly different direction (which is great, too) in his post there Jesus the Teacher. It’s been niggling at the back of my mind ever since, and popped in the foreground yesterday morning during the start of a new Bible class series on the gospel according to Mark, as well as a fine sermon titled “No One Ever Spoke Like This.”

I’ve got a craving to bullet-point what Jesus taught us to do. Not the theological depths. Not the secrets of the kingdom. Not to discuss it, argue about it, question it or interpret it. Not as a rule book or a checklist. Just to lay out the imperative teachings, book by book: what He told us to do and not to do. It could take a while. (I’ll leave out the Kingdom teachings, because I’ve already been there with a series.)

So let’s start with Matthew.

Unless you count Jesus’ instruction to John to baptize Him in fulfillment of all righteousness, His first imperative teaching in this gospel is for Satan, quoting Old Covenant scripture.

  • “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
  • “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”

Then after John was imprisoned, He went to preach – echoing John – by the lake near Capernaum in Galilee.

  • “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

After calling some followers and healing some sick and tortured people, He went up on a mountain and proclaimed the blessings of the Beatitudes, then instructed:

  • “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
  • ” … anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
  • ” … if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way.”
  • ” … anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. … And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.”
  • ” … anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”
  • “Do not swear at all … Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ …”
  • “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
  • “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
  • “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
  • “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them … So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets … But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”
  • “… when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”
  • “…when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans …”
  • “… if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
  • “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do … But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting.”
  • “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
  • “You cannot serve both God and Money.”
  • “… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. … Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
  • ” … take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
  • “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.”
  • “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
  • ” … do to others what you would have them do to you.”
  • “Enter through the narrow gate.”

From that point on, His compelling words are often for his closest followers, less often for crowds. For the crowds, he mostly tells stories – parables – and their explanations are also for his disciples … but that’s a whole different series!

  • “Watch out for false prophets.”
  • (to His disciples) “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
  • (to His disciples) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.”
  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”
  • “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
  • “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.'”
  • “… unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. … whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
  • “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.”
  • “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.”
  • “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along … If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
  • “… anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. … The one who can accept this should accept it.”
  • ” … whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”
  • “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. … Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
  • “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
  • “Take and eat; this is my body. … Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant.”
  • “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Those are the imperatives I found in Matthew’s gospel. Did I miss any? Include some I shouldn’t have? (I left out instructions given to just one person, or those which seemed connected to immediate events only, rather than to eternal truths.)

Did you notice how often He seemed to be in the midst of admiring children? And how protective He was of them? And that their faith counted, too?

Did you see authority? Variety? A call to discernment? Harmony? Kindness? Gentleness? Servitude? Peace? An expectation of perfection? A warning of judgment?

Was there anything He asked us to do that He was not willing to do – or had not already done?

Part II | Part III | Part IV | Epilogue