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Here’s a story for you: It’s about a darling married couple who are madly in love with each other. Well, at least the husband is madly in love with his wife. The wife, however, has wandering eyes.
Wherever the wife goes, suitors follow. Even when the husband is present, these suitors knock on the door to the couple’s home and woo the wife. The husband, of course, isn’t pleased, but he respects his wife and is certain that she’ll make the right decision.
But the wife doesn’t make the right decision. She sleeps with one (or several, take your pick) of these suitors—despite his trust in her. The husband is outraged and, most of us would say, rightly so. Why, then, do we think God is overreacting towards us when we do the same exact thing?
Today’s passage of scripture takes place immediately after Jesus has sent the twelve disciples out in a frenzy [link to Second Sunday of Pentecost blog]. His heart was moved within him when he saw that the crowds following him were like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Today, however, we learn that these sheep, despite lacking a shepherd, still followed something around and, just like the wife, what they were following wasn’t any good.
During our lifetime, four things will compete for primacy in our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Our inner being can only have one master, as Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:24. To love Jesus, then, we must reject the primacy of all four suitors—or we may relegate Jesus to a lower love and elevate one of the other suitors.
As Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37, we must “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind.”
In this passage, Jesus shows us that our punishment is assured: Give your whole being to Jesus and you will certainly be punished in this lifetime by one or more of the other suitors. Choose one of the other suitors and you will certainly be punished body and soul in hell.
Who are these suitors? The first may surprise you.
- The Religious Authorities (Including our church or pastor) (Matthew 10:25)
As Christians, our religious authorities include the church, our pastors, our priests, our Bible study leaders—any Christian leader, denomination, or congregation can fit into this category.
Religious authorities aren’t bad in and of themselves. Many want nothing more than to help us grow in Christ. On a good day, they’re servants and shepherds: they direct us away from themselves and toward God.
On a bad day, however, they can be the ones who woo us away from our husband.
Sometimes our church may ask us to make an unbiblical sacrifice. Say, for example, that your family is a little dysfunctional. You are constantly arguing with your spouse and the two of you are close to splitting up. Your children (who know about the possible divorce despite your best efforts) have become reserved and fearful. Your family needs help.
Your church, however, has another plan for you. There is a new opening in the church’s ministry—and you’re the perfect candidate. Sure, they know about your marital troubles, but who else can do the work? God has called you to do it, and the church tells you that if you make sacrifices for God, God will make sacrifices for you.
We know that God tells us in 1 Timothy 3:5 that we cannot manage his church unless we know how to manage our own households. But we also know that the church has given us so much. And the ministry is for a good cause…
So we take the job. Our family suffers, but we don’t have the time to deal with the problem. When people ask, we just say that we’re sacrificing for God. But, really, we’re just making a sacrifice for the church.
As for our pastor, sometimes we think that whatever our pastor preaches (whether it be sermon, politics, or practical advice) comes straight from the mouth of God. But God doesn’t need to give his word to our pastors—he’s already given his word to each of us through the Bible!
Can our pastors help us understand the Bible? Certainly. But our pastors still struggle to understand the Bible, themselves. So we have a responsibility—to ourselves, to our pastors, and to God—to compare our pastor’s sermon with God’s living word. If the two do not match, we should speak with our pastor.
Sometimes, we are tempted to limit God to our denomination or our local church. However, in the Bible we see that God routinely chooses not to restrict himself to specific sects or groups. Whenever we show loyalty to sects, we place religion above God. Our method of religion or our specific local church becomes our idol.
From the Reformation through European wars of religion, Christians learned that the institutional church is very different from God. We learned that the church is NOT God on Earth; it is the servant of God on Earth.
When we regard religious authorities as God, we forget what happened to Jesus in the gospels. The religious leaders of the day called Jesus a servant of the devil (Beelzebul). Their voices were the loudest during his crucifixion. Religious leaders, whether they be Jewish or Christian, can see Christ as a threat to their way of understanding the world.
Yes, you can serve the Christ through the church, and yes, you can learn about the Bible through your Pastor’s sermon. BUT you must always be aware that neither of these things are God. Paul once told us that if an angel came down from heaven and told us something contrary to the Bible, we should not believe him (Galatians 1:8)—how much less a religious leader!
- Our Country or Culture (Matthew 10:28)
Government and culture will always compete for our heart. After all, if we are good citizens of our country, then aren’t we a good witness for Christ? The Bible even tells us that if we are “irresponsible to the state, then [we’re] irresponsible with God, and God will hold [us] responsible” (Romans 13:2)!
