The Least Of These

As I sit here writing these words, it is Easter Sunday morning. For the first time in my life I attended Easter worship in my pajamas, watching a livestream from my couch. It was easy, comfortable, and convenient for me and others viewing the service via my church’s Facebook page. My father gave an excellent sermon as he always does, and as the live video came to an end, all viewers were able to quickly continue with our days and whatever plans we have with our families.

Despite this apparent ease of our new routine, I feel a strong conviction from the Lord this morning. A verse that has continually worked itself into my mind this morning and in recent days is Matthew 25:40, which reads “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” the least of these being the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. This verse puts on full display to me how ease and convenience are antithetical to our collective calling as followers of Christ. As the church, we like helping the poor, the needy, those who need our help, and it is a beautiful thing when we are able to meet the needs of our community. However, too often our participation in service to others only extends as far as it is convenient for us to do so. We will serve at a food bank on our saturday off, or serve the homeless during a regularly scheduled church meeting, or go on a mission trip during a free week in the summer. This brings the question: Would we only serve within our comfort zone if it was Christ himself we were serving?

My guess is no. We would go above and beyond, sacrificing time, money, and energy in our dedication to the Savior. This would be a show of reciprocity that is rightfully earned by His sacrifice on the cross. But when it comes to other people, we are hesitant to give beyond our bare minimum time, money, and effort because, let’s face it, what have they done for us? They haven’t made the ultimate sacrifice, they aren’t Jesus, so we don’t have an incentive to go above and beyond for them. In rationalizing this, we fail to remember that the reason Jesus came in the first place was because WE are “the least of these.” We are the ones that are so desperately in need of saving, and Jesus made a painful, inconvenient sacrifice on the cross, not because we were worth saving, but because of an overwhelming, all-encompassing love for His people.

It is that same love that we should aspire to give our fellow sinners, not because they deserve it, but because it is what we are called to. Mark 12:31 says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That does not mean love your neighbor according to what they have done for you, or treat them as you would like to be treated, but love them to the same extent that Jesus loved you, to the point of bloodshed, torture and death. This kind of love is self-sacrificial and requires faith to the point of reckless abandon of ourselves for the benefit of others. Our love is not a calculation of debts owed, but an extension of Christ. Our culture tells us that the condition of our lives is somehow earned, that the comfortable deserve their comfort and those who struggle haven’t been good enough to be in better circumstances, but I can personally say that that is not true. I have been blessed with comfort, a loving family, the good fortune to attend my dream college, and countless other things that I was lucky to receive, but did not earn.

The reality is that all any of us has earned in our lives is condemnation, but God has given us a way out because of love. When we accept that, it becomes easier to relinquish what we have been given on earth. Any earthly privilege we have is given from God so that we may use it to help His people. That means that if we are lucky enough to live lives without poverty, without oppression, without abuse, we should do everything in our power to assist those that have. It is our calling as Christians, not to mention just as human beings. I acknowledge that I often fail in this. I am selfish with my money, time, and privilege. I am consumed with my worldly image, striving to meet earthly measures of success.But just because we fail does not mean we cease to try. We cannot just stop loving the poor, the homeless, the incarcerated, and the abused simply because it is difficult. The cross was difficult too, but it gives us hope and life, and that outpouring of love is what we ought to emulate with our words and our efforts as we go forward.

Thank you and God bless

Tanner Knox

Care Before Commands

God’s love for us is not dependent upon how well we follow His commands for us.

I’ll say it again.

God’s love for us is not dependent upon how well we follow His commands for us.

This seems like the most basic principle of living in light of the good news of the gospel, and yet we as followers of Jesus can forget this time and time again.

The best way to combat forgetting or neglecting this truth is by diving into the story of Scripture. I don’t mean simply reading your Bible to check off a box (like I do way too often), but rather I mean immersing yourself into the whole cohesive story of Scripture. I believe that God’s Word is inerrant, that God’s Word is put together in a specific way by the Spirit’s leading over mankind. So when we look at the entire story of Scripture, we see gospel themes all over the place.

