Matthew 23 is one of the most intense chapters in all of Scripture. The entire chapter is a condemnation of the Pharisees by Jesus to the people. One of the things Jesus says to these Pharisees highlights some deep and important spiritual truths for us. In verse four, Jesus says:
“They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
What was at the heart of Jesus’ rebuke to these guys? You see, at this time, the Pharisees were really the only people who could read and interpret Scripture. The Scriptures were still in Hebrew and the only people that could read Hebrew were the religious leaders. As a result, if someone wanted to know the words of God they were forced to go through their local religious leaders.
What the Pharisees had done that caused such a strong reaction from Jesus was to add to the Old Testament, known to the Jews as the Tanakh, their own oral traditions, called the Mishnah. They had taken the Scriptures and added to them their own interpretations of the Scriptures. For example, in the commandment of doing no work on the Sabbath, the Pharisees went to great lengths on defining what did and did not constitute “work”. In the Mishnah, it was spelled out that you can’t carry anything that weighs more than a dried fig, or else you are working on the Sabbath. If your sheep falls into a pit and is unharmed, then you must leave him there until the Sabbath passes. However, if he had a broken leg then it was permissible to pull him out. As a matter of fact, they had twenty-four chapters dedicated to what you could and could not do on the Sabbath. In other words, they had taken God’s Word and added to it their own, and they spent their time going around making sure everyone was maintaining the standard that they self-imposed on them.
Jesus condemns them, saying that they are not only ignoring the burdens others are already bearing, but in fact they are adding to them. As you read through the chapter, you will find that the words of Christ here are as harsh as any portion of Scripture. These words are as applicable to you and I as they were to the Pharisees. We have the Word of God, and we have a responsibility to walk with others through their struggles and help unload their burdens at the feet of Christ, not to lay a religious guilt trip on them because they are not living up to our standards, or taking the same course of action that we would take. God intersects our lives with others to impart HIS words into their life, and to pray for HIS guidance in their life. The Pharisees were speaking THEIR words and giving them THEIR guidance on what to do and what not to do. See the difference?
As Christians, we have the awesome responsibility of being ambassadors for Christ. As those who know Christ, He calls us to help others bring their burdens to Him so that they too may experience the awesome freedom offered by Christ. When you see someone carrying a burden, help relieve them of it in such a way that Christ is honored and glorified. In doing so, you are tangibly demonstrating to them the love of Christ. Be a good ambassador!
Living out a Christian life in this world is, I think, one of the most difficult balancing acts a human being can have. On one hand, as a child of God you have complete freedom in Christ. You are no longer a slave to sin; Christ has set you free from that bondage. Yet, on the other hand, the mission of Christ demands that your life is not your own. Oftentimes this can create quite a tension in our life. We know that we have complete freedom, and yet we find that, like Christ, our constant serving of those around us can make us feel like a slave. Paul talks about this tension when he writes to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
Paul says that he makes himself a slave to everyone for one purpose: to win as many as possible. This is what is required of us as Christians called to demonstrate the care and character of Christ to those around us: we become a slave to everyone so that we might win as many as possible. Let me highlight this tension by noting the different views that people can have of their pastor.
One of the most difficult aspects about being a pastor to me is dealing with the wide variety of interpretations that a person can have of my position. One person can view my job one way and the person right beside them can view my job in a completely different light altogether. For example, some view the pastor as a CEO; he is a decision-maker where the buck stops. He needs to be assertive and authoritative. Others view the pastor as a modest and humble man, and any hint of being authoritative is a negative. Some view him primarily as a teacher. As long as the doctrine is sound and the message relatable, then he is a good pastor. Some view the pastor as one who is always in his office studying and praying. Others feel that he should rarely be in his office because his work is amongst the people. Some feel that his attire should be professional, and others feel just as strongly that he should be casual, so as not to push others away with his formality. And the list goes on.
Much like the view people have of their pastor, so it can be with the differing views people can have about how a Christians is supposed to look and act. To live in this world as a Christian can certainly be stressful, simply due to the demands of our mission. In our human minds, we don’t want to be all things to all men. It hurts. It is painful. It is uncomfortable. In a very real sense we can become subject to the fluid, subjective views of others around us. And yet, this is exactly what God calls us to do. Paul could walk up to a group of Jews and converse with them about Christ in their context, and then to a group of people who know nothing of Jesus and converse with them about Christ in their context. To live as Christ to those around us may require that, like a chameleon, we adapt to the people God has placed in our lives each moment of every day.
In some contexts, Christ may best be shown simply by abstaining from crude conversations. At times it may be the kindness of the Lord to those in need that shines His light brightest. Other times, it may simply be spending time with someone and listening to them. And, in other instances, it may be doing something that you would rather not do at all for someone, but that you know would clearly demonstrate to them the care and character of Christ. The common denominator is this: it requires involvement in the lives of others. Christ was constantly meeting the needs of those around him, and to do this he had to know what their needs were. So it is with us. Though we have complete freedom in Christ, the mission of Christ demands that we become involved in the lives of those around us and demonstrate Christ to them in a way that is meaningful to them and meets some need in their life.
Pray that the Lord would show you how you can demonstrate His love and care to those around you in a way that impacts their life for Christ.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.