January 28th, 2018
“A Loving Culture – Pt 4”
Aux. Texts: Acts 20:25-35
Call to Worship: Psalm 146
Service Orientation: Each of us needs to be dependent upon others to be godly. But, never to the extent that it encourages laziness, selfishness and greed. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets begin here.
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” — Matthew 22:37-40
The question to be answered is . . . Why does God make these laws about the poor taking advantage of the rich?
Answer: Because we are all capable of greed, laziness and self-centeredness. If there were no restraints on compassion, many would naturally gravitate towards sluggardly, parasitical existences with no motivation to give or garner resources by which to be generous and love others.
The Word for the Day is . . . Givers
What does God show us about a loving culture?:
I- God created humanity in His image and that means we need to live as independently dependent givers rather than takers. (Gn 1:26-27; 9:6; Prv 10:4; 14:23; 15:19; 19:15; 20:13; 21:5, 25; 28:19; Acts 20:35; 1 Tm 6:6-19; 2 Thess 3:10)
Dependence is good when it makes us accountable, grateful, submissive, and more like Jesus. Dependence is bad when is makes us lazy, unthinking, slothful, self-centered and disables self-control.
Independence is good when it makes us responsible, motivated, creative and nurtures self-control. Independence is bad when it makes us unaccountable, irresponsible, prideful, anti-social, rebellious, arrogant and ill-equipped to do the work God intended for us to do.
The determinate of whether dependence or independence is going to result in good or bad is the heart of the one receiving it. — Pastor Keith
Here, a traveler was given the right to momentarily refresh himself in a neighbor’s vineyard or grainfield, but he was not given the right to carry the grapes away with him or to harvest the grain. Since God had been gracious in providing for the farmer, he in turn should be gracious to a person traveling through the land. (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 253)
The final instructional fragment is unparalleled in the Pentateuch. Like the preceding, it promotes a community of neighbors who trust one another and look out for one another’s welfare. Within an agrarian economy, the right of passers-by to pick grain or fruit from the trees for the journey from the fields they were crossing could create several problems. On the one hand, landowners could be greedy and unreasonable, posting guards at the borders of their land and shooing off passers-by. On the other hand, especially in harvest time, people passing through would be tempted to carry containers and fill them with grapes, or to bring along a sickle (cf. 16:9) with which to cut standing grain and stuff it in their bags. (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 549)
The freedom to eat the neighbor’s produce is a strong depiction of the teaching that the fruitfulness of the land is Yahweh’s gift to the whole people. The restrictions on this freedom prevent the exploitation of a neighbor, whose interests are carefully protected not only here but elsewhere (e.g., 27:17). (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 352-3)
II- Without restraint the poor and weak would begin to take advantage of the rich and powerful. (Dt 23:24-25; see also: Rom 1:18-32; 2 Thess 3:6-15; 1 Thess 4:1-12)
This law is another example of the OT’s characteristic priority of needs over rights. Neighborly hospitality should allow a hungry traveler to have something to eat from one’s crops without charge or grudge. On the other hand, this ancient (and still common) privilege should not be abused by actions tantamount to theft (the use of a basket or sickle). Laws like this, deliberately imprecise, require considerable maturity and social trust and presuppose a people prepared to put very practical flesh on to the basic principle of loving God through loving the neighbor. (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 253)
The chapter ends with a commonsense law (vv. 24-25) to discourage meanness and greediness on the part of farmers, and theft on the part of passers-by. The situation is a specific one, but it could well illustrate the sort of mature attitudes which ought to be seen in any true brotherhood. (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 132)
The same principle applies to fields of standing grain. It is permissible for passersby to pluck ears of grain as they walk through the field (Mt 12:1-8; Mk 2:23-28; Lk 6:1-5), but harvesting a neighbor’s crop, with a sickle no less, amounts to theft. (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 667)
Throughout the ancient Near East it was a person’s duty to offer hospitality to the traveler, and to provide for the poor. By placing reasonable limits on hospitality and charity, the Lord wished to protect the interests of everyone involved. If a landowner harvested his grain or gathered his grapes so efficiently that he left nothing for travelers or the poor, he was being stingy. But if a traveler or a poor person took more grapes than he could eat, or if he began harvesting another man’s grain, he was being greedy. God wanted to form a society in which men and women would show genuine concern for each other as fellow members of a covenant people, where neither the rich nor the poor took advantage of the other. (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 219-20)
