In giving the announcements, one of the associate pastors at our
church mentioned that there was a petition on the back table for
FOCA -- the Freedom of Choice Act; he explained that the members
might want to check it out "for your information." He
emphasized that the church was taking no position on the issue.
A few weeks later the associate decided to run a little experiment
when he saw a young couple at the back table getting ready to
sign the petition.
"What're you doing?" he asked.
"Going to sign the petition," the young man said.
"It's against abortion."
"That's what it says."
"Right here." He pointed at the paper, then started
to sign it.
"That's what the National Right to Life Organization wants
you to think, but have you read the bill in question?"
"Neither have I. I wouldn't rely just on what they're saying
"Well, the church endorses it." And he got ready to
sign it again.
"No it doesn't."
"But it's back here on the table."
On the other side of the coin, the interactive computer information
service Prodigy related a story about a ninth grader in Bloomingdale,
Michigan. It seems that there was a large picture of Jesus in
one of the hallways of his public high school; after learning
about the separation of church and state in class, he got to wondering
about the painting.
In February, a U.S. District Court ordered that the painting be
covered, because the picture "amounts to a school endorsement
of Christianity and thus violates the First Amendment, which bars
government establishment of religion."
Prodigy reported that late Sunday, February 28, 1993 school officials
"covered the picture while about 150 people held a candlelight
vigil outside." The online service also pointed out that
in 1980 the Supreme Court ruled that it was improper for schools
to display the Ten Commandments, and in 1992, the court ruled
that prayers are not appropriate at school graduations.
Prodigy reports that "Since the lawsuit was filed, Pensinger
has been screamed at by parents and challenged to fights. Some
students staged a sit-in to protest the judge's order. Some of
his own cousins won't speak to him."
The temptation for Christians throughout history has been to try
to impose their view of reality on those who do not believe. This
activity has resulted in rather hideous evils, as for instance
the Crusades and such horrors as the Spanish Inquisition, where
those who did not believe appropriately, or who did not act properly,
were forced to change their ways or die.
In the United States, such extreme methods are not possible, but
this has not kept the Church from trying to impose its will by
less extreme methods. The American Church has a long history of
clamoring for various social and political causes; early on, the
American churches were divided over whether to support or resist
the revolution. Later, the abolitionist movement became a focus
in some churches, while others fought for the right to own slaves.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the temperance
movement worked to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol. In
the last few decades churches in America have taken a role in
the civil rights movement, come out for or against certain wars,
and issued statements on nuclear proliferation. There is no shortage
of those seeking to impose Christian ideals on American society
through legislative action: trying to outlaw homosexuality or
ban abortions, institute prayer in public schools, or limit sex
and violence on television.
Depending on one's political leanings, the political activities
of churches are viewed as either praiseworthy or frightening.
Those on the left are quick to condemn churches for mixing religion
and politics if the church is pushing a conservative cause. On
the other side, the right will happily criticize those churches
on the left who involve themselves in issues in which they have
the opposite opinion. Each side seems happy with the separation
of church and state -- until their own agenda is at stake.
Both sides are right to criticize and wrong to be politically
As well-intentioned as all such political activities inevitably
are, biblically they are suspect because these crusades for moral
purity in society are confusing the mission of the church and
distracting people from the message of the cross.
II. The Purpose of the Church
At the heart of the issue is the question of the church's mission
on planet earth. Is it simply to present the gospel, or is it
more than that? Based on statements in the book of James, and
more especially based upon the example of Israel and the laws
established for the people there, cannot it be reasonably argued
that the church has a role to play in improving the human condition,
in relieving suffering, in working for justice and in fighting
for the rights of the oppressed? Does not the Bible say that the
church is to be a beacon, a light on a hill, a candle that cannot
be put under a bushel? If that is the case, then surely the church
not only has the right, but even the duty to involve itself in
political issues. The only question then, is to determine which
issues are the right ones.
However, is the above line of reasoning biblical? Let's look again
at what the Bible really has to say about the church's mission
to planet earth.
