How should we respond to non-Christians (20 Sep 2016)
How should we respond to non-Christians
- Gospel reading:
- Contains a phrase I had not noticed before which made me stop and think.
- Luke 9: 51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
- Too many Christians have reacted this way in the past, and the temptation to do so in our present culture is very strong: when people reject Jesus and Christian teaching we are tempted to react with, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
- The Epistle reading gives us examples of things some non-Christians do not accept – “how should we react to them?”
- Galatians 5: 1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
- Galatians knew that believing in Jesus had given them forgiveness and freedom from sin and guilt.
- But they were being told that they had to be good Jews first and add to their faith the keeping of some rules and expectations in order to be real Christians.
- But which rules must you keep? Can you pick some and not others? Surely if you fail on even one rule you are not perfect and not good enough for God.
- Paul tells us that to try to get right with God by keeping some rules really means being obliged to keep them all – which we cannot manage. Living a “good life” in order to be right with God, will never work.
- All you get is slavery to these rules and you
- lose the joy of forgiveness,
- you lose freedom from guilt,
- you lose the peace that comes to a child of God
- you lose the assurance of eternal life you should enjoy.
- This pressure to keep some rules still comes to us
- When people try to require us to keep rules about dress, behavior, church attendance or giving.
- Even people outside the church and in the media try to pressure us to behave they way they think we should: “If you were a real Christian then you would…” from people who want to paint you into a corner, to manipulate and control you.
- So take Paul’s advice: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
- We never achieve perfection in this life! There is always that aspect of us that wants to yield to temptation – and sometimes we do yield. That’s why we usually have a time of confession and forgiveness in our weekly services.
- Galatians5:16So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
19The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
- This is being realistic – It describes the human nature and the world we live with.
- Don’t mistake this for more rules, a checklist of things not to do in order to get right with God. It’s a reminder of the sort of things we can easily fall into, a reminder of the sort of things we see in ourselves and in people all over the world, a reminder of what can go wrong, what can spoil things for us.
- We know that when we do sin – and it’s unrealistic, dishonest and delusional to claim we don’t – God forgives us every time we turn to him in repentant confession. Some have suggested we should sin because that gives God the chance to show his grace and mercy and forgive us.
- He does graciously forgive when we fail but God forbid that we should go ahead and sin just to give God the chance to be more gracious and forgiving.
- Our motto is not to be, “sin tonight, confess tomorrow”
- Jesus to the woman caught in adultery: John 8: 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
- I don’t know what Jesus wrote on the ground. One suggestion is that it was the names of men who had committed adultery with her! Or perhaps it was a list of secrets people in the crowd were ashamed of.
- And I don’t know the significance of the fact that the first to leave were the older ones. Perhaps it indicates more wisdom; perhaps it indicates greater guilt!
- But what is significant is that when Jesus said to the woman, “then neither do I condemn you” and forgave her he also said, “go now and leave you life of sin.”
- “I forgive you”, he said and “don’t do it again.”
- It’s a matter of consistency: we don’t belong to that world any more; we are following the Spirit of Christ.
- Those lists of “desires of the flesh” are just so unattractive – not only to Christians but to many non-Christians as well. They just don’t fit in with our lives. Jesus does not want us to do these things and if we do he wants us to stop.
- Many people in the world don’t have this attitude towards these “desires of the flesh”. It does not seem to bother them to indulge in some or many of them, so how do we relate to these people?
- We are not to ask, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
- 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
- Over the years and still, from time to time, there have been and even still are Christians who want to deal with behavior in others which we know a Christian should not follow by condemning those people; to call down fire from heaven to destroy them”
- But who is there who is without sin and qualified to throw the first stone, let along call down judgment on people?
- We are not to judge, condemn or “call down fire from heaven to destroy them”!
- Do what Jesus did: move on.
- How does God deal with them?
- Romans 1: 28Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
- It’s as if God says, “if that’s what you want, go right ahead”
- The implication is there: “don’t blame me for the consequences”.
- But it also seems to say, “just don’t ask me to approve”.
- We have a very dear friend who seems unable to break away from addictions to alcohol and gambling that have brought great cost, hurt and harm to himself, his wife and his family. How am I to respond and to relate to him?
- I can’t join him in some of his activities but I can’t stop him or deny him the freedom he has to behave as he does.
- If he persists in drinking and gambling I am powerless to stop him so with great sadness I “give him over” to these damaging pursuits.
- Galatians 5: 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- I care for him, pray for him, be a friend to him, offer to help him, accept him: love him.
- And at the same time I can’t approve of his decisions and actions.
- I disagree with him but I certainly don’t hate him.
- The Bible tells us that once you and I were “dead in our trespasses and sins”, just as those who reject Jesus still are.
- It’s as if I must follow Jesus’ words in Luke 9:60 “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
- The Lectionary readings today tell me that I should avoid not only my friend’s drunkenness but some other things as well:
- 19The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
- Some of these are unattractive to Christians and non-Christians alike, of course.
- Adultery – even unfaithfulness between unmarried couples. “Seven Year Switch” on TV
- Hatred – of homosexuals as per Penny Wong or of Christians as per Scott Morrison
- fits of rage – as in Road Rage, for example –
- ambition at the cost of others – insider traders are jailed.
- Not everything people indulge in gets approval in our culture.
- It’s not up to me to tell people how to run their lives. I see clear teaching from Jesus and his Apostles that I believe I must apply to myself.
- I believe that these teachings are what God wants at least of me but also of people in general and are therefore the best way to live – but I cannot “ram the Bible down people’s throat” and demand people live according to God’s will.
- Even so, our society sometimes responds with laws; for example, it seems some pedophiles see nothing wrong with what they do – but our society disagrees and adopts laws banning such practices, along with penalties.
- I respect the law and let it take its course. As a Christian I take part in the democratic process as laws are proposed and passed, expressing my opinion and casting my vote.
- How am I to respond as a Christian to people who do want to do these things?
- I do as God did and “give them over…to do what ought not to be done”. Or, “go ahead, if that’s what you want.”
- I do not hate them. I must not condemn them – or call down fires of judgment on them. I can’t join in with them in what they do. I don’t agree with them and I can’t approve of what they do.
- They don’t need my approval, of course, but it is interesting how often people want and even demand my approval.
- If people are convinced of the rightness of their beliefs and actions it should not matter to them if I disagree with them – and vice versa!
So much for the negative – let’s accentuate the positive!
- Galatians 5:22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
- As Christians we have crucified that part of us that wants to continue in the negative list called the works of the flesh.
- Whenever temptation arises we remind ourselves that that part of us is dead and buried.
- We have a new life: we live by the Spirit of Christ who lives in and with us so let us keep in step with the Spirit.
- Let the Spirit bear fruit in our lives! These are wonderful, good things. They are so good there is no way of making them illegal – against such things there is no law!
- The closer you live with Jesus and his Holy Spirit the more you will automatically bear the Fruit of the Spirit. It does not come from you or me; it is part of the personality of Jesus becoming evident in you.
- When we read through the list called “the fruit of the Spirit” I suggest that you don’t check off the ones which describe you; first because you might be disappointed and second because you might “become conceited, provoking and envying each other” and third because the fruit of the Spirit are not for your benefit anyway.
- The Fruit of the Spirit in your life is meant to be for the benefit and blessing of others around you.
- You will almost certainly have become aware of some of this fruit in the lives of others.
- As I read through the list think about people you know who bear the fruit of the Spirit and decide to thank those people who have blessed you with the Fruit of the Spirit they bear!
- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control
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