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G E N E S I S 8 : 21 — 9 :17
In Genesis 8:21 – 22 we get to listen in on God’s response to Noah’s sacrifice. After blessing
Noah and his family, God repeats in 9:11 his pledge from 8:21. He follows up by
establishing a physical sign to remind people forever of his everlasting promise.
“God responded [to Noah’s burnt offerings] by covenanting with Noah, his descendants,
and every living creature in a divine oath to sustain and preserve creation,” comments
stewardship theologian Ronald E. Vallet. “God’s covenant with Noah had a universal
dimension; it was unconditional, unilateral, and everlasting . . . [and] it included all
people. Because it was made apart from or before Israel, it is upheld independent of the
community of faith, Israel. God’s covenant with Noah made other covenants possible.”
Veteran Bible expositor J. Alec Motyer reflects on the covenant and its sign:If, in the world as constituted before the Flood, there had been such a thing as a rainbow, the Lord here took the familiar and filled it with new meaning — just as later,
he would do, with bread and wine. But the word translated “rainbow” is actually
“bow” — the weapon. It is as if the Lord were saying, “See, the war is over; I have hung
up my bow.” And ever after, as soon as a threat loomed, Noah saw too the “sign” that
no ultimate threat could again touch him: the Lord had promised.
Only twice in my life have I seen a complete double rainbow,
unbroken from horizon to horizon . . . The two rainbows
have taken on a new meaning for me. The primary
rainbow is to remind God of the promise of care and
concern. The secondary rainbow, subdued and inevitably
related to the primary rainbow, speaks to me of our human
responsibility as God’s stewards. The . . . earth needs
human care, and humans have a responsibility toward
the nonhuman recipients of God’s promise of care for the
earth and all its inhabitants (see Ge 1; 2 and Hos 2:18).
As an addendum to this Genesis account, Motyer notes
that in Noah humanity had a new start, a second chance.
This is why Genesis 9:1,7 echoes the account of Eden (cf.
Ge 1:28). But sadly, Noah, notwithstanding grace, was still
a sinner, the founder of a new humanity; and like his father
Adam, he was only able to have sons in his own likeness
(cf. Ge 5:3). And as Milton writes in Paradise Lost, so it
would remain “till one Greater Man Restore us, and regain
the blissful Seat” (see Isa 11:1 – 9; Rev 22:1 – 5).
What parts of the covenant mentioned in this passage relate to the world today?
How does God’s covenant affect the way you respond to your earthcare responsibilities?
What does Hosea 2:18 tell you about the future of this earth?
What can you do today to
respond to the covenantal
promises outlined in this
Are there any
changes you need to make
in your lifestyle to become a
more responsible steward of
G E N E S I S 4 5 :16 – 2 4
By an outpouring of radical generosity Joseph enabled his estranged family to experience
restoration and “the best of the land of Egypt” (Ge 45:18). To God’s glory, Joseph’s willingness
to give and to forgive nourished his family’s deepest needs for hope and reconciliation.
The fact is that many of us can recall scenarios in which giving has exceeded (in some
cases far exceeded) a needed amount. Although the financial situation varies greatly from
one church to another, a similar outpouring of liberality is not all that unusual today, especially
in situations in which a congregation has been moved by the Spirit with regard to
a particular cause.
Social philosopher Michael Novak is quick to caution, though, that giving away money
is a refined art, that in some cases even more intelligence and hard work are needed to
spend it wisely than to earn it in the first place: “To shovel it out the door is easy; to produce the desired effects and to choose the right hands to put it in are two far more difficult
tasks.” While a surplus of giving might be a welcome “problem”
in some contexts, a balanced and thoughtful allocation of whatever resources are available is least as significant as the amount in the pot.
Defining enough from a personal giving standpoint,
particularly when no spectacular or visionary project is involved,
presents its own challenges, as evangelical theologian
R. Scott Rodin describes:
Is enough defined by how much the church needs? How
much the pastor is worth? How much I am receiving
back from the church for my investment? Or is enough
defined by how much it takes to keep me from feeling guilty?
How much I need to improve my tax return or
how much it takes to keep the pastor from calling? In
its more heinous guise, enough can be measured by how
much it takes to buy me the power I want to have over
the church. How much do I want the church to need me?
How much do I want to be known as the “big giver?” Or
how much do I want everyone to know just how large my
earthly kingdom really is?
Still, radical generosity is the domain of Christ’s church.
Pastor and author Andy Stanley notes that
When a Christian reaches his giving threshold, he has options the non-Christian doesn't. The non-Christian must stop. If he doesn’t look out for himself, perhaps no one
will. But as a Christian, you don’t need to be limited to a
threshold of fear and self-preservation. The limits for your
generosity aren’t prescribed by mere financial principles.
And often, stepping outside your comfort zone is not careless
irresponsibility, but a necessary act of obedience.
Choose someone close to
you whom you trust, and
ask that person to hold
you accountable as you
pray about being generous
Each day pray that God
will show you what,
where and how much he
wants you to give.
Share with your trusted
confidant what and when
you are planning to give;
ask the person to share in
your journey to generosity
by encouraging you and
supporting your efforts.
This week, pray each day
that God will invigorate
your giving: that he will
give you pure motives, that
he will show you any roadblocks
in your path, that
he will give you excitement
and joy as you explore giving
E XO D U S 21: 2 8 – 3 6
Within the context of ancient Israelite society, this passage lays out rules for responsible
ownership and punishments for failing to meet these standards. A clear distinction
is made between diligent and negligent property owners. These principles easily translate
to our situation.
While not all of us are involved in ownership/management at a corporate level, we are
solely responsible when our possessions, businesses, investments or actions harm others.
Following is a series of excerpts from management professor Robert G. Kennedy’s thoughtful
analysis of the good that business does:
Any organization or any system deserves to be called good only to the extent that its activities serve human well-being. Individual business organizations, as well as the whole modern system of business (with its extensive infrastructure), will therefore be good to the degree that they address authentic human needs for individuals and provide support for the common good of the civil community.
Organizations are crucially important for modern life. Without organizations of the
number, variety, and size that we see in the developed world, our quality of life simply
could not be what it is. . . Without smoothly functioning organizations, our diets would
lose much of their variety; our health care would be much more primitive; and we would
travel less, know less, and generally live poorer lives.
Corporate philanthropy has accomplished much good. No doubt it should continue
vigorously — but not at the expense of a company’s more
fundamental and important social responsibilities to create
wealth, to provide goods jobs, and to offer products
and services that serve genuine human needs. These are
the principal objectives of businesses as specialized associations,
and it is in these areas that we recognize the tremendous good that business does.
Businesses have responsibilities to the community, but so
too do individuals. Our failure to meet community standards
with regard to lawn and yard maintenance can detract from
the beauty of our street and even adversely affect property
On a more profound level, of course, nothing we “own”
is really ours at all. This reality underlies our whole understanding
of stewardship. Crown Financial Ministries notes:
[the] Lord created all things, and he never transferred the
ownership of his creation to people.
In Colossians 1:17 we are told that, “[in him] all things hold together.” At
this very moment the Lord holds everything together by
his power. . .
Recognizing God’s ownership is crucial in allowing Jesus Christ to become the Lord of our money and possessions
What is your attitude toward business in your community?
What influences have shaped your attitudes toward business, economics and banking? How can you better pray for leaders in this sector of public life?
What can you do personally to become a more effective manager of your immediate domain?
Lord, I want to be a responsible
owner of what you
have entrusted to me. Help
me to do that every day.
L E V I T I C U S 9 :1 – 2 4
In the Old Testament, God’s people met God and greeted him through their sacrifices.
They made their offerings “so that the glory of the Lord [might] appear” to them (Lev 9:6). The mandatory sacrifices (see Lev 4:1 — 5:13) removed the “negative space” sin created
between God and people, while the voluntary gifts (see Lev 1:3 — 3:17) initiated a positive
encounter with God, who promised to respond with pleasure to freewill offerings.
We still make contact with God through our giving. The negative space has been removed
by Christ’s sacrifice (see Heb 10:10), and Christians today meet God and experience
his approval through our kindness to one another (see Heb 13:16). Salvation not only reconciles
us to God but brings us into true fellowship with our brothers and sisters, especially
as we grow in generosity (see Ac 2:44 – 47; 4:32 – 37).
“The Church is God’s family in the world,” points out Pope Benedict XVI:
The parable of the Good Samaritan remains as a standard
which imposes universal love towards the needy
whom we encounter “by chance” (cf. Lk 10:31), whoever
they may be. Without in any way detracting from this
commandment of universal love, the Church also has
a specific responsibility: within the ecclesial family no
member should suffer through being in need. The teaching
of the Letter to the Galatians is emphatic: “[Therefore,
as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,especially to those who belong to the family of believers]”
Terry A. Parker, Gregory L. Sperry and David H. Wills
of the National ChristianFoundation note that the rewards
God promises for such generosity “are not those advocated
by the so-called ‘health and wealth gospel’
. . . But . . . the return on investment He provides will far exceed anything
this world can offer. It will include the unspeakable joy of
His presence, now and forever.”
God “takes pleasure in promising marvelous gifts to us,
His children,” comments Terry A. Parker.
That’s His nature. We learn to cherish His promises and
seek His rewards, not simply because we want more from
Him, but because we desire more of Him. Ultimately,
God and His kingdom are our treasure.
God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others.
He does not give us more wealth primarily to
increase our standard of living, but to increase our standard of giving.
When you give, do you feel closer to God or worried and concerned over your finances?
Are you willing to risk more in giving just because you want to grow in your desire for God?
What are some barriers that you perceive to giving on a regular basis?
If you do not give regularly,
try an experiment: Give to
your church or another organization
regularly for one
month. Then pray and ask
the Holy Spirit to show you
how this experiment has
affected your relationship
with God. If you already
give regularly, try this: As
you give during the next
few weeks, be particularly
mindful of how your giving
affects your sense of God’s
presence in your life.
L E V I T I C U S 19 : 9 – 10
God’s laws showcase his priorities. We see God’s special concern for the poor in Israel’s
gleaning laws, which required farmers to leave the leftovers from the harvest lying in
the fields for the hungry. For a beautiful and practical application of this principle at work,
read Ruth 2 – 3. Theologian Douglas Meeks observes, “Gleaning rights are not voluntary
acts of charity of the rich toward the poor; they are the poor’s right to livelihood.” If a person
is temporarily or permanently unable to secure the necessities of life through his own
labors, it is the community’s responsibility to share its provisions (cf. Dt 15:10 – 11).
Church father John Chrysostom (347 – 407) declares:
Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness; if anyone at all ever comes to us with this recommendation,let us not meddle any further. We do not provide for the manners but for the man. We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master his great mercy . . .
I beg you remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the
poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess
our own wealth but [God’s].Preview
“Down through the ages,” reflects philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, “the church has
often spoken to the well-to-do of their duty to see to it that the poor have access to means
of sustenance — probably more often than it has spoken of the right of the poor to such
access.” He continues, “In these passages, however, the talk is all of the rights of the poor
. . . not about the moral guilt of the well-to-do who fail or refuse to make such means of
sustenance available but about the moral injury to the poor
who do not enjoy what they have a right to.”
“What should we do?” asks Christian professor, editor and author Marvin Olasky. He answers his own question in the introduction to his insightful book on the history of
compassion in America: “The answer is sitting on pages of
old magazines and reports deep in the stacks of the Library
of Congress. Americans in urban areas a century ago faced
many of the problems we face today, and they came up with
truly compassionate solutions.” Later, Olasky asks,
What was their secret? . . . It was not neglect, either benign
or malign . . . Nor was [it] . . . the showering of money
on the poor, nor the triumph of an antistatist spirit: they
knew that private agencies could be just as bad as government
ones. No, charity workers a century ago were fired
up by seven ideas that recent welfare practice has put on the back burner. For convenience of memory these seven seals of good philanthropic practice can even be put in alphabetical order, A through G: Affiliation, Bonding, Categorization,
Discernment, Employment, Freedom, God.
What are your perceptions of people who are poor?
What do you consider to be the “rights of the poor” based on this passage and your own life experiences?
What are the responsibilities of people who have money toward those who do not have money?
Ask God to help the new
insights you’ve gained on
this topic to influence your
L E V I T I C U S 2 4 :19 – 2 0
God never meant “tit for tat” punishment to be harsh; the principle of “an eye for an eye”
was actually intended to restrain revenge. In practical terms, if I slapped you on the
cheek, you wouldn’t be free to both slap my cheek and kick my shin. Jesus’ New Testament
formula of “turn the other check” must have sounded extreme in the days of his ministry on
earth. Accustomed as we are to this language, we no longer consider Jesus’ mandate radical —
just easy to ignore. In the words of Ambrose (c. 339 – 397), an ancient church father,
What better pattern of righteousness is there than the divine, for the Son of God says:
“Love your enemies” and again: “Pray for those who [persecute you]” [Mt 5:44]. He
so far removes from the perfect the desire for vengeance that He commands charity for
those who do them harm . . . For, if you seek revenge, you know that the unrighteous
is punished more severely by his own convictions than by the severity of his judges.
Opinions about punishment in our day have become convoluted. Evangelical leader
Charles Colson reflects on the situation in the following paragraphs:
Today, [Clarence] Darrow’s heirs fill courtrooms across the country, wringing pity from juries by presenting wrongdoers as victims of forces beyond their control. This kind of defense has grown so common that it is now known as the “Twinkie defense,” named for a 1978 case in which a man . . . insisted that a steady diet of junk food had raised his blood sugar and addled his brain. Twinkies made him do it.
Yet the traditional conservative approach is equally dehumanizing,
for it . . . proposes that crime increases when the benefits of
criminal behavior outweigh the cost of punishment. Therefore,
the solution is harsher punishments and longer sentences . . .
This denial of sin and loss of moral responsibility has
spread across the entire spectrum of our culture, ushering in “The Golden Age of Exoneration”. . .
Yet punishment actually expresses a high view of the
human being. If a person who breaks the law is merely a
dysfunctional victim of circumstances, then the remedy
is not justice but therapy; and the lawbreaker is not a
person with rights but a patient to be cured. The problem,
said C. S. Lewis, is that “to be ‘cured’ against one’s
will . . . is to be put on a level with those who have not
yet reached the age of reason or those who never will . . .
But to be punished, however severely, because we have
deserved it, because we ‘ought to have known better,’ is
to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.”
Appropriate penalty tempered by Christian love is a worthy
ideal for God’s representatives as we strive to act as responsible
and humane stewards of punishment.
How can we learn to more effectively balance justice and personal accountability with mercy in our most significant relationships?
How does God exhibit both justice and mercy? Can you think of examples?
Have you been “punished” in your own life? In what ways? What was the result?
Lord God, I aspire to exhibit
both justice and mercy
in my own life. Help me
learn to balance the two.
L E V I T I C U S 2 7: 3 0 – 3 3
Old Testament tithes were to be taken from the proceeds of land, herd and flock. The
Israelites were to give a percentage of their belongings to God, recognizing God as
both source and owner of all material blessings.
Many Christians today take the stance that tithing is no longer a mandated ordinance
for New Testament believers; even so, that does not justify not giving at all. Just as Jesus’
summary of the Ten Commandments (see Mk 12:29 – 31), while less complicated, is nonetheless
infinitely more demanding than the original set of concrete stipulations, so the New
Testament standard of giving impacts us no less than the tithe did the ancient Israelites.
Limiting ourselves to a rigid, mechanical 10 percent standard of tithing can cause us to
miss the fundamental principle behind Biblical generosity: God’s liberality is the basis for
his people’s openhanded, bighearted responses. In fact, we are called to willingly offer 20,
30, even 100 percent (see Lk 18:22) if that is what the Lord should require of us.
