Yesterday we started looking at the subject of salvation and the purpose for which we are saved. Jesus’ coming and dying was in order that we might be forgiven of our sins, but was it just for ourselves that he died on the cross? Was it just to get us off a doomed planet in order that we might live eternally in regal splendor, pleasure and ease in mansions up yonder in the skies?
God made man to work. The highest dignity he bestowed on man is that he made us to be partners with him in the business of running his good creation, (Genesis 1:26-27), and even to enjoy his creation with him in his rest (Genesis 2:1-3). When sin entered into the picture man lost his place with God. His pleasant work became bitter toil. Pain and sorrow became the rule instead of joy and happiness. The shadow of death became man’s constant companion. Instead of joy and goodness being his, fear and guilt now dogged his steps.
Along with the curse he placed on Satan and upon the ground along with the promise of increased pain and toil to Adam and Eve, God made the first promise of redemption. The seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent. This promise was looking to the future – to the climax of the grand story of the Bible. It was looking forward to the salvation that would be made possible in Christ when the consequences of sin would begin to be reversed and the plan of God would once again be moving toward its ultimate intended end – the making of all things new in the new heavens and new earth.
When men and women hear the wonderful news of the offer of God’s grace and respond to that offer through faith in the crucified and risen Savior they are not only made free from the guilt of their own transgressions but are restored to fellowship with God and once again put in the position of honor we were always intended occupy. One of the most wonderful statements the apostle Paul ever made is this found in Ephesians 2:4-7 …
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
“He raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.” When we are saved we are restored to our rightful place alongside our Creator. Do we comprehend the honor of being in that place?
That place is more than “church membership,” (whatever that is). Our responsibility is more than just to doggedly follow an imagined pattern of worship. It is to be more than being a puppet on a string, dancing to the tune of the piper at the behest of the Great Puppeteer. It is nothing less than the dignity of being the sons and daughters of our loving, gracious God. It is the responsibility of sharing in the care of creation, particularly that part that was made to bear the image of God, our fellow fallen human beings. To see our place and responsibility as anything less than this is to miss what it means to be human beings made in the image of God.
Yesterday we looked at scriptures which emphasize God’s purpose for man to care and care for his fellow man – particular those who cannot care for themselves. That is naturally understood by most parents. They tenderly care for their infants and their children, feeding, cleaning, teaching, training and correcting them, and for Christian parents, bringing them up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4). This is as much a sacred duty as it is to assemble with other saints.
To broaden our outlook to include those who are not immediate family members is still to fulfill our God-given responsibility to our fellow man. The needs of others are as varied as people the people who have them. Christians are to plan and purpose to help others along our way like the Good Samaritan helped the unfortunate traveler. This is what Paul instructed the ex-thieves and all other Christians in Ephesus to do.
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph. 4:28).
We so often allow religion to get in the way of righteousness, however. Like the Pharisees, we become punctilious in regard to the tithing of herbs and spices instead of practical in the exercise of “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”
In a similar vein, God addressed the people of Isaiah’s day. He said they…
“… seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.”(Isaiah 58:2).
And yet they were surprised that God did not hear them.
“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” (Isa. 58:3).
God then told them what kind of fasting he approved. He told them what he really wanted from them and it wasn’t anything near the kind of fasting they were doing.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday…” (Isaiah 58:6-12 ESV).
Would our duty be any less? How can we call ourselves the people of God and not care about the ones for whom he cares? If we are not doing what God expects of us – truly fasting, being truly righteous – all our religious activities are an offense to him.
Lest anyone object that is not “law” to us today because it comes from the Old Testament, consider this passage from James …
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” (James 5:1-5 ESV).
These matters God was bringing before these people were not specific to any particular age. They were not limited to the time before the death of Christ. People in need is a perpetual problem. Jesus said in Mark 14:7
“For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.”
People oppressing and enslaving people did not cease when Jesus died on the cross.
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:12-19).
Who else beside God’s people can deal with these major, thorny issues with understanding and compassion? To take on such problems with the care and compassion of Jesus firing our actions we are being like him. When we make these matters a major concern and not just an incidental or occasional thing we will be showing the glory of God into the world.
“…but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:24).
When we function together, sharing in the burden of caring for people we will be showing this weary, jaded world what the kingdom of God really is.
What are we showing them now when we confine our institutional brand of Christianity behind the walls of our splendid “sacred” meeting houses? When we refuse to help people overcome the problems in their lives that may lead to broken homes and neglected children, what value is our religion? When we fail to comfort the sorrowing or neglect to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, what good is all our solemn assemblies?
We are saved for something more than superficial religion. We are saved for righteousness.