A. To Evangelize
Biblically, it becomes obvious that the Church's mission on Earth
is to spread the good news that Jesus died on the cross. Notice
the words of Jesus:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and
Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
The Holy Spirit is said to empower the Christian to act as a witness
of Jesus. Notice the consistency with a passage like the following:
"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the
Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will
testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been
with me from the beginning." (John 15:26-27)
This is the one who came by water and blood -- Jesus Christ. He
did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is
the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For
there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood;
and the three are in agreement. We accept man's testimony, but
God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God,
which he has given about his Son. (1 John 5:6-9)
One of the Holy Spirit's primary roles on the planet is to refer
people to Jesus. Jesus is the focus of the Holy Spirit, just as
Jesus is the focus of the church.
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection
of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33)
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he
is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes
in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:42-43)
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take
courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must
also testify in Rome." (Acts 23:11)
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven
and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples
of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything
I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the
very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
Jesus receives all authority in heaven and earth. But to his disciples,
he gives a simple command: make more disciples. Again, the job
of the Christian, the mission he has been given, is one of simple
evangelism, followed by the training of those who have been evangelized.
Notice the order: first, make disciples; second baptize them;
third, teach them to obey.
Obedience cannot precede conver-sion; obedience -- that is, doing
good, is the result of salvation, not the cause.
Over and over again, the reader of the New Testament sees Paul
and others concerned with proclaiming the gospel, with telling
everyone they meet about the gospel:
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ
was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's
foundation. (Romas 15:20)
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel
-- not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be
emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and
foolish-ness to Gentiles, (1 Corinthians 1:23)
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be
given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the
gospel, for which I am an ambass-ador in chains. Pray that I may
declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20)
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me
has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become
clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that
I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers
in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more
courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ
out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.
The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense
of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition,
not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me
while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing
is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ
is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue
to rejoice... (Philippians 1:12-18)
Notice that Paul suffered severe persecution for proclaiming the
gospel, even to the point of being in chains, yet he viewed such
persecution more as an opportunity than a hindrance. We never
see him railing against the authorities, or encouraging the churches
to march on his behalf or -- for that matter -- on behalf of anyone.
There are no letter writing campaigns, no petitions, no banners,
no lobbying those in authority. Paul just preached the gospel
and encouraged others around him to do the same and even to be
encouraged by his plight.
Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled
to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and
ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5)
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who
called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different
gospel -- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people
are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the
gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should
preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him
be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say
again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what
you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:6-9)
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's
cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere
and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches
a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a
different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel
from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)
Paul is quite harsh against those who would dare to proclaim a
gospel other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. He would argue that
such people are eternally condemned.
Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace
was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches
of Christ... (Ephesians 3:8)
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct,
rebuke and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)
Repeatedly Paul explains his mission in life, and repeatedly in
the book of Acts the reader can see how forcefully he pursued
that mission. Paul's sole concern was with proclaiming the Gospel
of Jesus Christ. He criticizes those who preached a "different"
Gospel, a Gospel of works in place of a Gospel of grace. Paul
stresses the nature of his message in Romans 1:15- 17:
That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who
are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the
power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first
for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness
from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first
to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live
Paul writes a summary of the message he's been proclaiming in
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to
you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I
preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what
I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ
died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers
at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have
fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,
and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
So what, exactly, was the message that was proclaimed by Paul
and the other early Christians? What was the good news that Jesus
wanted his disciples to proclaim in "Judea, Samaria and unto
the uttermost part of the world"?
B. What is the Gospel?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about works, good or bad. It
is not the work of the Christian or the church to convict the
world of sin. That is the work of the Holy Spirit:
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going
away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but
if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict
the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:
in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard
to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you
can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince
of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:7-11)
The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, and his finished
work on the cross. It has nothing to do with good deeds. Yet,
as simple a thing as the Gospel is, it is remarkable how easily
it becomes confused in the minds of both Christians and non-Christians.
For most, salvation and a proper relationship to God seem to be
bound up in attempts to be holy, to do good, to avoid evil and
thereby achieve either heaven, God's blessing, or the working
of miracles or some other desired action on the part of God.
