It’s interesting when you read The New Testament and discover that Jesus called the religious leaders “vipers and whitewashed tombs.” In numerous texts it appears that Jesus did not mince words when dealing with the scribes and Pharisees, who were the very people claiming to be God’s representatives on earth. “27Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, charlatans, because you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly indeed appear lovely, but within are filled with the bones of the dead and with all uncleanliness. 28Thus you also outwardly indeed appear upright, but within you are full of dissimulation and lawlessness.”
It was to the Pharisees that Jesus said,
“34You brood of vipers, how can you, being wicked, speak of good things? For the mouth speaks out of what overflows from the heart. 35The good man issues good things out of his good stores, and the wicked man issues wicked things out of his wicked stores. 36But I tell you that every idle word that men will speak, they will render an account of it on the day of judgment; 37For by your words you shall be vindicated, and by your words you shall be condemned.”
Perhaps, it was the truth that Jesus continually spoke to the scribes and Pharisees that exposed their selfish and loveless hearts and why they hated, and eventually murdered him.
As you read about the life of Christ in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you will see Jesus’s anger towards them and that his greatest display of anger was not in the streets with the “sinners” but in the temple “12And Jesus entered the Temple and threw out all those selling and buying in the Temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those selling doves, 13And he says to them, “It has been written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a robbers’ den.”
Who Jesus was, how Jesus lived and what Jesus said and did was not only a contradiction to the religious leaders outward keeping of the law, but a confrontation of who they were, how they lived, how they thought and what they said and did. Consequently, it was Jesus’s way, truth, life and love that exposed the self-proclaimed keepers of the law for who they really were and what they really loved. While this exposure, confrontation and contradiction created the space for the truth to come out of the spirit, hearts and minds of those in the presence of Jesus Christ, for those who thought themselves righteous it was offensive but for those who were desperate and weak it was an opportunity to find healing, hope and rest. Jesus was a compassionate and loving invitation to people who were heavy laden.
“28Come to me, all who toil and are burdened, and I shall give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon yourselves and learn from me, because I am gentle and accommodating in heart, and you will find rest for your souls; 30For my yoke is mild and my burden light.”
Thankfully, Jesus showed us how to be and he gave specific instruction how we could live a holy life on earth. In fact, Jesus and the apostles not only spoke at length, but were living examples for us, who say we are Christians, to imitate.
“38You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39Whereas I tell you not to oppose the wicked man by force; rather, whosoever strikes you upon the right cheek, turn to him the other as well; 40And to him who wishes to bring a judgment against you, so he may take away your tunic, give him your cloak as well; 41And whoever presses you into service for one mile, go with him for two. 42Give to the one who begs from you, and do not turn away from one who wishes to borrow from you. 43You have heard that it has been said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and shall hate your enemy’— 44Whereas I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; 45In this way you may become sons of your Father in the heavens, for he makes his sun to rise on the wicked and the good, and sends rain upon the just and the unjust. 46For if you love only those who love you, what recompense do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing that is extraordinary? Do not even the gentiles do the same? 48So be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
There are no arguments that can be made about Christians being called to love their neighbors as themselves. Jesus speaks directly to who our neighbors are, how we should live in the world with our neighbors and what love is and how love speaks, thinks and acts as a neighbor.
“27But to you who listen I say, Love your enemies, do well by those who hate you, 28Bless those cursing you, pray for those reviling you. 29To him who strikes you on the cheek turn the other also, and from him who takes your cloak do not withhold your tunic as well. 30Give to everyone who asks and do not ask back from the one taking your things. 31And just as you wish men should do to you, do likewise to them. 32And if you love those who love you, what is your thanks? For even sinners love those who love them. 33For even if you do good to those who do good to you, what is your thanks? Even sinners do the same. 34And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks have you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order that they may receive an equal return.
35But love your enemies and do good and [[p119]]lend without despairing of it; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Become compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. 37And do not judge, and you surely shall not be judged, and do not condemn, and you surely shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. 38Give, and you shall be given: Into your lap they will pour a goodly measure, pressed down, shaken together, and spilling over; for in whatever measure you measure it shall in turn be meted out to you.”
39And he spoke a parable to them as well: “Can a blind man guide a blind man? Will not both fall into a pit? 40A disciple is not above his teacher; but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, yet do not perceive the beam in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the straw out of your eye,’ while not yourself seeing the beam in your eye? Charlatan, first pluck the beam out of your eye, and then you will see clearly how to pluck the straw out of your brother’s eye.” The gospel of Luke
Jesus not only clearly speaks The Truth over and over, but he is The Truth who tells us to “Imitate Me!”
