Christianity 201

August 10, 2021

Law-Keeping in a Hurting World

Romans 12:1

So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. (CEB)

Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. (AMP)

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  (NLT)

James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (NASB)

Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world.  (AMP)

Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.  (CEV)

In a summer church service we attended a few years ago, the message was based on the parable we call The Good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10: 25-37.  Like many of you I can probably say, quite literally, that I’ve heard this passage spoken on “a hundred times” but there are always new insights awaiting.

The first of these has to do with the priest who is the first person in the parable to come upon the man who has been robbed. We often hear that his reason for non-involvement had to do with the fact that a priest would be ceremonially unclean if he touched a dead body. But the man was not dead, though he could be considered half-dead. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes that half dead might be considered as good as dead in some interpretation of their laws. But again, the man was not dead.

The unique insight this morning though had to do with the direction the priest was traveling, which the text seems to imply was the same direction as the man robbed:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  (vv 30-31)

If this is true, that he was moving away from and not towards Jerusalem; then he had completed his priestly duties for the day. It would not have mattered if he were unclean or not at this point in the day.

The speaker then said something I found very profound:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

…The two lead verses I chose for today — each from 3 different translations — may seem a bit unrelated. The first is an overarching verse which I hope forms a theme for this series of articles, especially since we want to avoid a mentality where when we say the word worship, people hear “worship = music.” Worship involves the giving of our whole lives.

The second set of verses deal with “religion,” one of the few times we actually encounter this word in all of scripture. (The NIV has 6 such New Testament references.)  While the man in the story of The Good Samaritan is not in the “widows and orphans” category, he is certainly not, at least in that moment, in an equal amount of need. Our “reasonable service” is to help him.

But it also says to keep oneself unstained by the world. There’s the opt-out the priest would be looking for (had he had this text from James, which, if we ignore that this is a parable, he would not have at this point in time.) His desire to be ceremonially clean would have kept him from being stained by the man’s impurities.

At this point I’m tempted to digress into the idea that many of us today want to be ceremonially clean, but we do so to the neglect of what God wants us to do. Like the people Jesus mentioned who were keeping the Corban laws, we can easily be seen as being religious, but it’s to the detriment of those around us with real needs. (In that case, they were neglecting the care of their own parents.)

To this, I can only repeat what the speaker said that morning:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

August 27, 2017

Sunday Worship

Romans 12: 1

So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. (CEB)

 Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. (AMP)

 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  (NLT)

James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (NASB)

 Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world.  (AMP)

Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.  (CEV)

In the church service we attended this morning, the message was based on the parable we call The Good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10: 25-37.  Like many of you I can probably say, quite literally, that I’ve heard this passage spoken on “a hundred times” but there are always new insights awaiting.

The first of these has to do with the priest who is the first person in the parable to come upon the man who has been robbed. We often hear that his reason for non-involvement had to do with the fact that a priest would be ceremonially unclean if he touched a dead body. But the man was not dead, though he could be considered half-dead. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes that half dead might be considered as good as dead in some interpretation of their laws. But again, the man was not dead.

The unique insight this morning though had to do with the direction the priest was traveling, which the text seems to imply was the same direction as the man robbed:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  (v.31)

If this is true, that he was moving away from and not towards Jerusalem; then he had completed his priestly duties for the day. It would not have mattered if he were unclean or not at this point in the day.

The speaker then said something I found very profound:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

…The two lead verses I chose for today — each from 3 different translations — may seem a bit unrelated. The first is an overarching verse which I hope forms a theme for this series of articles, especially since we want to avoid a mentality where when we say the word worship, people hear “worship = music.” Worship involves the giving of our whole lives.

The second set of verses deal with “religion,” one of the few times we actually encounter this word in all of scripture. (The NIV has 5 such New Testament references.)  While the man in the story of The Good Samaritan is not in the “widows and orphans” category, he is certainly not, at least in that moment, in an equal amount of need. Our “reasonable service” is to help him.

But it also says to keep oneself unstained by the world. There’s the opt-out the priest would be looking for (had he had this text from James, which, if we ignore that this is a parable, he would not have at this point in time.) His desire to be ceremonially clean would have kept him from being stained by the man’s impurities.

