In a prayer meeting this morning, someone related a conversation with a pastor who asked for prayer as he tries to lead his church away from its traditions. Coming from a background that eschews many of the traditions associated with a formal church setting, this is something I’ve often heard before. We say that tradition stifles the freedom that is supposed to be part of the worship experience. We say that tradition stands in opposition to God. We point to Jesus and His criticism of the Pharisees for putting their traditions in the place of truth and love.
Some would say that we merely excuse disorder. Their criticism is not without merit. Most of the time, all we’ve really done is given free reign to emotional incontinence and replaced the old traditions with an equally rigid set of new ones. They permit freeform expression, but deny the value of silent contemplation. There is a place for both.
Tradition has value when it helps us to remember things that are important. When Jesus came and fulfilled the law, he removed the need for the traditions written down in the law. They were there to point to Him. He left us with just two. The early disciples would hardly recognize what we have done with the breaking of bread together that we now call communion or The Lord’s Supper, but baptism seems to have remained what it was, at least for those who immerse. In sharing a meal together we celebrate the unity that comes by the body and blood of Jesus. In baptism we symbolize the death of the old self and the resurrection to new life available because of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. We publicly proclaim that we now belong to Him.
Tradition only becomes a problem when it becomes the objective. We are to serve the Creator, not the creation. We should be especially wary of our own creations. Our traditions in whatever form they take can become our idols. That’s when it’s time to burn them.
So when I hear someone say that we need to jettison our traditions, I’m inclined to agree, but I also have to ask, “with what do you intend to replace them?” If it’s just another set of traditions, no thanks.
In this podcast I share some thoughts with you from Matthew 22:35-40. When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he responds, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Have you heard someone take this passage and use it to show that we should love ourselves? I have, and I may have even used it that way myself. I think when we do that we’re turning this passage on its head. It isn’t about us. In fact, it’s about everyone but us. Jesus here acknowledges the reality that we do love ourselves and teaches us to give the same attention to God and to our neighbor.
In this podcast, I speak about how we can start to overcome our fears. Many of us in our church are facing physical disability, but fear can disable us more completely than most anything that might happen to us. I shared a little practical advice and a powerful weapon against fear that I dare say most have not considered. Want a hint? Read 1 John 4:18.
If I remember correctly, I got the call on Sunday morning. Someone in our church attempted suicide. This was the first time for me to face something like this even indirectly. The pastor asked that I preach the sermon as he went to be with the person. I believe it is posted on the church site, but because of the sensitive nature of the topic I didn’t want to open old wounds by re-circulating the message. However, it came up again today, and I am aware of another situation where someone I know has attempted suicide. I’m sharing this now in the hope that rough as it is, the heart and the truth of it will come through and bring restoration. Your life is precious! Please don’t throw it away!
Our society teaches us to tolerate just about anything. Not only are we to tolerate it, but we are to embrace it. This attitude has crept into our churches. In the genuine desire to show love and acceptance to all, we look the other way in the presence of sinful behavior.
Is that what Jesus meant by not judging? What do we think of parents who do that with their children? What kind of children do they usually turn out to be? We are supposed to love the sinner. We were all sinners saved by His blood and we still fight the battles. Church should be a place where the sinner is welcome, but it should never be a place where sin is condoned. That is going to make sinners uncomfortable at times. They may respond by repenting or they may run away. We must not be afraid to speak the truth.
When we look the other way in the presence of sin, we are not acting in love. It’s possible for our hearts to be in the right place, but our actions are out of step with our motivation. If you saw a child about to go into traffic, would you turn away because you don’t want to judge him for his choices? Sometimes our motives are not so pure. We don’t want to get involved. We don’t want to make trouble or put ourselves at risk. We’d never admit it, but our actions suggest we’d rather the child get run over than risk getting run over ourselves. We can’t claim to be loving unless we’re willing to do the tough things that love sometimes requires.
11 Deliver those who are being taken away to death,
And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back.
12 If you say, “See, we did not know this,”
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his work? (Prov 24:11-12 NASB)
One thing we should remember when we read our Bible is that the chapters and verses were added for convenience long after the original text was written. The chapter and verse breaks don’t always fall in the best places to help us understand what the text is saying. Matthew 18 is not one of those cases. I think it’s just right. I’m also not a big fan of the subheadings many translations add, especially when they stray into the realm of commentary. However I’m going to provide my own for this chapter, “To Protect and to Save.”
Jesus is telling us many things in this chapter, but we will focus on some main themes. Protect the weak and the innocent. Address sin with love. Strive always for redemption. Forgiveness is essential. I hope this will help us to understand why it is so important that we deal with sin in our lives and in our church body as well as the redemptive purpose that is ever present throughout God’s word.