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First Quarter 2014 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLESHIP
Week 10: March 1–7
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLING THE NATIONS
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Salvation might be of the Jews, but it was for everyone. Christ’s followers would transcend national boundaries, international conflicts, language differences, and other difficulties, because He had established the pattern of cross-cultural evangelism. [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 80]
This week’s lesson has much to offer. For example, the paragraph quoted above sets the context of evangelism exactly right. Followers of Jesus truly do transcend all man-made boundaries.
But the very next paragraph in the quarterly introduces another man-made boundary – “As Seventh-day Adventists…” This boundary is maintained all the way through the lesson. This focus on the unique gifts and responsibilities shared by members of the SDA church leads inexorably to a belief that SDAs are a cut above the rest. This is the natural assumption of a church that claims to be true spiritual Israel.
Am I picking on Adventists? No. I see this attitude in every denomination with which I have any experience. Christians in general prefer to think of denomination first. It is a strong sense of identity. I’m a Baptist. I belong to the Church of Christ. And so on.
What this lesson does so well on the one hand is negated by its denominational focus on the other. The question should never be: “What would Jesus have me, as a [insert denomination here], do to bring people to him?”
Why do I say this? First, because the question emphasizes a false identity. I am not the church I attend. Rather, I am a child of God; based on his declaration, not mine. Second, it emphasizes doing. Again, this is not a uniquely Adventist failing. Acts 1:7, 8 does not say we would do witnessing around the world when the Holy Spirit indwelt us. It says that we would be witnesses.
It is the being that transcends man-made boundaries. Doing, focused as it is on methods and results, actually creates more boundaries.
Ancient prophets foretold the conversion of non-Jewish people (Gentiles) to a scripturally based faith. [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 81]
Yes, God absolutely wanted Israel to be a witness to the surrounding nations. Their primary purpose was to be the people through whom the Messiah would come. Their secondary purpose, which grew out of their hope of the Messiah, was to be a witness.
The Mosaic Covenant often makes reference to Gentiles. It does this in two ways. First, Israel was to avoid paganism like the plague. Second, Israel was to be a gracious host whenever Gentiles traveled through the country. Even tithe was to be used for this purpose (see Deuteronomy 26:12).
Israel’s problem was not complacency, but apostasy. They joined with pagans and their rituals at every opportunity, while ignoring the needs of Israeli and Gentile alike.
The lesson’s author is correct in stating that this is a dangerous trap. However, the solution is not “onward, ever onward.” The answer is to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Ours is not a “burden [that] can never be laid down...” It is our privilege to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and to be compelled by the love of God (2 Corinthians 5:14). When God is doing his work within us, being a witness of Jesus in our world is second nature, a most natural thing to do.
What about us? What about all the advantages that we, as a people, have been given by God? Why is it important, first, to recognize those advantages; then, second, humbly to realize the responsibilities that come with them? [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 82]
In my previous commentary on Week 6 I disagreed completely with the author’s insistence on using the word “common” (his quotes, not mine). His intended means of removing false comparisons actually intensified them.
Something similar is at play here.
What about us? This could refer in this context only to Seventh-day Adventists.
What about all the advantages that we, as a people, have been given by God? Adventists are a people. They’ve been given advantages. Apparently, the rest of us are not a people and have not been given advantages. What are the advantages the rest of us are missing – Ellen White, the Sabbath, Loma Linda, Andrews University, a world-wide presence?
Why is it important, first, to recognize those advantages; then, second, humbly to realize the responsibilities that come with them? It must be that Adventists have responsibilities the rest of us don't.
I submit that none of this is true. According to the Bible:
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12, 13 NASB)
God’s “people” are not SDAs (or any other denomination), but everyone who has been born of God. These “people” are all the children of God.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ…” (Ephesians 1:3 NASB)
All who are children of God have been blessed. These blessings are not “advantages” over other people, which make those others somehow “less” and requires my humble condescension to them. No. These blessings have to do with the assurance of salvation and the certainty of forgiveness, both of which overflow from us to others simply because of the overwhelming reality of God’s love within.