At this point I’m tempted to digress into the idea that many of us today want to be ceremonially clean, but we do so to the neglect of what God wants us to do. Like the people Jesus mentioned who were keeping the Corban laws, we can easily be seen as being religious, but it’s to the detriment of those around us with real needs. (In that case, they were neglecting the care of their own parents.)

To this, I can only repeat what the speaker said this morning:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

February 21, 2017

Worshiping in Vain

We’ve linked to Wes McAdams’ blog Radically Christian before at Thinking Out Loud, but apparently not here. Time to fix that! Click the link in the title below to read this at source; there are some really good articles.

What is Vain Worship?

In Mark 7:7 Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” But what did Jesus mean about worshiping in vain? I’ve heard many people explain that “vain worship” is worshiping God in unauthorized ways. One website claims it is “when we worship the way we want” instead of worshiping “the way God has told us in His word” (source). Unfortunately, I think that definition of “vain worship” ignores the context of Jesus’ words and gives the wrong impression about vain worship.

The Context – Jewish Traditions

Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees because His disciples ate food without first ceremonially washing their hands according to Jewish customs. In order to help his readers understand what was going on, Mark explained, “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3). And he even added, “And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches” (Mark 7:4).

The Pharisees thought their strict customs and traditions were necessary in order to keep people from accidentally breaking the Law of Moses by eating something “unclean.” However, Jesus’ disciples were not observing these customs; which is why the Pharisees were very critical of them and of Jesus.

It’s important to recognize that nothing in the context is about worshiping “the way we want” versus worshiping “the way God has told us in His word.” That is an important discussion to have, but it is NOT the discussion Jesus was having with these Jews.

The Meaning – Vain Worship

The word, “vain” means “useless” or “empty.” It means “hollow” or “unsuccessful.” When Jesus used Isaiah’s words to criticize the people of His day, He wasn’t criticizing the way they were praying or singing. He was criticizing their hearts and the way they were living.

He went on to criticize the way they kept the custom of “Corban,” but disobeyed God’s command to financially provide for their parents. He said, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

Jesus was saying, “All your words about honoring God are worthless. You say you love Him, but you don’t. Your religious piety is just a show you’re putting on for people. Your customs and traditions are for your own benefit; not because you actually love God.”

The Application – Vain Worship in Modern Times

I would certainly agree that we should worship God the way He says for us to worship and we should not invent unauthorized ways of worshiping. In fact, I could not agree with that more. But if we think avoiding “vain worship” is done by simply worshiping according to the rules, then there is a very good chance that we ourselves are truly guilty of vain worship.

I can’t help but think of Christians and congregations in the 50s and 60s who discriminated against people of other skin colors. That was vain worship! They were honoring God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They maintained their custom of discrimination, segregation, and racism, saying, “That’s just the way things are done around here,” while they rejected God’s commandment to love their neighbor as themselves. Critical of the church down the street for worshiping in an unauthorized way, but all the while being guilty of truly vain worship.

And we continue to do such things today. Our worship is vain anytime we honor God with our lips, but we are more concerned with keeping the religious customs and traditions of our time than we are the actual commandments of God.

It’s interesting how many religious customs and traditions we have:

  • What time we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • How many times we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • Whether or not we have a Wednesday Bible study.
  • How we dress when we come to worship.
  • Whether or not we offer an invitation at the end of a sermon.

None of these traditions and customs are inherently wrong; just as the washing of hands in Jesus’ day was not inherently wrong. But they become wrong when God’s people are more concerned about keeping traditions and customs than we are things like:

  • loving our neighbor
  • loving our enemy
  • not slandering anyone (including political leaders)
  • not being greedy or covetous

These are things God actually addresses and commands, but often we are more concerned with keeping our customs and traditions than we are obeying the actual commands of God. This is when we are truly guilty of “vain worship.”

Examine yourself. Examine your heart. Examine your life. The question isn’t, “Do you worship according to the rules?” but rather, “Do your words and your life reflect true devotion to God?”