Nothing could be further from the truth of the Gospel than to
imagine that being good has anything to do with it. This can be
made quite clear by looking at the life of Lot -- and then the
New Testament comment on it. We begin with Genesis 19:
The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting
in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet
them and bowed down with his face to the ground.
"My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your
servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and
then go on your way early in the morning."
"No," they answered, "we will spend the night in
But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered
his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast,
and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every
part of the city of Sodom -- both young and old -- surrounded
They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight?
Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and
said, "No my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I
have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring
them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't
do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection
of my roof."
"Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This
fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play judge!
We'll treat you worse than them."
They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break
down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back
into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who
were at the door with blindness so that they could not find the
The two men said to Lot, "Do you have anyone else here --
sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who
belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to
destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people
is so great that he has sent us to destroy it."
So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged
to marry his daughters. He said, "Hurry and get out of this
place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!" But
his sons-in-law thought he was joking.
With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Hurry!
Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will
be swept away when the city is punished."
When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his
wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city,
for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought
them out, one of them said, "Flee for your lives! Don't look
back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains
or you will be swept away!"
But Lot said to them, "No, my lords, please! Your servant
has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness
to me in sparing my life. But I can't flee to the mountains; this
disaster will overtake me, and I'll die. Look, here is a town
near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it -- it
is very small, isn't it? Then my life will be spared."
He said to him, "Very well, I will grant this request too;
I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly,
because I cannot do anything until you reach it." (That is
why the town was called Zoar.)
By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land.
Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah
-- from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities
and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities
-- and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot's wife looked
back and she became a pillar of salt.
Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place
where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom
and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense
smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So when
God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham,
and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities
where Lot had lived.
Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains,
for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived
in a cave.
One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father
is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is
the custom all over the earth. Let's get our father to drink wine
and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our
That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older
daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when
she lay down or when she got up.
The next day the older daughter said to the younger, "Last
night I lay with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again
tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our
family line through our father."
So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the
younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware
of it when she lay down or when she got up.
So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. The
older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father
of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son,
and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites
Lot is not cast in the most favorable light; in fact, it is quite
clear that his conduct leaves a lot to be desired. And yet, Peter
makes an interesting, and apparently contradictory statement about
And if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by
the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living
among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul
by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)... (2 Peter 2:7-8)
Lot is a righteous man? He didn't want to leave Sodom and Gomorrah,
his sons-in-law had no respect for him, he offered his daughters
to a pack of homosexuals to rape, and finally his daughters get
him drunk and he has sex with them, making them pregnant. How
can a man like this be considered righteous?
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this
not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so
that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in
Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for
us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ
lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the
Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set
aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through
the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:20-21)
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made
known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness
from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of
the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through
the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as
a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this
to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had
left the sins committed beforehand unpunished -- he did it to
demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just
and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On
that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain
that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:21-28)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ
Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life
set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very
eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would
like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit
by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you
so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying
to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much
for nothing -- if it really was for nothing? Does God give you
his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the
law, or because you believe what you heard? (Galatians 3:1-5)
To summarize: there are no good people; only God is good. Our
righteousness and acceptability to God are entirely up to God
himself. The work of Christ on the cross cleanses us from all
iniquity and in him we become righteous. Apart from him, we are
nothing. There is nothing more to be done to be in God's good
graces. Jesus took care of it all; we do good things simply because
He makes us (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, with Paul, we have nothing
to boast of except the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14)
The message of the Christian church is that sin has been atoned
for, the way to God is clear: come all who are heavy laden and
God will grant rest. The chastisement we deserved fell on Him.
Like sheep, we all have gone astray, but the Lord has laid on
Jesus the iniquity of us all.
The Gospel message is a message of grace, a message that sin has
been atoned for, and that nothing needs to be done in order to
gain a proper relationship with God. The penalty has been paid
for in its entirety!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ
and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling
the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against
them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
We are therefore Christ's ambass-adors, as though God were making
his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled
to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that
in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
C. Works versus Grace
The thought seems prevalent among so many Christians that people
must be made to act good so they will want to be saved. If they
have the right environment, if they can't be gay, if they are
forced to pray in school, if they are restrained from having abortions,
then they will be appreciative and come to know God.