Jesus teaches that pursuing justice and mercy is infinitely more important than tithing
(see Mt 23:23; Lk 11:42). If our churches are content to stop at a 10 percent standard, we
risk undermining our Lord’s command to love others as we love ourselves. Even if the tithe
is considered a minimum standard (and many Christians
do still adhere to this tradition), pastor and Bible expositor R. T. Kendall grants that we don’t always feel like tithing. “But
we do it,” he acknowledges
because we are “not under [law,] but under grace” (Ro 6:14). God has put us on our
honor. And yet when I think that God should do so much for me, how can I but honor
Him? In the words of C. T. Studd: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no
sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.”
Speaking of the honor system of generosity, pastor Henry B. Luffberry (1917 – 2004)
leaves us with a simple modern parallel:
All through the Adirondack Mountains are well-marked
trails. Wherever these trails intersect you will usually
find an open hut, known to climbers as a “lean-to.”
When you reach a “lean-to” and lay down your heavy
pack at the end of a weary day, there is always dry firewood
inside the shelter, always soft balsam on which to
lay your blankets. No ranger employed by the state has
cut this wood or laid the balsam for your bed. The last
camper did this before he left.
Ours can be a happy world when we’re not preoccupied
with our own journey but have a thought for the
other men who walk the trail. In the Adirondacks they
call this the unwritten law of the woods. In our churches
we call it benevolence.
When you determine what to give, what is your standard?
How do you see the church as caring for others?
How do you act out your own benevolence?
Lord, guide me and show
me how you want me
to give. And help me to
remember to look out for
the needs of others.
D E U T E R O N OMY 2 3 :19 – 2 0
Usury (i.e., lending at an exorbitant rate of interest) is alive and well on planet Earth. Just
ask the borrower who accepted a credit card at 3.9 percent, only to see the rate jump
in a single bound to 33.9 percent on the basis of an inadvertent late payment or exceeded
credit limit. Deuteronomy 23:19 – 20 prohibited the charging of interest on anything (loans,
money, food or anything that is lent) to a fellow Israelite.
Few of us need a reminder to avoid exacting exorbitant interest from those around us.
Yet, as demonstrated above, we can all too easily find ourselves floundering in financial
quicksand on the basis of exorbitant interest being exacted on us. Author and speaker Ken
Hemphill minces no words when it comes to the subject of consumer debt and its effect on
empowering kingdom growth:
Some words have such a profound impact on us that they become etched in our memory. We can remember where we were when we first heard them and how they made us feel at the time.
“Houston, we have a problem!” is one of those collections of words that may elicit
such a reaction in you . . . When the Apollo 13 mission to the moon encountered
a serious problem, it seemed nearly impossible that the crew would make it back home safely.
But I would say to our nation today, “America, we have a problem!”
In June 2002 the Federal Reserve reported that the
total amount of consumer debt was $1.685 trillion. Six
hundred billion of that was credit card debt. The repayment
of this debt consumes 14 percent of the average
family’s budget. This means that we have less money to
spend on our needs, little to help the poor, and virtually
none left for advancing the kingdom. . .
Yes, we have a problem! . . .
But find a solution we must! Because too much dependson it.
The stability of your family, for example. Some marriage
counselors indicate that financial issues are the number one cause of divorce.
Your personal witness is at stake. If you’re spending
a good deal of time worrying about how to pay for
things or biting your nails hoping your paycheck beats
your latest bill payments to the bank, your freedom to
walk in Spirit-led alertness through the day is going to
be seriously threatened.
But beyond that, the advance of the kingdom into
every corner of the world is a prime concern that is being
ignored because of our “problem.” We must solve our
debt headache if we are ever going to invade Jerusalem,
Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth with the gospel, if we are going to respond to the heartbeat of God.
Everyone knows consumer debt is a problem. But how can it be avoided?
Is some debt okay? How much? What kind?
Hemphill points out some ways in which debt is detrimental to a person on a spiritual level. What are some other effects of carrying
a lot of debt?
Many organizations offer
help for people
challenges or those with
questions or concerns. One
helpful resource is Crown
Financial’s money and possessions
index located in
the back of this Bible. The
index directs you to God’s
words related to finances,
debt, budgeting, greed, hon
D E U T E R O N OMY 2 5 :13 – 16
God is interested in our finances. Money matters, and he insists that our business practices reflect his standards of righteousness and justice. The language used throughout
Scripture to describe God’s view of economic sin is strong. For example, God “abhors”
dishonest business practices, while fairness is his “delight” (see Pr 11:1). Far from being a side issue, financial faithfulness is central to spirituality. As Jesus taught, our money and our heart are inseparable: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21).
Theologian and pastor John Wesley (1703 – 1791) addresses the issue of marketplace morality in unequivocal language:
We cannot, if we love every one as ourselves, hurt any one in his substance . . . We cannot, consistent with brotherly love, sell our goods below the market price; we cannot
study to ruin our neighbor’s trade, in order to advance our own; much less can we entice
away, or receive, any of his servants or workmen whom he has need of. None can gain
by swallowing up his neighbor’s substance, without gaining the damnation of hell!
“The purpose of a business firm,” attests Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005) in Centesimus Annus (1991)
is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its
very existence as a community of persons who in various
ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs and
who form a particular group at the service
of the whole of society. Profit is a regulator of the life of a business,
but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors
must also be considered, which in the long term are at
least equally important for the life of a business.
Social philosopher Michael Novak, who supports both
democracy and capitalism in comparison to other political
and economic systems, is still quick to cite inherent temptations
and potential flaws in a democratic structure:
Democracy is undoubtedly the best system the world has
ever known for diminishing abuses of individuals and
minorities, but every system, including democracy, is
morally problematic. Democracies, in particular, must
make special efforts to protect high public ideals, for it
is an inexorable tendency of democracies to pull public
morals downward, as popular television does today . . .
Although capitalism and democracy do not necessarily
go together, at least in the world of theory, in the
actual world of concrete historical events, they are led
toward an almost predestined marriage, both by their
inner dynamism and by their instinct for survival.
How do the principles of fair business practices relate to you even if you are not a business owner?
How long can markets survive if they are divorced from moral concerns?
If economics is really about the choices people make in the marketplace, why do people resist bringing moral considerations to bear on their economic choices?
God, help me to have realistic
and proper views of
business and of the economy
in which I live. Help
me to deal fairly in all my
with the world
J O S H U A 2 0 :1 – 9
Movies about America’s Wild West have a common theme: swift “justice” at the hands
of vigilantes with itching trigger fingers and zero tolerance for fact-finding. Wouldn’t
the victims of vigilante justice have been thankful for a “time-out” in a city of refuge? The
Lord himself appointed such cities as sanctuaries and centers for justice for any person in
Israel who had unintentionally killed someone. Through this provision manslaughter was
removed from local jurisdiction, preventing the miscarriage of justice at the hands of angry
and impulsive family members.
In a certain sense, private religious charities and churches today carry on this Biblical
ideal by providing places for the homeless, the abused or battered, the displaced, the
mentally ill, the addicted and the otherwise vulnerable to find rest and safety in a world of
violence and injustice.
Author, editor and journalism professor Marvin Olasky addresses “the tragedy of
American compassion.” Olasky’s emphases on community/neighborhood and personal compassion provide a blueprint for change — the responsibility not of the government but
of the church and of individual caring Christians:
American settlers often saw themselves as new Israelites entering a promised land . . . It was not good for man to be alone in a social wilderness. Through compassion they cut through vines and chopped down some of the trees. They used that wood to build good fences with swinging gates, and left some trees standing for shade and beauty.
Up until the past several decades, poor Americans as well as the better-off were privileged to live in neighborhoods, not wilderness . . . Only
in modern times have the vines and wild forest growths
reclaimed the ground of neighborhood.
The return of wilderness is particularly striking because
writings at the beginning of the [twentieth] century
were so confident that it would be gone by the end. And
yet, the essence of tragedy is overreaching . . . A changed
view of the nature of God and the nature of man led to impatience. The older view saw God as both holy and loving; the new view tended to mention love only. The older anthropology saw man as sinful and likely to want something
for nothing, if given the opportunity. The new view saw
folks as naturally good and productive, unless they were in
a competitive environment that warped finer sensibilities.
Governmental welfare programs need to be fought not
because they are too expensive . . . but because they are
inevitably too stingy in what is really important, treating
people as people and not animals. At the same time, the
crisis of the modern welfare state is not just a crisis of
government. Too many private charities dispense aid indiscriminately
and thus provide, instead of points of light,
alternative shades of darkness.
How is the church responsible for meeting the needs of those in the church family and those in the community at large?
What needs are there in your neighborhood(s) right now?
What can be done to meet those needs?
Pray for the needs of your
neighborhood. Ask God for
wisdom in meeting those
needs through you, your
church or other means.
2 SAMUEL 9 :1 – 13
David’s generosity to Jonathan’s son doesn’t really surprise us. But his action must have
been radical in his own time: (1) Any survivor of an earlier regime would have been
considered a lifelong threat. (2) The disabled Mephibosheth was a self-proclaimed “dead
dog” (2Sa 9:8) — in his own culturally based estimation, he was less than worthless. The
status of a live dog in Israelite society is clear from Ecclesiastes 9:4: “Anyone who is among
the living has hope — even a live dog is better than a dead lion!”
the living has hope — even a live dog is better than a dead lion!”
Before we congratulate ourselves on our own enlightened civility, we do well to acknowledge
that modern humans don’t have an enviable track record either. There are, of
course, many exceptions, and it may well be true that Christians
are leading the way. John Nunes, pastor, theologian and president
of a denominational relief agency, points to Psalm 41:1 as a
beatitude of brotherly love:
“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak.” In any society, there will be those who are
too weak to “make it” — those who aren’t strong or resilient enough, who aren’t skilled
or tough-willed, who lack the “right stuff” or the right connections. Such individuals
often are marginalized. We see, all too clearly, where they stand. The question is, Where do we stand? Do we stand with them?
This author points out elsewhere that “how we live together and how we preserve the
inherent holiness of human life is fundamental to our confession of faith. It is also a bottomline
principle of diversity. Treating some people
as ostensibly dispensable is contrary to the will of God.”
Following are excerpts from evangelical leader Charles Colson on this issue:
Nearly every young couple having a baby today receives information about the potential health care needs of their unborn child. Ultrasound,
amniocentesis, and other tests are informing parents of a growing list of medical conditions — some 450 at this writing — in their unborn children. Doctors are afraid not to perform such tests lest they face suits for not fully
informing parents of an unborn child’s medical problems
while the unborn child may still be aborted.
That’s really at the heart of the issue in the raging
global debate over embryonic stem cell research. An embryo,
after all, is a life. If we can take a life that isn’t
worth living, then why shouldn’t we use those embryos
to find cures for the most feared diseases Americans experience.
But if it’s okay to take the embryo, why should
we not use the body parts of a disabled infant who would
otherwise be killed? Why waste them? Wouldn’t we be
contributing to the greatest happiness for the greatest
number of people, maximizing human pleasure by helping
people to achieve a better quality of life? The logic is
precisely the same.
Who might you consider
In what ways do you
show compassion for
those who are disabled?
How does showing compassion
affect your own
spiritual life as well as affect
the lives of others?
Lord, open my eyes to those
around me who need my
compassion and love. Show
me how I can help others
2 SAMUEL 13 :1 – 13
Tamar may not have been a typical victim of abuse; as a royal daughter of the house of
David, her life should have been a fairy tale. But in some ways she is a universal character:
a victim of lust, anger, politics and violence. Tamar’s spoiled, deceitful half brother
Amnon conspired to rape her. Despite Tamar’s attempt to try to derail his plan, Amnon
succeeded in raping her, and he then threw her out of his room, hating her afterward as
much as he had claimed to love her before. Tamar’s pain was not over, but her future was.
She tore her robe and put ashes on her head, symbolizing the loss of her virginity, and wept.
Her brother Absalom, although outraged on her behalf, discounted her emotions and told
her to keep the encounter a secret. Her father, David, though he was angry, seemed to look
the other way. Those who should have been her defenders were instead her victimizers. She
“lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman” (2Sa 13:20).
Unfortunately, this story is all too familiar still today. Abuse — whether physical, emotional
or sexual — is an often hidden disgrace in our culture and in our churches. Professor
Catherine Clark Kroeger explains:
Even though abuse happens in Christian homes at nearly the same rate as in society as a whole, Christians do not recognize it or do not properly address it. Few pastors have received training in the treatment of domestic abuse, and in one survey, less than ten percent of Christian therapists, when provided with case studies, were able to identify abusive family situations. Often, abused wives are mistakenly told they are partly to blame for the abuse and that greater submission or more prayer will solve the problem. Nowhere in the Bible are wives told to submit to abuse. The Bible does tell us, however, that the wrongdoing of a Christian is to be corrected by other believers.
What does abuse have to do with stewardship? It’s a matter of serving and doing justice.
Professor Kroeger and sociologist Nancy Nason-Clark
Mere rebuke is not enough. The community of faith is
called to action rather than indifference. It is tempting to
say that what goes on in somebody else’s home is none
of our business; but that is not true of the household of
faith. Steps must be taken to ensure that the abuse is
There is much that Christians an do to help the victims of abuse. Collectively churches can offer spiritual and emotional support, provide temporary “safe havens,” and help women and children to find legal and social assistance.
As in so many cases of injustice in the world, the Christian
community is called to lead the way in showing caring and
compassion to victims of violence and in calling for greater
attention to the problem.
How can domestic abuse be such a hidden problem in churches?
In what ways does your church reach out to those in abusive situations?
What can you do personally for those who are abused?
Lord, show me how I can
be a help to those in my
church and community who
1 K I N G S 21:1 – 2 9
Naboth takes seriously his responsibility to steward his father’s inheritance. His refusal
to sell the family vineyard to King Ahab is probably based on the prohibition against
such sales in Leviticus 25:23 – 28. Naboth represents what Israel’s kings should have been
doing — acting as wise and faithful trustees of the godly inheritance David had established
in Israel. Instead, Israel’s kings have become ineffectual and wicked, chasing after material
resources and indulging in idolatry. How many innocent Naboths have been slaughtered
over the centuries by wicked rulers who can no longer resist their own lusts and thus are
unable to oppose unethical suggestions?
As noted in Generous Giving’s Stewardship Bible Study Notes on 1 Kings 21,
King Ahab’s greed leads to premeditated murder, a miscarriage of justice both in its
execution and in its consequence, as Naboth’s land was taken from him and given not to his heirs but to Ahab. As 1 Kings 21:25 succinctly states, Ahab “sold himself to do
evil.” Naboth’s refusal to sell his land (1Ki 21:3) was not greed or stinginess; rather,
he was holding on to the inheritance passed down from his fathers, given to them by
the Lord’s command. Possessing the land and living godly lives in it was part of Israel’s calling. Christians today have an inheritance to which we must hold tightly by refusing to deny our Lord and by putting off all distractions as we press on for the inheritance of the whole world (Ro 4:13), an inheritance reserved for those who persevere (Heb 6:1 – 15; Heb 11 – 12, especially 12:12 – 17). No doubt, there will be Ahabs in our lives who offer “a better vineyard” that appears to be a better inheritance. Even when we face the threat of death and the theft of earthly blessings, we cannot trade our permanent inheritance. Instead, we must remain confident that God will use many means in this life and especially in the next to ensure that justice ultimately is done, just as he ensured the demise of Ahab (despite great efforts on Ahab’s part to avoid judgment, 1Ki 22:30 – 35).