God forbids men to introduce a sickle into the harvest of another; now, if a man should pluck with his hands as many ears of corn as he could carry on his shoulders, or lay upon a horse, could he excuse himself by the puerile explanation that he had not used a sickle? But, if common sense itself repudiates such gross impudence, it is plain that the Law has another object, viz., that no one should touch even an ear of another man’s harvest, except for present use, which occurred to Christ’s disciples, when they were compelled by hunger to rub the ears of corn in their hands, lest they should faint by the way (Mt 12:1). The same view must be taken as to grapes. If any man deliberately breaks into another’s vineyard and gorges himself there, whatever excuse he may make, he will be accounted a thief. Wherefore, there is no doubt but that this Law permits hungry travelers to refresh themselves by eating grapes, when they have not enough of other food. But although the liberty of eating to their fill is granted, still it was not allowable on this pretext to gorge themselves. Besides, vineyards were enclosed with hedges and guarded; whence it appears that the grapes were not exposed to every glutton. This, then, is the sum, that it is not accounted a theft, if a traveler, in order to relieve his hunger, should stretch forth his hand to the hanging fruit, until he should arrive at his resting-place where he may buy bread and wine. (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 150-1)
This country including you and most of the people related to you by birth or marriage or both is populated by beings who have been so blessed for so long that they have become almost completely immune to any interests other than their own. (Denis Leary, Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid)
Some could exploit the generosity of the farmer and take more than they should. So both these verses have a clause limiting how much one could take: “. . . but you shall not put any in your bag. . . you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain” (23:24b, 25b). As David F. Payne says, this is “a commonsense law. . . to discourage meanness and greediness on the part of farmers, and theft on the part of passers-by.” Today house owners get stingy, and passers-by get exploitative. So we have high walls protecting residences and properties that show that generous neighborliness is outdated. We must find ways of generosity that make it easy for the truly needy to find help and make it difficult for exploiters to take the generous for a ride. (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 540)
III- Entitlement, enabling or unhealthy dependency robs us of the blessedness God wants us all to enjoy. (Dt; see also: Prv 12:24; 13:4; 15:17; 20:4; Acts 20:35)
God’s mercy comes to us without conditions, but does not proceed without our cooperation. So too our aid must begin freely, regardless of the recipient’s merits. But our mercy must increasingly demand change or it is not really love. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 93)
And though we must be extremely patient, eventually, aid must be withdrawn if it is abused.
We see then that mercy ministry operates on the same basis as evangelism. Initially, we offer the gospel to anyone and everyone, as we have opportunity and resources to reach them. “Whosoever will”! We do not wait for them to come to us. But, if eventually a person or a group evidences a rebellious and disrespectful attitude toward the gospel, we withdraw. Continued pressure only hardens them and dishonors the message. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 97)
Neither the “liberal” approach (no conditions on aid to the needy) nor the “conservative” approach (only help the deserving poor) understand grace. Instead, our mercy ministry must help people freely, yet aim to bring their whole lives under the healing lordship of Christ. Mercy is kingdom endeavor. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 227)
When the person in need is acting irresponsibly, and your continued aid would only shield him from the consequences of his own behavior, then it is no longer loving or merciful to continue support. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 228)
Sloth, or laziness, used to be thought a deadly sin. People don’t ordinarily find it so deadly any longer. But it is. It’s a premature death. To spend vast amounts of our lives waiting, drifting, drumming our fingers, and watching television is wasteful sin. (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.; Assurances of the Heart, 333)
Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction. (Anne Frank)
The best kept secret in America today is that people would rather work hard for something they believe in than for personal idleness. — John Gardner
The mantra of these people is: I’ve tried this and it doesn’t work. Why don’t they want to change? Because they enjoy the sympathy and attention that she gets from her helpless and pathetic attitude.
We get in God’s way when He is trying to do a work when people are constantly having the same problems over and over again and we give them grace and attention and compassion in the midst of their improper and dysfunctional behavior. We need to back off and let them feel the full brunt of their wrong behavior.
We need to stop being enablers and promoting the co-dependency. Stop. Allow people to grow up.