“10If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11I have spoken these things to you that my joy may be in you and your joy may be made full. 12This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this: that he should lay down his soul for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I call you slaves no longer, because the slave does not know what his lord is doing; but I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from the Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you, so that you should go and should bear fruit, and your fruit will last, so that whatever you might ask in my name he might give you. 17These things I command you so that you love one another.” John 13
In reading and understanding the responsibility that we have been given to LOVE our neighbor, whether or not that neighbor is a friend or enemy, I have to ask. How do Christians argue over masks, vaccines and even politics, and think about what Jesus says…”13No one has greater love than this: that he should lay down his soul for his friends.” Are “masks” the same as laying down your life? Does personal preference compare to laying down your life?
Have we as Christians forgotten who we are and what we are called to do?
I ask you to consider the following passage It is a teaching on food sacrificed to idols and whether or not one could or should eat food sacrificed to idols when someone else thinks it is a sin. How do Christians not apply the spirit of this passage to anything and everything that might “wound their brother’s conscience.” How would this apply to wearing masks, flying flags, talking about politics and how we live in every area of our lives? How much importance do we put on our rights rather than our responsibility to love our neighbor? Certainly, Jesus gave up all his rights to love his neighbor. Are we not called to do the same?
“1Now, as regards sacrifices to idols, we know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge inflates, but love builds; 2If someone thinks he has known something, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3But if anyone loves God, this one is known by him. 4As regards eating from sacrifices made to idols, we know that an idol within the cosmos is nothing, and that none is God except the One. 5For even though there are those who are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many gods and many lords), 6Yet for us there is one God, the Father—out of whom come all things, and we for him—and one Lord, Jesus the Anointed—through whom come all things, and we through him.n 7But the knowledgeo is not within everyone; and some, because of habitual association with the idol right up to the present moment, eat such food as is sacrificed to the idol, and their conscience—being weak—is defiled. 8But food will not remand us over to God; neither are we wanting if we do not eat, nor do we abound if we eat. 9But be watchful, so that this license of yours should not become a stumbling-block to the weak. 10For if someone sees you, who possess knowledge, sitting down in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, being weak, be encouraged to eat the sacrifices offered to idols? 11For the one who is weak is destroyed by your knowledge, the brother for whose sake the Anointed died. 12So, when you sin against the brothers and wound their conscience, you sin against the Anointed. 13Hence, if a food causes my brother to falter, I will eat no flesh at all, throughout the age,p so that I might not cause my brother to falter.”
I know this may be shocking but Jesus wasn’t and isn’t liberal or conservative. Rather, Jesus is LOVE and he is magnanimous, and he like Love is “kind, is not envious, love does not boast, does not bluster, 5Does not act in an unseemly fashion, does not seek for things of its own, is not irascible, does not take account of the evil deed, 6Does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices with the truth; 7It tolerates all things, has faith in all things, hopes in all things, endures all things. 8Love never fails;.” 1 Corinthians
I often wonder if the reason why we are so far from how Jesus lived on earth, and who he calls us to be, how he calls us to live, what he calls us to do and why it encompasses everything we think, say and do, is because we leaped over Acts without hesitation. Consequently, we refused to even ponder how the first Christians lived after hearing and accepting the good news, and now we are forever lost tinkering in the minutiae, arguing over the most trivial things and refusing to lay down our opinions, preferences and commentary- let alone lay down our lives, sell everything we have, hold all things in common or commit to a “communal life, in the breaking of bread and in prayer.”
“37And, hearing this, they were pierced in heart and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, “What may we do, men, brothers?” 38And Peter said to them, “Change your hearts, and let each of you be baptized upon the name of Jesus the Anointed, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is to you and to your children and to those far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” 40And with many words more he testified to them and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41So those who accepted his word were baptized, and that day about three thousand souls were added, 42And they devoted themselves steadfastly to the Apostles’ teachings and communal life, in the breaking of bread and in prayers. 43And reverence came to every soul; and through the Apostles came many wonders and signs. 44And all those who had faith were at the same place and owned all things communally, 45And they sold their properties and possessions, and distributed to everyone, according as anyone had need. 46And from day to day they steadfastly remained in the Temple in concord of spirit and, breaking bread in one house after another, they shared their food in gladness and simplicity of heart, 47Praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And day by day the Lord added those who were being saved to their company.”
Jesus emptied himself of everything to live among us and give us all that he had been given. Yet, we turn a blind eye to The Way, The Truth and The Life to claim and defend what we arrogantly and ignorantly claim as ours, our rights, our bodies, our land, our money, our preferences, our opinions, our politics and our leader. But how does this line up with what Jesus said “A new commandment I give you: that you love one another. As I have loved you, so too must you love one another. By this all will know you are disciples to me, if you have love for one another.”
