Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, 2 Kings 11:1-20a, 1 Corinthians 7:10-24, Matthew 6:19-24
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul offers a teaching to men and women who have become followers of Christ, but whose spouses are unbelievers. He tells them not to divorce if the unbeliever still consents to stay together; indeed the unbelieving spouse is made holy by their union and may yet be saved. However if the unbelieving partner leaves, the believer is not bound by the marriage.
Paul makes clear to his audience an important distinction about this teaching and some of his others: it comes from him, not from God. Paul’s marriage advice was based on faithful conclusions he drew from his best understanding of Christ and the gospel, and undoubtedly he fully believed what he was saying, but he was still humble enough not to speak on behalf of God.
A lot of preachers – and for that matter a lot of lay people – fail to make that same distinction, even internally.
For example, we all know about television and radio evangelists, and local clergy as well, who just can’t seem to resist any opportunity to blame a natural disaster on some group of sinners. They will declare it the wrath of God or a message from Christ without any evidence beyond their own axe to grind. For purposes of this comparison it doesn’t even matter whether they are right: what matters is they don’t know whether they are or not, but claim it as if God told them personally. Talk about taking the Lord’s name in vain.
We can know better. More importantly, we can do better. Let’s never be so certain we know who God wants to punish that we don’t leave room for mercy. Remember Zoar? That’s the city God spared, but people who want us to remember (and misrepresent) only Sodom and Gomorrah don’t tend to bring it up. And then there’s Nineveh: God strong-armed his not-so-faithful servant Jonah into convincing them to repent when Jonah would rather have seen them destroyed.
Our national or cultural enemies – even the sinners we really think ought to – do not define God’s enemies. Our thoughts – even ones that seem soundly theological – are not God’s thoughts. We want to be very careful not to attribute our own words to God. Better to faithfully ponder and acknowledge how little we know for a lifetime than to try standing firm on nothing.
Comfort: Great faith doesn’t always have answers.
Challenge: Don’t try to make your biases into God’s biases.
Prayer: I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. (Psalm 63:4)
Discussion: What’s the difference between admitting what we don’t know, and being the type of “lukewarm” believer Christ warns against?
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