As theological educator and Bible commentator Paul D. Gardner reflects,
The awesome nature of God’s judgment against those
who break his law or who kill those who serve him is
seen in several places in Scripture, but in few places is
the detail of the fulfillment of the judgment as explicit
as in this sad episode. The account served as a reminder
for the Israelites of the Lord’s judgment, his defense of
the rights of the poor and humble and, above all, of the
permanency and truth of his word that will always be
Like Naboth, Christians are heirs to both a spiritual and an earthly inheritance worth preserving.
How is Naboth a role model for Christians today?
Is any part of your inheritance under threat today?
In what ways will God’s justice overcome the injustice suffered by so many?
Lord, give me the courage of Naboth to stand up for what is right.
1 C H R O N IC L E S 21:15 – 3 0
Christian financial stewardship leader Larry Burkett (1939 – 2003) observes the following
about this story: “It’s a sad commentary today that many Christians
give into God’s kingdom things they simply don’t want . . . God wants the best of what we have — not the leftovers.” But may we take the issue further? Bible and homiletics professor Arthur Van Seters states:
The history of Israel . . . is a history of a people constantly on the move to land or from
land. But it is also a history of Yahweh, and Yahweh’s promises, gifts, judgments, and
forgiveness. Israel has no identity in the Old Testament without land, either promised
or inherited. Land is integral to its understanding of its faith in Yahweh, who is seen as
the giver of land. But when the people rule Yahweh’s land by force they destroy Yahweh’s gift and end up losing it. This, I believe, is the basic ingredient for understanding a stewardship view of land. Land is a gift freely given, but it is lost when it is controlled contrary to the will of the giver.
This stewardship view of land seems most clearly to have been accepted and understood as the Israelites settled into the land of Canaan at the beginning. According to the theological history that tells us part of the story, we read of a statement by Yahweh, “The land is mine. You [Israel] are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23). Yahweh is the giver who remains the owner. Israel is a people
who are sojourners and not owners. So we have two elements: Yahweh the Giver shares the land with Yahweh’s people, and these people who have shared Yahweh’s land have to view the land as something to be shared, not only with Yahweh, but with one another. As sojourners they also knew that they only had the use of the land, and not some kind of ownership title to it. They inherit the land in order to use it. So the steward of the land, in the Old Testament sense, is one who uses the land and shares it . . .
In the period of the Monarchy . . . the whole land system changed . . . Now cities, especially Jerusalem and Samaria, stood over against the countryside. The kings developed vast building projects, and that required forced labor and taxes. When wars were fought, they were fought not by a volunteer army but by a paid military. Very soon
Israelite society had a two-class system with subdivisions. Five percent were the urban elite, subdivided into a political military elite and a ruling religious/cultural elite. The rest were the very poor, about thirty percent urban and sixty-five percent (who were even poorer) rural.
Araunah was obviously a member of the privileged class, as
was Naboth in the contrasting story involving Ahab’s seizure
of his vineyard (see “The Covenant Faithfulness of Naboth”
on page 439). Both of these stories have to do with justice — or
the lack of it — on the part of the ruling elite dealing with the
urban elite. While David’s unwillingness to appropriate Araunah’s
threshing floor and then turn around and present it to God
is a direct lesson here, the king’s treatment of the poor in the
land might be a better indicator of his overall stewardship.
The issue for us goes beyond the call to give God something we value. If God has rewarded us financially, is there something we can give that might touch a true scarcity in our lives?
How about our time?
Lord, I will not give to you
something that costs me
1 C H R O N I C L E S 2 7: 2 5 – 3 4
This passage lists the names and responsibilities of David’s personal stewards, the administrators of his holdings. Today’s business world includes a plethora of professions
that act as stewards of others’ goods and well-being (e.g., the banking and financial services
and property management industries — and, in some sense, even the pastorate). In addition, many people are involved in more individual stewardship roles (such as nannies, tutors,
personal or family attorneys, personal sports trainers, financial advisors, legal guardians,
groundskeepers and bodyguards). To what degree do we value and appreciate such individuals?
In what ways are we responsible to them?
The reality is, of course, that there is no division in God’s economy between owners and
the stewards of others’ goods. No matter what our individual positions or circumstances,
each one of us is ultimately a steward. The steward’s ethic is one of treating others as we
would desire to be treated ourselves.
Management guru Ken Blanchard and CEO S. Truett Cathy invite us to listen in on an
exchange between an arrogant young New York broker (a future heir to “old money”) and
his impeccable chauffeur:
Success was his. His without his father, his father’s firm, and his father’s old-fashioned
ideas. “That Internet fad won’t last a year,” his father had warned him. Dad was wrong.
The Broker’s thoughts and recollections of sweet victories were interrupted by the
sound of the limousine’s divider window being retracted.
“Will you want me to drop your bags at the apartment, or will you be needing anything
from them?” the Driver asked.
“They can all go to the apartment,” the Broker replied.
“Very well, sir. And will you be needing me for anything before Friday?”
“No . . . oh, wait, I have dinner reservations Thursday night.”
“And will you be picking up Miss Stephanie?”
“Of course. I’m going to be dining with Stephanie.
Did you think I’d be escorting the bag lady who hangs
out in front of my office building?”
“No, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”
The Broker pressed a button and closed the divider.
If there were two things that had floated to the top of his
“could-do-without” list, it was that unkempt bag lady
and prying chauffeurs. People in service positions were,
in the Broker’s opinion, on a need-to-know basis, with
the need determined by the employer . . .
Just before the Broker passed through the gleaming
brass revolving door and into the marble-lined atrium of
his office building, he looked up at the imposing structure
that seemed to reach to heaven itself, and a disturbing
thought crossed his mind:
I wonder why I feel so dreadfully insignificant.
How does God’s Word honor some of the people who held menial jobs in David’s kingdom?
What does this tell you about God’s view of the dignity of all types of stewardship roles?
How does believing we are all stewards affect your view of others?
God, give me eyes to see
others the way you do.
E S T H E R 1:1 – 12
Xerxes is throwing a wildly extravagant dinner party. The only limitation on his guests’
intake is the boundary of their own desire. At the climax of the revelry, the king sends
for his queen, intending to show her off as a status symbol. When Vashti commits the unthinkable
by refusing, she subjects this megalomaniac to utter humiliation.
Author Robert Farrar Capon discusses the unrealistically high expectations we place
on sex, romance and marriage. (He thinks we tend to make “religions” out of these aspects
of our lives. The higher our expectations, the more like a “religion” sex, romance and marriage
become for us.) He also comments on the false expectations we place on these aspects
of our lives and on the release valves we look for when the newness wears off. A quotation
of his remarks on marriage:
Marriage . . . exposes us to all of the unacceptable qualities of our [spouses] and ourselves with a relentlessness those other two states [sex and romance] can never match — and because year after year it makes it clearer that what is unacceptable about us is not what we do but who we are — the religions we concoct to conjure with marriage are more useless than any others . . .
Nevertheless, rather than admit that the religions don’t work — that no such canny
sacrifices can take the place of patience, manners, and ultimately, forgiveness — we go right on making sacrifices, up to and including the devastating one of immolating each other in divorce. If I had to assign a single, overarching cause to the high American divorce rate, it would be our refusal to throttle, or even to question, the religion of marriage. Our marital breakups are almost always seen by us — after a few token apologies for our own (pardonable) shortcomings — as due to our partner’s unpardonable offenses against the god of matrimony . . .
Capon’s conclusion brings home what God intends these relationship stages to mean in the Christian life. His insights are both sobering and profoundly inspiring.
Sex, romance, and marriage, then; these three. Like everything else in the world, they are anamneses (remembrances) and prolepses (anticipations) of the Home from
which we come and to which we go. But preeminently. . . they are the grand sacraments of the fact that Home is in the end a relationship. We are not artifacts destined for an eternal mantelpiece; we are the beloved called by
the . . . incarnate Wisdom of the Father, into the last relationship of all . . . into the exchanges of the Godhead itself — into the Love of the Father and the Son in the
unity of the Holy Spirit.
What expectations do
you place on sex, romance
What most influences
your feelings on the subject?
How does marriage reflect God himself?
Lord, help me to view
marriage the way you do.
Help me to have proper
expectations. Guide me as
I work on my own views of
marriage to align them with
E S T H E R 9 : 2 3 – 3 2
The feast of Purim recalls Haman’s plot and relives the story of how God used Esther to
reverse Xerxes’ edict. This festival celebrates God’s providence on behalf of his people,
manifested through the intervention of this courageous young woman. Editors and movie
analysts Craig Brian Larson and Andrew Zahn commemorate another young (very young)
woman of God who also intervened on behalf of her persecuted people:
Ruby Bridges tells the true story of the six-year-old girl who became the first person of color in the United States to attend, by federal law, an all-white school in 1960-segregationist New Orleans, Louisiana. Ruby faced overwhelming social adversity.
As the scene starts, Ruby (played by Chaz Monet) is walking through the angry
crowd outside the school with four federal agents around her. As she goes up the steps, she suddenly turns around, walks down a few steps, stops, and appears to say something to the crowd. The agents try to coax her back up the steps. She resists for a moment, her lips still moving . . . Ruby then turns around and is escorted into the school.
In the next scene, Ruby and the psychiatrist (played by Kevin Pollak) are sitting
alone at the family’s kitchen table. She is coloring. He says, “But honey, I saw you talking to them. Did you finally get angry with them? Did you tell them to just
leave you alone?”
Ruby answers, “No, I didn’t tell them anything. I didn’t talk to them.”
“But Ruby, I was there. I saw your lips moving.”
“I wasn’t talking to them. I was praying for them.”
The doctor is startled. “Praying for them?”
“Yes. I pray for them every day in the car. But I forgot
“Oh. What prayer did you say?”
Ruby puts down her crayon, folds her hands together,
and says, “Please God, forgive these people, because
even if they say these mean things, they don’t know what they’re doing, so you can forgive them, just like you did those folks a long time ago when they said terrible things about you” . . .
In the next scene, the doctor’s wife is at her typewriter,
listening to a big 1960-style tape recorder, and
typing her husband’s words: “And so I learned that a
family and a child under great stress and fear can show
exquisite dignity and courage because of their moral and
religious values. They had a definite purpose in what
they were trying to accomplish. This purpose makes
In what ways did God use Esther’s obedience to affect the lives of thousands of people?
Do you think Esther had any idea what might result from her actions? What about Ruby Bridges?
When have you as Christ’s representative risen to the occasion to help or intervene for someone else in need, no matter how minor the incident may have appeared at the time?
What may be holding you
back from seizing opportunities
to act for God?
Brainstorm solutions to
whatever obstacles you may
J O B 19 : 2 5 – 2 6
The story of Job is ancient — most likely one of Scripture’s oldest. Old Testament believers
had no clear-cut concept of a bodily resurrection. However, Job appears convinced
that a day is coming when he will be defended and restored, not just spiritually but also
physically. Most scholars agree that the Redeemer he spoke of refers to God himself and
that Job believed that God would offer vindication for Job in the face of his trials.
This appreciation for the physical dimension of salvation is crucial for understanding
the Biblical message of generosity. As affirmed in a statement by The Gospel Coalition,
God created both soul and body, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going
to redeem both the spiritual and the material. Therefore God is concerned not only for
the salvation of souls but also for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice. The gospel opens our eyes to the fact that all our wealth (even wealth for which we worked hard) is
ultimately an unmerited gift from God. Therefore the person who does not generously
give away his or her wealth to others is not merely lacking in compassion, but is unjust.
Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service and comes to wealth through giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost. We cannot look at the poor and the oppressed and callously call them to pull themselves out of their own difficulty. Jesus did not treat us that away. The gospel replaces superiority toward the poor with mercy and compassion . . . Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of our salvation by sheer grace.
As expressed in the following quotation by Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005),
In the resurrection the body will return to perfect unity and harmony with the spirit. Man will no longer experience the opposition between what is spiritual and what is physical in him. Spiritualization means not only that the spirit will dominate the body, but, I would say, that it will fully permeate the body, and that the forces of the spirit will permeate the energies of the body.
What does the believer’s ultimate participation in the divine nature say to us about the worth of each person? In Matthew 25:40 Jesus identifies bodily with “the least of these brothers.” True, when he spoke these words he was living in a human body, but we as Christians believe that this passage still carries direct implications for us.
How do the physical and spiritual aspects of the resurrection work in tandem?
What does the interplay of physical and spiritual tell you about the nature of God? The nature of humanity?
What implications are there for you as you relate to your fellow humans?
I know that my Redeemer
And ever prays for me . . .
His presence makes me free
And He will soon appear.
P S A L M 6 7:1 – 7
This psalm recalls God’s blessing of Abraham: “I will bless you . . . and you will be a blessing . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Ge 12:2 – 3). We see in Psalm 67 that the Lord’s blessing is not limited to individuals or even to families. It’s expansive: he blesses so the blessed will become a blessing to all. In describing the Corinthians’ gifts for the poor in Judea, the apostle Paul says, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2Co 9:11). God does not bless us exclusively for our personal prosperity.
Internationally acclaimed author, lecturer and leadership expert John Edmund Haggai, who since the age of 17 has studied the lives of achievers and leaders, has this to say:
It’s my view that not every achiever is a leader. But every leader is an achiever. Paul J. Meyer qualifies as a leader nonpareil. He’s more han a producer; he’s a creative life enhancer. He makes life easier and more meaningful for thousands of people on all continents.
The book Haggai has written about this philanthropist includes the following vignette (before you leave the story, pause a moment to identify which players are blessed by being a blessing):
Recently Paul and Jane Meyer asked a young unmarried mother to their house. She’d never laid eyes on them before; they’d never laid eyes on her before. But someone had told the Meyers she needed help.
Paul said to her, “The first thing I heard was that you were going to buy shoes for your son, and you couldn’t buy the shoes because you had to buy food instead. The second thing I heard was that you were tithing. I couldn’t believe that a single mother with two children and no money for shoes would tithe her money first.” Paul offered to have his own son, Jim, do the legal work for her to get money from her ex-husband. He then said he would give her a monthly check until she got back on her feet. “Before she went,” he says, “we ran through the house and got a bunch of Leslie’s and Jane’s clothes for her, and got a bunch of my clothes for her sons. If they don’t fit, I told her, bring them back so I can give them to somebody else. After she left I was high as a kite. I wished somebody else could come in after her, because that’s the joy of giving. If I could, I’d give every moment of the day. That’s the thrill of giving.”
In what ways are you rich?
What are some results of generosity? For the giver? For the receiver?
In what ways can you bles others? (See below.)
More than 880 thousand people die from malaria every year. Yet it is both preventable and treatable.
In 2007 in the United States, 36.2 million people lived in households considered to be food insecure.
Annually, according to U.S. governmentsponsored research completed in 2006, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, which does not include millions trafficked within their own countries. Approximately 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors. How is God calling you to be generous today?
P S A L M 13 3 :1 – 3
Who stands at the center of your world? Why you, of course. We are talking your world, after all. If asked to draw a model of your world, it might look like a pyramid. You, of course, would occupy the top layer, just above, perhaps, your family. The larger lower levels would be populated by those farther and farther removed from you. At the bottom would huddle the masses. This level might include those you’ve never had much use for: people very different from you. And it includes those who make you uncomfortable or repel you. Does God really want you to interact with all types of people? Entrepreneur and author Paul J. Meyer makes some observations:
Have you ever noticed how different countries print world maps? In North America, the center of the map contains North America. In Europe, Europe is the center. In fact, I’ve even seen maps where New Zealand and Australia are in the center and on top of the world! The caption on the inverted map reads, “No longer down under.”
It is only natural for a country to see itself as the center of the world, since national pride is to be expected, but the truth of the matter is the world does not rotate around one nation or people.
I have traveled extensively and have noted, especially in Asian countries, that I stand out like a sore thumb. It’s hard to blend in with everyone else when you are tall, white, and fair-haired. The experience has always been good for me, and I highly recommend it for others.