The unfortunate truth is that many of us (yours truly included at times) fail to really understand what the Bible story really is. We like to read devotionally, follow a Sunday School reading plan, and never really get the point of most passages because we don’t read in context. All of this leads to mishandled beliefs about the Bible, God, and the good news of the gospel. Lastly, a disjointed approach to the Bible leads to a litany of verses taken way, way, way out of context (Philippians 4:13, Jeremiah 29:11, etc.).

But let’s get back to the topic at hand. God’s care and God’s commands.

If you asked the average Joe or Jane meandering the sidewalks of our cities to describe what the Old Testament was about, there’s likely one theme that comes to the forefront of their response: God’s commands. They may talk about his anger and wrath, but they will likely have some component of the law of God as part of their answer.

Now let’s say you asked the average pew-sitting Paul or Phyllis, regular members of our churches, the same thing. They would likely answer the same way! Again, this includes rapidly rambling me.

It’s easy to think that the Old Testament is all about God’s commands for us to follow, with the New Testament being all about God’s care for us through Jesus.

This is well-meaning, but off.

If you look closely at Scripture, you’ll see that God is extending grace and showing His loving kindness long before He imposes commands on His people (which are also His loving kindness, btdubs).

For instance, if you look at the book of Genesis, you see that it is fundamentally about God’s love for His chosen people, namely the family of Abraham. While commands for right living are interlaced throughout this narrative, the main theme is clearly (in my opinion) God’s covenant relationship with Abraham’s family, in the midst of Abraham’s stupidity (as well as the stupidity of his descendants).

The book of Genesis is NOT primarily about the origin of God or the origin of the cosmos (Whether you bleed Answers in Genesis or believe God used evolution to create the world we currently live in, there’s not going to be a clear and concise answer found in Genesis). It’s not a conglomeration of classic Bible stories and their quirky VeggieTales adaptations (I’m not knocking VeggieTales, I grew up on that stuff. I certainly do like to waltz with tomatoes).

The book of Genesis is about God’s care for His people. A care for His people that not only comes before the commands of Exodus-Deuteronomy, but also a care for His people that is not dependent upon His people’s ability or willingness to follow such commands.

Still don’t believe me?

Open your Bible.

Yes, as far as timelines go, the command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (I am tempted to start naming the trees in my yard, such as the Tree Full of Leaves I Will Pay our Students To Rake and The Tree That Hopefully Won’t Cause Foundation Damage) comes at the same time more or less as the introduction of Adam into the perfect garden.

Yet after Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God immediately clothes them via a sacrifice, and promises to send the Messiah. I would say that’s a solid example of God’s care for them even after their disobedience.

Immediately after their displacement from the garden, the wheels fall off. Murder, deception, rage and malice, wickedness, pride. God gives the people 120 years to repent and turn to Him, but they refuse, and the flood happens. Let’s not forget that the fact God left a remnant via Noah and his family is also unbelievable grace.

After God’s grace given to Noah, there is a covenant made. But right after it comes more horrible stuff. More pride and arrogance (Tower of Babel). Clear incest (Judah and Tamar).

As generation after generation progresses in Abraham’s family, God’s care for them continues to be extended.

I would encourage you to dive in to the book of Genesis. Without the PG-tint glasses that our Sunday School backgrounds give us. It is dirty, grimy, dark, and nasty. But in the midst of humanity’s horribleness, God’s grace explodes off of every page.

If you need help reading the Bible in such a way, I can recommend two resources. Number one. The LifeChange Bible Study Series. These are great resources and they’re affordable. Number two. Anything by Jen Wilkin. She’s a phenomenal teacher of the Bible.

As we wrap up, fast forward to today. March 29, 2019.

How well are you doing at believing the truth we started with?

Do you evaluate your spiritual actions each day and hope you’ve done enough for God to be pleased with you?

Do you face incessant and unceasing guilt for your inability to follow His commands (been there, done that)?

Remember this truth. Before God imposes commands in our lives, He shows us His care for us. And when we fail to follow those commands in our lives, He continues to show His care for us.

I’ll close with the following quote.

God loves you as much as he loves Jesus! Think of that! God knows all about our weaknesses, doubts, fears, and sins. Yet, he loves us no less than he does his own child. – Bryan Chappell

He loves you.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach