18. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord. 19. Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.
Good morning, Saints.
I pray this letter finds you growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Even as I begin to type, I don’t really know what direction to take. A part of me wants to simply give you a generalized Bible devotion this morning, but I can’t seem to ignore the reality of the world that we are living in. I want to address the issue of Justice, since it is a word that is being thrown around quite a bit right now without much context. I also want to address the issue of privilege; or to use the Biblical word, blessing. But those topics are probably best to hold off on until we can have the conversations in person. As morning has dawned on June 3, 2020, we find ourselves having to face the music and once again admit that sin has taken its toll on us all.
America is a nation gripped…
… by fear, frustration, indignation, sorrow, mourning, division, and violence. The cruel mistreatment and unjust killing of George Floyd, at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota has sparked a broad (even worldwide) response revealing a pent up rage over the issues of justice. Protests, riots, and the destruction of neighborhoods and businesses have ensued.
Sadly, many who have been attempting to express their solidarity with the physical plight of George Floyd have actually shown their spiritual solidarity with Derek Chauvin, by displaying their deep depravity. We have seen and felt this tension building in this country repeatedly since at least 2014. This year has certainly posed its challenges for us all. It started off like 1974 (impeachment crisis), quickly became 1918 (pandemic), turned into 1929 (economic crash), and is now 1968 (massive social unrest). We are blessed to live in a quiet little corner of the country, but you don’t have to venture far from home to realize that we are all in a tinder box right now.
Over a hundred thousand…
…of our fellow citizens have died from COVID-19, millions are unemployed and in dire financial need because of the measures taken to slow its spread, and now our nation is inflamed against itself. Many of the business owners that were jut barely scraping by after being shut down for the health crisis have now been looted and vandalized. Deep wounds have been opened that will not be easily healed. The memories of sins committed are not quickly forgotten. While there hasn’t been any solid evidence (that I am aware of) that Floyd’s death was racially motivated, we as a nation seem to be perpetually haunted by the memories of slavery, segregation, lynching, and injustice of days gone bye. What can we do in the face of such enormous realities, complicated by factors of almost infinite regress?
We can trust God and be Christians.
We, of all peoples on this earth, understand that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). We know that we are no match for what we are up against, but “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be carried into the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2). “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth” (Psalm 124:8).Especially as a community of Saints who comprise a local church, we can and should do at least four things. Love and trust God, and show that by praying to and depending on and believing in him. Love one another, tenaciously committing ourselves to be the communion of the saints. Love our neighbors, determining to let no one out-love us in this community and culture. Proclaim the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation and the power of change in transformed people.
Repent, Lament, and Pray
First, we should commit ourselves to repent, lament, and pray to our God. This problem, situation, and its remedy is bigger than us. We know that it is, even though snake oil salesmen from the left and right are going to try to market their “solutions” to us in the coming days. Sadly the political and editorial talking heads on the alphabet networks can only point out problems, because the world has no real solutions. But that is not to say that our situation is hopeless.
The Reformation came in the wake of plague, pestilence, poverty, famine, war, and ecclesiastical corruption. Likewise, the great awakening was a light that shown into a time of great darkness. God is always up to things in big societal upheavals. If I might interject a hint of eschatological hope here, we are right on schedule. So, we go to God in prayer. We pray for His will to be done and His Kingdom to come.
Love One Another
Second, love one another. Our Savior gave us the new commandment to love one another as he loved us, and John tells us to love in deed and truth, not just word and tongue (John 13:34; 1 John 3:18). So let us double-down on loving one another, tenaciously committing ourselves to be the communion of the saints.
The Westminster Confession, in its chapter on the Communion of the Saints, beautifully and biblically says:“All saints … being united to one another in love, … have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man. Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion … in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus (Westminster Confession of Faith, 26.1-2).”
We want every part of Christ’s body to receive the active love, care, and service of the whole body, even as every part seeks to give it to the other. In this distressing season, let us be a refuge for one another, as we point one another to the only true refuge for our weary souls.
Love our Neighbors
Third, let us all, according to our own opportunities, situations, and circumstances, love our neighbors. Our Savior and Lord said that loving neighbor is the second greatest commandment (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:36-40). As his disciples, then, we should be determined to let none in this country and culture out-love us.
The Westminster Larger Catechism gives us tangible, biblical, and practical suggestions for how to do this. It says that the duties required in the sixth commandment (“you shall not murder”) are:“all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; … by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent (Westminster Larger Catechism, 135).”
Let us all, as Christians, love our neighbors…
… in our local community, in these ways. In other words, Christian love — expressed to our neighbors — manifests itself practically. We care about our neighbors’ safety and well-being. We want them to enjoy a fair and just society just like we want to enjoy it. We are committed to and involved in securing that with and for them, because we care about the common good and the general welfare. Those have been American values since the founding of our nation. As Christians, though, we have profound theological reasons for living this way that go far beyond our citizenship as Americans. Our Lord and Savior came not to be served, but to serve; he saved us and taught us to love our neighbors and not live selfishly.
Proclaim the Gospel
Finally, let us recommit ourselves to proclaim the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation and the power of change in transformed people. The world will belittle and beckon us away from the gospel in a season like this, but true believers know the power of God to save sinners and change lives.
People need to hear of God’s saving design to rescue rebels and redeem wretches, like us. People need to hear the glorious truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. People need to hear the Word of God powerfully and passionately preached, and they need to hear the preacher say: trust in Christ alone for your salvation as he is offered in the gospel. A life of good works and true justice is only possible after receiving such grace, not before it.
And so, if we really want to see people living lives of good works and neighborly love in this world in the here and now, we need to remember what Paul said:For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10). So, don’t let anyone sell you on a false juxtaposition between preaching the gospel and cultivating disciples who do good works, love their neighbors and care about justice (as defined by the Scriptures). The Gospel makes disciples that care about both the first (love God) and the second great commandments (love your neighbor).
There is no contradiction between those things. And there is also no contradiction between believing the primacy of the proclaimed Word and making disciples who “obey everything that Jesus commanded”.The world needs Jesus. The world needs the gospel. There is a lost, sinful, hurting world that needs to know it. Let’s tell them. And show them.