Several years ago I was in China with my wife Jane, our daughter Leslie who was about ten years old, and a few close friends. Leslie has blue eyes and at the time had very blonde hair. Because it was the early 1980s, few Chinese had seen — much less met — a child with blonde hair and blue eyes. As a result, complete strangers would walk up and touch her hair.
She was shocked and grew increasingly nervous, refusing to go out in public the following day. Only with Mom’s encouragement and the cover of a stocking cap would she venture into the streets again.
There are only a few countries, not counting Europe, where Leslie could travel and not instantly be identified as a foreigner. Some people
get tired of being visible, watched, and recognized and almost wish they could swap skin colors so they would blend in. When you think
like that, you begin to see the people around you in a different light.
Throughout the Old Testament, in fact, God demonstrates his inclusivity, even beyond the people of Israel. Just ask Rahab, the Canaanite inhabitant of Jericho who helped the Hebrew spies, or Ruth the Moabite who returned with her Israelite mother-in-law to Bethlehem. Both these women were included in the genealogy of Jesus (see Mt 1:5).
If you made a pyramid model of your own life, who would be at the bottom?
In what ways does the Bible advocate inclusivity?
How inclusive is your church?
Think about the people you placed at the bottom of your pyramid. Spend some time today praying for those you consider to be “untouchable.”
P S A L M 13 5 :1 – 21
Several psalms, like this one, praise God for his past generosity. Such psalms reminded the listeners of how lavishly God had blessed his people in spite of their historic disobedience. They remind us of how patient and persistent God has been, while assuring us of his future goodness. Beyond this, these psalms tell us how to practice generosity. How can we refuse to share with others when God has been so kind to his people — and to us? Even when other people are ungrateful and irresponsible, we are to look for opportunities to help them — just as we have been helped.
The reformer Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) addresses this issue in “Concerning Christian Liberty,” his classic statement on the freedom the believer enjoys from the burden of the law and the anxiety of self-reliance. He says:
Although the Christian is thus free from all works, he ought in this liberty to empty himself, take upon himself the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him. This he should do freely, having regard for nothing but divine approval.
He ought to think: “Although I am an unworthy and condemned man, my God has given me in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true. Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, with all my heart, and with an eager will do all things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches? I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me; I will do nothing in this life except what I see is necessary, profitable, and salutary to my neighbor, since through faith I have an abundance of all good things in Christ.”
Behold, from faith thus flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing, and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise or blame, of gain or loss. For a man does not serve that he may put men under obligations. He does not distinguish between friends and enemies or anticipate their thankfulness or unthankfulness, but he most freely and most willingly spends himself and all that he has, whether he wastes all on the thankless or whether he gains a reward . . .
We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself
into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love, as Christ says in John 1, “[I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven pen, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.]”
What has God done for you in the past?
Why did God do these things for you?
What motivates you to do good to others?
Lord, you are kind and
gracious to your people.
I praise you for what you
did for the Israelites so
long ago. And I praise
you for what you have
done for me.
PROVERBS 23 :12 – 14
Discipline is a primary means by which parents guide and shape their children. Children need love and discipline to become wise and loving adults. Author Walter Wangerin Jr. addresses the perennial question with which all well-intentioned parents grapple:
Should the parent punish or discipline the child?
Prisons punish. By most accounts, that’s all they can do. Some parents punish too, but that’s not all we can do, nor is it what we’re charged by God to do. Nor is it healthy.
Rather, it was for discipline that we were set above the children and the children under us.
Punishment administers pain for pain and hurt for hurt. If it is meted out in an ethical manner, it makes the pain the criminal gets equal the pain he gave. It balances the social books of righteousness. And if it loves anything, it loves the law . . . But it does not love the criminal. Simply, he is made to pay post factum the debt his crime incurred; and the social order is, by an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, preserved. Society receives the benefit. Except that he will be restrained hereafter, the criminal is scarcely affected or changed; correctional facilities do precious little correcting.
On a level more rude, punishment is merely the expression of someone’s discontent, irritation, anger — and then nothing is loved so much as that one’s thwarted desires and his own power to say so. Again, nothing changes.
But discipline loves the criminal.
And though discipline also gives pain, unlike punishment it seeks to change the child at the core of his being.
Note, please: the benefit of punishment is for the person or the system administering punishment; but the benefit of discipline is for the one who is being disciplined . . .
Moreover, it is a gift of the discipliner to the disciplined, both of whom will suffer the pain of the process: “[No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.]” But if a parent says [to the child] that the pain is “for your own good,” . . . and punishes to relieve himself — for anger’s sake or for vengeance or because he’s lost control, but in no wise to plant in his child the peaceful fruit of righteousness — he lies in his teeth, committing a double treachery and multiple sins in a single swat.
Does the parent seek tears? It is punishment. Does the parent grow frustrated when there are no tears? When there is no sign of pain? It is punishment.
And punishment is not the charge God gave the parents.
How do you differentiate discipline from punishment? What do both look like?
How are discipline and love interconnected?
What is the purpose of discipline?
God, I want to raise my
children or those whom I’m
responsible for in the best
way possible. Help me to
make wise decisions. Help
me to discipline my children
ECCLESIASTES 5 : 8 – 9
Some sins involve the collective disobedience or indifference of whole groups of people. The Teacher identifies this kind of systemic oppression as a major contributor to meaninglessness “under the sun.” Since the fall, humans have been naturally inclined to abuse power. This should not surprise us, but we as Christians should surprise the world by using the power we possess to serve others rather than ourselves.
It is crucial for Christians to examine the hidden vices of our cultures and political structures. We should go so far as to question the positions we ourselves occupy, the people we associate with, the churches we attend, the neighborhoods we live in, the schools our children attend, the leaders we elect — and on and on. We are to live as members of a heavenly community that weeps with the oppressed and yearns for justice to “roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Am 5:24).
In the movie Patch Adams the protagonist indicts the medical community for its indifference to the human aspect of suffering, which editors and movie analysts Craig Brian Larson and Andrew Zahn descibe as follows:
Patch Adams is a movie based on the true story of a medical student who discovers the healing qualities of humor while treating patients. Hunter “Patch” Adams (played by comedian Robin Williams) is frustrated by school policies that encourage an impersonal approach to practicing medicine.
Borrowing a white lab coat, Patch disguises himself in a group of third-year students making rounds. The teaching physician impersonally describes the symptoms and diagnoses of each patient.
As the teacher approaches a young woman with open sores on her feet and legs, he says, “Here we have a juvenile onset diabetic with poor circulation and diabetic ulcers with lymphedema and evidence of gangrene. Questions?”
A student asks, “Any osteomyelitis?”
“None apparent, although not definitive.”
Another student inquires as to the appropriate treatment.
“To stabilize the blood sugar. Consider antibiotics and perhaps amputation,” he answers.
The patient cringes when she hears the frightening words offered by a doctor who has not yet even acknowledged her presence. From the back of the room, Patch’s voice is heard.
“What’s her name? I was just wondering the patient’s name.”
Caught off guard, the physician struggles to find a name on the chart before announcing, “Margery.”
As the class moves out of the room toward the next patient, Patch lingers at the bedside of this woman and reaches out to touch her shoulder as he calls her by name.
In what ways do individuals bear responsibility for the actions of institutions?
How can individuals use power for good?
What do you need to do in order to confront injustice?
Determine today what
actions you can take to
use your power for good.
SONGOFSONGS 8 : 6 – 7
First Corinthians 13, the memorable “love chapter,” is the obvious New Testament analogue of this passage in Song of Songs. Although feelings of love tend to be strong in the beginning of a romance, it takes work to nurture and mature the love relationship. Consider the beautiful manifestation of unselfishness at the end of the following illustration, which editors and movie analysts Craig Brian Larson and Andrew Zahn describe as follows:
In the movie Family Man, Jack Campbell (played by Nicolas Cage) is the successful president of an investment house in New York City — and he’s happily single. He has everything, or so he thinks, including a sports car and a radiant girlfriend. But on Christmas morning the world turns upside down. He wakes up in a “what if?” scenario, finding himself twelve years into marriage with his college sweetheart and two small children. He desperately tries to rediscover his old life but in the process begins to find out what he’s really been missing all these years. In particular, he finds that living life for yourself alone is not as fulfilling as living your life for others.
Toward the end of the movie, Jack discusses with his wife a job opportunity that would revive some of his former glory. Taking the job would mean a big move for the family, but Kate (played by Téa Leoni) says she’s willing to make a sacrifice for the sake of the family — a defining moment that helps Jack see what marriage is all about. Kate makes this declaration: “Maybe I was being naïve, but I believed that we would grow old together in this house. That we’d spend holidays here and have our grandchildren come visit us here. I had this image of us all gray and wrinkly and me working in the garden and you repainting the deck. Things change. If you need this, Jack, if you really need this — I’ll take these kids from the life they love, and I’ll take myself from the only home we’ve ever known together, and I’ll move wherever you need to go. I’ll do that because I love you. I love you. And that’s more important to me than our address. I choose us.”
Theologian Kenneth Boa, in a discussion of the stewardship of relationships, refers to an illustration of a poignant, real-life boyhood experience:
In The Effective Father, Gordon McDonald relates a story about James Boswell, the famous biographer of Samuel Johnson. Boswell often referred to a childhood memory of a day he spent fishing with his father. On that special day, his father taught him many insights that Boswell treasured for life. Many years later, someone looked up this particular day in the journal that Boswell’s father kept to see what his father recorded about this significant experience in the life of his son. The journal entry for that day had only one sentence: “Gone fishing today with my son; a day wasted.”
How does the Bible describe love?
What does love look like in your world? Give an example.
How can you remind yourself that love is an active word?
Show love through your actions to someone today.
ISAIAH 4 0 :1 – 11
While Isaiah 1 – 39 is dominated by a message of judgment, the emphasis in chapters 40 – 66 is hope. Isaiah 40:1 – 11 declares God’s intention to comfort his people by providing complete payment for their sin (see also Isa 52:13 — 53:12). This same payment enables us today to use our resources to comfort others (see 2Co 1:3 – 7). We give because we have “received from the Lord’s hand” (Isa 40:2). God is able to save us because he is both our Creator and our Ruler. Most of our financial anxieties emerge when we disregard one of these truths — when we forget that all the world’s resources are at God’s disposal or when we are intimidated by human wealth and power, which are “less than nothing” in God’s eyes (Isa 40:17; cf. Pr 11:4).
Emphasizing the social purpose of riches and the strict duty of sharing them, Leo the Great (c. 390 – 461) states:
What can be so fitting to faith or so close a concern of piety as to assist the poverty of the needy, take up the care of the sick, relieve the wants of the brethren, and in the distress of others to call our own condition to mind? How much in this matter a person can or cannot do is a thing truly discerned only by him who knows his own gifts to each. For it is not only spiritual wealth and heavenly graces that are received from God’s hands; earthly and material riches too flow from his bounty, and therefore it is with justice that he will ask an account of them, since he himself has not so much given them to be possessed as put them in trust to be administered. Justly and wisely, then, must we use the gifts of [G]od, lest the means to good works should become a cause of sin. In their own nature, in their own kind, riches are good, and most useful to human society; I mean when they are handled by men of good and generous heart, when they are not squandered by the prodigal or hidden by the miser, for by ill hoarding or foolish spending they are alike lost.
But though it is praiseworthy to shun intemperance and avoid the wastefulness of unworthy pleasures, . . . yet there is no merit about such thrift and no happiness in such affluence if their riches serve themselves alone — if the poor are not helped by their money, if the sick are not cared for, if out of all the abundance of their prosperity the captive finds no ransom, the stranger no comfort, the exile no aid. Rich men such as these are poorer than all the poor. They lose the wealth which they might perpetuate; and while they cling to possessions which will not last long and which they cannot always freely enjoy, they are starved of the bread of justice and the sweetness
of mercy; they are glittering without and dark within; they abound in things temporal but are poor in things eternal, for they afflict their own souls with hunger and shame them with nakedness, entrusting everything to their earthly barns and laying up nothing in the reasurehouses of heaven.
What are some gifts you have received from the Lord?
How might you use those gifts to bless others?
What holds you back from sharing what you have?
Lord, thank you for your
good gifts to me. I pray I
will use them well to bless
ISAIAH 49 : 6
This reference to Israel as a “light to the Gentiles” points to God’s purpose for his people in the divine economy of redemption. Israel’s primary light to others is the light of Torah (law). But, as we see here in Isaiah, there is a problem: Israel herself has strayed far from stewardship of that law. As Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann notes,
these texts in Isaiah of the exile [42:6 and 49:6], and their seemingly expansive phrasing, need to be noted in the context of Exodus 19:6 and Genesis 12:3. Israel does not understand itself, in light of Yahweh’s governance of the world, as living in a vacuum or in isolation. Its obligation to Yahweh is to take seriously all that Yahweh has given it, in its context of the nations. Yahweh has summoned Israel in love to be Yahweh’s peculiar partner. And Israel is under intense obligation to respond in obedience to Yahweh’s sovereign love, an obligation to be holy as Yahweh is holy (Lev 19:2 – 4), to love the stranger as Yahweh loves the stranger (Dt 10:19). Response to Yahweh’s sovereign goodness is Israel’s proper life in the world.
As New Testament stewards of the Christian life, we too function as the world’s light. The law we promote is Christ’s overarching law of love, a purified form of Israel’s Torah. In the words of author and speaker Ken Hemphill,
Jesus set a new standard for kingdom citizens that far exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The kingdom citizen, he said, should internalize the law so that his life and teaching are molded by God’s Word.
We might look to Matthew 15:1 – 20 as an example. The Pharisees and scribes wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples broke the tradition of the elders concerning the washing of hands when they ate. But Jesus gave examples of how the legalists had actually broken God’s commandments by their adherence to man-made traditions. He quoted Isaiah’s statement about people who honor God with the lips but whose heart is far from him. He then explained to the crowd that defilement comes from within, not from without . . .
Kingdom ethics are not thin and external but intensified and internalized. Jesus was looking for obedience that came from the heart, an obedience that truly impacts our motives and attitudes. It is apparent that such intensified standards are impossible for us to obey and
thus must be produced by the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer (see the promise of Eze 36:27) . . .
Grace should free us not to do less but to do more, not to earn God’s favor but to let it continue transforming us.
In what way is our mandate to share with others an expression of our gratitude to God?
Why is obedience such a big part of God’s expectations of his people?
How can you be a light to the world?
Lord, enable me to share
the light of the Good News
with those who need to
ISAIAH 52 :13 — 53 :12
Two major applications emerge from this fourth and final “servant song” (see also Isa 42:1 – 9; 49:1 – 7; 50:4 – 9): (1) We must accept Jesus Christ, the servant, and his sacrifice. (2) We must respond to his sacrifice by sacrificially offering ourselves. In Philippians 2:5 – 11 the apostle Paul says that those who receive Jesus are to imitate him by giving up their rights — by taking on “the very nature of a servant” (Php 2:7). Essential to Jesus’ generosity was his willingness to give by taking upon himself the griefs and sorrows of others.
Preacher and writer Oswald Chambers (1874 – 1917) reflects on Isaiah 53:4 as follows:
The majority of people who have never been touched by affliction see Jesus Christ’s death as a thing beside the mark; but when a man is convicted of sin, then for the first time he begins to see something else — “At last I see; I thought He was smitten of God; but now I see He was wounded for my transgressions . . .” The hand of God was on Him; the reason for His suffering was sin; but it was our sin, our transgression. “Surely He hath borne our griefs”: He bore for all. We cannot bear for anyone, it is impossible. Jesus Christ came weighted with the message of God, but that was not what weighed Him down; the thing that weighed Him down was sin . . .
