Be Good, Even to the GFN

Please read Luke 6:32-36 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for my remarks.

Goodness is a Fruit of the Spirit to be shown to all people.

“Abijah Powers felt moderately sure nobody would recognize him when he registered under an assumed name at the little inn. It was more than twenty years since he had left the town–a hard, reckless boy, running away from a good father and a devoted mother because he hated goodness and loved lawlessness and his own way.

“For years he had led the life of a vagabond. Then the spirit of adventure was aroused in him by the stories of the wealth of the Klondike. He joined one of the earliest parties, in that hazardous search for gold, and succeeded beyond his dreams. Now he had come back, with his old instincts, but with the wealth of a millionaire, and some strange compulsion led him to the village where he first drew breath.

“He did not even know whether his parents were living or dead. It was altogether likely they were dead. With that conviction and without asking a question, he made his way in the August twilight to the graveyard, and to the spot where for three generations his ancestors had been laid.

“Yes, there were new stones placed since he had been there. The sight moved him strangely. He bent to read the inscription on the first one. It was to the memory of his father, ‘Died, 1884.  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.’

“The date cut the man to the heart. His father had died a year after the only son had run away! And his mother had been left alone! But perhaps she had followed her husband mercifully soon. Again he bent to read, this time with tear-filled eyes, ‘Died, 1902.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’

“His mother had been alone for eighteen years! She was but just dead — in poverty, perhaps; certainly in loneliness. He drew himself up as if to shake off a hideous dream.             “But the other stone – whose grave could that mark? They had no relatives except some distant cousins. Perhaps some one of them had done for his mother what he ought to have done in her long, desolate years. Again he stooped to read – his own name. ‘Abijah Powers. Born 1870; died–.  The only son of his mother, and she was a widow.’

“It was his own gravestone, set up by his mother when her hope of his return was dead. Out of the depth of his memory there flashed up the story of the widow of Nain, and the gracious presence which spoke the word of life to her dead son. How many times his mother must have read and re-read the page, and how frequently she must have prayed that her boy, bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh, might be given back to her arms!

“The thought was anguish to the graceless son, and it brought him to his knees beside his own empty grave. With his hand resting over his mother’s head he wept as he had not wept since he was a child. They were gracious drops. Out of the mother’s love, which had found its cold comfort in the words of scripture for the grave that was no grave, there came, indeed, the resurrection of the real, living soul.

“The widow’s son went out of the graveyard that night a new man. The world wondered what had happened to him. Money did not often make a man over from a devil to a saint; but that miracle seemed to have been worked in Abijah Powers. Nobody knew that the transformation did not come from the touch of Klondike gold, but from the power of love — reaching from beyond the vale, and speaking from the cold marble of a gravestone.” –Youth’s Companion  <Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-michael-mccartney-stories-confessionofsin-repentance-15006.asp  on 6/24/16.>

  1. God’s four-fold standard for how to treat everyone,

including the Good For Nothin’.

First: Show them LOVE (32).  It is not a display of godly love to love people who have already declared their love for you.  Jesus said even “SINNERS” do that.

The word SINNERS is in quotation marks in your Bible to show that Jesus is using that word with more than a bit of irony.  The Jewish religious leaders would have used that word with disdain to refer to pagans, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “low-lifes” they had decided weren’t really worth it.  Worse than that, they believed that merely associating with the GFNs corrupted a good person and made them unclean.

This was one of their complaints about Jesus: He hung out with the GFNs.  Jesus’ message here is don’t just be loving, good, generous and merciful to the people whom you know have been or will be loving, good, generous, and merciful to you.

Do the right thing without any strings attached.  Do not be motivated by what you hope to gain in this life, but by the REWARD only God can give: in this life and/or in the next.  True love is unconditional.  Achieving that is impossible apart from God, so when we act with this kind of love, we demonstrate we are God’s people.

Second: Treat them with GOODNESS (33).  Goodness is our Fruit of the Spirit for the month of June.  Remember, this is the Year of Jubilee so we’ve been highlighting a different Fruit each month.  Goodness is an active state; we don’t wait for the other person to express a need, we look for opportunities to do good and act when they present themselves.

Claiming faith is easy (which is why most people do it) but enacting it is more difficult.  This is because goodness requires sacrifice.

– Sacrifice of time/my schedule/convenience.

– Getting outside comfort zone.

– Sacrifice of money, goods.

– Sacrifice of prejudices.