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:27-29 NASB)
If you want to reach the world for Jesus you must stop separating the world into Adventist and non-Adventist. There are only lost people and saved people, and the only difference between them is that the latter have Jesus living within by the Holy Spirit.
Please never fall into the trap of saying “lost = non-SDA; saved = SDA.” Every denomination that makes this claim invalidates itself.
Lost people need Jesus, pure and simple.
Jesus’ warnings had to do with people’s refusal to accept him as Messiah. They had nothing to do with Israel’s advantages.
The title says it all! [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 83]
What an opportunity for reveling in the universality of the gospel! And to a great extent the author does so. Why, then, does the author focus the class conversation solely on the cost of following Jesus?
Jesus was very clear. The cost of following him is rejection of the world and total dependence on him. But this cost is not the core of the story. The core of the story is: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:32 NASB)
Adventists always get the equation backwards. You must clean up your life (quit smoking, quit drinking, quit whatever); that is, count the cost, before you can be saved. Jesus said it exactly opposite: I will draw all men to myself. When you come to grips with the power of his statement you will discover that “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
Grace, and grace alone, makes it possible for us to leave the world, even while living within it, for life with Jesus.
1. The author chose a crucial story from Jesus’ life to demonstrate the universality of the gospel. This was an inspired choice.
2. However, instead of focusing his students’ attention on the power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (the gospel), he asks them to ponder the cost. This can result in pride or depression, but it cannot result in praise.
3. Let Jesus be Jesus. Then point people to him.
Some of the leaders’ contempt for Jesus knew no bounds. Again, the terrible irony was that those who should have been in the forefront of receiving Him and His message were the very ones who fought against Him the hardest. Priests of Israel scorned the Son of God when those not of Israel accepted Him as the Messiah. What a powerful and sobering lesson is here for those who deem themselves (perhaps with some justification) spiritually advantaged! (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 84)
The author has it right, for the most part, in Wednesday’s lesson. Jews, in general, but especially the Jewish leaders, were as racist as could be. If you weren’t a Jew you were less than worthless. Jesus exposed their racism in his parable of the Good Samaritan.
My complaint is with his parenthetical statement: “perhaps with some justification.” There simply is no justification for deeming oneself spiritually advantaged. Why even suggest it?
He states his purpose in the shaded “Think of…” section. “What should you have done differently?”
As always, the Adventist approach to sin is behavior modification. Just do it differently next time, and the next, and the next until it becomes a proper habit. Then you will have overcome that sin, become a better person and be able to reach others. Unfortunately, the only thing with which you can reach others is the same guilt-ridden method you’ve used yourself.
I would argue that Adventist leadership needs to look in the mirror. I don’t hear them (or their members) rejoicing that someone has come to Jesus for life. I do hear them congratulating themselves on the numerical growth of the denomination.
Anyone not an Adventist is, at best, seen as a potential Adventist. At worst, they are seen as less than worthless. Far worse is the judgment they heap on those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus instead of Ellen White.
Listen to Jesus’ words. Understand the impossibility of accomplishing anything of value in his kingdom in your own strength. Accept him. Allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to change you from the inside out. Then you will be able to reach people.
Romans 15:12; Acts 1:7, 8; John 11:52, 53; Matthew 28:19, 20. What’s the essential message here, and how does this message fit in so well with the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14? (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 85)
Why is it that Adventists see a need for sharing the gospel everywhere, but insist on their own private definition of it? Why are they so intent on separating themselves from the rest of Christianity? Why do they define themselves as true spiritual Israel? Why, in fact, do they pervert the great commission?
Let’s start with the commission. “As you are going, make disciples…” What is a disciple? A disciple is a student, a learner. In this context, the disciple is a student of Jesus.