For me, as a confessing Christian, I do not understand how we reconcile the Way, The Truth and the Life of Christ with “rugged individualism”, identity politics, racism, sexism, violence, pollution, waste, greed, gluttony, idolatry, the consumer mentality and lifestyle that has resulted in the mass majority of Americans (including Christians- especially Christians) to have epidemics of diet-related disease and sickness, bottomless appetites to consume, the dismissal of our personal responsibility to be givers and receivers of love, and an unwavering and steadfast belief in technology, the government, a political party or an acquisitive, vituperative and rapacious economy to save us from what we have caused.
I keep thinking if just a small number of Christians had committed themselves to loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and loved our neighbors as ourselves, instead of being conformed to this world and regurgitating and embracing it’s loveless diatribe-then we wouldn’t be in this mess.
But… here we are acting like infants “14So that we might no longer be infants, wave-tossed and carried about by every wind of teaching, by men’s sleight of hand, by villainy attendant upon error’s wiliness, 15But rather, speaking truth in love, we may in all things grow into him who is the head, the Anointed, 16From whom all of the body—fitted together and knitted together by every joint provided, according to its operation, in the measure proper to every single part—effects the body’s growth, for the sake of building itself up in love. 17This, therefore, I tell you and testify in the Lord: You are no longer to walk as the gentiles walk, in the irreverent frivolity of their mind, 18Being darkened in intellect, having been estranged from God’s life, through the ignorance that is within them because of the petrification of their heart, 19Who, having become unfeeling, gave themselves over to wantonness, for commerce in all impurity, in acquisitiveness. 20Not thus, however, were you instructed regarding the Anointed, 21If indeed you have listened to him and been taught in him—as in Jesus there is truth; 22As regards former conduct, you are to shed the old man, the one corrupted by the lusts of deceit, 23And to be renewed in your intellect’s spirit, 24And to don the new man, the one created by God in the righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25Therefore, shedding the lie, let each one of you speak the truth to his neighbor, because we are one another’s corporal members. 26Be indignant and yet do not sin; do not let the sun set on what provokes your anger, 27Neither give the Slanderer a place. 28Let the thief no longer steal, but instead let him work, accomplishing something good with his own hands so that he might have it to share with the person in need. 29Out of your mouth let no foul utterance proceed, but instead whatever is good for needed edification, that it might impart a grace to those listening. 30And do not grieve the Spirit, the Holy One of God, by which you were sealed with a seal for a day when the fee for liberation is paid. 31Let all bitterness and animosity and indignation and clamoring and defamation be removed from you, together with every evil. 32And become helpfully kind to one another, inwardly compassionate, forgiving among yourselves, just as God also graciously forgave you in the Anointed.”
Perhaps, it is time we look to see if we (Christians) are whitewashed tombs, vipers and the self-proclaimed keepers of the law who “outwardly indeed appear upright, but within you are full of dissimulation and lawlessness.” Perhaps, it’s time we confess “God, grant mercy to me, a sinner.” and we “1Become imitators of God, therefore, like beloved children, 2And walk in love, as the Anointed also loved you and gave himself up on our behalf, an offering and sacrifice to God, for the aroma of a sweet fragrance. 3But whoring, and every impurity or acquisitiveness—let it not be named among you, as befits holy persons—4Nor foul conduct and imbecile chatter and flippancy, which are unbecoming things—but instead thanksgiving.”
Let me be the first to confess that I am guilty of everything I write about plus a whole lot more. In fact, just this week I was arguing about things that do matter and actually deny me the space and time to love my neighbors as myself. In reading my Bible, I was confronted by how I am supposed to turn my cheek to someone striking me. Yet, if I cannot turn my cheek to a differing opinion, then I am ridiculous to think that I will ever lay down my life for my neighbor if I refuse to lay down my own opinions, shut my mouth, refuse to argue over things that I have little to no control over, and most of the time little to understanding. Why do I waste time arguing politics when I have been called to Love and 9Love is without dissemblance. Abhorring wickedness, clinging to the good, 10Devoted to one another in brotherly love, giving preference of honor to one another, 11Not slothful in zeal, fervent in spirit, slaving for the Lord, 12Rejoicing in hope, enduring in affliction, persevering in prayer, 13Providing for the needs of the holy ones, pursuing hospitality—14Bless those who persecute, bless and do not curse—15To rejoice with those rejoicing, to weep with those weeping—16Being of the same mind toward one another, not loftily minded, but instead associating with the lowly—do not fancy yourselves sages—17Repaying no one evil for evil, providing things in good countenance with all human beings. 18If possible for you, be at peace with all human beings. 19Do not exact justice for yourselves, beloved, but yield place before anger; for it has been written, “‘The exacting of justice is mine, I will requite,’ says the Lord.” 20But rather, “If your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him drink; for in doing this you will heap coals of fire on his head.” 21Do not be vanquished by evil, but vanquish the evil with the good.