Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Is there a sex shop in your town? Perhaps a house of ill-repute? Maybe some other trace of moral filth contaminates your community. Don’t just sit there whining about it, do something!
…Whoa, whoa, put down that protest sign. Years ago I put to the Lord a question on how to eliminate the moral filth from our world. How do you stamp out evil? Christians have tried throughout history; usually giving the church a bad name in the process. Is it a hopeless fight? How can it be done? The Holy Spirit answered right away with Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I’ve written repeatedly before about how I think protesting is the wrong way to clean up our communities. Today let’s focus on the solution.
Tax collectors were the scum of Israel in Jesus’ day. They were native Israelites, yet they were aligned with the oppressive Roman government (making them traitors) and they frequently cheating their own people to make more money (making them thieves). Chief among these was a tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus- literally, as he was their chief. History records, “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy” (Luke 19:1-2). But when Jesus saw Zacchaeus, a traitorous scumbag who had become rich off the backs of his fellow Israelites, he didn’t condemn him. Rather, he invited Zacchaeus to eat with him. We read, “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today’” (Luke 19:5). Obviously, this didn’t go over well with the local populous, who began whispering nasty things about the two. Zacchaeus, though, had a unique response:
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).
Just through Jesus’ invite, the evil tax collector had become a new man, and even shed his wealth (and spread it around) as a sign thereof.
Big Z’s conversion wasn’t an isolated incident either. Matthew (the guy who wrote, the “Matthew” gospel) started his life as a tax collector too. However, through Christ all that changed. History records, “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him” (Matthew 9:9). Jesus’ style of converting the worst of the worst through inclusion didn’t go over well with righteous folk, but Jesus didn’t care. Matthew’s story concludes,
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:10-13).
Jesus didn’t condemn people where they stood, but rather he loved them and gave himself for them; and through that love they were (and are) saved.
Ok, so how do we apply that in our lives? Say you’ve got a porn/”toy” shop in your town. First of all, love the owner and show him or her the glory of God. If that person accepts Jesus, it’ll be pretty hard to keep up such a business, won’t it? And secondly, spread Christ’s love throughout the community; the more people turn to Christ, the lower the demand for such things should be. Or how about the ungodly entertainment in the world? I see people protesting concerts and the like all the time- Newsflash: It doesn’t work. Rather, seek out the people involved in the entertainment and let them know that Jesus loves them. If they turn to Christ, think about how much positive entertainment they can contribute to the world. This method extends to everyone who is currently eroding society: hate mongers, greedy business folk, heck, even biker gangs and mafiosos. You aren’t any better than they are; for you too were once sitting in your own filth until the Lord lifted you up. That is why Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You were in sin, but Jesus’ sacrificial love lifted you out of it. Paul put it bluntly like this, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). You don’t save people (or the world) through rejection; no, you save people through acceptance. When a person is saved, they will gain new lives in Christ and want to please him. It is through salvation that the world can be cleansed (until God burns it all down).
Therefore, a Christian’s primary calling is to the spread the gospel. Before he ascended into heaven Jesus told his followers,
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
We’re instructed to go into all the world, that means that we’re to save everyone; not just the people who “deserve” salvation. Save them with the love of Christ and THEN teach them the way to live holy lives. When John the Baptist preached repentance, he didn’t get in people’s faces, but went into out of the way areas so that the people who came to him were the ones who were truly repentant. Then, when they asked how to change their ways he instructed them. The Bible records one such instance,
“What should we do them?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay” (Luke 3:10-14).
Notice that all of the people asked John first how they should change their lives. A repentant heart wants to please God; an unrepentant one cares not for the things of the Lord. Solomon understood this principle too; and even prayed to the Lord about it when he opened the Temple. He prayed,
As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name – for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm – when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name (1 Kings 8:41-43).
Solomon didn’t see the gentiles as enemies, but rather he saw them as people that needed God; so he implored the Lord to be kind to them when they would come to him. We should never condemn those outside the church; that’s not our place. Paul put it like this,
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
Yelling angry things at people outside the church is pointless because people without God are going to do what they want. But those who experience Christ will be changed forever; as it is written in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” It’s hard to love people who spit on everything you hold dear, but it is a stance we must take by faith; for sanctification doesn’t come from man but from the Holy Spirit. If someone is without the Spirit, how can we expect change?
So get out there and save your community and the world through the love of Jesus Christ!