Christianity 201

November 18, 2022

Why Was the Widow Down to Her Last Pennies?

In my part of the world the penny (one cent coin) was eliminated several years ago. Not having it certainly speeds up cash transactions, although most purchase payments are done electronically anyway. In the narrative today, a widow is down to her last few cents, and while her response to that situation is to be generous, you have to wonder how she got that low on funds.

Today we’re back for the eighth time at the website Borrowed Light, and for the seventh time with Mike Leake. Click the title to read this where it first appeared.

One Way Spiritual Abuse Happens

“But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.”Mark 12:42

Jesus goes on to tell us that she gave “out of her poverty”. She put in her last two cents. Yes, he commends her. But Mark also wants us to know that Jesus “sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put”. Mark places Jesus in opposition to this whole racket.

This text is not only a commendation of the widow’s offering. It’s perhaps even more an condemnation of the temple system. We should be asking, “why is this widow down to her last two cents?”

This is another one of those places in Scripture where the subheadings distract us from meaning. We’re supposed to read Mark 12:40 with this text: They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers…” As one of the most vulnerable members within what was supposed to be a God-reflecting society, she should have been flourishing and not down to her last couple pennies.

I imagine this widow to be a sweet and devoted woman. We have several of these women in our church. They are often the backbone of our ministries. Often they are bound by duty and dedication. It’s no surprise that Jesus commends this widow’s offering.

If we were to interview her about this gift she’d likely say something like, “it was my duty to do this. The leaders have told us that this is a way in which we can honor God. So I give because I love God. This offering is a gift to my LORD, and a reminder that He will take care of us.” As she says this she points to one of the religious leaders—adorned in gold, flowing robes, sitting at important seats and places of honor—“they help us know how to obey God”.

What is Spiritual Abuse?

What I’ve just described to you is spiritual abuse. Here are a few of the better definitions (source):

“Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.” (Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993)

“Spiritual abuse is when a Christian leader causes injury to others by acting in a self-centred manner in order to benefit themselves.” (Nelson, Spiritual Abuse: Unspoken Crisis, 2015)

“Spiritual abuse happens when people use God, or their supposed relationship with God, to control behaviour for their benefit.” (Diederich, Broken Trust, 2017)

You can see each of these definitions at play in the story of the widow giving her final two cents and Jesus’ words of condemnation for the Pharisees who are devouring widows’ houses. They used their spiritual authority for their benefit and not for hers.

Spiritual abuse is one of those things that happens not only at the hands of one particular person but it can happen through multiple hands within an unhealthy church culture. And often it is subtle. It can, at times, be hardly recognizable.

There are many ways in which spiritual abuse can happen, but today I will share with you one way in which it subtly happens within churches and communities of faith.

How does spiritual abuse happen?

We are on the road to spiritual abuse whenever we equate our ideas with the Bible’s imperatives. Let me explain.

Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we are to “not neglect to meet together” but instead we should be “encouraging one another”. From, this text you are safe to give this general principle: gathering with other believers is a vital component to being encouraged in the faith. Or to put it more bluntly, we are commanded by Scripture to encourage one another.

Biblical imperative: encourage one another through gathering together.

That is a non-negotiable. But watch what happens…

As a pastor I come along and take that biblical imperative and match it to a ministry idea:we should meet in weekly small groups for the purpose of encouraging one another in Christ.

Ministry idea: Small groups help us encourage one another through gathering together.

I might say something like, “at Calvary we believe God calls us to gather together to encourage one another, we obey this through weekly small groups.”

That sounds good, right?

Except nowhere in Scripture does it say, “obey this through weekly small groups”. It’s a great idea. I think it does help you obey this imperative. But the ministry idea itself does not have the authority of Scripture.

It turns into spiritual abuse whenever we use our authority (whether it be pastoral authority or the church’s cultural authority) to force obedience of a biblical imperative through our ministry idea. And people are wounded by this type of thing all the time. They experience loads of false guilt.

These things are subtle too. It is incredibly easy to merge a biblical imperative with a ministry idea, so that over time the ministry idea become synonymous with the biblical imperative. It happened to the Pharisees. And it happens within so many of our churches.

Conclusion

There are, I believe, two main solutions.

First, it would be good for leaders to slow our roles. We are not to be faith handlers. We must have the humility to acknowledge that our suggestions for how to obey an imperative do not carry the same weight as Scripture. We can be firm on what the imperatives are, but we must be humble in the specific way these are carried out.

Secondly, it is good for all of us to stop and ask questions of every thing we assume is an imperative. What exactly did God say? Part of the deception for the first couple was when they added, “we shall not touch”. God never said that.

