PARTNERS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: PART XCV
Well, what then does the Lord expect his followers to do, so they can shine clearly enough; not just to find the lost, but to light the way for themselves? And not to get off the narrow road they are on (Luke 13:24)? God even gave us the Law that raises our neighbor up to His level.
A Pharisee asked Jesus: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).
My problem, at times, is that I find it difficult to love and forgive myself. And that stands in the way of being my brother’s keeper. The problem Cain had with Abel has plagued me and it even plagued Jesus! Jesus, Himself, also had to separate from his family. In a way, we all bear the “mark of Cain,” which is the “guilt and sin” (Genesis 4:8-16; Mark 3:31-35). It is because of this mark of “guilt and sin” that we are being held accountable for the redemption of our fellow human beings. And it is the Second Law of Love, which compels us to stop people from going to hell.
THE TRADITION OF THE JEWS KEPT THE PEOPLE FROM ENTERING THE KINGDOM
The Gospel sets man free from the entanglement of the Jewish tradition. The Jewish tradition could save a sheep from a pit, but it did not save a man from drowning on the sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14). And their tradition allowed that you could water an ox, but you were not allowed to not heal a person on the sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). Jesus uttered some severe warnings! Have we, in any way, been doing similar things that hinder people from making things right with man, so that they can be right with God? Would we want Jesus as our preacher?
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at the table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not He who made the outside also made the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in synagogues and salutations in the market places. Woe to you! For you are like graves which are not seen, and men walk over them without knowing it.”
One of the lawyers answered Jesus, “Teacher, in saying this you reproach us also. And Jesus said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load man with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and consent to the deeds of your fathers; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, maybe required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it shall be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hundred those who were entering” (Luke 11:37-52).
PAUL THE APOSTLE FELT THE SAME URGENCY TO SAVE PEOPLE FROM HIS OWN SYSTEM
Paul was too deep into the tradition of the fathers, to separate the tradition from the Eternal Universal Law of God. Paul did not forsake the Law and the tradition. He did fulfil his vow (18:18). And Paul sacrificed and suffered much to be a servant of Christ (Acts 9:15-16).
So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men; but what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to be proud of us, so that you may be able to answer those who pride themselves on man’s position and not on his heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (II Corinthians 5:6-15).
But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel.
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law, I became as one under the law — though not being myself under the law — that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I have become one outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ — that I might win those outside the law. To the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might, by all means, save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (I Corinthians 9:15-23).
NO ONE WILL BE PUNISHED OR JUDGED WITHOUT A WARNING THAT CAN SAVE THE SINNER
Jesus was not as accommodating as Paul. People who speak well of us do not always dare to tell us what we lack in our improvement. At least in my life, the harshest critics proved to be the most helpful and the best of friends. Leaders tend toward being praised by their constituency (John 12:47). Jesus issued this warning to his people and God did the same for the Prophet Ezekiel in Assyrian captivity. In our day, the tendency to diminish transgression by increasing grace may not be to our advantage. Jesus’ instruction may sound strange, but not to my wife and me who were born in a part of the world where they took everything we had, including the lives of our loved ones.
“Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and to him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well. Give to every one who begs from you; and to him who takes away your goods, do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:26-31).
“Son of man: I have made you a watchman of the house of Israel (and Gentiles); whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved you life. Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at our hand. Nevertheless, if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and you will have saved your life” (Ezekiel 3:17-21).
In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge (Jeremiah 31:29-30).
“If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right — if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of impurity, does not oppress any one, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any increase, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances—he is righteous, he shall surely live, says the Lord GOD.
If he begets a son who is a robber, a shedder of blood, who does none of these duties, but eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, lends at interest, and takes increase; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.
But if this man begets a son who sees all the sins which his father has done, and fears, and does not do likewise, who does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, does not wrong any one, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or increase, observed my ordinances, and walk in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. As for his father, because he practised extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity.
Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The souls that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffers for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he had done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die (Ezekiel 18:5-24).