“Responsibility, Immaturity, Blame”
February 12, 2017
By John Partridge*
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Matthew 5:21-37 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
How many of you have ever had to make a choice?
It seems obvious that all of us have. We make dozens, even hundreds, of choices every day. We have to choose whether we want paper or plastic, cash or credit, Colgate or Crest, name brand or generic, roll-on or stick, toast or bagels, and on and on, and on, all day , every day. But sometimes we are faced with bigger choices that have more importance and more impact on our daily lives and on our future. Our own children at the age when they have to choose whether or not they are going to college, and what discipline they want to major in, where to go to school, how much they should study, whether they should be in a serious relationship or not, and so on. After that they’ll have to decide weather they want to be married or not, to whom they want to be married, and whether, or when, they want to have children (let’s be clear, I’m not in a rush for that to happen). As we go through life, some of our choices are clearer than others. Some choices are simple, do I want ‘A’ or ‘B,’ apples or oranges, white or black, but others are a lot like being on “Let’s Make a Deal.” Do I choose door number one, door number two, or door number three? Sometimes we just do the best that we can and hope and pray for the best.
But imagine if we had a clear choice about one of the biggest, most important, decisions of our lives?
What if we had to choose between door number one and door number two, but both doors were already wide open and we could see everything inside of them? It seems obvious that this kind of choice would be easy, but in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 we find that sometimes we make mistakes in even the most obvious of choices. Moses declared to the people:
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
We must choose responsibly.
The decision ought to be easy.
The choice is black or white, and literally life or death. Choose to love God, to be obedient to him, and to keep his commands, and you will live and be blessed. Or, turn away from God, be disobedient, and drift toward idolatry, and you will face death and destruction. The choice ought to be easy, God equals life, but many people are so trapped by their addiction to selfishness, that they cannot break away and give their lives, devotion, and obedience to God.
But it isn’t just our obedience that is a part of our spiritual relationship with God. In Matthew 5:21-37 Jesus is very clear that our relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters, and even our relationships with other human beings generally, is an important part of God’s judgement about us as well.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [An Aramaic term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Being angry at each other, can bring about God’s judgement and even muttering that some other Christian is a “jerk” under your breath can land you in front of a judge. Before God will accept your offerings and prayers, he wants you to be reconciled with one another because just like disobedience, your personal differences push you away from God. This may be especially difficult in an era of political polarization. But, regardless of our politics, we are called to be reconciled with one another. Jesus then provides several examples that explain why keeping the commandments and obeying the law is even more difficult than we imagined. Divorce is more harmful than we’d like to pretend it is. Adultery is more than cheating on your spouse, it can happen as easily as your head turns to look at a pretty young thing on the beach. Even breaking a promise can open the door to judgement so we are encouraged to always tell the truth and always follow through and do what we have said that we will do. We are called to be so reliable, that people have faith that will do what we have said that we will, or won’t do. There is no need to swear an oath if you are known to be a person of your word.
If we read this carefully, I think that there is another underlying message as well. All of these things that Jesus said include the expectation that each of us are responsible for the things that we do. We are cautioned not to do those things that might cause others to fall into sin, but in every case, the focus is on being responsible for what we have done, and not allowing us to blame someone else for our failures.
And finally, in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Paul encourages the church to grow and mature in their faith and the things that he holds up as examples of immaturity are some of the same ones that we just heard Jesus condemn.
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Stop arguing with each other. Stop trying to divide the body of Christ by claiming divisions that don’t really exist. We aren’t different because we follow John Wesley, or Martin Luther, or Menno Simons, or John the Baptist, we are the same because we are all followers of Jesus Christ. All of us are working together, or at least we should be, to work in the garden of God’s kingdom.
In all these things, from Deuteronomy, to Matthew, to Paul, to Jesus, we are encouraged to grow up. To become mature followers of Jesus, we must become people who accept responsibility for our own actions, people who work to purify ourselves and are obedient to God, in our faith, in our personal relationships, and in every way so that we can work together and share our responsibility in growing the Kingdom of God.
It’s more complicated than we sometimes think, and it’s harder than we’d like to pretend it is, but in the end there are only two choices.
God is blessing.
God is life.
Without God is death.
Without obedience is death.
What will you choose?
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.