The pain we go through is God’s gift to us in that it makes us uncomfortable so we are more inclined to change. When our self-righteousness becomes so painful to us, then we will understand Grace. — Steve Brown
There’s an ugly secret of global poverty, one rarely acknowledged by aid groups or U.N. reports. It’s a blunt truth that is politically incorrect, heartbreaking, frustrating and ubiquitous: It’s that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. (Nicholas D. Kristof, “Moonshine or the Kids” The New York Times, May 22, 2010)
Christians must give sacrificially, until their lifestyle is lowered. However, giving must be in accord with calling and ministry opportunities. Also, every believer must be a steward of possessions so as not to become a burden and liability to his or her family. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 67)
If a brother in Christ, according to ecclesiastical standing, may say to me, “You must love me with all your heart,” I am entitled to say in reply, “I acknowledge the obligation in the abstract, but I demand of you in turn that you shall be such that I can love you as a Christian, however weak and imperfect; and I feel it to be both my right and my duty to do all I can to make you worthy of such brotherly regard, by plain dealing with you anent your offences. I am willing to love you, but I cannot, I dare not, be on friendly terms with your sins; and if you refuse to part with these, and virtually require me to be a partaker in them by connivance, then our brotherhood is at an end, and I am free from my obligations.” (A. B. Bruce; The Training of the Twelve, 211)
Co-dependency advocates say that those who live with an alcoholic are just as dependent on alcohol as the alcoholic himself, because they too are subjected to its destructive effects. Thus, they are “co-dependent.”
Key to understanding the co-dependency mind-set is the term “enabling.” In co-dependency thinking, those who live with an addict are thought to materially contribute to his addiction by helping to create a favorable environment in which he can indulge. They “enable” the addict to continue his addiction. Enabling includes such behaviors as making excuses for the addict, denying the addiction, covering for the addict, taking responsibility for the addict, and protecting family and friends from the addict’s destructive behavior. (William L. Playfair, M.D.; The Useful Lie, 117)
The criminal values people only insofar as they bend to his will or can be coerced or manipulated into doing what he wants. He has been this way since childhood, and by the time he is an adult he has a self-centered view of the world in which he believes that he is entitled to whatever he wants. (Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D.; Inside the Criminal Mind, 95)
Worship Point: Worship the God of the Universe Who wants us all to live in Shalom and knows how to get us there.
Acedia is the sin of sloth. But acedia, as understood by the saints of old,. is not laziness about life’s affairs (which is what we normally think sloth to be). Acedia is something else; properly understood, acedia is an aversion to and a negation of spiritual things. Acedia reveals itself as an undue concern for external affairs and worldly things. Acedia is spiritual torpor, an absence of zeal for divine things. And it brings with it, according to the ancients, “a sadness, a sorrow of the world.” Acedia manifests itself in man’s “joyless, ill-tempered, and self-seeking rejection of the nobility of the children of God.” The slothful man hates the spiritual, and he wants to be free of its demands. The old theologians taught that acedia arises from a heart steeped in the worldly and carnal, and from a low esteem of divine things. It eventually leads to a hatred of the good altogether. And with hatred comes more rejection, more ill-temper, sadness, and sorrow. Spiritual acedia is not a new condition, of course. It is the seventh capital sin. But today it is in ascendance. (William Bennett; “Getting Used to Decadence: The Spirit of Democracy in Modern America”)
Our democracy must prove itself effective in making the people healthy, strong and industrially productive, in securing justice, in inspiring intense patriotism and in making every man and woman within our borders realize that if they are not willing at time of need to serve the nation against all comers in war, they are not fit to be citizens of the nation in time of peace. The democratic ideal must be that of subordinating chaos to order, of subordinating the individual to the community, of subordinating individual selfishness to collective self-sacrifice for a lofty ideal, of training every man to realize that no one is entitled to citizenship in a great free commonwealth unless he does his full duty to his neighbor, his full duty in his family life, and his full duty to the nation; and unless he is prepared to do this duty not only in time of peace but also in time of war. It is by no means necessary that a great nation should always stand at the heroic level. (Theodore Roosevelt, Fear God and Take Your Own Part, 349-50)
Gospel Application: The Gospel transforms our hearts and minds so as to empower us to be free from our greed, laziness, weakness and slavery so as to encourage us to give to others as Christ has given to us. (Mt 10:8) But, at the same time, we must never forget our dependence upon God and others. (Mt 10:8; Rom 8:1-16; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 5; Col 3:5)
The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God. (C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity, 154)
Blessed are those, then, who hold their earthly possessions in open palms. Blessed are those who, if everything they own were taken from them, would be, at most, inconvenienced, because their true wealth is elsewhere. Blessed are those who are totally dependent upon Jesus for their joy. (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, 94)
Christian spirituality talks about what we receive more than what we achieve. Our potential and activity are entirely dependent on God’s prior work in our lives. If we set out to be “achievers” rather than “receivers,” we have not begun to follow God. An achiever calls attention only to herself, whereas a receiver leads others to appreciate the Giver. If we insist on being an achiever, seeking God so that others might admire our faith, our commitment, our dedication, we become God’s competitor; trying to steal some of His glory. (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 16)
The Holy Spirit—His Work in Salvation
¶106 The Holy Spirit is the administrator of the salvation planned by the Father and provided by the Son’s death, resurrection and ascension. He is the effective agent in our conviction, regeneration, sanctification and glorification. He is our Lord’s ever-present self, indwelling, assuring and enabling the believer. (2003 Book of Discipline : Free Methodist Church, 10)
Free Moral Persons
¶111 God created human beings in His own image, innocent, morally free and responsible to choose between good and evil, right and wrong. By the sin of Adam, humans as the offspring of Adam are corrupted in their very nature so that from birth they are inclined to sin. They are unable by their own strength and work to restore themselves in right relationship with God and to merit eternal salvation. God, the Omnipotent, provides all the resources of the Trinity to make it possible for humans to respond to His grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. By God’s grace and help people are enabled to do good works with A free will. (2003 Book of Discipline : Free Methodist Church, 12)
In fact, let me issue a warning: you’re inevitably headed for bitter disillusionment if you try to live out the Golden Rule under your own power, without allowing God to expand your heart and work through your life. If the Golden Rule appeals to your altruistic side and you’re thinking about pursuing it out of your own secular zeal, forget it.
