July 27, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“And what does the Lord require of you? He requires you to act justly. He requires you to love mercy. He requires you to walk humbly with Him. [These are not mere suggestions!].” (Micah 6.8)
“Finally, be strong in the Lord; His mighty power is with us. Put on the full armor of God. In doing so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Rather, it is against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God. When the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground; and after you have done everything, you will be able to stand.” (Ephesians 6.10-13)
Yesterday I mentioned that the apostle Paul could speak about this transformative “change of clothes” from self-righteousness to righteousness because of his life experience. He was a confirmed Pharisee and “keeper of the Law and the Prophets.” This was not a biblically assigned position as if it were created by God as were the Levites, Priests, Judges, Prophets and most of the Kings of Israel. It was a human contrived position of power intended to keep Israel from falling back into captivity under foreign rule. The belief was that keeping strict adherence to the laws of God would protect them from all manner of harm and evil. It was not simply to follow the 10 Commandments, however. They were the enforcers of 613 commandments which were said to be contained in the Torah of God. If the caveats to those laws were numbers, there would be well over 3000 laws. You may think that is amazing and difficult but have you stopped to consider how many laws rule over your activities as a citizen of the United States of America? There are laws for laws and laws you have never even heard of. And, on a daily basis, how many of the laws you do know about have you broken? It was an overwhelming task to maintain. What wasn’t needed was someone who promoted simplifying the “rule of righteousness” in with the promise to bring peace, harmony and hope to a people under “their” control. Jesus was that someone and the Pharisees were those “rulers.” Rather, they were more like the “spiritual police force” of Israel empowered by the Elders of the Land, the Sanhedrin, who were like the Supreme Court of Israel. A simplified description to be sure but I believe it communicates the tenuousness of the day in which Jesus lived. Of course, there was a “benefit” to their madness. With so many laws and so many enforcers keeping watch, the fines to be paid into the Temple coffers as “offerings for God’s mercy” was voluminous. The teachings of Jesus were quite a threat to their financial future. Worse would be an entire community then freed from “debt paying for sins and tresspasses against God.” This was quite a scenario depicting “survival of the fittest.” The most fit were those truly clothed in righteousness not as the Scribes and Pharisees, not as the Gentiles, but those who put their trust in God alone. They were the “disciples of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only begotten Son.”
Now Paul, the former Saul of Tarsus, was one of “them.” Once a Pharisee clothed with the full authority to rid Israel of the Christian infestation, he was now a Christian clothed with the full authority to spread the gospel to the fullest extent of the “new” law, the Great Commission. It was the “law” of Christ who established the rule of love as the foundation of faith upon which He would build the Church. That rule of love was inclusive: love God (the One God who first loved us), love the neighbor (those outside of the circle of faith), love the enemy (those who fought against God and those who put their faith in God), love one’s self (to be faithful to the call of the One God) and finally to love one another (to love those within the circle of faith in Jesus as the Christ otherwise known as the Church, the body of Christ.) And the fulfillment of those “laws of righteousness” would be to bring glory to God and the lost to the position of mercy, grace, forgiveness and ultimately to the knowledge of their salvation. It was the sole, soul, purpose of their existence. Everything the Christian said and did was to point each other and all others in the direction of God as being the proverbial David led through the valley of the shadow of death to rise up and dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
There is something else about Paul, the former Saul of Tarsus, that prepared him for service to the people representing the will and way of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul was born with a dual citizenship as both Jewish (his mother’s family are said to be descendants of the tribe of Benjamin) and Roman (his father was a Herodian and a convert to Judaism.) Saul, later to be called Paul, enjoyed the best of both worlds. Because of his unique position in the culture of two worlds, he brought a unique perspective. He knew what it meant to live in “two worlds.” He also used that privilege of citizenship to his advantage to further the work of the gospel claiming the privilege of “appeal” in the Roman courts to gain the audience of the Emperor in Rome where he was later beheaded. We might say, Paul was a man who wore many hats as he dressed for “spiritual success.” He would become clothed in righteousness acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly before God and all people. It is with that background in mind that he offered the writing to the community of faith in Ephesus. In that letter he urges them to “put on the full armor of God” as they conduct themselves in ministry throughout the empire of the world against powers of the world, principalities of men and powers of the air including the dark forces at work in conflict with the God of heaven. It provides a rich image of how we as disciples of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only begotten Son should “dress and address ourselves in righteousness.”
My future reflections in the coming days are not intended to be the offerings as a “spiritual fashion police.” I would not want to be seen as a “clothing Pharisee.” Rather, I am reflecting on this call to dress for spiritual success because we have been, as Paul was, in our conversion “clothed with righteousness.” We need to take stock of our wardrobe and its function as well as its blessing. I would offer that when Paul speaks of “the whole armor of God” he does so with those two contexts I mentioned previously in mind. The image of a Roman centurion fitted for battle against the enemies of the empire are in one mirror. The image of the prophet and priest of Israel fitted for battle against the enemies of the faith are in another. But, as in many apparel stores, you will find that there is a third mirror. It is the one in which we stand in front of revealing how we appear to ourselves “face to face.” In his letter to the community of faith in Corinth, Paul writes in what we call the Love Chapter (chapter 13), “Behold we stand gazing in a mirror dimly, then suddenly face to face with reality.” That reality is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. It is His spirit that has been inspired in us and we are seeking to become more and more like Him; He who was, is and will always be clothed in righteousness. My hope in these reflections is that we will start to see ourselves more clearly and make the necessary adjustments to our wardrobe of faith, hope and love, the greatest of these being love as we are fitted for the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.
OUR CALL TO PRAYER:
God, You have fearfully and wonderfully made us and we are Yours. You have fashioned us and repurposed us out of the world and back into the Kingdom which has no end. You have clothed us in spirit and in truth. We know now that You are sending us forth into that same world to accomplish the work of the gospel, broadcasting Good News and a great joy which is for all people. It will not always be easy. There will be times when it will be a battle for life and death and life again. We commit ourselves to building up the body of Christ and to be prepared to do what is right, true and good to bring in the lost and to bring glory to Your Name. We commit ourselves to the task at hand trusting always in You in the name of Jesus by which we live, serve and pray. AMEN.