By Doug Levy
To continue from part 2…
3. Jesus warned us to “Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16/Mark 8/ Luke 12): This is basically becoming “Religious, Prideful, Judgmental.” The Gospels tell us that this was referring to the “teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” and represented “hypocrisy.”
The Pharisees would teach one thing and do another. Jesus brought this to light when he spoke concerning this in Matthew 23 (“…binding up heavy loads… without lifting a finger…”).
Leaven in the Jewish world mostly represents “sin.” It’s in the context of the Passover and the Feast of Unleaven Bread which happen at the same time. Passover is a 24 hour celebration, but the Feast of Unleaven Bread lasts one week. During this time a family was to remove ALL leavened food from their household (symbolic of removing “sin” from your house).
The Pharisees in the time of Jesus were telling people how to get rid of their sin, but at the same time had become in bondage to the most dangerous sin of all (in my opinion): religious pride and deception. They were constantly pointing out the specks in other’s eyes, but ignoring the planks in their own!
In our current culture, we have got to be careful of becoming individuals or a church that falls into this trap!
I know when we compare ourselves to the Pharisees and Westboro Baptist Church we feel good about ourselves, but remember we are not to compare ourselves to others! Jesus is our standard to whom we measure ourselves.
Do we see “sinners” on the “other side?” Or do we see ourselves, but for the Love, Grace and Mercy of God? “But such were some of you…” (1st Corinthians 6:11)
How do you view Gays & Lesbians? Militant Atheists? Satanists? Child Molesters? Liberal politicians? Other believers whose doctrine you disagree with? Do you see these people as the “enemy”?
The reality is: they are not the enemy. We only have one true enemy: The Devil. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood…” (Ephesians 6:12)
But even if in some respect, they are “enemies” (of the cross, of God in a manner of speaking): What does the Lord tell us to do to our enemies?
Love your enemies… Pray for those who persecute you… bless those who curse you… do good to those who hate you… your reward will be great! Be merciful as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6)
Take the example of Jonah and Nineveh. Jonah was mad that God spared the “wicked” Ninevites. God pointed out to Jonah that they didn’t know their right hand from their left. At first glance you may not understand the significance of this. In the culture of Nineveh during this time the way they determined the value of something was to count it out on their knuckles (similar to an “abacus” on their hands). They started with one hand and continued to count on the other if the value was high enough. If they did not know their right hand from their left, they could not determine the value of anything.
They didn’t know their own value, worth. God was making a statement: Even though their wickedness has come up before me (Jonah 1:1), they still had value to God. God created them, God loved them… God had compassion on them by sending Jonah and giving them an opportunity to repent.
Sometimes I think we Christians and the Church in general has lost track of where we came from. We were on the other side! We were filthy reprobates! We were worldly, fleshly sinners! We were rebellious, ungrateful, disobedient, disrespectful, wicked, unrighteous…
And we didn’t do anything to change that except to accept His Love, Grace and Mercy! He sought us, He bought us and He is changing us! He has done it! He is doing it! It is not according to my righteousness or my works or anything that I have earned!
So, why do we act as though we have some moral high ground at which we can look down our noses at those who are simply where we once were?
I think every Christian at some point and time goes through the phase of being righteously indignant of all the things that go on in the world. The injustices, the persecution, the blasphemy, etc.
We just can’t live there or operate out of that. “He who is forgiven much, LOVES much!” (Luke 7:47) We are called to operate out of love, not self-righteousness.
Here is another personal example: When I first met Monica she was very, very young in the Lord (only a month old spiritually when we first met). Even after she moved to Virginia she was still being “cleaned up” by God. One of the habits she was still struggling with was smoking (11 year habit at the time). This did not sit well with me. Here was my Christian fiancé smoking in the Bible Belt! She was cramping my style; making me look bad. What would all the good Christians think?!
I tried preaching to her; denying her trips to the convenience store; shaming her… None of it worked. I only ended up with a grumpier smoker.
Once again, God had to rescue me from my own religious stupidity. He pulled me into the woodshed and told me, “I’ve got this son. I’m working on Monica’s smoking and I don’t need your help.”
The truth is, I was more concerned how her habit made me look. I wanted to fix Monica’s problem, not minister to the person of Monica. Monica wanted to quit, but there were deeper issues that God needed to minister to. Smoking usually is not the “issue” (sin), it is often times just a symptom of a deeper issue.
Not too long down the road, when Monica was getting ready to “light up” God said to her, “Why do you run to your cigarettes instead of Me?” This was the beginning stage of her freedom. God ministered to the deeper issue and she was soon free from that bondage. God was working on a much deeper level than I was. All I could see was the outside.
People are in process and that even includes the unsaved. God may be working in them and drawing them. When you are a “hammer” everything looks like a nail. We must operate out of love and compassion.
Jesus was a friend of sinners. This is what God revealed to me on our Urban Missions Trip. When I first got saved and was the lead singer of a Christian Heavy Metal Band, I was sooooo comfortable being around sinners. I was loving on them, giving them truth, hanging out with them. There was no compromise of lifestyle or message, but we loved well, so they wanted to be around us.
When was the last time you got accused of being a glutton or drunkard simply because you were hanging out being salt and light with a bunch of sinners?
10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, (mercy) and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” –Matthew 9:10-13
I know in our Christian Culture we’ve been taught that we must fight what the sinners are trying to do, but I think we’ve been going about it the wrong way:“Overcome evil with….?” Good “Light overcomes….?” Darkness “If you want to shut the gates of Hell, open the gates of…?” Heaven
The world needs our Salt. The world needs our Light. It does no good to be hid under a bushel here every Sunday morning. What about Monday through Saturday? We’ve got to change our Church culture before we can hope to affect change in the culture out there.
I love this quote that I heard from Robert the Mearns years ago:
“The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.” –George MacLeod
The Church here in America could attempt to win the culture war and not only lose the war, but lose those in the culture.
God is calling us to affect our culture one heart at a time. We cannot do this if we see the unsaved with religious eyes and we see them as “wicked sinners” and somehow see ourselves as having “arrived.”
(To continue with the rest of the series, click: Compassion Part 4)