Has the Christian anything like this to go through? Peter talks about suffering when you don’t deserve it . . .
What do we know about filling up “[what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions]”? Have we ever taken on our shoulders for one second the consequence of the insight the Holy Spirit gives into the corruption of men and women as they are? . . . Immediately when you become spiritual your body becomes the burden-bearer for sins you never committed, so do your nerves. This is the dispensation of the humiliation of the saints; the more you walk in the light with God the more humiliating is your position on earth . . .
Forgiveness of sin is the great revelation of God, all the rest is slight. We have belittled the meaning of forgiveness of sin by making it mean the forgiveness of offences. The only way God can forgive sin is because His Servant “poured out [his life] unto death.” Have I ever realised that the only way I am forgiven is by the panging depth of suffering God’s Servant went through? The consciousness of what sin is comes long after the redemptive processes have been at work. The man who comes to God for the first time convicted
of sins knows nothing about sin; it is the ripest saint who knows what sin is. Our salvation is the outcome of what it cost the Son of God. “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.”
In what ways was Jesus a servant?
What has Jesus sacrificed for you?
What is your response?
Lord, forgive my sin. Thank you that Jesus’ sacrifice brings redemption.
ISAIAH 58 :1 – 14
This beautiful piece of prophetic poetry speaks against religious practices that are not grounded in love for God and care for the needy (cf. Mt 22:34 – 40). The test of any church program or religious activity is whether it effectively reflects personal transformation; in other words, do social justice, generosity and personal holiness proceed from this program or practice (see Mt 23:23; Jas 1:27)? If our engagement with “church” fails to produce compassionate communities and holy individuals, we won’t be trusted when we claim God’s love or Christ’s name (see 1Co 11:17 – 22; Jas 2:1 – 4,14 – 19; 1Jn 3:16 – 18). In the words of veteran Bible expositor J. Alec Motyer, we must rid ourselves of the false assumption that we can be “truly religious and socially indifferent” at the same time.
In his preface to a text on Catholic social teaching, law professor Leonard P. Liggio reflects on
the reality that the budgetary crises of the developed countries require the withdrawal of the state from many activities undertaken in the confusions of boundless expectations. The new realities mean a return to self-involvement of citizens in the affairs that affect their health, retirement, and so on. Of the many areas . . . education may be the most important. It is the education of our children upon which the future of the economy and of the resources for the health and pensions of the older generation will depend. Yet the recognized shortcomings of the state education system, especially for the disadvantaged for whom it was especially introduced, seem the most difficult to resolve owing to entrenched structures.
Among the private initiatives in the 21st century will be the increased attention to charity by the better off. In the USA there continues to be an expansion of charity. Those with middle as well as higher incomes and wealth observe the private institutions that are offering assistance and make their charitable judgments on the basis of their attention to these institutions. Many people are participating as volunteers in the assistance programmes. Some are dedicated to moving the disadvantaged from static welfare to the dynamic of self-help. The Christian is motivated by compassion to assist the disadvantaged to achieve the dignity of labour . . . Where the state withdraws it gives room for voluntary, Christian initiative to “breathe.” This is not so just in the spheres of welfare and charity, but in the cultural sphere too.
Christian financial stewardship leader Howard Dayton leaves us with some food for thought about this issue: “In some mysterious way that we cannot fully comprehend, Jesus personally identifies with the poor. Do you want to minister to Christ? You do so when you give to the poor. If that truth is staggering, then the reciprocal is terrifying. When we do not give to the poor, we leave Christ Himself hungry and thirsty.”
What images come to mind when you think about “true religion”?
In what ways do many people consider religion a means to meet their needs? In what ways do you share this view?
What can you do to practice “true religion”?
Lord, open my eyes to see
your hurting world.
JEREMIAH 2 : 3
The firstfruits from the harvest were set apart for God (see Lev 23:9 – 14). In the same way, God’s relationship with us hinges on our belonging to him. Deuteronomy refers to Israel as God’s “treasured possession” (Dt 7:6).
Our deepest insecurities and feelings of dissatisfaction don’t come from a lack of belongings but from a failure to recognize that we belong, that we’re cherished by God as his own invaluable possession. Evangelical leader Charles Colson reflects on the real difference this knowledge can make in our living — and for our dying:
Living the good life means not only living it to the fullest every moment we’re alive but also facing death with equanimity and then dying well. A lot of people have this wrong. They think that you live life to the fullest and enjoy every moment you can, and then when death comes, you simply accept the hard fact. The good time is over. Life is ended.
That’s not the way to see it.
I’ve discovered that some of the people who are best adjusted to the reality of life and the question of death are those on death row, particularly Christians. Over the years, I have visited literally thousands of condemned men and women in many countries of the world. You would think that someone given a death sentence, confined to a cold cell, maybe getting an hour of exercise in a barbed-wire-enclosed yard outside would despair and give up on life. Many inmates do not . . .
Something about the certainty of death forces us to focus our lives. Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” I have found this to be more than a facetious quip. In one sense it is a very healthy thing to live knowing we are going to die. The old saints used to keep skulls on their desks for this very reason. If we believe that our lives belong to God, as Bill Bright did, then we can say with the apostle Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” — and mean it. We can enjoy every stage of life, including old age and final illness, entrusting our lives to God’s care. We need to accept the seasons of life and learn what God has to teach us through each.
The dual aspects of privilege and responsibility come into play as we examine the implications of God’s tenacious claim on our selves — as well as on those other selves he cherishes, no matter what personal qualifications we may see in these individuals. When our Lord Jesus commanded us to love others as much as we love ourselves (see Mt 22:39), his injunction was truly two-pronged: We are to view and treat both ourselves and all others who people this world with the same measure of dignity and respect God confers on each of us.
Do you feel you belong to God?
How does the knowledge of your mortality hone your ability to enjoy life right now?
In what ways can you come to a deeper understanding of your significance to God?
Lord, help me to enjoy
today and every day, knowing
that I will be with you
JEREMIAH 9 : 2 3 – 2 4
Jeremiah calls us to a radical break with the world’s equation for assessing self-worth. Rather than looking for our identities in our own personal resources — qualities like wisdom, strength or wealth (cf. Jer 22:14 – 15) — the prophet calls us to glory in the knowledge of God (cf. 1Co 1:18 – 31). Of course, to boast in God’s love, justice and righteousness implies that we will exemplify those attributes in our own lives. Editors and movie analysts Craig Brian Larson and Andrew Zahn provide an illustration that has relevance to this passage:
The movie Glory chronicles the true story of the first noncommissioned black regiment to fight for the North during the Civil War. The formation of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts is not taken seriously from the beginning . . . But the white abolitionist officer from Boston, Robert Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick), idealistically agrees to command the 54th . . .
Throughout the film Shaw faces the dilemma of standing up for his men or staying quiet among his superiors in order to save face. This dilemma is strikingly portrayed when Shaw must inform his soldiers that the Union recently determined that black soldiers would receive a smaller salary than white soldiers. Standing on a high, commanding platform, Shaw hesitantly announces to his troops, “You men enlisted in this regiment with the understanding that you would be paid the regular army wage of thirteen dollars a month. This morning I have been notified that, since you are a colored regiment, you will be paid ten dollars a month.
His regiment grumbles at the injustice, but they fall out by company to receive their pay . . . But there is one dissenter, a runaway slave named Trip (played by Denzel Washington), who stridently protests the pay cut . . .
Trying to garner some support, Trip asks his elderly bunk mate, Rawlins (played by Morgan Freeman), “Hey pop. Are you gonna lay down for this too?”
When Rawlins ignores him, Trip files up and down the forming lines . . . Soon other soldiers join the protest. One yells, “That’s right, slaves. Step right up. Make your mark. Get your slave wage” . . .
One by one, soldiers join the outcry, and Trip incites the regiment to tear up their paychecks. “Tear it up. Tear it up. Tear it up,” he shouts.
The regiment repeats the same words . . .
A shot instantly silences the clamor. The soldiers turn their attention to their commanding officer, Robert Shaw, expecting to be disciplined.
“If you men will take no pay,” Shaw sternly announces, “then none of us will.” He proceeds to tear up his check as well.
Recovering from their shock, the soldiers uproariously celebrate, tossing their tattered paychecks into the air like confetti.
On what do you base your self-worth?
How does knowing who you are in Christ enable you to stand up to injustice?
When have you acted in a way so that others could see love, justice and righteousness exemplified in your life?
Great God, I pray that
I will only boast in my
knowledge of you.
J E R EMI A H 21:11 — 2 3 : 8
This is only one of many Old Testament passages calling for the combination of justice and righteousness. Justice makes sense to us, but the concept of righteousness has become so spiritualized that we sometimes find it difficult to grasp. This passage helps clarify for us the connection between these Biblical terms and, more explicitly, economic and social issues.
Jeremiah 21:11 – 12 connects faith and finances; justice and righteousness equate to rescuing the poor and oppressed who have been robbed and exploited (cf. Jer 22:3). In contrast, injustice and unrighteousness describe the king’s extravagant lifestyle — to reach what he wants, he can’t avoid stepping on others (see Jer 22:13).
But there is also a clear social significance to this pairing of justice and righteousness. The passage draws an interesting connection between the way we deal with the poor and the way God deals with us. We tend to assess ourselves according to the quality of our connections with the rich and powerful, but God judges us specifically by how we relate to the poor and oppressed (see Jer 22:3 – 5).
The following paragraphs from economist Philip Booth introduce a discussion of Catholic social teaching in the light of economic reasoning. Booth points out the complexities of the issues, cautioning Christians not to oversimplify the dynamic interplay of religion/faith and economic/social policy.
It might be thought that economic considerations should feature only in a minor way in a Christian analysis of policy. Moral, philosophical, or theological considerations may be regarded as paramount. To think this way would be a serious mistake. Some Christians seem to wish to assume away certain economic laws when developing policies in areas such as the minimum wage or the provision of foreign aid. This is as sensible as assuming away the laws of gravity when considering the moral case for punishment by hanging . . .
We should also be careful before casually using words like “moral” and “just” to describe our favoured political policies. Those words have a powerful meaning and they should not be used without care. This is particularly so in the analysis of economic and political policies requiring compulsory redistribution of income or wealth through taxation. The issues are much more subtle than we think . . . We should also be cautious before we proceed to implement such policies lest we undermine the love and charity present when assistance is provided to those in need through an act of free will, uncoerced by the state.
Define in your own mind the terms justice and righteousness.
How do you relate to the poor and oppressed?
How can you be sensitive to Booth’s cautions when arguing your political and social views?
Lord, I pray my life will be an example of justice and righteousness in all my dealings with others.
JEREMIAH 39 :10
God’s judgment brought about an ironic socioeconomic reversal in Judah and Jerusalem. While most of the citizens were carried off into exile, some of the poorest were left by Nebuchadnezzar’s officials and given rights to the land. The needy, who had been disenfranchised and mistreated, found themselves in possession of their oppressors’ property.
We as Christians are called to participate voluntarily in precisely this kind of radical reversal (see Mk 10:21; Lk 12:33; cf. Ac 2:44 – 45; 4:32 – 37). Before God fulfills his promise to reverse the circumstances of the poor and oppressed, those of us who are well-to-do and influential are called to (1) humble ourselves and (2) comfort others in the same way we would want to be comforted in their situation (see Lk 6:20,24).
Of the many entities in short supply among the poor, one of the most damaging is an intangible: hope. Without it, no matter how much effort is expended to lift the needy from their present circumstances, little long-term good will be accomplished. Pastor Paul R. Rademacher has this to say on this critical issue:
Recently one of the students in a preaching class used an illustration that points [out] the need to confront the matter of the relevance of hope in a highly existential situation. The student had a summer job in an automobile factory in Michigan. His responsibility was to bolt bumpers on trains to be “cooked” in the chromium plating process. He had very limited time to put ten bumpers on each train. Because of the cooking process, the heat often exceeded 120 degrees. It was tough work, but the pay was good, and he had another year of college coming up at the end of the summer. His fellow worker had been on the job twenty years and could look forward to twenty more years on that difficult job with little hope of finding anything else with his skills and our faltering economy . . .
Can the church, the churches, be responsible stewards of hope simply by reciting the ultimate hopes that befit the Christian faith — the final coming of God’s kingdom, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting — and then “hope” that we will take heart and enjoy securing bumpers to a train for twenty more years?
Social worker Deanna Carlson quotes Viera, a young lady who found hope through her affiliation with a church youth group: “When you come from poverty, the church offers hope. The only thing people who grow up in poverty see is what is around them. The church offers hope that you can escape by showing you there is more to life than what you’ve seen.”
“It is a privilege,” Carlson reflects, “for God’s people to reach out to welfare families, some of the poorest of the poor in the United States. This is one way we bring ‘good news’ to these hidden poor for the greater glory of our Savior.”
What gives you hope?
In what ways are you and your church stewarding your Christian accountability to dispense hope?
In what more radical ways are you working to reverse poverty and its effects, one individual and family at a time?
Take action to bring hope to someone today.
L AME N TAT I O N S 1 : 9
When we read the appeals for God’s pity throughout the book of Lamentations, our empathy should also be aroused. One of the benefits of Lamentations is that it educates our emotions, making us more sensitive to human suffering. It calls us to look on the affliction of others and to respond with the compassion of Christ (see Mt 9:36).
John Nunes, a pastor, theologian and the president of a denominational agency reflects on doctrinal preaching coupled with compassionate intervention.
A primary purpose of doctrine is to put words — God’s Word — in the preacher’s mouth. All theological reflection occurs “so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ” (Col 4:3). Karl Barth reminds us of the urgent placement of preaching relative to doctrine when he wrote that theology, in its broadest and truest sense, is really sermon preparation. Without the careful, confessionally grounded study of God, preaching ends up emaciated and empty . . .
Pastors are called to preach faithfully and to care compassionately for God’s people. As they go about their duties, they quickly come to value the symbiosis — indeed, a mutual blessing — between faith and practice. Preaching is the vocal proclamation of God’s diagnosis of and his dealings with humanity. Gospel preaching motivates hearers to embrace faithfully and passionately God’s remedy in Christ. Without that gospel word of intervention, God’s invasive action in Christ, every soul is destined for eternal death. Preaching that is pastoral and theologically grounded reaches into the places where people come face to face with the triad of sin, death, and the devil; from the luxury corner office to the lonely street corner; from the gentrified
row house to the broken-down crack house; from the gated middle-class neighborhood to the vulnerable underclass public housing project. Gospel preaching touches all the places that people work, play, sleep, and pray — places where they are blessed and where they are cursed.
Nunes quotes urban pastor John R. Cochran:
These are strange times to be doing urban ministry. Across the length and the breadth of the land, there is a weariness with the issues that deeply affect cities. And that calls for special devotion on the part of the church. We don’t blow with the wind. We are not on today and off tomorrow. The commitment of the church to the poor is inherent in the Gospel, no matter what is happening in the current social and political winds or in the economic sphere. We don’t lose heart because the One who charts the course is the Lord, not the politicians or pollsters. Our calling is to be in the city for the people, with the people, no matter what is going on politically or socially.
Why do your emotions need stewarding?
In what ways is compassion an especially important emotion to steward?
How might compassion move you to meet the needs of someone who is hurting?
Lord, it is difficult in the face of so much need to steward my emotions properly. Help me to have compassion on the hurting so that I will take your Word to the world to feed hungry bodies and souls.
LAMENTATIONS 4 : 3 – 4
T hese verses contrast the instinctual care animals give their young with the horror the people of Judah experienced when Babylon besieged Jerusalem. The people of Judah, themselves starving, could not feed their children. In the face of personal destruction, the people chose to not care for the needs of the most vulnerable in society. A universal principle: when goods are scarce, people become more and more ruthless in the way they look out for themselves.
