Artificial Differences Vs. Real Differences

Matthew 5:43-48, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus made this statement to the 12 Jewish disciples who had likely spent their entire lives in a Jewish community in a Jewish household as members of Jewish families. He said this to men who knew Jewish tradition and Jewish customs in the heart of Jewish culture.

Perhaps you ask, “David, why all this emphasis on ‘Jewish, Jewish, Jewish?’” For this reason: it was too easy for them to place confidence in the fact that they were Jewish. “We are the right people! We do the right things! That is what makes us God’s people!”

Jesus said, “Wrong! There is an artificial distinction, and there is a godly distinction. To place spiritual confidence in ancestry and procedures is artificial. Rightful confidence comes from allowing God’s nature and character to become our nature and character. When we allow God’s nature and character to determine our nature and character, we will be different. It will not be produced by isolation, ancestry, or unique customs!

“Even the people you regard to be the height of wickedness (Jewish tax collectors collecting for Roman interests; idol worshippers)—even they like people who like them and greet people who approve of them. If we are kind only to people who like us, how are we different from people we regard to be wicked?

“Do we not realize that God is not that way? He lets the sun shine on and the rain water the crops of those who do not even acknowledge His existence. Let God be our guide and example! Let God determine how we act! Do not place confidence in human identity! Who we are is important, but what we are is even more important!”

How is Jesus’ statement relevant to Christians today? It is scary to see how may of us place our confidence in ‘where my membership is.’ It is scary to see how often we allow the foundation of our faithfulness to stand on our preferences or on identity marks that are rooted in our past and not in scripture. It is scary to see how often we make scripture fit our convictions rather than allowing scripture determine our convictions. It is scary to see how often we use only scriptures we are convinced support our convictions.

Jesus told the 12 not to do such things. Allow God’s nature and character to be your guide and example. That makes you radically different! Different enough to treat enemies with a kindness that rises from love! That’s hard! The objective of being Christian is to reflect God in whom and what we are. That’s hard! We praise God because He gives us this opportunity in Jesus Christ! Accepting that opportunity is demanding! It is easy to rest on the past! It is demanding to be a spiritual being!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 13 January 2005

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