Third: Show them GENEROSITY (34).  Generosity does not make much sense financially; it is primarily an investment of earthly goods in order to realize heavenly dividends.

For example, consider the difference between a bank and a church.  A bank loans money to people after they’re assured they can pay it back.  AND they charge them interest for the privilege. A church gives to those in need, not expecting or even wanting a repayment.  We may take steps to verify the need, but we give without strings attached.

Fourth: Forgive and forbear: show MERCY (36).  The justification for being merciful is that we have been shown mercy by our heavenly Father.  We are to gratefully follow His example.

Mercy is the virtue of giving kindness in return for cruelty.  It is NOT insisting on one’s rights or on punishment or getting even.  Mercy is not getting what you deserve, but instead getting what you don’t deserve.  For most people, mercy is not our first reaction when we have been hurt.  But our first reaction is not often the most godly one either, is it?  As with all virtues, doing mercy takes time & practice.  Whether society calls you a SINNER or not, mercy is what God has shown to all people.

  1. What’s in it for you: a GREAT REWARD. (35)

All four of the virtues presented here can be described as different forms of grace.  Jesus taught that showing grace to people who are ungracious to you is to your CREDIT.  That is the Greek word for “grace.”  In our worldly frame of mind, in our human nature, we want to insist on fairness, especially when the big ME is left holding the bag.  This is backwards to God’s economy.  We are promised that showing grace merits us eternal rewards.  God will make justice happen, but not in your timing or in the way I might prefer.  1 Peter 3:19-21 also talks about CREDIT with God being earned by enduring suffering we experience as a result of doing God’s will.

What kind of reward are we talking about?  Is it worth all the trouble of being good?

It’s not an earthly reward.  I say that because in v. 35 Jesus commands us to LOVE, DO GOOD, and LEND WITHOUT EXPECTING ANYTHING BACK.  The word ANYTHING means precisely that.  We are not to be motivated by any expectation of earthly reward, including recognition (like a “thank you”) or even gratitude.  Remember, this standard includes the GFN folk some of whom will not be polite or even think about repaying you.

The adjective GREAT makes me think the reward will be heavenly.  The Greek word for REWARD more often refers to the wage given to workers.  So there is a real sense that these rewards have been earned, or at least, are given in response to sacrifices made.

It is rewarding to be named SONS [children] OF THE MOST HIGH.  We are adopted into the family of God (see Romans 8:23).  We need to act in ways that honor our family name and are in accord with our family character.  We stand for something great.  Our family character has been acted out in Jesus Christ.  We seek to speak and act in ways that would be in accord with Him.

Your reward will be in proportion to your sacrifice. See Luke 18:28-30, where Jesus makes this promise to His 12 disciples who left so much to follow Him.

We are rewarded for being like God – for acting in ways consistent with His character and will.  In this passage, that means God who is KIND TO THE UNGRATEFUL AND WICKED.  Since God is KIND to people who are not KIND to Him, we must be too.

What SHOULD BE our motive for doing good?

– God said so: His commands are perfect and our delight

– Jesus’ Golden Rule (v. 31): Treat others as you want to be treated. Whether you ever get it back or not!

– Sensitivity to need. People need the Lord and have material needs too.  Love motivates us to help.

– Heavenly reward: what’s promised here.

The biggest impediment to our showing the goodness of God is our own goodness.  All around us every day there are people who have no more interest in God than an insurance policy.

They go about their daily lives without prayer or the word, assuming that their goodness alone will be good enough to get them into heaven.  The problem is, that our goodness is never good enough to merit eternal life.  People are condemning themselves to hellfire with their bland, misplaced trust in their own goodness.

Let me be clear – and this is good news, by the way – none of us is good enough.  Salvation is only by grace, it is the gift of God.  But the gifts of God do not stop at salvation.  He commands us to live our daily life doing good works and gives us all the resources we need to do it.  And on top of all that, God forgives us when we fail to do good and repent!

What’s required to receive all these gifts is to accept them by faith.  We can be good if we get ourselves out of the way and let God’s goodness be expressed in our daily living.

“A Native American and a white man were deeply moved by the same sermon. That very night the Native American received Jesus as his Savior, but for days the white man refused to accept Christ. At last he, too, repented and enjoyed the sweet peace of having his sins forgiven. Later he asked his Native American friend, ‘Why did it take me so long, while you responded right away?’