Before we judge the people of Judah too self-righteously, we need to take a look at ourselves. Evangelical leader Charles Colson speaks of an attitude in modern society that makes it difficult for people to rationalize investing perfectly good resources in those who are inherently “defective.”
Those who think that humanity would never take severely disabled persons, particularly kids, and get rid of them are simply unaware of the history of Western civilization in the enlightened twentieth century. For example, take Germany in the 1930s, even before Hitler’s regime took hold. The brightest and best-educated people in Europe were openly advocating eugenics — selective human reproduction and elimination of the disabled.
Economist, social commentator and marriage and family
expert Jennifer Roback Morse writes about the importance
of proper care and parenting of children and its effect on the
stability of a society:
The self-restraining individual is the basis of free institutions, both economic and political. The self-restraining individual is not born but made inside a loving family. There is no realistic alternative to the loving family as a foundational institution for a free society . . .
Children who do not receive the necessary adult help in maturing may very well become the types of people who cannot participate in a free and open society . . . If we embrace ideas about marriage and children that produce a large enough number of such people,
a free society will not be able to absorb them all without damaging its basic institutions of minimally regulated markets and popular political participation.
Self-government will surely falter unless the vast majority of the people possess a reasonable view of their own value and dignity as persons coupled with a similar view of the value and dignity of others. Those of us who have some experience in being in a relationship with God owe it to our countrymen to offer an honest account of that experience.
In what ways is good parenting fundamental to a stable society?
How can a “damaged” adult become a good parent?
When do you know a society has reached the tipping point at which it can no longer “absorb” immature individuals?
It is extremely difficult to be a good parent if a person is disadvantaged in some way: extreme poverty, lack of education, no social support, etc. As a Christian, you hold a precious resource to make a positive difference in the life of a parent or child who is hurting. Determine today whom you can help.
EZEKIEL 47 : 7 – 12
This river is a foretaste of the end of days, but it is more than just a picture of the new heavens and the new earth, where food will be abundant and the earth uniformly productive. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to water to draw several important parallels to himself. The Holy Spirit is also associated with water, and baptism takes place in water. Throughout both Testaments water is strongly associated with a cleansing motif.
Biblical studies professor Eugene F. Roop refers to another Old Testament metaphor of a river:
The prophet Amos uses “river” as a poetic image in one of the Bible’s best-known cries for justice . . . [See Amos 5:23 – 24.]
The geography of Canaan was and is cut by dry stream beds and deep gorges. Water flows in these fickle rivers only during heavy rainstorms, so these rivers cannot be counted on to sustain life, either animal or vegetable. Apparently Amos found in these rivers, which destructively gush and then disastrously dry up, an apt analogy for the human relationships in the community around him. Amos realized that the behavior he observed in the sanctuary, palace, and marketplace could not sustain Israel’s life much longer. Israel would soon self-destruct under the weight of its own injustice and unrighteousness. God’s judgment could be seen in this impending collapse of Israel.
In sixth century [b.c.] Israel, justice and righteousness had become a word pair “slogan” for the interpersonal relationships of a healthy community (cf. Ps 72). The Hebrew words which we translate “justice and righteousness” do not refer only to fair behavior and proper piety, as they sometimes do in our vocabulary. Certainly the two words do not expect less than such fairness, but they call for much more.
This word pair describes a community, large or small, in which all members work for the benefit of one another and for the community as a whole . . .
We have been appointed stewards of the river of righteousness. It is not hard to find in our communities, local and global, the same decay that ate away sixth-century [b.c.] Israel. Sometimes the pervasive presence of injustice and unrighteousness seeks to make them the norm . . .
We participate in the church, a community of people who have committed themselves to be a part of that river. Occasionally one or many of us “bail out” and have to be shown again the direction of the current. As we act justly and do right, life does spring forth from the sterile deserts around.
What images do the word pair of justice and righteousness evoke for you in your culture?
How does your church or community become part of the “river”?
What can you do on anindividual level?
God, help me to be part of the river of justice and righteousness in my world.
HOSEA 14 :1 – 3
Hosea reminds the people that it is only in God that “the fatherless find compassion” (Hos 14:3).
Old Testament Israel was a theocracy, that is, a form of civil government in which God himself was recognized as the highest authority. Even during the monarchy, God intended that the king act as his representative, executing his will. This ideal, of course, was seldom realized. While the Bible does not address such modern issues as socialism, democracy or the separation of church and state, it is abundantly clear that God’s people are to see
to it that the needy receive justice. Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper’s (1837 – 1920) observations on this issue are both pointed and universally relevant:
You who have received more may not wantonly fling these principles in the faces of the poor through your immoderate attachment to earthly goods — by giving the impression that enjoyment of luxury means more to you than anything else. Far worse, you should not grudgingly, with a heavy heart, distribute in the name of the Lord what you have received from him as your landlord. For then the less fortunate has no faith in your preaching, and he is right. Every man’s inner sense of truth rebels against a theory of eternal happiness that serves only to keep Lazarus at a distance here on earth.
There cannot be two different faiths — one for you and one for the poor. The question on which the whole social problem really pivots is whether you recognize in the less fortunate, even in the poorest, not merely a creature, a person in wretched circumstances, but one of your own flesh and blood: for the sake of Christ, your brother. It is exactly this noble sentiment that, sad to say, has been
weakened and dulled in such a provoking manner by the materialism of [the nineteenth] century. There are men of wealth, as you know, who have become alarmed at the threat of social democracy and now, from fear of this threat, grasp for relief measures none of them thought about before. But at least in this circle of those who confess the Lord, I pray that you will allow a more perfect
love to drive out all such fear. For those who are diverted by fear for their money box have no place marching in the ranks with us . . .
The gospel speaks to you of a Redeemer who, although he was rich, became poor for your sake so he might make you rich. The gospel leads you to kneel down in worship before a child born to us, but born in a stable, laid down in a manger, and wrapped in swaddling clothes. It points you to God’s Son, but one who became the Son of Man and went through the country, from wealthy Judea to the poorer, despised Galilee, addressing himself to those who were in need or oppressed by sorrow.
Why does God so often encourage his people to care for orphans?
In what ways does the gospel contain a call to action?
How do you respond when you think about the poor as your brothers and sisters?
Lord, I want to live a life
of active faith, caring for
others, my brothers and
sisters. Help me to follow
the example of Jesus, who
identified with those whom
AMOS 1: 3 – 15
As easy as it is for us to grow thick skin from the daily diet of violence served up by the media, most of us still cringe when we read about the Ammonites’ brutality to the people of Gilead, Israel’s territory east of Galilee. Respect for human life is always at stake during wartime, but in this case, the Ammonites’ unnecessary torture and violence toward their victims was an example of how life was devalued during this time.
In our day, we struggle with ethical dilemmas in the areas of reproduction, biotechnology and death. How can the sanctity of life be preserved in our world — where scientific advances are complex and confusing, where technology changes at an ever-increasing speed? Evangelical leader Charles Colson addresses issues related to abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia in a discussion under the heading “What Is Life Worth?” Some poignant paragraphs follow:
Life and death become judgment calls, subject in some cases to ethics committees’ determinations and hospital guidelines. But who decides what our ethics will be? If there is no truth, there are no true ethics, only prudential standards that reasonable people try to apply. So the best-intentioned doctors in the world have to make judgment calls, ever aware of the costs involved for the hospital in which they are staff members. Aware of the patient’s suffering, pressured to handle as many cases as possible, embroiled in a quality-of-life matrix, the white-coated doctor becomes god, with nothing like God’s judgment . . .
I don’t want to be misunderstood here. Max’s [Colson’s grandson’s] autism is not a good thing — it’s part of the world’s brokenness. Yet that brokenness has been used to enlarge my capacity to love. That’s a very great gift. Paradoxically, Max has introduced joy into the lives of his teachers, his mother, his grandparents, and many others because of these costs, these sacrifices. How should one account for that?
How should Max account for himself, and why should he have to? Max is more than happy to be alive, thank you very much. Max knows a joy and wonder that puts me to shame. Why is that?
Let me just suggest at this point it’s because the good life is not about the sum total of what we contribute to the world. It’s about loving. Utilitarianism knows nothing about love. Love is the beginning and the end of the good life, however, and it’s in love that our lives must be centered . . .
The issue that has to be decided is clear if we’re willing to see it . . . If . . . we are creatures made in the image of God, then life has an ultimate value that cannot be understood within the context of a cost-benefit analysis. How much is a human life worth? Is it priceless, or is it determined by the preferences of the powerful? It all depends on how human life comes about, which . . . has given rise to a raging debate in our society.
In what ways is lifevalued in our society? Devalued?
What is the purpose of life for a Christian?
How does your answer to the “purpose of life” question inform your understanding of ethics and the duty to protect the sanctity of human life?
Lord, help me to value life
the way you do.
OBADIAH 5 – 14
Edom and Israel were descended from fraternal twins who were polar opposites. Esau
(Edom) and Jacob (Israel) had experienced reconciliation in their later years (see Ge 33),
but it is all too evident that the poison of their earlier rift was passed along to their descendants.
Obadiah’s prophecy against Edom may be short (like that brotherly truce), but it’s
anything but “sweet.”
As Christ-followers, we come from a diverse and extended family. While it may not
be difficult to acknowledge our commonality in the faith, our differences, like those of
these ancient brothers, are often pronounced. Yet we are enjoined by our Brother, Christ,
through his emissary Paul, to keep on keeping on with regard to the difficult task of maintaining
healthy relationships with our spiritual siblings: “Let us not become weary in doing
good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we
have opportunity, let us do good to all people,especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:9 – 10).
As we see in Obadiah 5 – 14, God does not take it lightly when people mistreat their relatives. Nor does it escape his notice when we faithfully demonstrate brotherly and sisterly love (see Ro 12:10; 1Th 4:9; Heb 13:1; 1Pe 1:22; 3:8; 2Pe 1:5 – 7). Pastor Robert Mackie recalls an unforgettable incident in his own life — an incident that serves as a startling counterpoint to Israel’s experiences with Edom: Anyone who lives through a tornado is likely to remember it for a long time. This was our experience in southern Ontario when we were visited by “Hurricane Hazel.” The damage was immense to orchards, buildings, bridges, and anything else that stood in its way. Dazed farmers pondered how long it would be before their property would be back to normal. But early one morning in the London area, busloads of Mennonites began to arrive from farms near Kitchener. With concerted effort they set to work clearing up rubble, building barns, and restoring order. They asked no pay, nor would they accept any. It was, they said, just part of their religion. Many a farmer throughout the area must have pondered on how much the churches have lost by not doing more of this. No one man could take the credit for it. Families who had never set foot inside a Mennonite church were helped on life’s way by the spirit of Christ alive in the hearts of other Christians.
Who are your brothers and sisters in Christ?
While you might not actively do harm to others, like the Edomites did, in what ways are some of your attitudes or perceptions harmful to your fellow Christians?
Are there ways in which your church actively helps others the way the Mennonites did? If not, is there a way for you to encourage such a ministry to begin?
Lord, help me to see others
the way you do. Help me
to remember that all Christians
are my brothers and
ZEPHANIAh 1:1 – 13
L ike Habakkuk, Zephaniah describes the cosmic dimensions of God’s final judgment (see Zep 1:2). However, if this is our natural association with “the day of the Lord,” we’re in for a surprise. This judgment will begin with the people of God and be directed specifically against those who misuse and abuse money.
While verses 10 – 11 identify the financial focus of God’s final judgment in the sense that God’s wrath is specifically directed against the financial districts of Jerusalem, verses 12 – 13 reveal that the punishment itself will also be financial in nature. The very wealth God’s people have earned in rebellion against him will be used by the Lord as an instrument of their punishment (cf. Jas 5:1 – 6).
Generous Giving’s Stewardship Bible Study Notes for Zephaniah reflect on the themes of generosity and judgment as they relate to this key Old Testament passage:
Those who ignore the needs of the poor will face God’s wrath on the day of judgment. There should be no mistake — a day is coming when we all must give an account to the Lord (Ro 14:12). To our dread or to our joy, all our actions (and even the intentions behind them) will be exposed in judgment before a God who is holy. The prophet Zephaniah reminds us that God’s judgment encompasses everything — including our money. In fact, Zephaniah prophesied that while the day of the Lord will leave no stone uncovered, God’s coming judgment will have a decidedly financial focus . . . (Zep 1:11 – 13).
Zephaniah prophesied in Jerusalem during a time when the people spurned their God. Though the northern kingdom of Israel had been wiped away in judgment, the southern kingdom of Judah persisted in their wickedness. The people gloried in their riches and oppressed the poor, ridiculing the prophets’ repeated warnings of judgment. Earlier in his message Zephaniah had spoken of the cosmic character of God’s coming judgment, when the Lord will sweep away everything from the face of the earth (Zep 1:2). Surprisingly, however, the prophet’s description of doomsday narrows rapidly from the cosmic to the commercial (Zep 1:2 – 13).
This emphasis on the misuse and abuse of material resources is consistent with the way that Jesus himself described the final judgment: The righteous will be separated from the unrighteous because they used their resources on behalf of poor Christians (Mt 25:31 – 46). In other words, Jesus identifies himself so closely with the poor that the way we use or fail to use our money on their behalf is directly connected to our relationship with God himself. Accordingly, God will judge those who neglect the needs of the poor for the love of money just as fiercely as those who forsake the living God for the idol of [money] (cf. Mt 6:24).
What were some of the sins perpetrated by the people facing God’s judgment in Zephaniah’s day?
Will you be fearful or joyful when you stand before God on judgment day? Why or why not?
In what ways is inaction similar to oppression when it comes to financial sins?
Imagine you are standing before God on judgment day. Spread out your evidence as to how you have served him in the area of your finances.
ZECHARIAH 4 :1 – 6
It’s easy for us as well-intentioned stewards to forget that God’s work can never be accomplished solely by human power or ingenuity. God’s Spirit is the person who actually accomplishes these things in our lives. The angel of God speaking to Zerubbabel assured him that God’s Spirit would enable him to complete the rebuilding of the temple (see Zec 4:6 – 9).
Today we pray to be used of God, but we rely on the Spirit to bring those opportunities to pass. Pastor and author Denny Bellesi and his wife, Leesa, recount two unrelated stories, both dealing with Spirit promptings:
We recently heard Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, speaking at a conference. He talked about missing an opportunity at the local hardware store. He watched as a woman struggled to get a load of wood into her car, but Bill was tired and had a lot on his mind, so he walked right by her, climbed into his car, and headed home. He really didn’t think much about the missed opportunity to help until later that evening. His point was this: We call on God to get us involved in his kingdom, but many times he has given us everything we need to get in the game. We are God’s tools and his instruments. We’ll have the power and resources to truly be his kingdom builders in all situations if we just have eyes to see . . .
I have a friend who is a marriage and family therapist. She has a patient struggling with depression with whom she has met on a regular basis for quite some time.
One day the woman she was treating bounded into her weekly session with an unrecognizable smile on her face.
“What’s up?” my friend asked her.
The patient sat down, her back straight, her limbs trembling with excitement. “God used me this week, and it’s changed my life.”
The Bellesis go on to describe the real-life encounter that changed two lives. The woman who had been struggling with depression watched as a fellow shopper in her local grocery store returned a package of cold meat because she could not afford it. The woman who had been struggling
with depression simply purchased it on the other woman’s behalf. “The patient took the package of meat,” the Bellesis recall, “went to the stranger’s car window, and handed it to her. They both began to cry as the patient told the poor stranger, ‘God told me to buy this for you.’ ”
The Spirit’s nudges don’t necessarily involve anything particularly complicated or spectacular, but they illuminate or specifically apply a particular teaching of Scripture in a present situation. Like Bill Hybels, we often recognize when we’ve missed them. And like the patient who helped the
“poor stranger,” we seldom forget when we haven’t.