Nothing could be simpler. Remember the contrast I made between doing witnessing and being a witness? When you do witnessing you inevitably make people students of your particular belief system. This kind of witnessing is about right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error, the Mark of the Beast, fear, judgment, and so on.
When you are a witness of Jesus then you will inevitably make people students of him. This doesn’t happen because you are right. It happens because his love is overflowing through you to others, and they respond to him. You have the distinct privilege of introducing people to Jesus, but you are not responsible for them. If they will accept him Jesus is responsible for them. If they refuse the invitation they are responsible for themselves. This approach is free from fear, free of prejudice and free of all performance orientation. Just as important, it results in Spirit-led behavior change, permanent change.
Why do Adventists separate themselves from the rest of Christianity? Because Adventists hold to a performance-based religion. They must separate themselves from other performance-based religions. When your job requires you to sell Fords you must differentiate yourself from all other manufacturers.
This differentiation always results in wall-building. You must have walls. They protect you from others and protect others from you. (Again, Adventists are not alone in building these walls.) This differentiation is at the heart of current religious ideas like liberation theology, social justice and the like. You can’t simply love people, one life at a time. That takes far too long. Rather, you must force fairness to occur as a matter of church policy or of law (local, state, federal or world-wide).
Now that Adventism is far more an international belief system than a North American belief system, these ideas are creeping in. Here is an example. Within the past year an Adventist pastor was fired for proposing to allow homosexuals to have leadership positions, including teaching responsibility, within his church. However, the local conference retained him as a consultant helping them reach out to the homosexual and other under served communities. Finally, all ties were severed when this former pastor announced that he was going to live as an atheist for a year. The only way for this kind of spiritual confusion to exist is for a church to hold to a purely behavioral basis of belief. A person must be OK if they attend church on Saturday. Right?
Here’s another example. Recently, the country of Samoa decided to change their time-keeping system to that of Australia. The only problem is that doing so across the International Dateline resulted in them “skipping” Friday on the week the change occurred. The resulting controversy – is Saturday now Sunday? – has split the local Adventist congregations. Some believe that this is the Beast thinking to change time in order to enforce Sunday observance.
In the first example, apparently the church doesn’t know what to think. In the second, Samoans (and many others around the world) look at the controversy, laugh (or cry) and shake their heads at this so-called witness. If Adventism was more concerned with the pure gospel of Jesus instead of being fixated on its imagined spiritual advantages there would not need to be an entire quarter devoted to discipling. It would take care of itself.
Because of my work, I am constantly made aware of people who have learned to be witnesses of Jesus. I’ve met the people whose lives have been revolutionized by their new relationship with him. In this context discipleship exists solely in helping people understand what they have in Christ so that they can walk by faith in him. Lives are changed. Freedom is real. Barriers become invisible.
The usual list of Ellen White references and quotes. (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 86)
Does Adventism really need Ellen White to bolster Jesus’ own words? It seems to me Jesus was pretty succinct:
“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36, 37 NASB)
Well, I guess Jesus didn’t say, “Thus the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ is forever answered.”
What I’m pointing out is Adventism’s insistence on holding itself aloof from the rest of the world. This attitude belies their interest in evangelism. They are not trying to reach the world for Jesus, but for themselves. Jesus is a useful name to drop, but they are not really interested in setting people free from the bondage in which they live. Instead, they offer people a different kind of bondage, somewhat friendlier than most, perhaps, but bondage none the less.
Jesus offers true freedom. Jesus offers forgiveness. Jesus offers eternal life. Jesus offers us his own mind within us as the means of renewing ours.
Literally, nothing else matters. Literally, no human approach even comes close. Certainly, no organized religion, SDA or otherwise, can begin to understand and communicate Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
Instead, offer yourself as a living sacrifice to Jesus. Let him use your history, your gifts, your talents, your education – all of which belong to him anyway – to teach you about himself. In short, be a disciple; then you’ll be able to make disciples.