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Posts Tagged ‘different religions’

Stacey and I were at a social event a number of years ago, and we ended up seated for a meal at a table with a couple who were involved in obvious and well known wrongdoing, at least from our point of view as Christians. And they knew about our Christian views and that I was a pastor. So . . . we’re sitting across from each other, knowing all this, but where does it go from here?

Have you ever been in a situation like this? You don’t want to give the impression that you agree with or approve of what they are doing, but you also know that God loves them. So there is a tension. As Christians, sometimes we get ourselves tangled up in these situations and end up either cutting off relationship, staying away or being rude (that is, we don’t act in love) or we end up minimizing or excusing the wrong behavior so that we don’t have to feel the tension anymore. What I want to show you today is that you can be clear about your convictions concerning God’s will and still have a loving and kind relationship with those who don’t practice God’s will.

Let’s look to our example here –

Jesus combined two things

1. He was clear about God’s will and that people need to do God’s will. He preached to all who would listen, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – Matthew 4:17. And he didn’t do this is a vague way. He talked about some very specific things that people needed to give up in order to do God’s will. And he preached that there would be judgment for sin. There was nothing wishy-washy about Jesus.

But also, and at the same time, 2. he related to those who didn’t do God’s will in a loving way. He didn’t stay away from them or avoid them. He didn’t condemn them or see them as beyond hope. He didn’t hat them, call them names or ridicule them.

Rather, he sought them out; he initiated relationships with them. He was kind to them. And he did this because he was genuinely concerned for them. He was trying to open doors for them to be blessed by God because he knew that they would only find freedom and joy in knowing God and in doing God’s will.

He said in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” How can he help if he is staying away from them? Or if he simply wants to condemn? Or if he is treating them like a leper?

Let’s look now at –

Three examples of this in Jesus’ ministry

1. Jesus associated with tax collectors. Mark 2:13-15 says, “Jesus saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

Jesus sought out a relationship with these tax collectors. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. In fact, he did this so often that he had the reputation of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” – Matthew 11:19.

And this was scandalous to many. Tax collectors were considered to be traitors working with the Romans. And they earned much of their money by overcharging, thus enriching themselves.

The Pharisees certainly didn’t approve of Jesus doing this. Mark 2:16 tells us that they asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Their approach was to keep separation from sinners. But Jesus associated with them.

But let’s also be clear that Jesus didn’t condone their behavior. In Mark 7:21-23 Jesus said that “theft” is evil and sinful. In Luke 12:15, Jesus teaches against greed and seeking more and more wealth. And as Mark relates here, they are called “sinners.”

And that’s why Jesus called them to “follow me.” That is, leave your old life behind and learn from me a new way to live. This comes out clearly in the story of Zacchaeus, another tax collector, in Luke 19. He stood up at the meal with Jesus and said, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (v. 8). He was repenting of theft (he gave back four times as much according to Old Testament law) and greed (he gave to the poor).

So in this example we see in Jesus both a clarity about God’s will, but also, at the same time, a loving relationship with those who don’t do God’s will.

2. Jesus associated with the sexually immoral. Luke 7:36-39 says, “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’”

Jesus related to this woman, who was most likely a prostitute. He didn’t scold her or turn her away. He wasn’t embarrassed by her. In fact this encounter is evidence that they had talked before, and she is now returning grateful for his ministry and expressing her devotion and evidencing her repentance.

Well certainly society looked down on prostitutes. And the Pharisees did not approve of Jesus’ association with her, as we see from Simon’s response. One should keep apart from such sinners!

But let’s be clear here as well, Jesus strongly disapproved of her behavior. In Mark 7:21-23 he declares that “sexual immorality” is evil and sinful. And in Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus teaches that sex is reserved for a life-long relationship between a man and woman in marriage.

We find a similar situation in John 4. You know the story. In v. 6 Jesus was weary and sitting beside a well. In v. 7 a Samaritan woman comes and Jesus initiates a conversation with her, asking her to give him some water from the well. And it turns into an opportunity for him to share about the living water that he can give to her.

All the while Jesus knows she is involved in sexually immorality. In v. 18 he said, “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” This is probably why she came to the well alone. The other women in her village avoided her.

And as we saw, Jesus does not approve of this by any means. But he related to her anyway. And through this conversation she and many others came to faith in Jesus.

In both of these instances, Jesus has at the same time a clarity about God’s will, but a loving relationship with those who don’t do God’s will.

3. Jesus associated with people that held different religious views. We are staying in John 4 for this one. This time the focus in on the fact that she was a Samaritan.

The Samaritans came from Jews who intermarried with Gentiles after the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. They were seen by Jews as “heretical.” They only adhered to the first five books of Moses and had their own temple for a time on Mt. Gerizim.

Once again, Jesus initiates a relationship with her. He is kind to her and engages in conversation. But the woman brings her religious views up in v. 9. “’How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” She goes on to say in v. – 20, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” There are some real differences here.

Yet Jesus was clear about the truth. He responds in v. 22, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” He was clear but still associated with her. And again, she and many others came to faith in him as the Messiah.

Here we see once again a clarity about God’s will and truth, but a loving relationship with those who don’t do God’s will or accept his truth.

Well what about us?

  • How would you respond to the person who just got out of jail for stealing the local little league’s money and now lives down the street from you, when they wave at you every morning on their way to work? (Like a tax-collector).
  • Or how would you respond to the gay couple next door who has asked you over for dinner and games? (Sexual immorality).
  • How would you respond to your new Muslin neighbor who needs help moving in? (Different religious views).

What Jesus kept together – clarity about God’s will and love for and relationship with those who don’t do this, too often we separate. Sometimes we set aside Jesus’ love for those who don’t do God’s will. We take the route of the Pharisees and seek separation from them. Instead of mercy, we condemn. We express disgust, hatred, call names and ridicule them. And I’m sure that they will just be rushing into our church to find out about God’s love after we do all this.

The simple fact is that, when we do this, we aren’t concerned to express God’s love for them, or to open God’s door of healing and help to them through a relationship with them.

Sometimes we set aside God’s will and the belief that everyone should do this and that there is a day of judgment coming. So we get all vague. Or we outright excuse or even bless people’s sin. Live and let live. Let’s all just get along.

The message today is that we must follow Jesus’ example and keep the tension in place, neither setting aside Jesus’ love or his holding to God’s will and truth. We must follow Jesus’ example and have in our lives, at the same time both a clarity about God’s will and a love for those who don’t do God’s will.

A final thought. We are to have genuine love for those who don’t do God’s will. So even if they don’t respond to our relationship or change their views, we still have love for them and their well-being. We are not offering a pretense of love just to get them converted or whatever.

If you struggle with offering genuine love,  remember these things: 1. You are only a forgiven sinner yourself.  2. Your sin was disgusting in the sight of God. 3. God was patient with you in your sin.

William Higgins

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