As we begin to melt away some of the dross it is important for us to remember that imperatives really do matter. We should have a heart to obey what Christ has commanded us. But also the humility to let ourselves and others relationally work out what obedience actually looks like.

I am His.

So are you.

July 29, 2014

When Sorrow is Godly Sorrow

Sometimes I find some great writing online that was written in the passion of dealing with a particular issue that is taking place in a particular location at a particular time. While the content is worth sharing here, the entire article may not be relevant when it is sourced later on. For that reason, I am editing this piece by Wendy Alsup (while I appreciated the whole thing) to extract what I think is great teaching that will continue to be useful to people for months and years to come.   She describes her ministry:

My family and I have experienced the impact of having been shunned by our church family. This blog is intended to be a forum for processing, healing, and calling for Christians to understand the harm done to people through the harsh practice of shunning. It is also a forum to understand how to pursue justice and mercy in dealing with those who are victims of shunning, or those who have been the perpetrators of shunning.

Check out her blog, Musings from Under the Bus.

Bonhoeffer writes in his Cost of Discipleship:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

[The Apostle Paul defines the difference:]

For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death. — 2 Corinthians 7:10

When it comes to our personal responses to our own sin, these are the only two options. When faced with confrontation or other natural consequences of your sin, you can mourn your sin in a way that leads you to confess to God, change your direction, and repair with those you have hurt. And that response allows you to get up and go forward without regret. I’ve never once in my life met someone who REGRETTED bringing their sin into the light, confessing it honestly, and repairing with those they had wronged. Godly sorrow producing repentance is beautiful.

repentanceThe second option when faced with painful consequences of your sin is worldly sorrow, grief and lament in response to the consequences of one’s sin that does not understand and appropriate Christ’s payment for it. [A person] can (over)use Jesus’ name in proper context who does not appropriate how the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection speaks into the consequences of sin he is now facing … Such people often want forgiveness. They want grace extended to them. And, in Christ, there is no condemnation according to Romans 8:1! Yet, the same Paul who wrote Romans 8:1 instructs us in Ephesians 5 to bring our sin into the light, because the light of Christ is a disinfectant. Expose the sin. Own the sin. Not to bring shame and condemnation but to bring restoration and healing! Any hope of “forgiveness” without clear, specific repentance is exactly what Bonhoeffer labels cheap grace. It’s continuing in sin that grace may abound, to which Paul says, “God forbid!”

The indication for any one of us of godly verses worldly sorrow is summed up in one word – repentance. True repentance always starts with a specific naming of your sin, and it always includes a change in your ways. I love the definition of the Greek word for repent according to Strong – “to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.” Godly sorrow that produces repentance will include statements along these lines – “I sinned against God and (name redacted). I have asked their forgiveness and am seeking to repair with them in the ways that I can. I am taking these steps to guard myself from doing the same in the future.” It always comes with a hearty desire to amend your ways with an abhorrence for how you sinned against God and others in the past.

I am writing this post because it is of utmost importance that people (believing and unbelieving) hearing Jesus’ name understand the difference in worldly and godly sorrow.

Long before…I wrote about godly versus worldly sorrow in The Gospel-Centered Woman. I felt that many women, myself included, often linger in this sorrowful place over our sin without understanding how repentance in the shadow of the cross heals and repairs. I’ll close with these thoughts from the book.

Worldly sorrow is characterized by feelings of shame, pain, or embarrassment that you got caught in sin. Along with that shame, you may feel hopelessness over ever being cleansed from your sin or your ability to repair the relationship with the person you sinned against. Such worldly sorrow may be relieved by someone else doing something for you or you doing something for yourself. Maybe you seek out someone to affirm you or distract you. You may try to manipulate how others think of you and look to them to make you feel better about yourself. If one relationship is broken, you may manipulate other relationships to replace the one you harmed.

In contrast, godly sorrow is sorrow that directs you to Christ. You do not need someone else to do something for you. You do not need to do something for yourself. Instead, you fall flat on your face before God alone, for godly sorrow points you directly to Him. Godly sorrow is relieved by repentance and faith in what Christ has already done for you. Then, resting in what God has done for you, you can lay down your attempts to justify yourself to others. You can simply ask their forgiveness and repair with those you have hurt.

Many of us spend years of our lives mistaking worldly sorrow on a wide range of sin issues for authentic repentance and then wonder why we never change or why our relationships never heal. Feeling bad about what you have done is not the same as a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. God calls us to recognize our wrongdoing and need for forgiveness and then turn to God to forgive and correct it. We do not have to live in a perpetual state of regret and shame. Christ bore our shame and condemnation on the cross. His sacrifice for us equips us to face our sin head-on without fear that it will forever define us.

For the full article at source, link here.