"Avoid these foolish and undisciplined speculations, understanding that they only give rise to quarrels; 24 and a servant of the Lord must not engage in quarrels, but must be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient." 2Timothy2,24
"You have heard how it was said: 'eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say this to you: 'offer no resistance to the wicked [Wickliffe 'yuel' man, cruel man, Pulpit Commentary, biblehub.cpm/matthew/5-39.htm]. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well.' " Matthew5,38-39
"Do not say, 'I'll pay you back for this wrong! Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you." Proverbs20,22
49 "Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other." Mark9,49-50
I'm preaching "Three Remedies To Cruelty- Rising Above The Flesh" today.
Looking at human history, forget about faith for the moment, its wars, genocides, holocausts, human traffickings and false leaders, it strikes us that cruelty is a primal human temptation and reality.
Cruelty is both the worst and most revealing of sins because it highlights that we humans are meaner than animals. A wild animal will merely eat his or her prey. A human being will crucify his own kind, after mocking, scourging and spitting in His face. An animal does not know what cruelty is whereas a human plans and enjoys it.
This temptation to cruelty begins in children barely able to walk and continues to a man's last breath. It's part of our inherited original human sin. Adam and Eve had an original blessing, praise Jesus, but their sin passed down a predisposition to envy and cruelty. Cain cruelly envied and killed his brother. He was a natural born killer. Jacob cruelly cheats Esau with the help of his mother, both natural born chislers. The Philistines cruelly plugged up Issac's wells, natural born haters.
One person in the church wants more attention than the other, natural born prima donnas.
We have to be reborn to overcome that temptation to cruelty.
Cruelty can happen without much thought or care, like bullying in junior high. It can expressed with and without words, or with mere glances, or by open and glowering stares. It can also be hidden behind impecable politeness and words. It's both above and below the surface, but it's never invisible. It gets expressed, one way or the other.
Towards Fellowship Away From Cruelty
Whereas, kindness and fairness are more learned behavior and most often come from good choices. Every child learns to share his or her toys, or goes through life not sharing much. The learned virtues of kindness and fairness help us crawl out of the muddy flesh and gaze upon the lofty and pacific heights of biblical fellowship.
The Greek word is koinonia. This is our standard as faithers above the flesh, above our original sin, the standard of the redeemed.
"Fellowship" is the lofty biblical way of interacting between Christians. It is the result and gift of an ardent faith (confidently acting on the promises of God again and again- G. Scott) whereby God's Spirit gets into each one of us, and we become new creations, with an ability to relate to each other, and God, in new and better ways. Fellowship is also Spiritual solidarity, authored by God who is Spirit.
In Spanish it is "companarismo," whereby the Spirit of Jesus informs the life spirit in each of us, which now more joyfully meets the Holy Spirit and the Jesus informed life spirit in you. Then, with this Spiritual solidarity, we have a relationship that reflects Jesus' Holy Spirit infilling, a relationship that respects His ways and means, and therefore, each other:
"The life [Word of life, ie the incarnated and risen Jesus] appeared; we have seen it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us [incarnation and risen Jesus]. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ." 1John1,2-3.
The word presents fellowship within the body of Christ and with God as a given, and notably as something outsiders would surely want. But that doesn't mean every church has or lives this fellowship, this communion, day in and day out, year in and year out. This largely depends on whether there are folks baptized in the Spirit and in leadership of the church, who insist on this above-the-flesh standard.
This lived fellowship is what separates us from social or political groups. They have dues, rules, handbooks and constitutions, we have the Word of God, Holy Ghost baptism, and Holy Ghost fellowship.
That's fellowship, an actual communion with God and each other, that's authored by God, and raises our relationships out of the flesh.
First Remedy To Temptation To Human Cruelty: Kindness To All
I have been in and out of churches now for 30 years and I wouldn't say that fellowship is the average spiritual level of Christian interaction. I say this not to rank on our faith, but to preach that if biblical fellowship is not the de facto norm and goal in our churches, we have to have to go back to the biblical standards that lead us back up to its mountain spring.
We have presumed to run the mountain heights, claiming "fellowship," before we've taken the baby faith steps of human kindness such as "love your neighbor as yourself." Such as, "unless you forgive your brother from your heart, your heavenly father will not forgive you." Such as, "what you do unto the least of my brothers you do unto me."
