Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Before...the Parable of the Good Samaritan

One of the most famous parables of Jesus is that of the Good Samaritan, found only in Luke's gospel account, in chapter 10. I love this parable for the same reason others do: it emphasizes the importance of compassion and love...even when it's difficult. These are qualities that ought to define each and every child of God. We mustn't be arrogant, self-righteous or detached; instead we need to be sacrificial and giving.

But in this short article, I'd like to discuss the verses before the parable itself. Beginning in verse 25, we read of a conversation that took place between an unnamed lawyer and Jesus. It was this conversation that ultimately motivated Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. And while I think that there are a lot of great lessons in the parable, there are some great lessons in the verses that precede it as well. As we read the story of the lawyer, we are giving a glimpse into his heart and I truly believe that the lawyer's mindset is shared by many religious people today.

In verse 25, we are told that "a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him..." He tested Jesus by asking the question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" This is, of course, a very important question, but only if it's backed by an honest heart. Verse 25 tells us that the lawyer wasn't honest. He didn't ask the question because he really wanted to know; he asked the question to "test" Jesus. Regretfully, I've seen this same mindset in a lot of the people I've encountered over the years. People ask questions about the Bible, and yet they are not interested in the truth. Perhaps they ask questions to stir up trouble, or to kick-start an argument. I've seen it happen in a Bible class...where someone asked a question knowing that it was a sensitive issue, knowing that it would cause a stir. Sometimes people ask questions because they want to know what you think...even though they really don't want to study. Then why ask? The point is this: it's good to ask questions, but only if we are interested in the answers...only if we are honest and willing to actually study the Bible and ultimately make the applications.

As we continue to examine the conversation that took place between Jesus and the lawyer, we see that Jesus answered the lawyer's question...with a question. "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied, "What is written in the law?" Jesus knew that the lawyer was trying to trap Him, so Jesus turned it back on the lawyer. He didn't make it personal; He made it about the law. And that's exactly what we need to do. When people ask us questions, we need to point people to the Bible, because the Bible is all that matters anyway. Not what I think, or what I feel. Not what my parents taught me, or what the majority of people believe. Only the word of God can make us complete in God's sight (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

I don't think the lawyer expected this answer. But he answered the question anyways, and he answered correctly. "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'" Jesus affirms this answer. Now, it's important for us to understand that Jesus is not promoting generic love for God and neighbor. That would put most people in heaven. Rather, the love here involves obedience, service, charity, etc. In fact, these two laws are so important because they sum up the entire law of God. If we truly love God, we will obey all His commandments, and if we love our neighbor, we will treat them as we should (a lot of God's commandments center around our treatment of others).

But then notice verse 29. This gives us more insight into the lawyer's character. "But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?" It's this question that leads to the telling of the parable, but our focus is on the lawyer's desire to "justify himself."

We already saw in verse 25 that the lawyers isn't honest. Even though he's a religious guy and knows the law, and even though he has a spiritual inquiry for Jesus, he was not a spiritually-minded man; he wasn't an honest seeker of the truth. His desire to justify himself in verse 29 is reflective of that same mindset. He wasn't willing to change himself, nor was he interested in a paradigm other than his own. All he wanted was to live HIS way and to feel as good about it as possible.

Also, he tried to justify himself by casting doubt on the meaning of the law. By refusing to accept a specific definition of the term "neighbor," he thought that he was exempt from the command. After all, "who really is my neighbor?" I've seen religious people do this very thing. They try to make commands as vague and as confusing as possible; in doing this, they feel more justified in their disobedience. The command is still there, but they feel better about themselves. Of course, they could just obey the command, but that's unthinkable.

I've studied with some people over the years who are a lot like the lawyer. They pretend to be religious, and they may even feel righteous, and yet when you begin to discuss the Bible with them, it becomes very clear that they are not interested in the truth. Instead, they are primarily interested in justifying themselves. In the process of justifying themselves, they reveal their dishonesty, their close-mindedness, and ultimately, their refusal to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God!

Yes, the parable of the good Samaritan is wonderful, but I think the prologue to the parable...the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer...is of equal benefit.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Accepting God on HIS Terms

Paul, in Romans 1, discusses a mindset that is all too common among people. Even though God reveals Himself to all of us, too many people refuse to accept God as He is. Instead they change and mold God into who they want Him to be. They change “the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man” (vs. 23) and exchange “the truth of God for the lie, and [worship] and [serve] the creature rather than the Creator” (vs. 25). Even though the apostle is here speaking of the paganism and polytheism of the wicked Gentiles, he is really condemning all of us who morph God into who we want Him to be and refuse to accept God on HIS terms.

There are certain things that we can learn about God by examining “creation” (i.e. the natural world). The beauty that abounds in our world extols God’s love and His care for us. The violence of a thunderstorm reveals God’s power and might…even His wrath and judgment. But our perusal of the natural world can only take us so far in our journey to God. To know His will, He must reveal Himself to us. And He has! We have the BIBLE to tell us God’s will (Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Both the natural world and the Bible tell us certain things about God. But in order for us to see God’s identity and know His will, we must work and study diligently to find Him. There is no audible voice or miraculous manifestation. We have to apply ourselves to seek God out. Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be added to you.” James 4:8 echoes this principle: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” I like the way Paul put it in Acts 17:26-27 when preaching to the pagans of Athens: “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” These three verses tell us that God is there, waiting for each of us to seek Him. If we seek Him, we’ll find Him. But to find Him—the real Him—we have to humble ourselves to seek the real Him…not a substitute “Him” or a convenient “Him.”

Dear reader, you may be satisfied with your version of God. But it’s the real GOD that will judge you. You may be satisfied with your religion, but only “God’s religion” will free you from sin and lead you to heaven. There is “one body…one Spirit….one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God…” (Eph. 4:4-6).

Don’t settle for mama and daddy’s religion. Don’t settle for the church that is closest to your home. Don’t be deceived into thinking that because you feel saved, that you are saved. Don’t assume anything. Start over. Seek God and accept Him on His terms. Apply HIS teachings and will to your life. It’ll be hard, and it’ll require every ounce of your being, but it’s definitely worth it. Call me at (859)274-5479 if you have any questions. I’d love to study the Bible with you.