But the gospel is not about good works, or making others do good
works. It is about the good work of Jesus on the cross. Nothing
more. We cannot expect to make people good in order to attract
them to the gospel. There are no prerequisites to the gospel,
nothing that any of us needs or even can do in order to become
acceptable to God or to somehow merit salvation. There were those
in Paul's day who were attempting to place restrictions on people,
arguing that they must first be circumcised in order to become
a Christian. Paul made the comment about such people that,
As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and
emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:12)
Involving the church in attempts to pass laws or prevent people
from doing things that Christians find reprehensible, confuses
the mission of the church and confuses what its message is. Non-believers
too easily get the mistaken notion that the message of the church
is simply to be good for God.
Being good for God, or encourag-ing other, non-Christians to be
good, is not the gospel. Paul made the comment that those who
came preaching a different gospel should be eternally condemned.
How do those who push political agendas avoid being charged with
doing precisely that: turning the gospel message into a message
of works and do-goodism?
The Los Angeles Times of Monday, February 22, 1993 discusses
an anti-gay video produced by a small, fundamentalist church in
Lancaster, California called the Springs of Life. Twenty minutes
long and called "The Gay Agenda" it has found its way
into the Pentagon and the Congress and stirred up widespread debate.
The Times quotes Jeanette Beeson as saying: "This
is an exciting time! God has called us to save a nation."
The paper further reports that,
"The Gay Agenda" was released in October in time to
bolster the efforts of groups in Oregon and Colorado working for
the approval of anti-gay rights ballot measures. Horn said that
groups in Oregon ordered 6,000 copies and another 4,000 went to
The interest on the part of the military came as a surprise to
the church, Horn said. He read a letter that came, just before
Bill Clinton's inauguration, from someone he identified as a two-star
Army general he would not name. It praised the tape as "a
splendid teaching vehicle" and said that it was being looked
at by high-ranking officers.
Soon other Pentagon officials were requesting the tape, Horn said.
In the entire article, the gospel message is not heard once, any
more than it can be heard in the video the church is producing.
The only message coming through is summarized nicely by the pastor
of Springs of Life:
Beeson took several swipes at mainstream churches for being, he
believes, too passive, and he called liberals "godless."
He saved his most scathing comments for gays and lesbians.
In talking about lesbians wanting to bear children, he said: "They
might want to act like a cow and get artificially inseminated,
but you need something from a daddy."
He complained that he had been labeled a bigot because of his
views on homosexuality. "I mean, we can't say something is
perverted anymore?" Beeson asked.
The message that comes through from such activity is simply that
of good works; worse, it presents the church in the following
way: we are good, and you are bad, and if you don't change you
should be hated.
The attitude of non-Christians to Christian politicizing is, "Who
are they to shove their beliefs down my throat? What gives them
the right to decide what's right and what's wrong?" The protest
that "we're only teaching what the Bible says" falls
on deaf ears. Why? Because they aren't convinced the Church knows
what the Bible says, and they wonder whether the church might
not just be interpreting it to fit their own agenda. Beyond that,
the appeal to the Bible is a meaningless appeal to authority and
in the mind of the non-Christian does not answer the objection
he has raised: "Who are you?..."
Beyond that, verses about "casting pearls before swine"
and the inability of unbelievers to understand the Bible come
What some churches do in politics or in speaking against sin stands
in sharp contrast to the approaches one sees in the New Testament.
III. What Did They Preach?
Paul and the other Christians of the first century -- what did
they preach? What sort of society did they live in? Did they try
to change the laws of Rome -- or did they try to change men's
hearts one by one? Recall that in Philippians 1:12-18 Paul speaks
of being in chains for Christ, but he does not speak out against
the laws of Rome that had put him there. When he stood before
the crowd in Acts 21:37-22:21 he spoke the message of the Gospel
by beginning to give his own personal testimony.