When people don’t reciprocate, when they fail to express gratitude, when they take advantage of your generosity, when nobody seems to care that doing something kind for others is eating up your time, energy, and resources, you’re going to start getting cynical and wondering why you’re bothering.
But the apostle John wrote this about Christians: “We love because (God) first loved us.” He did something for us, and then he does something through us. (Lee Strobel; God’s OUTrageous Claims, 161)
We need the poor to teach us the value of dependence, for unless we learn dependence we will never experience grace. (Philip Yancey; Finding God in Unexpected Places, 164)
The only true and enduring motivation for the ministry of mercy is an experience and a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel. If we know we are sinners saved by grace alone, we will be both open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 58)
Now we are in a position to see why Jesus (and Isaiah, James, John, and Paul) can use the ministry of mercy as a way to judge between true and false Christianity. A merely religious person, who believes God will favor him because of his morality and respectability, will ordinarily have contempt for the outcast. “I worked hard to get where I am, and so can anyone else!” That is the language of the moralist’s heart. “I am only where I am by the sheer and unmerited mercy of God. I am completely equal with all other people.” That is the language of the Christian’s heart. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 61)
In spite of my rejection of self-theory, large parts of me remain which are still thoroughly indoctrinated with it. Particularly difficult are religious ideas like penitence, humility, accepting my dependence on God, praying for help. In my heart and in my mind I know these are good, true, and necessary for spiritual life. I know they are needed to curb pride and purge arrogance. But my yet luxuriant, overblown ego balks at and rejects being labeled “A miserable offender,” wonders about the need for penitence, and occasionally bristles at metaphors referring to me as sheep, child, or obedient servant. Equally foreign is the concept of judgment.
I know that many others who are not as ready as I to listen are turned away by these words at once. The justification for these concepts has been lost, and reeducation is desperately needed. We need updated orthodox theology. We need sermons on radical obedience, on the mysticism of submissive surrender to the will, on the beauty of dependency, on how to find humility. We all know it is hard for a rich man to get to heaven; I’m certain that it is even harder for a Ph.D. The problem for a Ph.D. —and I really mean to include doctors and lawyers and professionals of all types—is the problem of pride and will. Please, I would like to hear something that would improve my odds! (Paul C.Vitz; Psychology as Religion, 129)
Thanksgiving is an explicit acknowledgment of creatureliness and dependence, a recognition that everything comes as gift, the verbalization before God of his goodness and generosity. (Gordon Fee; Commentary on Phil, 409)
One great paradox of the Christian life is that we are fully responsible for our Christian growth and at the same time fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give us both the desire to grow and the ability to do it. God’s grace does not negate the need for responsible action on our part, but rather makes it possible. (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 198)
Pagan’s hate God because He keeps them from doing what they want to do and Christian’s love God because He enables us to be what we want to be. (Steve Brown message The Freedom We Surrender on “10 Stupid Things Christians Do to Mess up Their Lives”)
Spiritual Challenge: God has given you gifts. Use your gifts to love and encourage others through your giving. (Mt 6:19-21)
Wealth is to be accumulated strictly for doing works of mercy and spreading the kingdom. Wealth is not to be stored up “for yourselves (Mt 6:19-21). (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 72)
The metaphor of the church as a body is employed by the NT to represent both our union with Christ and mutual dependence: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor 12:21). We need each other: “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:5). We need each other’s gifts (Eph 4:11-16; 1 Cor 12-14; Rom 12). We need each other’s graces (as in the many “one anothers” found throughout the NT: love one another, be kind to one another, bear one another’s burdens, etc.). We need each other’s fellowship. So we are warned, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together.” The writer to the Hebrews sees the public assembly as the primary place in which the mutual stimulation to “love and good deeds” takes place: “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 330-1)
