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First Quarter 2014 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLESHIP
Week 6: February 1–7
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLING THE "ORDINARY"
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.
In contrast, the “ordinary” people—carpenters, fishermen, farmers, housewives, shepherds, soldiers, and servants—generally thronged and embraced Him.. [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 46]
This week’s lesson constantly uses the term “ordinary” (with the quotes) to appeal to people who are not politically and economically powerful. I find this off putting.
If, as the author constantly points out, there are no ordinary people in God’s eyes, why are we confronted with our ordinariness on every new page? This sounds like an introduction to the gospel of social justice which is so prevalent in today’s churches.
It seems to me that this constant appeal to “lesser mortals” actually is a constant put-down of those to whom this week’s lesson is addressed. It actually appeals to the false comparison. There are “simple folk” (to quote the king’s lyric in Camelot: What do the simple folk do?). There are privileged folk. It is the job of the privileged to condescend to the ordinary so that the ordinary can be taught to work their way to heaven.
To answer one of the author’s questions, the reason people of all kinds responded to Jesus was his love for them and the simplicity of his message: “Believe in me and receive eternal life.” All people can discern condescension, and all people hate it. Jesus never condescended.
If the love of Jesus Christ is not overflowing from within, due solely to the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, please stay home. If you don’t know with absolute certainty that you have eternal life, please stay home. Do not seek to make disciples for any other reasons.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 NASB, emphasis added)
What do these verses tell us about the economic class into which Jesus was born? How would that class have influenced His ministry? [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 47]
According to Ellen White, Jesus was born into poverty as “a safeguard to Him. In His industrious life there were no idle moments to invite temptation. No aimless hours opened the way for corrupting associations. So far as possible, He closed the door to the tempter. Neither gain nor pleasure, applause nor censure, could induce Him to consent to a wrong act. He was wise to discern evil, and strong to resist it.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 72.
Apparently, Jesus would have fallen to temptation and enjoyed corrupting associations if he had been born into a more economically advantaged family. Was it only because he was poor that he was wise to discern evil, and strong to resist it.
This is patently false. Jesus had no propensity toward sin, none! He would have succeeded in whatever situation he had been born.
Besides, it seems pretty obvious to me that temptation and corrupting associations are pretty universal, regardless of status. The ONLY difference between rich and poor in this regard is access to lawyers.
Jesus was born to Joseph and Mary because God decreed it. His decree had nothing to do with some so-called privilege of poverty. It had to do with his knowledge that these two people would be ideal parents, people who would respond by faith to his initiative.
The author seems to think that God notices the differences we humans ascribe to social and economic status. It’s not enough that Jesus emptied himself to become human. The main point is that he became that human; you know, the one who grew up in Nazareth, and nothing good comes from Nazareth.
Again, far from eliminating differences based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the author serves only to highlight them.
People who are enamored by their talents, abilities, and accomplishments cannot often sense their need of something greater than themselves. What a horrible deception! Many among Christ’s contemporaries possessed superior academic training, social position, or personal wealth. Nevertheless, their names have long been forgotten. Remembered, however, are ordinary people—farmers, fishermen, carpenters, shepherds, potters, housewives, domestic servants—who were transformed into extraordinary witnesses for Christ. [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 48]
Here we are again. The privileged, the rich, the well-educated, the haves of this world cannot possibly understand Jesus. On the other hand, the down-trodden, the poor, the have-nots just intuitively respond to him.
According to this logic, the “ordinary” people shouted, “Hosanna!” during the triumphal entry, but the “extraordinary” people shouted, “Crucify!” The Bible disagrees.
This entire lesson is based on a “straw man” proposal. Actually, two of them. First, the rich straw man is too taken with himself to respond to Jesus. Second, the poor straw man is so righteous in his poverty that he immediately recognizes Jesus as his Savior.
Jesus recognized no such distinction. Why does Adventism insist on promoting one?
When does a farmer cease being “ordinary”? When he purchases his second or third farm? When he incorporates? When he can afford to hire other farmers to help with the work? When he can afford a tractor?
Why must we be so careful about making judgments about those whom we might not deem as “savable”? Why is that so easy to do? [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 49]
This lesson has made a very strong point of judging that the privileged are not “savable”, even though they apparently are so much more desirable to the average Adventist. Why is that so easy to do? Why is that so acceptable?
Why not tell the whole truth about Peter? For example, not long after the “Who do you say that I am” experience, Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan.” (See Matthew 16:21-23.) Which is he? Inspired by the Spirit, or Satan?
Peter wasn’t special because he was a mere fisherman. He was special because he came to Jesus, warts and all. The same can be said of Paul, who had a far better up-bringing; Priscilla and Aquila, who were excellent business people; Barnabas, a Levite who sold property (interesting that he had property to sell) to support others; and on and on.
Not a single one of us can claim that our “station” (another of those horrible, dividing terms) gave us an advantage when it comes to Jesus. Every one of us found a way to respond to his love and grace in spite of our “station”. Jesus is the uniting factor, not any of the things we use to identify, and therefore divide, ourselves.
With Christ, however, no class distinctions existed; no one was “ordinary”; everyone was an exception. (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 50)
Jesus wasn’t about “ordinary” vs. “extraordinary”. To him, everyone was normal. Everyone was a sinner in need of a Savior.
He didn’t change his message to reach different kinds of people. He was straightforward with everyone.
He did unthinkable things to tear down walls. He touched lepers. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He lounged with the rich. But in every interaction with people he had one purpose – to draw them to himself.
He was equally condemning with anyone who prevented someone else from coming to him. He was equally congratulatory with anyone who demonstrated faith.