When have you been prompted by the Spirit to do something?
What was the result ofyour actions?
In what ways can you be more sensitive to the Spirit’s leading?.
Do you often feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit to give money, to write a note, to send a care package, to volunteer? The next time the Spirit pushes the edge of your spirit — listen and act. You may never know what great impact that action may have in the life of another, but God does.
ZECHARIAH 7:1 – 12
Participation in religious exercises like fasting, giving and attending church doesn’t ensure us that we’re serving God “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24). We can worship or give out of habit without truly loving God and our neighbor as ourselves, or even instead of loving our neighbor. This is the kind of religious formalism Zechariah addresses in chapter 7.
In Zechariah’s case, the people’s interest in “less important” rituals was a smoke screen that allowed them to neglect the “more important matters” of “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Mt 23:23). God doesn’t leave us in suspense as to what he desires. Zechariah 7:9 – 10 couldn’t be more explicit. In the words of James, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and
to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (Jas 1:27). If our religious practices do not hinge on such things, we are not practicing Christianity
but rather a religion of our own making.
The following devotional vignette, based on Zechariah 7:9 – 10, appeared in a church’s newsletter:
Every once in a while an unexpected television moment strikes the fancy of my daughter and myself. Recently we happened to catch a commercial for a local automobile transmission service. Sprinkled among the typical adjectives was a surprise: This company was touted as “compassionate.” The association of compassion with automotive repair struck us both as ludicrous. I must confess, though, that for myself as a single mother, the spin had its allure. What was more, the promise seemed sincere.
In the final analysis, if I’m ever in need of empathy, it’s likely to be in a face-off with a mechanical device that has failed to keep its — or its manufacturer’s — promise. When it comes down to it, why should people limit their sincere emotion to life’s obscure, private moments? Or their caring for its more poignant and memorable encounters? What does it mean for my mechanic, or for me, to be truly human — and more especially Christian — all the time? . . .
Why not take a moment or two to think back on the myriad of fleeting, “chance” encounters that have punctuated your last week or month? What compliment may have brightened the outlook of a stranger? What quip or shared moment of humor may have momentarily lightened another’s load? What gesture of unexpected civility generated an appreciative wave of acknowledgement? My daughter advises me (she is learning to exercise her twenty-year-old wisdom) that she can identify the Christians among her restaurant customers. And I’ve experienced the same sensation on the opposite end of a service transaction. Undoubtedly you have too.
Is the formal worship of God still important (along with the heart attitude that God describes in Zechariah 7:9 – 10)? Why or why not?
Exactly what is that “extra” quality that clues us in to the likelihood that we’re dealing with a fellow believer?
When has someone else spotted your faith and risked telling you so?
Lord, help me to practice religion acceptable to you. I want others to identify me as a Christian.
MATTHEW 4 :12 – 17
T his passage points to Jesus’ concern with the great needs of “the people living in darkness” (Mt 4:16): the materially poor followers of Jesus, the hungry child, the man in need of a coat, the lonely woman in need of a family meal, the forgotten prisoner. Jesus is pointing to an Old Testament idea, says author and social activist Ronald J. Sider, who cites two passages to show how helping those who are both spiritually and materially poor is like helping God.
“[He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord]” (Pr 19:17). On the other hand, “[He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker]” (Pr 14:31). Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats is the ultimate commentary on these two proverbs. Jesus surprises those on the right with his insistence that they had fed and clothed him when he was cold and hungry. When they protested that they could not remember ever doing that, Jesus replied, “[The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me].’ ” If we believe his words, we look on the poor and neglected with entirely new eyes . . . The Bible, however, goes one dramatic step further. God insists that if we do not imitate God’s concern for the poor, we are not really God’s people
— no matter how frequent our worship or how orthodox our creeds . . . At the last judgment, some who expect to enter heaven will learn that their failure to feed the hungry condemns them to hell (Mt 25:41 – 43). If we do not care for the needy brother or sister, God’s love does not abide in us (1Jn 3:17).
But educators and authors Evelyn and James Whitehead ask us to look at these concepts as more of a blessing, an invitation to love.
Intimacy expands when we glimpse the hidden kinship among us. Jesus, echoing the prophets before him, repeatedly calls us to this vision: the poor, the orphan, the outcast are not just outsiders to be pitied or ignored. They belong to our family; they are one of us. Influenced by this vision, Christians begin to see others not as aliens and strangers but as our sisters and brothers. The walls that defend family and neighborhood and faith from “those others” begin to fall away. With the eyes of faith, we see that the stranger is the neighbor and the neighbor is Christ. We see that even the enemy is “our kind.”
And to those who do these things, Jesus says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since he creation of the world” (Mt 25:34).
In what ways is helping others a blessing to you?
How can you expand your definition of “family”?
How can you see with eyes of faith?
Lord, open my eyes to see the world as you do, to see the hidden kinship with those you love, our brothers and sisters. Give me the will to scale the
walls of society’s definitions of family, friends and community — to see all your people as family and to lift them up as I would want them to lift me, with your gracious and life-giving power.
LUKE 6 : 27 – 36
Jesus’ great transformation of values is at work in this passage. The world we live in expects us to live by its standard operating procedure of self-service, self-preservation and self-fulfillment. But Jesus calls us to a life lived with radically different motives and actions. He calls us to “be perfect . . . as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48), which is to receive into and nurture within ourselves the love of God — agape love.
For instance, just as God has not let our hostility toward him turn him against us, so are we to demonstrate the same kind of persistent love toward those who are hostile toward us. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). Christ taught his followers not only to love their enemies but also to be good stewards of their human brothers and sisters. Imagine how Jesus looked deep into the eyes of those who opposed him to see them as the Father would. Can you and I do less than to look into the eyes of our enemies and search deep for the image of God in them, that which Scottish Victorian novelist, poet and Christian fantasy writer George MacDonald (1824 – 1905) calls the “divine essence”?
The very words humane and humanity denote some shadow of that loving-kindness which, when perfected after the divine fashion, shall include even our enemies. The offering of human sacrifices, the torturing of captives, cannibalism — we do not call this humanity. Not because they do such deeds are they men. Their humanity must be deeper than those. It is in virtue of the divine essence which is in them, that pure essential humanity, that we call our enemies men and women. It is this humanity that we are to love — a something, I say, deeper altogether than and independent of the region of hate.
It is agape love that enables the children of God to be as generous and openhanded as God has been to them. Such radical action may be “bad stewardship” by the world’s standards, but not by God’s.
After all, by the world’s standards, loving those who love you is perfectly understandable. Doing good to those who do you good is just sensible reciprocal business (see Mt 5:46 – 47). But kingdom economy has a very different dynamic. Those who are children of the Most High God give
without reciprocity. Kingdom economics are “flow through” accounts. Theologian Miroslav Volf says, “[If] God is the third party in the relationship between givers and recipients, givers cannot lose. They always receive what they give, and more. That’s the ‘law’ of the flow. Those who pass gifts on receive more abundantly from the source of all gifts.”
When a kingdom steward lives and loves by this mode of operation the world looks at him or her and sees something different. They see the light (see Mt 5:14) that comes from “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12).
What is a typical relationship or business arrangement like in your society?
What would it look like if everyone practiced God’s kind of justice?
How can you usher in the kingdom of God by your actions in your relationships, family dynamics, and church and business dealings?
Lord, help me to do my part to live a radical lifestyle that emulates the motives and attitudes set forth in your Word.
LUKE 9 :10 – 17
All the Gospel accounts relate the stories of Jesus feeding the thousands, exhibiting the profound love and compassion he had for all people.
Stewardship writer Luther E. Lovejoy (1864 – 1936) expands that thought.
The motive that most deeply touched the people of his day, the one that keeps his memory green in a troubled world, was his compassion. He was full of pity; sensitive with sympathy for the vague soul hunger and the physical suffering all about him. The miracles that drew the curious multitudes had, no doubt, their evidential value; but their strange variation from other miracles of legend or cripture is the fact that they are performed for the relief of suffering . . . Pity for the blind eyes, the deaf ears, the paralyzed limbs, the epileptic nerves, the leprosy-polluted bodies, the fevered children . . .
Behind this motive of compassion was the deeper motive of love. As no other man had ever been able to do, he saw the actual and potential worth in men and loved them for what they were . . . How much more, those who reciprocated his affection and gave up all for him! To such he declared: “As the Father [has] loved me, so have I loved you.” The depth of this love he demonstrated when he laid down “his life for his friends” . . . The Christian steward who does not share it is not a steward; he is a servant.
Lovejoy goes on to cite some of the missionaries and social reformers who have imitated the love of Christ.
David Livingstone, from the hour when his youthful imagination beheld Robert Moffatt’s “smoke from a thousand villages whose inhabitants had never heard of Jesus” to the somber twilight in his premature old age when, fever-consumed and death-smitten, he staggered into Chitambo’s village in Ilala, there to breathe out his dying prayer for Africa, is an illustration. Francis Xavier, on his face before God, crying: “More Lord, more; only save thy pagan children”; George Whitfield’s “Lord, give me souls or take my soul,” tell us how, in multiplied instances, God’s faithful stewards have held their lives “not dear unto themselves” . . . And time would have us to recall the yearning of Wilberforce and of Lincoln for the bondsmen of their day, of Shaftsbury for the child toilers of England, of Pitkin for the savage Boxers who murdered him, of Bashford for the millions of China, of Carey and Judson, and Thoburn and Fish for the sorrowing masses of India. Suffice it to remember that, in tune with the measureless love of Jesus for men, they offered the stewardship of time and talents and energies, that they might render to men the highest good.
How is Jesus’ compassion a reflection of his mission?
In what ways are you convicted or encouraged by the list of people who sought to share the love of Christ with the world?
What is your responsibility to your fellow human beings?
Read more about the people listed in this note. Borrow a book about one of the missionaries from your local library or look up one of them online.
Be encouraged, exhorted, challenged or convicted by the life story of someone who imitated Christ.
ROMANS 15 :1 – 7
Paul has exhorted his readers in chapter 14 to build community by avoiding quarrels and removing stumbling blocks over the nonessentials of the Christian life. He summarizes in 15:2 – 3 that the bottom line is to build up one’s neighbor by being Christlike, which can only be accomplished by remaining in Jesus (see Jn 15:1 – 11). Theologian and pastor John Wesley (1703 – 1791) explains what that looks like in his sermon on Romans 15:2.
Let love not visit you as a transient guest, but be the constant ruling temper of your soul. See that your heart be filled at all times and on all occasions with real, undissembled benevolence; not to those only that love you, but to every soul of man. Let it pant in your heart; let it sparkle in your eyes, let it shine on all your actions. Whenever you open your lips, let it be with love; and let there be in your tongue the law of kindness. Your word will then distill as the rain, and as the dew upon the tender herb. Be not straitened or limited in your affection, but let it embrace every child of man. Everyone that is born of a woman has a claim to your good-will. You owe this, not to some, but to all. And let all men know that you desire both their temporal and eternal happiness, as sincerely as you do your own . . .
If you desire to please your neighbor for his good to edification you should . . . labor and pray that you may be meek as well as lowly in heart. Labor to be of a calm, dispassionate temper; gentle toward all men; and let the gentleness of your disposition appear in the whole tenor of your conversation. Let all your words and all your actions be regulated thereby. Remember, likewise that advice of St. Peter: As an addition to your gentleness, be merciful; “be courteous”; be pitiful; be tenderly compassionate to all that are in distress; to all that are under any affliction of mind, body, or estate . . . weep with them that weep. If you can do no more, at least mix your tears with theirs; and give them healing words, such as may calm their minds, and mitigate their sorrows. But if you can, if you are able to give them actual assistance, let it not be wanting. Be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame, as husband to the widow and as father to the fatherless. This will greatly tend to conciliate the affection, and to give a profitable pleasure not only to those who are immediate objects of your compassion, but to others likewise that “[see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven]” . . .
To sum up all in one word — if you would please men, please God! Let truth and love possess your whole soul. Let them be the springs of all your affections, passions, tempers; the rule of all your thoughts. Let them inspire all your discourse; continually seasoned with that salt, and meet to “minister grace to the hearers.” Let all your actions be wrought in love.
What is the overarching principle of Wesley’s sermon?
What would life be like in your church if everyone took Wesley’s teaching to heart?
How can you live out the spirit of Romans 15?
Lord Jesus, I can only love this way if your love flows through me. Help me to be open and ready to be filled with your Holy Spirit today.
1 CORINTHIANS 6 :18 — 7: 7
Paul is giving corrective instruction to the Corinthian church about the sanctity of the sexual union in marriage. He prefaces this part of the discussion by responding to those in the church who were boasting that they had the right to do as they pleased (see 1Co 6:12). Not everything is beneficial to the life of the church, Paul points out. And “the body is not meant for sexual immorality” (Ro 6:13). To emphasize the ultimate function of one’s body
as “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (Ro 6:19), Paul addresses proper expression of sexuality: one man and one woman in a committed marriage relationship. Therefore, as stewards of our bodies, we need to be mindful of God’s intentions for sexuality from the beginning of time. Author David Wyrtzen explains:
God intended for us to rule (see Ge 1:28; 2:15 – 17), but this rule was to be the expression of close companionship with himself and humble submission to his desires. World dominion was God’s plan, but when Adam chose a path to the throne that led away from God, power became the force of abuse and death. Sex was not immune to this chaotic distortion of God’s original design.
Jesus Christ wants to lead us back to the garden — back to the proper exercise of power in obedience to his Father. When our most basic need for companionship is met in God, and when our life’s purpose is to obey him in the everyday things, we can find true intimacy and impact. Sex ceases to be another false quest to feel loved and important. We escape the destruction of using sex as a substitute for intimacy or power. We are then free to discover the sacred celebration of sex in marriage.
But that sexual love, says Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005), originates with and returns to responsibility for the other person and an awareness of the whole value of the other.
Anyone who is capable only of reacting to the sexual values connected with the person, and inherent in it, but cannot see the values of the person as such, will always go on confusing love and eros, will complicate his own life and that of others by letting the reality of love, its true “relish” escape him . . . To feel responsibility for another person is to be full of concern, but it is never in itself an unpleasant or painful feeling. For it represents not a narrowing or an impoverishment but an enrichment and broadening of the human being. Love divorced from a feeling of responsibility for the person is a negation of itself, is always and necessarily egoism. The greater the
feeling of responsibility for the person the more true love there is . . . The sexual instinct wants above all to take over, to make use of another person, whereas love wants to give, to create a good, to bring happiness.
How has your relationship with Jesus changed your view of sex?
How is sex a “sacred celebration”?
What does it mean to have responsibility for another person in the sexual relationship?
Creator God, thank you for giving me the sacred gift of sexuality. Lead me in my sexual life back to the garden. If and when I marry, help me to orient myself to responsibility to my spouse and to attitudes that are pleasing to you.
1 CORINTHIANS 10 : 23 – 33 ; 11:17 – 34
T he chief target of Paul’s criticism and exhortation in these passages is the spirit of selfcenteredness that was being exhibited by some members of the Corinthian church. They were measuring “successful” Christian living by the exercise of personal rights, freedoms, comforts and pleasures. The Corinthians were saying, and Paul agrees, that “everything is permissible,” but the apostle informs them that “not everything is constructive” (Ro 10:23). Love must build up others — not be self-seeking (see Ro 13:5). Author and theologian Margot Kaessmann writes,
Life in community is part of our faith. Since Jesus wandered through Palestine with the first disciples, and shared bread and wine, community has been part of the definition of discipleship . . .