“’My brother,’ he replied, ‘I can best explain it by this little story: At one time a rich prince wished to give each of us a new coat. You shook your head and replied, “I don’t think so; mine looks good enough.” When he made the same offer to me, I looked at my old blanket and said, “This is good for nothing (GFN!),” and gratefully accepted the beautiful garment. You wouldn’t give up your own righteousness. But knowing I had no goodness of my own, I immediately received the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness.”’”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-clyde-grimes-stories-confessionofsin-becomingachristian-11404.asp on 6/24/16.>

In his commentary, Darrell L. Bock wrote, “The call of the disciple is to a greater love, a distinct love, a love that is unique in the world.” (The New International Version Application Commentary, p. 194.)  Again, the point is that we stop trying to do it on our own.

This requires that we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit God gives to all people of faith.  We are sensitive to opportunities to do good and selfless enough to make the sacrifices of our resources of time, convenience, and pride.

(If you’d like to see and hear this message, go to YouTube.com and look up “EBCSF.”)

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Radicalized By Love

Please read Matthew 5:43-48.

NEWPORT, Tenn. (WVLT) — Justin and Cynthia Wagner were just about to head to bed on Sunday night when they smelled something burning. Justin said he looked out his front porch and noticed the garage he converted into a makeshift apartment was engulfed in flames.

He ran outside and tried to start the car that was between the garage and the house to move it out of the way, but realized the flames were already coming up underneath it.

“I told my wife, I said the car is gone just get out of here, don’t worry about nothing else, just let the fire department take care of it,” Wagner said.  The fire destroyed the Wagner’s garage, left their Mazda unrecognizable, and did extensive damage to their two-story home.

But then a friend found an unexpected surprise while he was helping the couple clean up on Wednesday morning. In the middle of the ashes was a Bible, opened up to John 3:16. The verse reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Wagner took that as a clear sign.  “That tells you right there that God is still here with us, he’s still here for us,” he said.  The majority of the Bible was burned with the edges of the pages blackened and charred, but the words of the passage are nearly untouched and clearly visible. Wagner said he has no doubt in his mind that God saved he and his wife that night because there is still more work for them to do on this earth.

“Maybe God let this happen to us so we could get a new start in life,” he said. “After I had seen the word of God and I seen it on that, I felt like God was reassuring me, I saved your life through all this. I brought you guys through this for a reason.”

Personally, I think the reason must be love.

<Retrieved from http://www.local8now.com/news/headlines/Newport-loses-everything-in-house-fire-364468041.html on 1/8/16.>

Message – Godly love meets the highest possible standard.

  1. You’ve got to know what love is.

“YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID” introduces the false command.

This is the sixth of six consecutive sections of teaching introduced by this phrase; it is not used again in the Sermon On The Mount.  In every case, it involves something that originated in the Scripture but had become corrupted, misused by the people of God.

The proverb Jesus quoted in verse 43 was only half right.

The right half can be found in Leviticus 19:18, where God commanded, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” as part of a prohibition of revenge-seeking and grudge-holding. There is no evidence in the Bible or in history that the Jews paid any particular attention to Leviticus 19:18.  Jesus, however, paired it with the Shema (see Dueteronomy 6:4-9) as the two most important commands, central to His teaching.

The incorrect half is the “HATE YOUR ENEMY” part.  That was added by someone else.  This is a fine example of the kind of excuse-making people do when they want to rationalize their limited love.  Scot McKnight wrote, “Loving those we like and hating those we don’t is as common as skin.” (The Story of God Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, p. 142.)

Jesus had nothing good to say about this kind of self-centered, excuse-ridden, limited love.  It’s such a low standard even TAX COLLECTORS and PAGANS can rise to achieve it. (TAX COLLECTORS and PAGANS were the Jews declared enemies!  For Jesus to throw that in their faces was like waving the red cape at the bull!)  No one who rises only to this superficial level of love should expect God to REWARD them for it. (Just the opposite!)

“BUT I SAY TO YOU” introduces the true command.  Real love is unconditional and universal; it makes no excuses for being anything less.

Loving only the lovable is NOT the kind of love God has in mind for His people.  He has shown us a more ambitious love.  As we have been love by God, so should we love one another.  We need to stop making excuses in a failing effort to conceal our lack of love.

– God has loved us unconditionally. He did not demand that we change first or in any way attempt to “earn” His love.  He loved us anyway.

– God has loved everyone; His love is universal. He could have said, “If you worship me, I will love you,” but He did not.  He loved all of us first and best.