The gift of helps is the special ability that God gives to some members of the Body of Christ to invest the talents they have in the life and ministry of other members of the Body, thus enabling the person helped to increase the effectiveness of his or her spiritual gifts. (C. Peter Wagner; Your Spiritual Gifts, 196)
Mercy to the full range of human needs is such an essential mark of being a Christian that it can be used as a test of true faith. Mercy is not optional or an addition to being a Christian. Rather, a life poured out in deeds of mercy is the inevitable sign of true faith. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 35)
The move from independence to interdependence is our next strategic step. According to Peter Block, the move from self-interest to service is the critical step because it changes everything: “When we choose service over self-interest, we say we are willing to be deeply accountable without choosing to control the world around us.” Note that we are not using the word dependence here. The reason is simple: in the body of Christ, life together and ministry are the responsibility of everyone. All are to be stewards of their gifts and their relationships so that the full impact of the Spirit’s work in the world can take place. (Paul R. Ford, Knocking Over the Leadership Ladder, 147)
So What?: Life works better, people work better, economies work better and the world is better when people seek to be like God/Jesus: givers rather than takers.
Someone asked the American Episcopal bishop Phillips Brooks what he would do to resurrect a dead church, and he replied, “I would take up a missionary offering.” Giving to others is one secret of staying alive and fresh in the Christian life. If all we do is receive, then we become reservoirs; and the water can become stale and polluted. But if we both receive and give, we become like channels; and in blessing others, we bless ourselves. American psychologist Dr. Karl Menninger said, “Money-giving is a good criterion of a person’s mental health. Generous people are rarely mentally ill people.” Someone wrote in Modern Maturity magazine, “The world is full of two kinds of people, the givers and the takers. The takers eat well—but the givers sleep well.” (Warren Wiersbe; Be Determined, 146-7)
For society as a whole, nothing comes as a “right” to which we are “entitled.” Even bare subsistence has to be produced—and produced at a cost of heavy toil for much of human history. The only way anyone can have a right to something that has to be produced is to force someone else to produce it for him. The more things are provided as rights, the less the recipients have to work and the more others have to carry their load. (Thomas Sowell, Forbes)
Oh, my dear Christians! If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (B.B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ, 574)
“The average age of the worlds greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:
From Bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage.”
The way for the world to know that it needs redeeming, that it is broken and fallen, is for the church to enable the world to strike hard against something which is an ALTERNATIVE to what the world offers.
Unfortunately, an accomodationist church, so intent on running errands for the world, is giving the world less and less in which to disbelieve. Atheism slips into the church where God really does not matter, as we go about building bigger and better congregations (church administrations), confirming people’s self-esteem (worship), enabling people to adjust their anxieties brought on by their materialism (Pastoral care), and making Christ a worthy subject for poetic reflection (preaching). At every turn the church must ask itself, does it really make any difference, in our life together, in what we do, that in Jesus Christ God is reconciling the world to himself? (William Willimon and Stanely Hauerwas; Resident Aliens, 94-5)
Postmodernism and its dogmatic tolerance can lead only to despair, as Sayers wrote and as we witness in the lives of so many today. Despair in turn leads to slothfulness, and slothfulness to boredom. In spite of our great technological advances and the highest level of education and material advances any society has ever achieved, we have managed to suck all of the meaning out of life, to destroy any basis for human dignity or human rights, to undermine moral and rational discourse–to leave ourselves adrift in the cosmos. (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 210)
Missing Life And Purpose
Somewhere between here-to-fore,
And hereafter is now.
It’s also called the present.
Most evade it, somehow
Not cognizance is choice.
Electronics assist flights
Of fantasy’s escape.
To truly LIVE requires work,
Is the master of one’s fate,
Sloth is a surety.
This laziness can be both
Mental or physical.
They most often co-exist,
Like living in another
Time warp, or dimension,
TV re-runs become life:
They manage detention.
They abhor the spiritual,
Substitute their self-will.
It’s insurance to stall time:
Spiritual growth stands still.
Molly A. Marsh
02 August 2010