These, among many biblical commands, are threshold faith doors to baptism in the Spirit, and into the higher realm of biblical fellowship.
The genius of Pentecostalism, which is a biblical based movement, not a denomination, is that many experience and now know that fellowship is not just a word, or a filled-out membership application, or occasional goose bumps on Sunday morning, it is a Spiritual reality, given by God, to the church, a communion with God and each other in faith by way of the Holy Ghost.
We can claim it as much as we want, and many people name and claim a lot of things, but having it is the more important. Fellowship frees us from much of the flesh to flesh interactions that bog down the spinning wheels of God's movement and love. We can all claim fellowship or $1000.00 dollars in our pocket.
But if it's not there, it's not there.
There were quarrels in the early church in Corinth, and Galatia, and Asia Minor, especially Ephesus, over circumcision for gentiles, and keeping the Jewish feasts, and who was a better preacher, and who belonged to which preacher, and there were gender battles, and and nascent clericalism too.
Quarrels tempt humans to cruelty, or is it cruelty tempts people to quarrels?
Such quarrels can, and actually do, break up fellowship. When this happens this is another way to say God's not there, not in the church. That's why Revelation 3,20 depicts Jesus knocking at the door of the last age Laodicean church. This church is wealthy, but lukewarm, Spiritually naked, but Jesus is on the outside, and thus the church is without fellowship, and not even knowing it its own "nakedness."
2Timothy3,1-5 describes the situation in the church in Ephesus which is also without actual biblical fellowship:
"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather then lovers of God- 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."
This passage is the very definition of cruel. Folks, in the church who have given in to the temptation to be cruel, given in to living in the flesh though they call themselves Christians. They might claim fellowship, but they don't have it.
Same in our day.
And what's Paul's remedy?
2Timothy2,23-26 "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."
So Paul, who had been in the midst of all these battles that robbed the church of fellowship, that tempted it to cruelty, simply said to his protoge in Ephesus, "be kind to everyone." This was his advice to this second generation apostle so that Timothy would not get tangled up in controversies and personalities and fleshy side issues.
He was to separate himself and the people from such wrangling. 2Timothy3,5.
"Have nothing to do with them," but be kind to all of them.
Have nothing to do with them? This seems harsh, and is harsh.
Why would God's word go this far?
Because if we are always tangled up in controversies and quarrels and personalities, we have no time or energy to do the gospel work that God gives us to. And we're tempted to be cruel right back.
And if we then give in, then we too are going to wear "the empty husk of religion while denying it's true power." (2Timothy3,5). And then we too lose fellowship with Jesus and each other.
Paul encourages the Phillipians at 2,14-15 with similar words. Phillipi was Paul's favorite church, probably because it did not descend into the common pastime of wrangling and controversies and thus didn't lose fellowship or descend into cruelty:
"Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a wicked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life- in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing."
So if fellowship is not a given in church, Paul's fall back guideline is "kindness to all." Thanks be to God for the churches who have real holy Ghost based human fellowship.
And thanks be to God for Christians who are kind to all, and refuse to crawl back into the natural born mud pit of the flesh, refuse to be cruel, after Jesus made us new creations.
And thanks be to God for all the non Christians who are kind to all and give us "Christians" good example.
Second Remedy: Turn The Other Cheek
Here's another remedy, sort of like kindness, but a little stronger, turning the other cheek.
Does this mean we're just saps and pushovers as Christians?
Many folks believe this, especially young men, as if Jesus were a pushover, and lacked manliness, as if he were the wimpy stylized guy of a painting.
In Matthew5,38-39 we'll find the answer:
'You have heard it was said, 'Eye for Eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person [Wickcliffe "yuel" or cruel man, devilish man, affiliate of the evil one, Mt. 5,37], if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
In the early church this 'turn the other cheek' may also have been interpreted by some to mean that we are to be saps and pushovers. In fact, it seems Paul was answering this very question at Romans 12,19-20 when he adds an explaination to the already established teaching of Jesus not to lash out violently at enemies:
"My dear friends do not seek revenge, but leave a place for divine retribution; for there is a text which reads, 'Vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay.' 20 But there is another text 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; by doing this you will heap live coals on his head.' Do not let evil conquer you, but use good to conquer evil.' "
Paul is a genius here, speaking here in Romans, seat of the empire, seat of the conquerors, as to how to overcome the conquerors, conquer them with good!