As usual, Jesus radicalizes the standard, calling us to a deeper love; “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU.”  Who’s your “enemy?” It doesn’t matter whether you’ve chosen to count someone as an enemy, opponent, or rival or they have chosen to treat you as one.  What matters is that you choose to love them.  The highest and best kind of love is spiritual in nature and that’s why Jesus specified prayer as a way to enact and demonstrate true love.

– I think this plays to human nature. It’s harder to be unloving to someone when you are earnestly praying for God to bless them.

– I also think this plays to our spiritual nature. If we are truly following God’s example, prayer is part of loving even the unlovable as God does.

True love is manifest in a thousand other ways in addition to prayer.  For example, being gracious to one another demonstrates godly love.  The Bible allows us to disagree, but it does not allow us to behave disagreeably.  One of the most common ways we fail to love is by speaking rudely to or about one another.

Remember: “Being right does not give you the right.” Jesus’ strategy is to turn enemies into neighbors by loving them.

Jesus promised that real love results in reward (v. 46).  What is real love?

McKnight wrote: “Love must be defined by how God loves. From God’s behaviors we learn that love is a ‘rugged commitment to be with someone as someone who is for that person’s good and to love them unto God’s formative purpose.'” (McKnight, p. 143, emphasis his.)  With that understanding, genuine, godly love is not mere toleration or kibbutzing with people just like us.  It is cooperating fully with those who differ from us for mutual spiritual benefit.  Surely this is what Jesus meant by His remarks about the SUN and the RAIN happening at the same time to people we consider deserving/undeserving.

What is the REWARD?  That’s spelled out in v. 45; “THAT YOU MAY BE SONS OF YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  Being God’s children means receiving eternal life in the world to come and abundant life in this world.  It isn’t all duty and obligation; being God’s children is the greatest possible reward and therefore the greatest possible joy.

  1. God’s standard for life (and love) is PERFECTION.

When it’s up to us, perfection is impossible.  If this were the entire story, God would be perpetrating a great injustice on us.  If He set an impossibly high standard, one He knew we could not keep, and then condemned us for not keeping it, that would be unfair and unloving.

Thankfully, it’s not up to us alone.  God gives us forgiveness when we fail and the Holy Spirit to help us succeed.  (It’s all by grace, folks!)  He sets the standard so high we will always need His help to achieve it.  That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.  Here’s how the Holy Spirit helps us.

– The Holy Spirit perfects our character so that temptations will be less compelling.

– When we are tempted, the Spirit gives us the wisdom and the moral strength to resist.

– God has promised a DOOR OF ESCAPE in times of temptation to avoid them as they happen

– The Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible so that we needn’t have any question about what the will of God is in any situation. We won’t fail because we didn’t know better – we do.

We don’t have to fail, but having a human nature means we are prone to create problems for ourselves, so God has us covered with forgiveness.  Like His love, God’s forgiveness is unconditional: all sinners who repent are forgiven.  As with His love, God’s forgiveness is universal: all sins are forgiven.  God also completely forgives.  He forgets our sins and heals all our ills.  He graciously gives a clean slate and innumerable second chances.

What does it mean to be “radicalized?”

It’s a word used everywhere in the news to describe people who have become so committed to a version of Islam that they are willing to commit acts of terrorism.  In that way, the word has come to have negative connotations, a way for the secular media to further marginalize people of faith.

However, the word simply means to cause someone to adopt positions or beliefs more radical than they had previously held.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  To go further, the word “radical” describes a fundamental change.

Our passage is a great example of the radical nature of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  He commands that we fundamentally change the way we think about and practice love.  Let’s be “radicalized” to love.

We are to cease thinking about love in lazy, worldly, and selfish ways and are instead to love in the way God has loved us.  God sets the highest standard for love and then equips us to meet His standard in our daily lives.

Let me conclude with an example.  We find it easier to tolerate people when they agree with us.  When they disagree or make us angry, we tend to demonize and dehumanize them.  We magnify their faults and ignore their strengths.  We push them aside or tolerate them coldly.  We’re too “nice” to call them an “enemy,” but that’s practically what they have become.

Jesus commands us instead to cooperate with that person.  To never diminish their personhood or standing before God, to never assume we know how they’re going to turn out.  Partnering with that person to seek the best, most godly outcome is one way we achieve & exercise God’s love.

Let me ask you – if we are incapable of loving in this way in our home and church, what hope to do we have of loving God’s way in any other context?  What hope does the world have if we do not love as God loved us?