Thursday, May 03, 2007

Distractions to Faith

We mentioned last time that there were other distractions to faith than just wealth. Distractions that not only interfere with our own relationship to God but with the relationships between citizens of the Gospel kingdom.


"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:1-5 NKJV

As God led the Israelites out of Egypt he commanded them over and over again to always remember their experience in Egypt, and never allow their children to forget it either. This was not because God was in favour of harbouring a grudge, but because there was a vital lesson to be learned in the remembrance.

"The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:34 NKJV

Xenophobia, the fear of strangers, was a basic life-skill in the time of Moses. People distrusted strangers because in many parts of the area resources were scarce and there was always the fear that someone would try to take what little you had. But God wanted the Israelites to operate by a different set of rules. He intended for them to set a new standard for human behaviour. The concept is simple, "You know what it is like to be oppressed, to be trapped in a land not your own, at the mercy of others. Therefore, remember this and treat the strangers in your midst the way you wish you had been treated in Egypt."

Jesus' teaching here in Matthew follows the same line of thinking. We know what it is like to be judged for our sins. We know the separation that takes place when others decide that we are to be condemned. But, as usual, Jesus kicks it up a notch. He tells his followers that when they judge others they are setting the standard by which they themselves will be judged.

And when that judgment is made they too shall be found wanting because ultimately the reason we are so eager to find the speck in our brother's eye is because it helps us to ignore the plank in our own. We know all too well who we really are, and the one small comfort the world affords us is the knowledge that others are just as bad or worse than we are. If they are not, then we have nothing left but our own guilt.

And so children of Abraham, Jew and Christian alike, have no excuse when it comes to how they treat other people. We have no righteous leg to stand on, and no matter how we have lived our lives it does not give us the right to heap judgment upon others. When we do we become focused on punishment instead of the forgiveness.


"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." Matthew 7:6 NKJV

Though stubbornness in the heart of the believer is certainly a detriment to faith, it is not our stubbornness that Jesus refers to here. It is the stubbornness of others. There is a tendency in the life of the believer to take on the responsibility for the salvation of our family and friends. We convince ourselves that if we find just the right argument, just the right sermon tape, just the right book or CD that the spiritual light bulb will come on and they will walk out of the darkness.

There's only one problem... it's not our job!

The citizens of the gospel kingdom are to be a witness for the love of God and the work of Christ to be sure, but the task of convicting the individual of their need for God has fallen to the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is far better suited to the task and far better equipped for it.

So... am I suggesting we just give up on our friends and family and write them off as hopeless? Of course not! But at the same time we must take Jesus' advice from earlier in the midrash and cease to worry! They are in God's hands and all too often our continuing will only drive them further away, or worse yet, they will turn on us (and the Gospel) and trample us underfoot.

It isn't only the members of our families that distract us. All too often we are distracted by the need to defend the faith itself. There are those in this world who will never believe and have devoted themselves to tearing down the kingdom. They declare such things as: there is no God, Jesus was just a man, science holds all the answers, etc. We perceive them as being a threat to the Kingdom and apply ourselves to countering their arguments and tearing down their reputations.

Trying to defend the Kingdom is a distraction because the Kingdom does not require us to defend its existence. The Kingdom has and will come into existence according to the will of God, and it is God who will defend it.

There is a role for us however, and that role is to spread the Kingdom. And we do this by obeying the commandments that Jesus gave us. We do it by upholding the articles of the Kingdom Manifesto found at the beginning of the midrash back in chapter 5.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It is by manifesting these ideals in our homes and in our neighbourhoods that the Gospel Kingdom grows and flourishes. Comforting those who morn, feeding the hungry and thirsty, exhibiting mercy, keeping our hearts pure. These actions will speak in the defence and promotion of the kingdom far louder than any words. And it is from these actions that we are distracted by the things Jesus warns us against. However noble the task may seem, if it keeps us from living out the principles of the Kingdom it is a distraction.

There is one more thing that distracts us – timidity. We'll look at it next time.