I think that holy communion shows our specific contribution to the healing of the world. When we share bread and wine with one another, then all squabbling, all argument, all burdens and all hierarchy recede into the background — because we experience anew that we belong together. The many are one body, as Paul said. Communio sanctorum — community of the saints. No one is against their neighbor. We all hear these words often enough. And often enough we do not live up to them. Because we are human, far from being as generous as we would like to be, often bearing grudges, envious and skeptical — confession and penance are continually necessary so that we can come to the Lord’s table openly and freely.
We are called to one table. Yet we are warned against coming [in an unworthy manner, Greek anaxios]. This idea of [coming in an unworthy manner] has caused many to be afraid of guilt. “Showing a lack of solidarity” would be a better translation of anaxios. After all, it is supposed to be a common meal. That is what Paul reprimands them for in Corinth — the fact that everyone just eats their own food and there is no growth in community (see 11:17 – 34). It is supposed to be a common feast, which can include laughter and tears, gaiety, festiveness, spirituality with the heart and the senses.
Love expressed in service and community — this is the ultimate measure of what we should do with all of our freedoms
and resources. Just as Jesus lived not for himself but for those in need, so Paul (as shown in chapter 9) did not live for himself. In the context of chapter 11, the Corinthians were living for themselves by overeating and overdrinking at the expense of the poorer members of the community. So this is a crucial text about stewardship of material possessions. If we are not sharing our resources with poorer believers, we must be cautious against taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.
How does taking Communion with others help you to love them more?
In what ways should you be sharing with others as you participate in Communion?
What can you do to make Communion in your faith community a richer, deeper practice of remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection?
I take Communion, Lord Jesus, with all my brothers and sisters in remembrance of you. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we will honor you and worship you in spirit and in truth.
1 TIMOTHY 5 :1 – 16
God has ordained the family unit in part so that we can meet one another’s needs. Few social structures, if any, have fed more widows, raised more orphans and encouraged more lonely elderly people than families taking care of other family members in need. For the believer, it is a matter of being like Christ and being an example to others. The Christian must see that the needs of his or her own family are met. Theologian and pastor John
Wesley (1703 – 1791) considers:
Nor yet are we forbidden . . . to provide for our children, and for those of our own household. This also it is our duty to do, even upon principles of heathen morality. Every man ought to provide the plain necessities of life, both for his own wife and children; and to put them into a capacity of providing these for themselves, when he is gone hence and is no more seen. I say, of providing these; the plain necessities of life; not delicacies; not superfluities — and that by their diligent labor.
Expository preacher Stephen F. Olford (1918 – 2004) weighs in on this issue.
Paul uses family life to illustrate the importance of laying money aside as he spoke to the Corinthian church
(2Co 12:14). For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents are for their children. In
my pastoral counseling I have listened to many stories of tragic circumstances. Husbands have failed their wives,
parents have cheated their children, and grown sons and daughters have neglected their widowed mothers or other
dependents. Such shortcomings are soundly and solemnly condemned by the Word of God; in fact, such dereliction
of duty is described as worse than infidelity.
In light of the foregoing, it is certainly biblical and practical that savings accounts be established and insurance policies be taken out to cover the needs of dependents, emergency requirements, funeral expenses, and so on. Such financial matters should be openly discussed in every Christian household. With an open Bible and in an atmosphere of prayer, our tithes, offerings, expenses, and savings should be surveyed in relation to personal, as well as general, income. Happy and healthy in the Spirit is the family that is united on all these matters. In the last analysis, every one of us is responsible to God in time and accountable to Him in eternity (Gal 6:2 – 10).
Do you have family members who need shelter, housing, companionship, nutrition or medical care?
How can you help them? The point is that we cannot live well while family members suffer.
Beyond your own resources of time and money, what other means are at your disposal to help those in need get connected to goods and services,
such as other family, friends or church outlets that might be available to them?
Whether you need to phone your mother and say hello or help your niece pay for a car repair bill, you have in your power the ability to meet the needs of someone in your family. Do it today.
JAMES 3 :1 – 12
Although it is said that actions speak louder than words, we communicate most obviously with words, lots of words. Our words build up the community and enrich the world we live in — or tear it down. Communication arts and sciences professor Quentin J. Schultze notes that our communication should be careful, truthful and loving.
Our communication should manifest the love of God, who became fully human for us and for our salvation . . . Our communication continues God’s redemptive plan when we offer the love of Christ to others. Christians are God’s conduits, the Creator’s eyes, ears, and voice on earth. Our communicative talents belong to Christ, not to ourselves.
Schultze says we are to use our communicative talents to build up others, “speaking thetruth with our neighbor.”
Radical Christians speak and listen carefully, delicately, and purposefully. We give up idle chatter and worldly deception because we realize that our symbols fly through our relationships with sharp edges and unpredictable results, and that our symbolic action shapes our communities. We work together to speak the truth in love, to protect each other’s privacy, and to represent even the weakest people in our communities. We respect others and walk humbly with our Creator. These are the big tasks in a world that has fallen from grace. But every time we exercise radical responsibility, we hold up one more signpost for shalom.
What is true for our personal communication must also be true for our public communication. Schultze maintains that those who work in sales, media, advertising — indeed in many professions, must be truthful.
Virtue is often co-opted by a superficial professionalism that encourages uncritical commitment to the values, beliefs, and practices of a profession. When we lack the virtue of authenticity, we worship our talents and our job . . . Christian communicators are called to authenticity — to saying what we mean and meaning what we say. Authenticity is not merely truth-telling but also deep personal integrity that anchors our communication in our faith.
Public communicators must not only be truthful in the ways they communicate, says Schultze, but they must also be careful about what products and ideas they promote.
Authenticity demands that we not use our communication gifts to advance causes or to promote ideas and products that we cannot in good conscience support. Authenticity requires that as communicators we be true to ourselves, to God as the one who has gifted us, and to the community that we are called to love and serve. If we are not authentic communicators who believe our own messages, we are merely ghostwriters who say what needs to be said to satisfy a client and earn a paycheck.
What lies at the heart of your communication?
How can you properly steward your communicative talents?
What is the result of being truthful in your occupation?
Lord, help me to speak the truth in love.
1 PETER 4 : 7 – 11
In the early church, hospitality was a crucial part of community life. Travelers needed to find shelter in private homes because lodgings were few and far between. Those who were displaced for any reason needed a place to stay because there were no shelters or hostels. But hospitality is not outdated; in our world there are always those who need a room for a time or a home-cooked meal. We need hospitality to build community. Author Karen Burton
Mains explains her philosophy of hospitality.
Hospitality is more than just a human talent; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural ministry which, when combined with righteous living, bathed in prayer, and dedicated to the Lord, can be used by God far beyond anything we ask or think. A theme of hospitality runs through the Book — a design for open-heartedness to all people. We are to share what we have with those in need. We are to open ourselves and our homes.
That openness, she continues, leads us to put away secular ideas of “entertaining” that are based on pride; pride puts the emphasis on things — decorating, the perfect meal, the “right” brand of tableware — and seeks to impress. Hospitality, on the other hand, places the emphasis on people, being open about our weaknesses as well as our strengths and creating an atmosphere of relaxed welcome. Hospitality reveals the attitude of a steward, which says, in effect, “This home is not mine. It is truly a gift from my master. I am his servant, and I use it as he desires.”
Hospitality, whether we have a special gift for it or not, requires effort and sacrifice just as any kind of service. We do not only serve believers who may or may not be able to return the favor, but we also seek to reach out to strangers who are in need of life’s basic necessities. And the apostle Peter says that Christians are to show hospitality “without grumbling” (1Pe 4:9). Expository preacher and Bible commentator Albert Barnes (1798 – 1870) in his commentary says,
[“Without grumbling” means] without complaining of the hardship of doing it; of the time, and expense, and trouble required in doing it. The idea of grudging, in the common sense of that word — that is, of doing it unwillingly, or regretting the expense, and considering it as ill-bestowed, or as not producing an equivalent of any kind — is not exactly the idea here. It is that we are to do it without murmuring or complaining. It greatly enhances the value of hospitality, that it be done on our part with entire cheerfulness. One of the duties involved in it is to make a guest happy; and this can be done in no other way than by showing him that he is welcome.
Biblical hospitality is about assisting strangers and not just inviting friends over for dinner. When was the last time you opened your home up to a “stranger”?
In what ways is hospitality a spiritual gift? A command for everyone?
Biblical hospitality is more like evangelism than entertaining friends from church. How are you doing in this regard?
Determine how you might serve another with the blessings of home or sustenance that the Lord has given you.
1 JOHN 3 :16 – 18
T rue self-denying love is unknowable apart from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The apostle John does not bother with theoretical definitions; rather, he grounds the concept of love in the historical event of Jesus’ death. To know love is to experience Christ’s death by sacrificially loving others. Knowledge of God’s love is expressed and verified through giving ourselves and our “material possessions” to those who need them. Love is not conveyed in words, but “with actions and in truth” (1Jn 3:18). Theologian and author John H. Westerhoff expands on the topic of loving one’s neighbor in a sacrificial way.
Our pastoral life in the church aims to share an authentic love that draws humanity and God together. Such love is not a feeling; it is an act of the will. Jesus never said that we were to like our neighbors; but he did say that we were to act on behalf of our neighbor’s good. And who is our neighbor? Anyone in need, even and perhaps especially those we do not like, those from whom we are estranged. Jesus does not exhort us to wait for an emotional feeling. As a matter of fact, mature believers do not let their emotions control them; they control their emotions. The pastoral love to which we are called is an active caring and concern for the intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being of our neighbors.
Such pastoral love is unconditional, that is, it is given on the basis of need and not on the basis of deserving. It is unconditional also in the sense that it is given regardless of the response of the recipient, that is, it is given freely without any expectation of gain. And it is sacrificial, which may mean giving one’s life for another, but it may also mean the willingness to sacrifice our ideas for the sake of harmony in the church . . . And last, it is the result of a rational decision. True love is not sentimental concern, but the result of hard moral thinking. It is an act of the will.
Deeds speak far more eloquently than “a million words,” says theologian Thomas C. Oden, as he comments on the ancient wisdom of the Venerable Bede (c. 672 – 735), a Northumbrian Benedictine and the father of English history.
A million words do not substitute for a single deed for the neighbor’s good. It is in the actual living of life, not merely in pleasant words, that good works are done. Bede wrote: “Those who are wise and self-disciplined, or who at least seek to be such, demonstrate that fact by living out what they profess. This actual ‘living out’ is far more decisive than simply teaching others concepts. For someone who lives in a humble and wise way will give more evidence of God’s power than any number of wise words could ever do.”
Why do you think John spends so much time talking about love?
Why is love defined as something active?
How is loving someone different from liking someone?
Lord, I want to be wise; help me to put actions behind my words. Help me to love with action and in truth so that your power will be evident to all.
John tells his readers that out of the confidence we have in Jesus, out of the knowledge we have of eternal life in him, we also have the certainty that he will answer the prayer that is prayed in accordance with his will. And we know that he is not willing that “any . . . should be lost” (Mt 18:14). John tells us then, according to 1 John 5:16, that those who are in Christ have been entrusted with the responsibility to pray for their brothers and sisters. Sometimes we see a person who has departed from the truth; we are told to pray for that person. This needs to be a matter not of self-righteous judgment or smug superiority but of sacrificial love for one another. Sin is not trivial; it hurts and destroys. Just as we long for prayer support when we are tempted, so we ought to pray for others who are in trouble. We extend grace to them, while also expecting accountability.
Pastor and author Timothy J. Keller talks about the necessity of modeling God’s grace in the context of extending aid to the needy. While the situation is different, the concept of nonjudgmental stewardship is the same.
Grace is not unconditional acceptance, but it is undeserved. That is a very difficult balance to strike! God’s grace comes to us without prerequisites, finding us as we are. God’s grace does not come to the “deserving” (there is no such person), and it does not discriminate. Rather, initially, it comes to us freely. But once it enters into our lives, God’s grace demands change; it holds us accountable. Why? Grace demands our holiness and growth for our sake as well as for God’s glory. Grace intercepts destructive behavior, protects us from the ravages of sin, sanctifies us so we can be “holy and happy,” two inseparable qualities.
In summary, grace is undeserved caring that intercepts destructive behavior. It is not unconditional acceptance, nor is it legalism that says, “Shape up or I will stop loving you.” Rather, it says, “Your sin cannot separate you from me,” and then, in addition, says, “I won’t let your sin destroy you.” Grace comes to the unlovely person, but refuses to let him remain ugly. Grace begins as “justification,” a free act of God alone, but it becomes “sanctification,” a process by which the person cooperates with God in spiritual growth.
This concept can be applied to many areas. In childrearing books there is much talk about “striking a balance between love and discipline,” as if the two were opposed. But this false tension is resolved with an understanding of grace. Grace means getting involved, protecting the child from destructive behavior, continuing to do that despite the child’s lack of “deserving,” and doing so consistently, not sloppily or haltingly.
In what ways does living in a Christian community require responsibility and accountability?
How does grace figure into your stewardship of correction?
Think of someone who needs your prayer support. How might you pray for that person and also hold them accountable?
Lord, thank you for your grace toward me; remind me of your grace when I deal with others.
G E N E S I S 8 : 21 — 9 :17...
G E N E S I S 4 5 :16 – 2 4...
E XO D U S 21: 2 8 – 3 6...
L E V I T I C U S 9 :1 – 2 4...
L E V I T I C U S 19 : 9 – 10...
L E V I T I C U S 2 4 :19 – 2 0...
L E V I T I C U S 2 7: 3 0 – 3 3...
D E U T E R O N OMY 2 3 :19 – 2 0...
D E U T E R O N OMY 2 5 :13 – 16...
J O S H U A 2 0 :1 – 9...
2 SAMUEL 9 :1 – 13...
2 SAMUEL 13 :1 – 13...
1 K I N G S 21:1 – 2 9...
1 C H R O N IC L E S 21:15 – 3 0...
1 C H R O N I C L E S 2 7: 2 5 – 3 4...
E S T H E R 1:1 – 12...
E S T H E R 9 : 2 3 – 3 2...
J O B 19 : 2 5 – 2 6...
P S A L M 6 7:1 – 7...
P S A L M 13 3 :1 – 3...
P S A L M 13 5 :1 – 21...
PROVERBS 23 :12 – 14...
ECCLESIASTES 5 : 8 – 9...
SONGOFSONGS 8 : 6 – 7...
ISAIAH 4 0 :1 – 11...
ISAIAH 49 : 6...
ISAIAH 52 :13 — 53 :12...
ISAIAH 58 :1 – 14...
JEREMIAH 2 : 3...
JEREMIAH 9 : 2 3 – 2 4...
J E R EMI A H 21:11 — 2 3 : 8...
JEREMIAH 39 :10...
L AME N TAT I O N S 1 : 9...
LAMENTATIONS 4 : 3 – 4...
EZEKIEL 47 : 7 – 12...
HOSEA 14 :1 – 3...
AMOS 1: 3 – 15...
OBADIAH 5 – 14...
ZEPHANIAh 1:1 – 13...
ZECHARIAH 4 :1 – 6...
ZECHARIAH 7:1 – 12...
MATTHEW 4 :12 – 17...
LUKE 6 : 27 – 36...
LUKE 9 :10 – 17...
ROMANS 15 :1 – 7...
1 CORINTHIANS 6 :18 — 7: 7...
1 CORINTHIANS 10 : 23 – 33 ; 11:17 – 34...
1 TIMOTHY 5 :1 – 16...
JAMES 3 :1 – 12...
1 PETER 4 : 7 – 11...
1 JOHN 3 :16 – 18...
John tells his readers that out of the confidence we have in Jesus, out of the knowledge we have of ...
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