Please read Psalm 2 + Matthew 5:43-48 in your Bible. I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.
Good Christians are good neighbors. Good neighbors are good citizens.
On my most recent visit to the library, I checked out How to Create Your Own Religion. The title was intriguing & offensive at the same time. But as I try to listen to other perspectives to test my own and to “pan” for nuggets of truth, I took a chance.
I didn’t like the book. At all. I gave up after 50 pages or so.
At this point you may be thinking, “Well, what did you expect?” I expected it to be critical of “organized religion.” I expected it to target Christianity. What I’d hoped that there would be a reasonable intelligence at work to make respectful discourse.
Instead it was angry, arrogant, and adolescent. The few good points were covered over with sarcasm. It was like a waffle covered in hot sauce.
I went to the internet and found that about a third of the people who wrote online reviews of the book agreed with me: they also put the book away without finishing it.
My reaction to this book reminded me of Psalm 2:1; “Why do the heathen rage?” God added the part about His people having a better social presence from Matthew 5. Now you know how we got here. More importantly, what are we going to learn?
Today we’re going to provide biblical answers to the question, “How does a Christian live in the world? “ How we relate to the secular culture all around us is one of the key parts of being a follower of Jesus.
- Psalm 2 = People who reject God are distinguished by their impotent rage.
This is called a “royal psalm” because it may’ve been written by a king (it is attributed to Solomon or David). It is also a prayer for the king as he faces off against foreign nations.
This psalm has four parts.
The first part is in verses one through three, exposing the folly of pagan kings posturing trying to rebel against God and Israel. The key word “rage” is translated as CONSPIRE in the NIV. Elsewhere it is translated as “impotent muttering.”
The object of their rage is the Lord’s ANOINTED. This title originally referred to the king of Israel, later it referred to the Messiah.
The reason for their rage is that the defeated pagan nations chafed at having to pay tribute to Israel. They wanted to throw off the rule of Israel. The phrase CHAINS and SHACKLES refers to the tack used to hold a yoke on an animal’s neck.
Why do the heathen rage? That’s a rhetorical question. It could just as easily be translated: “Why do they bother?” It’s clear they can’t win.
The second part is in verses four through six, where God Himself laughs at their “macho” attempts at intimidation. He calls their bluff. To us, the threats of evil people may look intimidating, but from God’s perspective they are ridiculous.
We need to live our belief, and one important aspect is that our security is in God’s power, not the king’s strength. After all, God INSTALLED the king of Israel on his throne. This means we must not be intimidated by anything in this world, but trust God that He is working all things out for our benefit.
The third part is in verses seven through the king repeats God’s assurance of the defeat of their enemies. God’s DECREE is a certificate of adoption: the king is under God’s protection as a father protects his children. The word “I” in verse six is a emphatic personal declaration in Hebrew grammar. In English it would read something like “as for me.”
The ROD OF IRON is both a shepherd’s tool and a king’s symbol of office. The Lord’s ANOINTED will use the ROD to DASH THEM TO PIECES. This is a promise of effortless and total destruction of the wicked: they are powerless to resist.
In verses 10-12 we have the fourth part and it is a warning the rebels, “Get back in line and be blessed or keep rebelling and suffer God’s righteous wrath.” To SERVE means to submit one’s own will entirely to the will of the king. If they won’t submit because the understand this, they should at least submit out of FEAR and TREMBLING.
The phrase KISS THE SON sounds strange to us, but builds on the FEAR and TREMBLING. We might translate it as a gruff command; “Kiss the ground.” To save themselves, these rebels must humiliate themselves before God’s son. Like the heathen kings of the time of the psalm’s writing, our choice is to either rebel against God, ending in our own destruction, or submit to God and be blessed to find eternal REFUGE in Him.
The point of this psalm is very simple. God is in heaven, we are not. To live, we need to stop our pointless rebellion. Also, we who are God’s people have nothing to fear in the threats of ungodly folks. We don’t need to be intimidated by any earthly power. God is our Deliverer. Additionally, we are not to envy the wicked nor are we to resort to their methods as Jesus has shown us a better way.
- Matthew 6:43-48 = Disciples are distinguished by loving the unlovable.
YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID (43) is Jesus’ way of referring to the Law and/or the culture of that time. The Old Testament Law set a higher standard than anything else that existed anywhere else before God gave it to Moses. The Law commanded love for one’s NEIGHBOR. That love was to be at least as strong as self-love.
However, nowhere in the Old Testament was anyone commanded to HATE one’s ENEMY. Jesus must have referred to common practices of the time or human nature.
BUT I TELL YOU (44) was Jesus’ statement that He was raising the standard. Here is His new standard: He commanded love of both NEIGHBOR and ENEMY. He made everyone a NEIGHBOR, especially persons in need. In His command to pray for our enemies, Jesus recognized and highlighted the spiritual aspect of love.
When we meet this standard we show positive proof we are CHILDREN OF [our] FATHER IN HEAVEN (45). In this world, God treats all equally. His love is available to all people. For example, the SUN shines on both EVIL and GOOD people and the RAIN falls on both RIGHTEOUS & UNRIGHTEOUS people. It will not be this way after death, but Jesus doesn’t touch on that subject here.
As an example, He used 2 people His listeners disliked, TAX COLLECTORS and SINNERS (46-47). This is to make the point that loving people who love you first or who love you back is no ethical challenge. Even infamous TAX COLLECTORS are capable of that immature level of love. Self-centered love like that will not receive a heavenly REWARD from God.
A simple greeting is not asking much at all. It’s an easy way to show love. But if you can’t GREET anyone outside your little circle of accomplices, you’ve shown how shallow your love really is. If you do not love deeply as God commands you should expect no heavenly rewards.
Jesus set the HIGHEST POSSIBLE standard – look at v. 48, where it is written; BE PERFECT, AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT. Perfection is a divine attribute. It is impossible for us, but NOTHING is impossible with God (Luke 18:27).
Moral perfection is given to us by God as we confess our sins and repent of them. When God forgives, He forgets, so we are made perfect in His eyes. Our part is to guard our perfection against sin. PERFECT means loving in word and in good works that include prayer.
Good citizens are good neighbors.
Here’s a joke: A preacher is giving a sermon based on Jesus’ command to love your enemies. “Now,” he said, “I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies. So raise your hands if you have many enemies.”
Quite a few people raised their hands.
“See,” said the preacher, “most of us feel like we have enemies. Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.”
A very, very old man raised his hand. He called out, “I have no enemies whatsoever! I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies.”
The preacher added, “What a wonderful Christian life you lead! And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies.”
“I’ve outlived all of them!”
<Adapted from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-james-martin-sj/how-to-love-your-enemies_b_841538.html on 10/13/17.>
God calls us to a social ethic higher than just outliving people who oppose us ; more like “out-loving” them than outliving them.
In our culture, the extreme viewpoints seem to have gained traction while the more reasonable moderate positions disappear. One consequence is that the whole is more divided than ever.
So I want to offer a place where I believe we all ought to be able to agree. I suggest we build unity by affirming our commitment to a basic ethical principle; that all life has value. The table below represents the spectrum of responses a person can have in the value they place on life, especially human life. I admit to being naive, but we must start somewhere and this is the most logical place. For, if we can’t agree here, the rest doesn’t matter at all.