Tag Archives: morality

Working for a Living

When you die, what’s going to happen to you?  Most people answer, “I hope I go to Heaven.”  If asked why they would, most will say, “I’m a pretty good person; I’ve tried to be good all my life …  well, most of my life…  there was that one period there when things went a bit haywire, but really, for most of my life I’ve lived by a pretty good standard of right and wrong.”  But when Jesus was asked straight out what it would take, asked by a guy who had really worked hard to follow God’s laws, Jesus told him he wasn’t qualified, at least not yet. (Matthew 19:16-22)

In fact, Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a guy like that to get into Heaven.  The disciples were bewildered.  They were asking, “If that guy doesn’t make the cut, who can?”  Same question each of us asks.  Will I make it?  Have I done enough?

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” (Matthew 19:26)

Jesus freaked them out more by saying, many of the people you might think would be at the front of the line to get in to Heaven are going to find themselves at the back of the line.  He illustrated the point with a weird parable about a man with a large vineyard going down to “Labor Ready” to hire some guys to work.  He went early in the morning and then several more times during the day.  But at the end of the day, he paid everyone the same amount, even the ones who had only worked an hour.  And they got paid first.  He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like that.”

Huh?  That goes against everything we’ve learned about being rewarded for working hard.  The guy who had really been trying to do the right thing, who really wanted to know, “what do I have to do,” wasn’t fit to get in! And Jesus seemed to imply everyone who does make it receives the same reward no matter how much or little they have worked for it.  Does that leave you with any questions?

That whole section of Matthew (19:16 – 20:16) is connected.  Read through it and you will notice that Jesus invited the man to follow Him, something he was unwilling to do.  In the parable, every one of the workers got the same reward, not because they had worked the same amount but because they had each agreed to go with the landowner.  The landowner, Jesus said, gave each of them the same amount because he was “generous.”

Getting into Heaven is not about working for it, but rather agreeing to follow Jesus.  It’s about being welcomed in with Jesus by the generosity of The Father.  This runs counter to a deep conviction we have.  We think, “This doesn’t seem right; there has got to be some work involved.”

Quite right.  There was some work necessary.  Here is the next 3 verses in Matthew:

” Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”” (Matthew 20:17-19)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

I think I know this guy.  For that matter, so do you.

” Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”” (Matthew 19:16)

We know him because he is our spokesman.  He asked the question we have all asked: “Have I been good enough to go to Heaven?”  “Do I measure up?  If not, tell me what good thing to do so I can take care of it.”

Interesting.  We find out later (verse 22) that this guy is loaded.  Great wealth.  Presumably, if he wants something – anything – he only has to get out his wallet and he can have it.  He’s traded up for a three car garage. He’s sampled wine and brie in Paris.  Got the newest phone.  Or maybe he’s famous, stands in the wings and listens to the sellout crowd chant his name. He’s the guy we secretly wish we were.

But somehow, he realizes that it isn’t quite enough.  He’s not “in” yet.  There’s something missing. He senses that he hasn’t quite done enough good.  Other people look upon him as a good person.  Maybe they even named the hospital wing for him.  But he knows himself too well.  Old regrets steal his sleep.  But no matter: just tell me what good thing to do. I’ll get out my wallet and get it done.

Jesus zeroes in on the word, good.

““Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. ”” (Matthew 19:17a)

The only “One” Who is good, is God.  Anything short of God’s goodness isn’t “good.”  Almost good, pretty good, good enough, as good as it gets – none of that is perfectly “good.”  If you had a strawberry shake, made just the right way at the old fashioned soda shoppe, and then I put a tiny drop of spit into it, it wouldn’t be “good” any more.  You don’t measure good by comparing yourself to other imperfect humans.  You measure good by God’s standard.  Anything less isn’t “good.”

Jesus says,

“If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17b)

If you want to be good enough, do what God has said to do.  Perfectly, like the only One Who is good.  Like the only One Whose goodness qualifies Him for eternal life.  But the guy doesn’t get it.  He doesn’t think that way.  Which becomes obvious, with his next question:

““Which ones?” the man inquired.” (Matthew 19:18a)

How much is good enough?  We will come back to this.  But for now, let’s go stand next to the guy and puzzle over the way Jesus used the word, “good.”

I know this guy, don’t you?

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Adultery

“I did not have sex with that woman!”  Bill Clinton’s approach to morality was the ordinary one: Draw a line that defines what is going too far, and then you can tiptoe up to the line, as long as you do not step over it.  Sex, in his mind, was defined by the act of intercourse; as long as he did not cross that line, in his mind, he was not guilty.

Jesus’ view of morality is extraordinary.  Doing the right thing is not about staying on the good side of some arbitrary line; it’s about pursuing the heartbeat of God with all your heart.  It’s. about devoting oneself to the greater purpose behind a line or a law.

Jesus knew that a central component in God’s design for humanity was a covenant marriage relationship between a man and woman, established and maintained by faithfulness.  Not faithfulness as defined by Bill Clinton but faithfulness of the heart.  So He said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”. (Matthew 5:27-28)

Jesus taught that God’s intent was not to prevent adultery, as narrowly defined by a sexual act, but to foster marriage, as defined by a heart oneness between the husband and wife.  Any act that breaks that oneness, even an unfulfilled lustful longing of the heart, is an act of adultery, since it damages the oneness of marriage.  If that seems extreme to you, think about how damaging even the suspicion of unfaithfulness is to the harmony of a marriage. 

That teaching was so radically different from the commonly held Bill Clinton approach, that Jesus shook them up with this:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  (Matthew 5:29 – Jesus continues this thought in verse 30)

Jesus was not advocating self-mutilation.  As you know, the eye only follows instructions from the heart…   Jesus was startling people with hyperbole in order to underlline how seriously flawed their understanding of morality in marriage was. 

2000 years later, human attitudes toward faithfulness and marriage have not improved.  But Jesus wasn’t joking and God’s design for how things work hasn’t changed. 

Changing the Rules

Did you know it is a sin to love the world?  That’s what John said:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  (1 John 2:15)

But how can that be true, if “God so loved the world…”? (John 3:16a)

Someone once asked me if it was ethical  to keep a valuable guitar. He had been hiking in the wilderness and found it in an old, abandoned house, a home that was evidently abandoned.  He let himself in, looked around and found this rare and beautiful guitar.  Could he keep it?  Was it right?

If you had found that guitar, what would you have decided?   Wouldn’t your “rules” change, depending upon whether or not you thought someone else currently owned the home?  If someone had died and left no heirs, perhaps you would think:  “finders keepers.”  But, if you knew he was still alive but just away on a trip, then taking the guitar would be stealing. What you think it is right to do, would change if you realized you were in someone else’s home.

The same principle is at work when people fail to realize that we live in God’s “home.”   God created this world; it’s His.  Therefore He gets to make the rules.  The rules about what is right and wrong change substantially when you take God out of the equation.   Without God, we assume that we can do whatever seems right to us.  Do you remember in the 60’s when people decided “if it feels good, do it”?  It wasn’t long before we began to discover that that idea wasn’t necessarily accurate.

The “rules” that have been developed since people lost their connection to God, the mindset that assumes that we are in charge of what is right and wrong, is what John calls “the world.”  Jesus coined that term.  The mindset of the world” is very different from the mindset of Jesus’ “logos.”  If you understand what “the world” means, then this verse that sounds so outrageous begins to make more sense:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

We’ll poke and prod this idea next time…