For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. - 1Corinthians 9: 19-23 (ESV)
These are the times that test Christians. The times of strife and controversy. The times when we want to puff our chest out and say we were right, or beat our chest and declare the unfairness of it all. The times when the Internet and social media explodes with wannabe experts weighing in on matters they cannot understand with staggering ignorance. The media plays the part we want so well these days. They divide us. They divide us along class lines. They divide us along political lines. They divide us along racial lines. And do we ever rush to line up for them. Rush to stand in line and point our finger at the other side and scream that they are to blame for everything wrong in this country. That we are the righteous ones. Some rush to defend one side or another but it transcends defense into utter hatred for the other side. There seems to be no longer a veiled attempt at civil discourse anymore. From a world so filled with hate that is enamored with ugliness and bitterness - I expect it. That is what they know. It is what they are taught. It is what is reinforced on television for them. There is no more objective news. Only 24 hour stations designed to tell you that your pre-formed and often biased position is correct. That the problem is with the other guy. The real problem however is when you cannot tell the Christians apart from the world. We are supposed to be a peculiar people. A people set apart for the use of God. A shining city on a hill. Salt and light to a dying world. Those precious opinions we hold so dear? The Bible says we are to deny them.
And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. - Luke 9: 23 (ESV)
Let him deny his urge to scream about how righteous the shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson Missouri was. Why? Because that talk divides. It is what it is designed to do. The world believes in preaching to the choir but the choir ought to believe in preaching to the world. Likewise, let him deny his urge to scream about race relations and injustice. Why? Because that talk also divides. It is what it is designed to do. The devil wants us screaming at each other because amidst the screaming no one can hear the Gospel. You remember the Gospel? What is supposed to be on our lips. What is supposed to be in our speech. What is supposed to be our passion. What is supposed to be our cause. That is what it means to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Christ. The hard truth is we want to be screaming today about Ferguson. We want to be screaming like everyone else is. No matter what side we might be on. No matter what side we have deemed righteous. We want to take up the cause of the oppressed or defend those who risk their lives defending us. Jesus says to leave those temporal issues behind and pick up the eternal cross. Pick up the true cause for this and every generation. We should feel loss for the family of Michael Brown because we are human but we should be preaching the Gospel because when we pass from this life to the next it is all that will matter. We should feel sorrow for Officer Wilson and his family as well; yet also preach the Gospel for the same reasons. Jesus died for Michael Brown as much as He died for Officer Wilson. As much as He died for you and for me. He died for Ferguson Missouri as much as He died for Baghdad Iraq. Oh yes beloved, do not let hatred capture your hearts. Jesus died for all of us. Jesus is an equal opportunity Savior and He dealt with some of the same hatred in His time here on earth:
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." - Luke 10: 29-37 (ESV)
This is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is one we all know and many who are not saved are quite familiar with as well. Jesus knew full well what He was doing when He cast the hero of this story to be a Samaritan. His audience were Jews and they hated the Samaritans. Hated them with the same zeal many in this country hate each other with today. They considered them half-breeds and lesser then they were. In the parable, the priest could not be bothered to help out his fellow man. He was too religious. The Levite considered himself too clean. Far too often our religion speaks a better game than it plays out in our actions. That is why James teaches us that faith without works is dead. Jesus could have simply taught those lessons with this story but instead He wanted to cut through their prejudices. He wanted to cut through their biases and racism. He wanted to cut them to their hearts and show them kindness through the hands of the one they hated the most. For that day and in that parable, they were all Samaritans. The other important lesson often forgotten is what triggered this parable. What was Jesus answering?
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." - Luke 10: 25-28 (ESV)
The matter at hand is eternal life. That is the question hanging in the air as Jesus relates the Parable of the Good Samaritan. What must I do? Love God and love your neighbor. Sounds simple enough but we see here the propensity man has to try and set the terms of the deal in his favor. The lawyer asks, who is my neighbor? Jesus tells everyone this parable not only to show what being a neighbor means but to show that even the most hated in our heart is still a vehicle for God's love. That we must deny ourselves and our own hatreds if we are to truly pick up our cross and follow Christ. We must realize that God wants none to perish, even those we hold in the most contempt. For some of us this is the parable of the good Muslim. For others it is the parable of the good urban youth. The good white cop. Whoever we create in our own minds as bad, Jesus makes them good. Good enough to be the Samaritan. Good enough to be the hero. Good enough at worst, to hear the Gospel. We are all the same to God. His creation. The delineations we see are those we created. We are all urban youth today. We are all Michael Brown. We are all good white cops today. We are all Darren Wilson. While the world is whipping itself into a frenzy over matters that are built on the shifting sands of this world, we are all Ferguson.
What does that mean preacher? What it means beloved is His cause must be greater than our cause. That His Gospel must be more important than our hatred. Or our anger. Or our self righteousness. Or our politics. You mean I am not entitled to my opinion anymore? Not if the expression of that opinion serves to drive people away from you.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. - Luke 11: 23 (ESV)
There are only two choices. We are either gathering people unto Christ or we are in the business of scattering them away from Him. That should be a very sobering thought. The Apostle Paul knew this well and we see it at work in our key verses today. From these verses let us exposit some key points. The first of which is that our freedom is to be a servant. Thank God Almighty that we are free at last but that freedom cost Jesus everything! It was purchased at a price. There is some bad grace teachings out there that teach freedom as a means to do whatever our carnal heart's desire but the reality is that our true freedom in Christ is to be a servant:
even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Matthew 20: 28 (ESV)
Who are we willing to give our lives as a ransom for? Our unsaved spouse? Family members? Neighbors? That is not good enough beloved because we need to remember who our neighbor truly is. It is not just those we like. It is those we hold the most disdain for. We need to stop being the priest walking to the other side of the street and get to the point of being the anti-hero. The Samaritan.
The second lesson from the key verses is the goal. Paul spells it out very clearly. It is not to prove ourselves right. It is not to prove ourselves superior. It is that we might win more of them. We serve so that we might win more of them to Christ. That is the goal beloved. This is not some game. The eternal destination of the souls of men hang in the balance we argue about trifles in this world that will pass away like the grass of the fields. Some of us have pushed people away permanently with our political persuasions, pet issues, or even our religiosity. The Bible is a two edged sword, not a blunt instrument. We are not called to beat people upside the head with the Bible. The third point from the key verses is that we are to meet people where they are at. Paul says for the Jew he became as a Jew. For the weak he became weak. Let us take a look at the commentary from Matthew Henry on this portion of Scripture:
It is the glory of a minister to deny himself, that he may serve Christ and save souls. But when a minister gives up his right for the sake of the gospel, he does more than his charge and office demands. By preaching the gospel, freely, the apostle showed that he acted from principles of zeal and love, and thus enjoyed much comfort and hope in his soul. And though he looked on the ceremonial law as a yoke taken off by Christ, yet he submitted to it, that he might work upon the Jews, do away their prejudices, prevail with them to hear the gospel, and win them over to Christ. Though he would transgress no laws of Christ, to please any man, yet he would accommodate himself to all men, where he might do it lawfully, to gain some. Doing good was the study and business of his life; and, that he might reach this end, he did not stand on privileges. We must carefully watch against extremes, and against relying on any thing but trust in Christ alone. We must not allow errors or faults, so as to hurt others, or disgrace the gospel.