Notice Paul's approach in Athens in Acts. He did not berate them
about the fact they worshipped idols. He did not talk to them
about their bisexuality or homosexuality. Instead, he presented
the gospel in a way that they could understand it:
The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left
with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as
possible. While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly
distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned
in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as
well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened
to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began
to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler
trying to say?"
Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods."
They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about
Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him
to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May
we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You
are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know
what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who
lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and
listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men
of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For
as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship,
I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.
Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord
of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.
And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything,
because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything
else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should
inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them
and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that
men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him,
though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live
and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said,
'We are his offspring.'
"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think
that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone -- an image
made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such
ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice
by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all
men by raising him from the dead."
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them
sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this
subject." At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became
followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member
of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of
others. (Acts 17:15-34)
IV. The Relation of The Church to the World
The relationship between the church and the world according to
the Bible is not particularly cordial. Consider the following
Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)
They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint
of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God,
and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God
does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of
truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:5-6)
The Christian is not really a part of the world. He or she walks
around in it, but he or she is essentially a stranger and is alienated
from it; he or she no longer fits.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in
the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia
and Bithynia... (1 Peter 1:1)
Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially,
live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:17)
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world,
to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)
The writers of the New Testament point out that the world's methods,
the world's attitudes and even the world's sin are something we
should not be a part of.
I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect
to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards
of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage
war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons
of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish
strong-holds. (2 Corinthians 10:2-4)
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were,
my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But
now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36)
But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries,
she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles
in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers,
is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should
live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not;
those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something,
as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of
the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its
present form is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:28-31)
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually
immoral people -- not at all meaning the people of this world
who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In
that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing
you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself
a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a
slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even
eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?
Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.
"Expel the wicked man from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
Notice the interesting point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians
5:12, when he asks the question, "what business is it of
mine to judge those outside the church?" Yet, oddly enough,
the church has been doing precisely that off and on for hundreds
and hundreds of years. The church has its own agenda, its own
citizenship; the world is passing away and so are the things in
the world. Therefore, the focus of the church must be on the eternal
kingdom, not the temporal issues at hand. The church's sole agenda
is to bring more people into itself. Sin in the world around us
is not an issue -- unless it comes into the church; then Paul's
words are clear: get it out of the church.
V. The Nature of Government
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant
all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will
give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given
to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship
me, it will all be yours." (Luke 4:5-7)
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of
this world will be driven out. (John 12:31)
I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this
world is coming. He has no hold on me... (John 14:30)
And in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now
stands condemned. (John 16:11)
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against
the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and
blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against
the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces
of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12)
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in
which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world
and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is
now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:1-2)
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world
is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)
Christians who try to involve the church in legislative action,
who believe in working with the government to get it to make people
behave a certain way are putting themselves in the awkward position
of trying to use the system owned and operated by the Devil to
achieve churchly objectives. One has to wonder about the sanity
of such an attempt.
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteous-ness
and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have
with darkness? What harmony is there between the temple of God
and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has
said: "I will live with them, and I will be their God, and
they will be my people."
"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.
"Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you."
"I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
VI. The Church and Israel
The writers of the New Testament compared the life of Israel to
the life of the church, pointing out the many parallels. The pattern
of the Christian life in Israel's history is unmistakable: the
nation accepted Yahweh, and then Yahweh lead them from Egypt through
the sea. Their deliverance from Israel was always portrayed as
if it were a salvation experience, and served as a picture to
Israel throughout its history of God's power to save. Regarding
the passage through the sea, Paul writes:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that
our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed
through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud
and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank
the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock
that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
From baptism, the Israelites passed into the wilderness, symbolizing
the Christian life of trouble and tribulation, until at last they
entered the promised land (Hebrews 3-4). However, such allegorizing
is not the only identification between the church and Israel that
can be made; the identification is explicit. Paul writes that
Gentiles were joined to and made a part of Israel.