When we decide to put our country or culture first, we preach political sermons on Sunday and rally behind war and destruction. Christianity becomes a religion that belongs only to our country (and perhaps those of our country’s allies). We divide our sermons along ethnic or cultural lines. We conflate service to our country with service to God.
Jesus, however, tells us that if we have to choose between what our government wants and what God wants, we should always choose the latter. If we blindly follow what our government wants us to do, we will break several of God’s commands. If the government, for example, tells us not to evangelize in public places and we obey this, we are disobeying God!
Furthermore, just as God does not limit himself to any one denomination, he does not limit himself to any one country: he is just as much the head of North Korea as he is the head of South Korea!
When your country and Christ don’t see eye-to-eye, you’ll have to choose one or the other. Either way, you will be punished. If you evangelize, you will be punished by “those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” However, if you choose to “be a good citizen” you will be punished by “the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
- Our Family (Matthew 10:35)
Just like our churches, it is easy to put our families before Christ. After all, the Bible commands us to take charge of our families and manage them well! There is a difference between managing your family well and putting your family before Christ.
The difference is Christ, himself.
What is the foundation of your family?
Christ tells us that he did not come to make peace in our families—he came to create conflict.
Why is this?
Almost all families have been built upon the wrong foundation. Some families cannot come together without violent outbursts—so we’ve chosen to avoid one another to create the semblance of peace. Other families experience a deep trauma and, instead of dealing with this trauma, they lapse into unhealthy habits (eating in separate rooms, feigning happiness, drifting apart). But these unhealthy habits make the trauma the foundation of the family.
If we are to put Christ before our family, it means making him the foundation of our family—something that is easy to say, but difficult to do. If Christ really is the foundation of our family, it means that when conflicts arise, we resolve them in the way he intended. If Christ really is the foundation of our family, it means that we will have to confess our own faults and imperfections. If Christ really is the foundation of our family, it means that we will respect our parents and direct them to Christ.
When we try to make Christ the center of our family, everyone will resist. Man will be set against his father and daughter will be set against her mother. We may be kicked out of our own homes. Our children may tell others all sorts of nasty things about us. We may even be permanently disowned by the rest of our extended family. But Christ does not consider family to be a valid excuse not to follow him.
“If you deny me before your family,” Jesus says, “I will deny you above my family—my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33; man changed to family, Father changed to family)
- Our Self (Matthew 10:39)
Jesus tells us that if we wish to follow him, we must first take up our cross (Matthew 16:24). However, that is the last thing that our self wants to do. When we do this, our flesh raises every objection it possibly can:
“But we’re already on bad terms! If I don’t lie, it might end things for good!”
“But if I don’t tell everyone I did it, no one will notice!”
“But this is what pleases me sexually! Research has shown that it’s actually unhealthy for me to restrict myself sexually.”
“But if I do that, it will be dangerous. I have a family. God tells me to take care of them. I need to keep myself safe.”
“But I won’t be spiritually mature until I get married! I need to find a boyfriend right now!”
“I know this woman isn’t my wife, but I don’t want to marry her or leave her! If I marry her, I might marry the wrong person and if I leave her, I might be lonely!”
If we let these voices rule us, then Christ has only one thing to tell us: “You are not worthy of me.” He’s deadly serious about this. Just like the spurned husband, Christ respects us. As our suitors woo us, he remains silent and trusting. If we choose to sleep with other lovers, he is, just as rightly, outraged and shall cast you out into the “outer darkness where there will be weeping and much gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13).
How do we love Christ? By putting himself above everything else and ignoring the sweet calls of your suitors. Their calls never stay sweet for long, after all. The moment you turn away from them, the suitors are outraged and do everything in their power to punish you—but the power they have is negligible when compared to God.
If you think this message is too strong, I encourage you to re-read this passage. It isn’t a weak passage. In it you will find words like “sword”, “disown”, “hell”, and “deny.” It’s certainly a passage that deserves your careful consideration.
However, there is good news: Alone, you’ll never be able to love any of these things more than God. As human beings, we naturally tend to love the things we can see (our churches, our governments, our families, and ourselves) more than the God we cannot see. But Christ came to put a new heart in us.
God can give you a new heart that loves him more than anything. The first step is to repent, be baptized, and enter into Christ’s death. When this happens, you will receive the Holy Spirit and the Father and son will come to make their home in you. Then, you will be able to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.