Imagine if your home community group, Bible study fellowship, or marriage cluster invited me to your house for dinner. After sitting down for a while and conversing on light topics like the Mueller investigation or in the inactive offseason of the Baltimore Orioles, I suddenly change the subject and say the following …
“You folks in this group, you claim to be great Christians and faithful to the church and its ministries, but in your hearts I know that you are evil to the core. Don’t you know that God wants you to not just act holy on the outside, but to be holy on the inside? You are proud that you tithe to the church, but you have no personal generosity toward the poor or anyone else in need. While giving of your wealth, you should have given of the wealth of your time to serve others who have so much less. You sit up front where everyone can see you and you act very important, but you would never greet visitors or speak warmly to any you see as less worthy than yourselves … which is pretty much everyone! You’re a bunch of empty shells. Nobody would miss you if you weren’t even there, and the church would be better off without your life dysfunction.”
Would that make for an awkward experience? One of the group would probably be sufficiently offended so as to speak up and protest that pronouncement. And then, I would double-down on your condemnation.
After this was over, you can imagine that you and your friends might be looking to form a pastoral search committee. But … but … and this is at least just a little bit of a stretch … what if I was the divine Son of God saying these things? Would you then double-down on your irritation, or would you repent and recognize the truth of the condemnatory pronouncements?
This word picture perhaps can bring you into a sense of the setting in today’s passage about Jesus at the home of a Pharisee – at a dinner with other Pharisees and prominent teachers of the law. Jesus knows they are not doing this to fellowship with a dear brother or to even legitimately hear what he has to say. They are looking for entrapment. And Jesus does not play into their game, not even by the ritual washing before the meal. Knowing more than they know, he is even aware of their thoughts and is able to use their judgmentalism against them.
Though there were many things to applaud about my very conservative church background as a youth, there were also some problems of legalism. I was slow to invite or bring friends from school to my church, and that was because these friends might have had hippie hair, informal dress, and some colorful ways of expressing their thoughts. Though needing the gospel, they would have surely felt judged, out of place and unwelcomed.
Whereas there is the greatest of value on strict and accurate theology, strict religionists often fail in the matter of keeping the big idea, the big idea.
There are so many things that church people have fought about over the years that have simply not been worth the fight – stuff like musical styles and instruments, food and coffee, Bible versions, dress codes spoken and implied, and a focus upon the church as a spiritual country club for Christians rather than a lifesaving station from which to go out and save the lost.
And just as the Pharisees set out to exalt high values but ended up excluding people by the focus upon their supposed virtues, we may do the same if we do not keep our attention upon the main thing – proclaiming the gospel and a primary emphasis upon the stuff of eternal value and consequence. Woe to us if we fail in this regard.
Luke 11:37 – When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”
45 One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”
46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. 48 So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. 49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ 50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
52 “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
53 When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54 waiting to catch him in something he might say.
Subjects like this one challenge our humility.
We might be aware that the Bilble shows that the ancient Israelites lacked faith. We can be aware of Moses “losing it” and failing to properly glorify God. We can see Abraham who was noted for his great faith, trying some “work around” at the advice of his wife, to accomplish God’s will.
We see the faults of King David. We can see that even the most righteous of the Kings of Israel during the divided monarchy period failing to turn the Isrealites away from “the sins of Jeroboam.”
We can see that Jeroboam was promised by a prophet that he would rule over ten of the tribes of Israel, and yet when he foresaw a difficult problem, he didn’t turn to the Lord … he instead turned to idolatry in order to create an alternate religious system that wouldn’t involve the people of Israel keeping a feast in Jerusalem.
The disciples continually lacked faith and failed to grasp what the Lord was doing. The early church had a major debate on how to handle repentant Gentiles. Followers of James apparently kept missing the boat on welcoming the gentiles. Peter and Barnabas at one point, in order to not ruffle the feathers of their Jewish compatriots, stopped eating with Gentiles. Paul had to rebuke Peter.
I can’t help but see here the merit of what you are doing with trying to have a more diverse congregation, we too are challenged to have a church that better reflects the diversity of God’s working.
Possibly some wonder if this is where the church should be going. A good question to ask then is “Is there any rule against love? The Biblical Agape and Philadelphia love that is to be so apparent among believers. Is there any rule against that?
Paul wrote, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom. 13:10 NIV) He follows that with “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Rom. 13:11 NIV)
We are called to love our neighbor. What often stands in the way of that? James chapter 2 deals with the problem of favoritism.
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” (James. 2:1 NIV)
James specifically warns against economic favoritism. He equates favoritism to selectively keeping the commandments of God. Not committing adultery but then committing murder. Such a person has broken the law and is a law breaker. Similarly showing favoritism is totally condemned by James.
“But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,
because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James. 2:9-13 NIV)
God challenged Jonah to reach out to the people of Ninevah. So yeah, the purpose of the church is not be “a spiritual country club for Christians.”
You did though use a term for what the purpose of the church is to be. It is a new term for me … I’ll give it some thought. You wrote, “rather… a lifesaving station from which to go out and save the lost.”
The electricity at my house is suddenly got erratic. Maybe line work is being done in the area. So I”ll just post this before I lose the comment.