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth
and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves
"the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands
of men) -- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ,
excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants
of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But
now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought
near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace,
who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing
wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its
commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself
one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one
body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which
he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to
you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through
him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently,
you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with
God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation
of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the
chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together
and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you
too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God
lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight
into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in
other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to
God's holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through
the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members
together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ
Jesus. (Ephesians 3:4-6)
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not
at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has
come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression
means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the
Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! I
am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the
Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow
arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their
rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their
acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough
offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy;
if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches
have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have
been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing
sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If
you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root
supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off
so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken
off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant,
but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches,
he will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness
to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue
in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they
do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is
able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of
an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were
grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will
these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so
that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening
in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:11-26)
It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are
descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants
are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is
through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other
words, it is not the natural children who are God's children,
but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's
offspring. (Romans 9:6-8)
Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to
him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who believe
are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would
justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance
to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."
So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man
of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs
together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers
together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6)
There are those who argue that as Israel established laws to govern
the actions of its people, so too must we as a nation establish
such laws. The difficulty in such an argument from a Christian
perspective is that Israel is not equivalent in New Testament
times to a national government. Rather, Israel is equivalent to
a Church. Israel did not extend its laws beyond its borders; it
did not seek to make other nations obey its regulations. Rather,
it was supposed to seek the conversion of the other nations to
Yahweh. (Cf. Deuteronomy 28:9-10 and Jonah).
Likewise with the Church. We can discipline and govern those within
it. But for those on the outside, our duty is clear: we present
the message of the Gospel: Jesus Christ and him crucified. Salvation
is by grace, through faith, apart from good works.
The laws of Israel were the laws governing God's people.
The church may make laws for itself -- but those laws do not apply
to the community beyond, since they are not the church.
Therefore, it is not the place of the church to be involving itself
in matters of politics. To do such dilutes the gospel and confuses
the issue. We seem to be preaching good works.
God did not call us to convict people of sin (that is the job
of the Holy Spirit). He called us to proclaim the Good News that
Jesus died for our sins. We preach him crucified, and nothing
We change the world, one heart at a time.
Jacob’s life was not a particularly easy one and his family life, both growing up, and then as an adult was certainly what would fit the modern definition of being “dysfunctional.”
So, to say the least, Jacob was not at all happy. The one true love of his life was dead. Joseph, his favorite, the oldest son of his beloved, had been dead for twenty-five years. And now Simeon had been taken from him, and this monster in Egypt was demanding the last link he had to his dead lover. Beside himself with grief, we find his reaction in Genesis 42:36 where it all comes down to this:
Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!"
And certainly it was the case that the circumstances of his life, from his perspective, from the perspective of his sons standing around him, made his complaint fully reasonable and perfectly understandable.
And yet, the fascinating thing about his words, for those of us reading the story, is that we know that he couldn’t be more wrong, despite the fact that his words seemed so obviously true to Jacob – unassailably true, in fact. But we the readers of this little episode, know something that Jacob doesn’t: we know that Joseph is not only not dead, but he is second in command in Egypt, the most powerful and most wealthy nation on the planet at that time. We also know that there’s no way for poor Jacob to know that.
So the reality of Jacob’s existence is that everything could hardly be better. His favorite son has done very well for himself, thank you. Good job, and great future, with money to burn. Poor Jacob simply doesn’t know this yet. His perception, his perspective of reality, is incorrect.
And we, the readers, can do nothing to alleviate Jacob’s suffering just now. And God didn’t do anything about it either. It’ll be another year before Jacob learns the truth of what his life is really like. For twenty-five years he mourned for someone who was not dead at all. He bemoans his fate as a miserable one, though his family is absolutely powerful and prosperous. But he doesn’t know any of that; in fact, he has no way of knowing any of that.
September 11, 2001 was thus an exceptionally bad day (to say the least) and raised numerous questions in the minds of many people about the nature of existence, about the goodness of God, about what it is really, that God wants and expects out of all of us. How do we live in a world where this sort of thing can happen? How do we face the crises of life, both small and great? Is there some key to life, some playbook we can get, some list we can follow, some formula we can memorize that will get us through life in one piece, with ourselves and our families living productive and prosperous lives? What does Jacob's complaint tell us about our relationship to God and the world?
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