This is one of the many times, such as the voluntary quality of celibacy (1Corinthians7) and the unified Spiritual and one body nature of the Lord's supper (1Corinthians10-12) and the future aspects of day of the Lord and the resurrection of the dead (Thessalonians4,13-5.11) where Paul gets the final and additional word on another very important teaching of Jesus.
This additional explanatory matter, "by doing this you will heap live coals on his head.' 'Do not let evil conquer you, but use good to conquer evil' clearly shows that we Christians are not to be saps and pushovers. It also shows that the first Christians and Jesus still lived in an honour bound culture (Bruce Malina, "the New Testament World, Knox Press, 1981) where honor was a necessary currency. So no we Christians are not just saps and pushovers we follow the strong and winning witness examples of Jeus, the Apostles and martyrs throughout the ages.
In fact, we would argue that far from abandoning this honor culture Jesus and early Christianity also had an honor code of outdoing each other in generosity and service: "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves." Romans12,10
Jesus suffered challenges to his honor repeatedly as an unquiet prophet because he did not play by the clerical rules of the corrupted temple. For example, the chief priests and scribes questioned his authority after he overturned the money changers tables, and cleared out the traders out of his father's house at Luke21,1ff.
The chief priests and scribes had seen or heard about his miracles and saw his following and heard or heard about his prophecies- their questioning of his authority was now a way to insult and minimize Jesus, to strike him in the right cheek so to speak.
So he told them clearly his authority was that of the Father, John 2,16; Matthew 21,13. And at Luke19,45 he refers to "My house" as if it belonged to Him, to Jesus! Thus, they were not just insulting him, and the righteous things he was doing, but also the one who sent him.
Then Jesus ups the honor ante at Luke 21, asking his persecutors if John's baptism was from God or man, in that the people considered John a prophet (Luke20,6). Knowing that they would be stoned if they, the religious leaders, denied that John was of God, they feigned igorance and said they could not tell.
Jesus had turned their honor and shame game back upon their heads, by questioning their honor and authority.
So it's fair to say Jesus did not abandon his honor as he laid down his life: "destroy this temple in three days I will raise it up again." (John2,19, cf Malina)
So, if Jesus died without ceding his honor to his enemies, turning the left cheek is not an act of weakness or dishonor.
It was as John Calvin said, a readiness for the next unjust blow, a sign of strength, and perhaps protest. (Calvin, John, sacred-texdts.com/chr/calvin/cc31/cc31057.htm)
The hint at judgment when one is unjustly insulted or struck is also noted by Calvin in his commentary on Acts23,3 (vol. 2, www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom37xi.i.html?bcb+right. Calvin gets his left and right confused at Matthew5,39 but his teaching is still sound). This judgment comes in the form of Paul's verbal reproof of the High Priest for having Paul struck: "God wil strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit here to judge me according to the law let you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck."
Paul did not turn the other cheek! This event happened when the High Priest struck Paul after the learned Pharissee and newly born Apostle said with great confidence that his conscience was clean in professing Jesus as Messiah right there in Jerusalem. (If we're keeping score, the high priest's act was against the Mosaic law, as arguably was Paul's cursing of the High Priest (Exodus22,28) by calling him a "whitewashed wall.")
But the point remains, when we get insulted, or struck unjustly, whether we verbally reprove, or figuratively or literally turn our left cheek in silence, we are leaving that person to the judgment of God on his cruel act. And 'heaping hot coals on the evil doers head,' pointing out the guilt and shame of their act as Ryrie study bible puts it.
This is not passivity, but active Spiritual resistance to evil. We don't physically lash out, but both parties know full well that both vengeance and judgment belong to God, who sees all.
So, no we Christians are not saps and pushovers. We recognize cruelty for the sin that it is, a sin upon which sits the weighty judgment of God, but we do not take the bait from the evil one, or from cruel folks who work with him.
In other words, as Paul necessary explanation to Jesus' teachings "we use good to overcome evil."
So kindness to all is our first defense against cruelty, and turning the other cheek, non violent Spiritual resistance, our second.