He ripped apart the separations demanded by his society, not because he was seeking to make everyone equal in society but because those separations were used to extend have and have-not thinking to salvation.
To be fair, the author’s appeal to the universality of the cross is to be commended. It is the great spiritual equalizer. I just wish he had gone past the cross to the resurrection, where equality is ensured by eternal life, because everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord receives the indwelling Spirit.
In reality, the Christian community was to be a “classless society.” (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 51)
The Christian community was not to be a “classless society.” The phrase “classless society” is a key feature of Marxism, as anti-Christ a set of beliefs as can exist.
When you read the various letters of the New Testament you find an appeal to agape love despite the various classes that existed in the Roman world. This should be the case in our societies today.
It’s not that Christianity sought to eliminate class distinctions, which exist regardless of people’s efforts, but that Christianity appealed to a higher sense of identity – Child of God.
It is the Child of God who can be the best slave imaginable, or the best slave owner imaginable. This in no way agrees with or re-enforces such an institution. Rather, it enables a relationship in spite of the institution. The presence of Jesus in someone’s life causes them to ignore the false identities so rampant in our world in favor of the only identity that matters.
The appeal to utopian thinking has caused the Church of the last hundred years or so untold grief. It exposes the natural human tendency to legalism; that is, to behavior modification (sometimes under pain of death) as the solution to society’s ills.
Jesus’ way, which takes longer and is more frustrating to our need to control outcomes, simply ignores artificial labels. All Jesus cares about is that people respond to his initiative to save them.
It is a miracle of grace when his children simply change society, regardless of the number of years it takes for local laws to catch up. In the mean time, we share with each other as we are able. There are no rules. There is only faith expressing itself though love (Galatians 5:6).
Read 1 Corinthians 1:26–29 in class together. What are the key points? Read carefully where Paul wrote that God chose “the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (NKJV). What does that mean? How, in the context of being a Christian, are we to understand this fascinating idea? In what ways do these verses show just how twisted and perverted the ways of the world are? How can we make sure that we ourselves don’t get caught up in these corrupted ways? (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 51)
Sadly, the author reduces a most amazing section of scripture to an appeal to create yet another list of do’s and don’ts to “make sure we don’t get caught up in these corrupted ways.”
The Corinthian church suffered from a terrible case of class competition. It simply reflected its surrounding society.
Corinth was destroyed by Rome around 146 BC. Julius Caesar decided to rebuild it in 46 BC, shortly before he was assassinated. Caesars after him continued the building process. They declared Corinth to be a Roman Colony, much like Philippi. It was populated by a mix of freedmen (former slaves) and retired soldiers. Because it was located so strategically, many freeborn (natural Roman citizens) also moved there. In Paul’s day, one-third of the population were slaves.
Commerce was the order of the day. Fortunes were made ensuring that cargo was transported between the ports which existed just a few miles away on either side of the city. Smaller ships actually were portaged from one place to the other over log rollers.
This sounds like an ideal melting pot where people from all walks of life could exist peacefully, outside of the typical Roman society. It was not.
Corinthian society was transfixed by the desire to get ahead. The political situation was very fluid, since there was no long-standing aristocracy, with coalitions forming and disbanding depending on economic success. Everyone needed to tie themselves to the latest rising star. They threw lavish parties to advertise their successes (and to hide their failures). Religion flourished as a political and sexual tool. Above all, there were serious, yet unwritten, rules regarding “place”.
The social order was a follows: Freeborn, retired soldiers, freedmen, and then slaves. Note that many of the freedmen were highly skilled in their fields and immensely wealthy, but they never could rise higher than soldiers and the freeborn regardless of their money.
Into this seething cauldron of humanity Paul brought the gospel of Jesus, and people from all walks of life responded.
And then, people from all walks of life, carrying all the baggage common to those walks of life, began meeting together in homes. Chaos ensued.
Everyone chose their favorite teacher and formed coalitions around that teacher. Everyone chased the world’s wisdom, albeit in somewhat Christian garb, in order to get ahead. Former temple prostitutes were meeting former “johns” in house churches. Saved slaves were meeting saved owners in the same way.
How did Paul speak into this mess? Did he appeal to utopian ideas of equality? Did he borrow from Marxist ideology to propose a classless system? Did he suggest they create and compare To Do lists for removing the artificial, yet cast-in-concrete, rules of social order? Absolutely not!
Read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. Paul’s appeal was to the mind of Christ – foolishness (moronic) to human wisdom and absolutely dependent upon the indwelling Spirit for understanding.
The only means available to humanity to deal with societal ills is Jesus. To know him is everything. But the knowing cannot be attained by experimentation or scientific method. It is attained solely by revelation.
Are you concerned with your own biases? Allow the indwelling Spirit to transform your thinking.
Is your church struggling with its identity? Allow the indwelling Spirit within your little part of the Body of Christ to transform your thinking.
Do you not know the reality of the indwelling Spirit? Accept the full gospel (the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus) today. At the very moment of salvation the Spirit will take up residence within you. That’s why Jesus called it being born again.
To be a disciple is to be a student. In our case, we want to be students of Jesus. It is our privilege, as we go through our lives, to bring others to him so they can be his students, too. Do we need to understand how to communicate with different people groups? Absolutely. Why else would Paul say he was all things to all people in order to save some of them? His “being all things” had nothing to do with pandering to the world’s system, but everything to do with knowing how to communicate with everyone he met. This is spiritual work, initiated, revealed and controlled by the Spirit.
Trying to make disciples, while relying on the world’s wisdom regarding social norms, is a fool’s errand. The world’s wisdom always divides. It never unites. Jesus is exactly the opposite. Let his wisdom, which is present in you as a born-again child of God, inform you. He will not let you down.