Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Last week we looked at how the religious and irreligious alike benefit from exposure to the gospel of Christ, both groups having their lives modified by the principles of virtuous behavior found throughout scripture – most succinctly stated in Matthew 5,6 & 7 along with a few others.
Through past experience, our founding fathers realized the danger inherent in a too close association of the institutions of government and religion, even as they believed religion to be a major pillar from which the new democracy in America was to be built. The freedoms granted by our constitution were considered too broad and encompassing for a totally irreligious people to handle, freedoms excess predictably degenerating into license and anarchy; those conditions too often finding resolution in totalitarianism, from which they had fought to escape.
They would not impose faith and the faithfulness that logically follows to create a law-abiding citizenry, but facilitated the growth and diversity of religion, particularly Christianity and its various “sects”, so as to promote better behavior throughout all of American society. The broad principles expressed in scripture of fairness, respect, compassion and decent behavior striking a chord in the hearts and minds of the faithful and faithless alike.
The key to this osmosis of behavior modification being how well we Christians live out our profession of faith, in other words – walking the walk as well as talking the talk. (See 1 John 2:6) If we don’t, no interest will be engendered among unbelievers to consider the alternative lifestyle Christianity offers nor the claims of salvation through Christ we proclaim.
Beyond the broad ethics expressed in Matthew 5,6 & 7 that characterize the Christian ideal of life and behavior, several other sections of scripture add depth and breadth to their call for a radical reinterpretation of how to live life. An ethos that all men can – and often do – embrace. One of those being Matthew 25:31-46, the so-called parable of the sheep and goats. In it, God is depicted as judging the world, acknowledging the faithfulness of the believing “sheep” while castigating the unfaithful “goats.” In the process blessing those who gave food to the hungry, who invited strangers into their homes – tending to their comfort and needs, who clothed the naked or nearly so while nursing the sick and visiting the imprisoned. Commending their attentiveness to others and rewarding their sacrifice of time and effort, he likened their service for others as service to him; likewise disparaging those who didn’t. Our willingness and/or eagerness in responding to others’ needs speaking volumes to believers and unbelievers alike. (Possibly creating opportunities not otherwise available to witness to them about the saving grace to be found in Jesus Christ.)
The apostle Paul likewise dealt with the ethos of Christianity that can be transmitted to society at large in Romans 12. Starting out by specifically urging Christians to offer themselves to God, and others, as “living sacrifices”; principally by not conforming to the world’s predominant sin-nature but being transformed by the will and way of God. Sacrificing our preferences, comfort and even our well-being in service to others requiring a transformation of our attitude and outlook on life that in turn fosters a renewing of our minds ideals, passions and goals.
That renewed mind-set embracing the admonition to, “…not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement,…” Romans 12:3 Which must then be fleshed out into practical action through a sincere love of others, even as we maintain the ability to identify evil and shun it while clinging to the good. Being devoted to one another and honoring others above ourselves fosters a vigorous compassion tempered by a reasoned acknowledgement of the needy about us, helping us be responsibly hospitable. (Proverbs 19:2)
Truly connecting with people means we rejoice with them when they rejoice and mourn when they mourn; genuinely sharing their joys and sorrows while offering them alternatives to the circumstances and predicaments they find – or place – themselves in. And of course, it should go without saying, we should never be too proud to associate with people of a “lower station” than ours. The very act of assigning stations to people being a matter of dismissive conceit, making harmonious living a virtual impossibility.
Then Paul gets really serious, cautioning against holding grudges, getting even, taking revenge – repaying evil with evil. Instead, we are encouraged to, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” Not a simple acquiescence to everything others promote but a legitimate attempt at seeing things from their perspective. “If is it possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:17,18 By doing so, we will not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
And finally, the idea that faith must be accompanied by deeds is vigorously expounded in the 2 chapter of James. (This idea actually touched on by Paul, the great proponent of faith without “works” as well, writing that his purpose was to, at least in part, “…call people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” Which then promotes faithfulness through good deeds. Romans 1:5 James going so far as to link, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless…” with caring for others in active, practical ways. (See James 1:27)
James seems particularly agitated by people who showed favoritism in their assemblies, reminding them that the “royal law” of scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”, precluded such behavior. He then goes on to pointedly ask, “What good is it, …if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” Further spurring his readers to action with the examples of people lacking adequate clothing and food. Wishing them well – or even praying over their need – but then walking away and doing nothing to supply that need, calling into question the faith and faithfulness of the well-wisher. James insisting that, “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Again challenging people to, “Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James 2:14-18
The point being, anyone can say they believe, but many fail to express their faith in faithfulness; which speaks volumes to everyone around us. (John concurring, writing “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?...let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17,18
An unresponsive faith is what an unbelieving world sees and deems unbelievable, a responsive belief beckoning to their better instincts, and if not convicting them of their sin – at least inspiring them to a higher level of behavior.
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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