Both kindness and turning the other cheek guide us away from the temptation of the flesh to respond in kind.
Third Remedy: Right Kind And Amount Of Salt
Colossians4,5-6 counsels us to have an answer for outsiders; "be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with a little salt, so that you may have an answer for everyone."
A little salt for outsiders, just the right amount. Too much salt and they might get hostile and violent and consume us. Lot's wife was consumed by salt. She turned into a pillar a salt. A little salt purifies, and brings life, too much salt consumes and corrodes.
1Peter3,15-16 says something similar in the face of a hostile outside world "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."
The early church was without power or numbers. First in Jerusalem, and then in the greater Roman Empire where the faith spread, Christians quickly learned that the movement could not survive, let alone flourish, if it was going to answer human cruelty with violence and insurrection. So it adopted a witness attitude that accepted a certain degree of suffering, even martyrdom, as a means of spreading the gospel and rooting it in a hostile culture.
The Christian movement, well after the resurrection and after it became apparent that Jesus was not coming right back, adopted a strategy of "a little salt", the right amount, of the Apostles Paul and Peter in Colossians4 and 1Peter3.
However, it began with a strategy of a lot of salt. It was started by a couple of salty prophets.
The martyr and prophet Stephen, the Christian partisan, offerred up a lot of salt. That was the grace of his great confrontation with the ruling Sanhedrin when he said at Acts7,51-52: "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcized in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute."
The prophet and martyr Jesus was just like Stephen, very salty. The right amount of salt in Jesus' speech was usually a lot. His words consumed and judged the ruling Jerusalem religious class that was about to kill him, Matthew23,28-30: 'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous 30 and say 'if we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets..."
Jesus also said "Think not that I have come to bring peace on earth, but a sword." Matthew10,34 This was the sword or division that comes from the dividing line of faith in Him, as Messiah of Israel, and savior of all.
This "alot of salt" begining gave way to a little salt strategy. But this is not to say that individual Christians are not called to know the right amount of salt according to the grace of God in every epoch of history.
Grace And Salt Are Synonyms
We notice in Colossians 4,6 that Paul equates the fullness of grace in our coversation with outsiders, with a proper amount of salt in our speech. This is no accident. Just as grace is essential to preserving our salvation, so salt in antiquity was essential to preserving life and food. One's food, such as fish and meat, could not be preserved without salt.
When we add salt to our speech we are adding life or grace to it. When outsiders try to trick us, or corner us, or accuse us, we add a little salt or grace to our speech, not letting anyone corrupt us, in so doing we both hold our ground and invite folks to give our gospel faith a try.
We add a little salt to our speech also when coarse folks try to verbally bullrush us. It's not that we look for or avoid confrontations and back down or look for them, it's just we're ready with some salt if the confrontation comes.
We also add a little salt to be friendly and to overlook a few things.
These various types of salt preserve us in our faith. It also respects the dignity of others, and maintains peace.
Jesus himself equates salt and grace when he says at Mark9,50: "Have salt in yourselves and have peace with one another."
When we know how to talk to people, and allow for some degree of give and take, and even have a sense of humor once in awhile, we are adding salt to our conversation. I don't think it's a sin to have a little salt and a sense of humor as a Christian. These allow non believers to get to know us, and where we are coming from.
So a little salt, a little grace, in our speech can deflect the world's hatred and cruelty, and open the door to faith. This is the kinder gentler type of salt.
But as we said with Lot's wife, salt has an edgier side to. It not only gives seasoning, it also purifies and even consumes.The life of salt, as a preservative, can became the death of salt, a consumptive.
As Jesus said at Mark9,49, when speaking about hell, said: "Everyone with be salted with fire." That is, everyone will be purified unto the eternal life of heaven and then the kingdom, or consumed with fire-salt unto eternal hell.
So the right amount of salt in our speech, the graceful kind, brings peace among people, even outsiders. The challenging use of salt in our speech keeps the truth and reality in view.
We don't want to lose our saltiness, all the fire and grace and life in our speech. A little edge, a little prophecy, a little challenge is ok, but not too much, without the grace of God, which leaves us like Moses, striking the rock rather than speaking to the rock, lashing out at people, in our own will, and again tempted to the same cruelty that Christ liberated us from.
Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount at Matthew5,13 defines us as "salt of the earth." That is, we are the best perservative against the cruelty and corruption of mankind and the earth. He also promised that "the just [that is another way to say the salt of the earth] will inherit the earth." Matthew5,5, Psalm37,29.
With His grace and the right measure salt in our lives, this will be our eternal home.
Back in Numbers18,19 God made a permanent eternal priestly covenant with the Levites and this is how he describes it: "Whatever is set aside [and brought near the Lord, ie sacrifice] from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your regular share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring."
Covenants are always signed and sealed. http://www.zionpentecostmission.com/one-baptism-one-eternal-covenant-with-Jesus.html
The sign, or signs, are the physical representations of the covenant, and the seal or seals, depict the full measure of the covenant and its meaning.
Our eternal personal covenant with Jesus has two signs, first the blood of the cross, and second water baptism. It also has two seals, two measures of its fullness, first taking communion (John6,53), and second baptism in the Holy Ghost (Ephesians1,13 "were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." Ephesians4,30). God is the one who picks the signs and seals of any covenant.
In his covenant of the priesthood here at Numbers18,19, he chooses physical salt, which was put on every sacrifice per Leviticus 2,13, as both the visible or physical sign, and as the spiritual seal, depicting the fully preserved eternal relationship between him and His priests.
So when the priests salted every sacrifice, salt was both a physical presevative and a Spiritual or faith perservative, that signed and sealed the priestly covenant. In this covenant God was demmanding that humanity be preserved in an eternally faithful and sacrificial relationship with him.
Now stay with me. All of us Christian faithers are defined at 1Peter2,5 and 9 as priests, even a royal priesthood, having been ordained by the priestly grace of Holy Ghost baptism, which by faith preserves us in a priestly or sacrificial faith relationship with God. We now also offer our bodies, which contain ours souls and spirits, as living sacrifices, Romans12,1.
1Peter 2,5 says as Priests, all of us, we also offer "Spiritual sacrifices," like praise and worship, and prayer and intercesion for folks, and acts of faith and devotion, having been salted or graced, or preserved by the Holy Ghost baptism. These Spiritual faith sacrifces make our bodies temples of the Holy Ghost.
So as the physical offering of animal salted with physical salt preserved Israel's sacrificial relationship with God, so our Spiritual sacrifices, like the Lord's Supper, done by faith through the power of the Holy Ghost preserve and give life to our covenantal relationship with God.
One of greatest spiritual sacrifices to preserve our relationship with God, would be of course to forgive others, when they, like us, don't deserve it. Another would be to season our speech with a little graceful, accomodating salt, or the right measure of edgier in-your-face-Jesus-prophetic-salt, depending on God's will, rather than just fly off the handle in impatience and anger.
This talk of right measure and right kind of salt derives from Numbers18,19 which defined the priestly covenant as a covenant of salt, preserving Israel's relationship with God.
The right measure, and kind of salt (accomodating or prophetic) keeps us from being cruel and aloof to outsiders, and yet allows us to always speak up for Jesus priest, prophet and king and not be ahamed of His gospel.
Three Not Very Easy Remedies For Cruelty
So that's my message, three faith remedies in response to human cruelty, and not responding in kind.
Of these the first one, practicing kindness to everyone is the easiest. This is sort of like the scripture "Love covers a multitude of sins." Kindness to all lays the groundwork for peace with outsiders and fro fellowship in the church. Praise the Lord that even many people who have no faith in God have learned to be kind, and the Golden Rule- "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Matthew7,12)
Praise the Lord for human kindness wherever we find it.
Remedy number two, turning the other cheek, is the most difficult of these three remedies. It is a radical Christian doctrine, and cannot easily be explained away. It is built on the premsie that vengeance, and final justice, belong to God alone.
Turning the other cheek is not sappy or for pushovers in that it leaves ample room for God's correction and judgment.
The third remedy, salting our speech, sometimes with graceful accomodating salt and sometimes with a stronger witness as Jesus did.
Finally, with a subject like this, we ask for wisdom to apply these remedies from the word in our own lives, and that God would develop our spirits and consciences according to His word and Spirit, and thereby give us both a peaceful and powerful witness.
In Jesus name I pray.
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...