Monthly Archives: September 2016

Should Christians “Get Even”?

Thanks to Facebook’s “On This Day” feature I was reminded that I wrote and published this post four years ago (on a different blog). At the time Donald Trump was not a politician and so there were no political implications involved. Even in this re-post I am not really posting it for political reasons. Instead, I am re-posting it now because (1) the topic is still relevant in today’s world and so needs theological clarification, which I’m hoping I can provide, and (2) to say that regardless of how you view Trump as a person or as a politician and regardless of how you plan to vote in November, I caution you against falling into his theology and frequent misuse of Scripture.

Donald Trump gave the convocation speech at Liberty University’s earlier this week and it should surprise no one that he said some controversial things. I haven’t listened to the speech, so I don’t have the whole context, but I was taken aback by one line:

“I always say don’t let people take advantage – this goes for a country, too, by the way – don’t let people take advantage. Get even.”

A few people took him to task, calling his comments un-Christian. Trump’s office defended his remark. Cohen, a spokesman for Trump said, “I conferred with Johnny Moore at Liberty University and questioned whether Jesus would ‘get even.’ The answer is ‘he would & he did.’ Johnny explained that the bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies, Jesus got even with the Pharisees and Christians believe that Jesus even got even with Satan by rising from the dead. God is portrayed as giving grace, but he is also portrayed as one tough character – just as Trump stated.”

There’s a lot in this comment and I would like to address each of this points separately:

Did Jesus “Get Even”?

The statement refers to a two examples of Jesus “getting even.” First, it says, He got even with the Pharisees. I’m not sure this is correct to say, at least not in the way we generally speak of getting even. Getting even usually refers to personal vengeance. “You hit me so I will hit you.” I can think of no examples in the Gospels where Jesus responds with personal vengeance, towards the Pharisees or towards anyone else. Jesus definitely spoke hard words to the Pharisees. He called them “white-washed tombs” and called out their sin of hypocrisy. He even implicated them in the death of the prophets. On one occasion he cleared the temple (violently) of the money changers. But, I believe, a better word to describe these actions is “zeal”, which is the word John uses to describe this event (John 2:17). Zeal is a Christian virtue (Romans 12:11) but it is not the same thing as personal vengeance. Notice that zeal is not directed toward personal vindication or retribution. It is directed toward a passionate and jealous love for God. Even Jesus’ zeal was zeal for the Temple. And Romans 12:11 connects zeal with serving the Lord.

Second, he says Jesus “got even” with Satan by rising from the dead. In some sense, this may be so, but (1) it’s not explicitly stated as such in the Bible and (2) the explicit ethical implication for us when it comes to Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan, is that we are now free from Satan’s power, from the fear of death, and from slavery to sin. There is no implication that Jesus’ resurrection gives us the model for personal retribution.

In fact, we see a very different picture of Jesus when it comes to the way he treated his enemies. Even on the cross he prayed for their (the Pharisees!) forgiveness. In fact, Jesus’ death was an act of love and mercy for the very people that put him to death, for his enemies, for us.

Is God portrayed as a “tough character?”

The statement also says that God is “also portrayed as a tough character.” “Tough character” can have a lot of meanings, but I think the way it is being used here is actually at-least partially correct. God is, in fact, tough, in the sense that He is not weak. He is not a pushover. He will not be taken advantage of. He is all powerful, and He exercises that power in awesome and terrifying ways. In fact, God is “tougher” than you or I or Trump could possibly imagine.

God’s “toughness” comes from His character. He is omnipotent. He is just. He is holy. The result is that God, in fact, does and will “get even” (in some sense) with all of His enemies who refuse His free gift of salvation in Jesus. This is personal vindication and righteous retribution but, for God, because of His unique identity, it is right and good and just. We look forward to the day when God reigns with complete justice.

Should Christians “Get Even”?

The problem with Trump’s argument, though, is that he completely misapplies this truth. He says that because God is a tough character, we are supposed to be tough characters and get even with our enemies. The New Testament argues the exact opposite of this. It argues that because God will ultimately bring perfect justice, weshouldn’t act with personal vengeance.

Paul makes the argument in Romans 12:17-21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Notice the clear commands – do not repay evil for evil, do not take revenge, overcome evil with good. These are clear commands (and not the only ones) against getting even. But also notice the reason – leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge.” So, we don’t need to, and in fact we are prohibited from getting even, because it’s not our job. When we take up the cause of personal vengeance, we put ourselves in the position of God. We are simply not given that authority. Instead, when we are cursed, when others take advantage of us, when we are persecuted, we are to respond in kindness, charity, prayer, and blessing, desiring the genuine good for our enemies, but also leaving the task of “getting even” to God and God alone.

On Discipleship, Worship, and What we really need as a church

Here is the audio from Sunday’s sermon:

Outline:

What is “discipleship”? 

A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Following Jesus includes both faith in the gospel and doing the works God has prepared for us to do. The task of the church is to make disciples.

How does our church “make disciples”?

We try to create the process by which believers do the things disciples are called to do, and which contribute to their spiritual growth: Worship (loving God), Fellowship (loving each other), Bible study (loving God’s word), and Outreach/Evangelism (loving God’s world).

What is “worship”?

Worship is the proper response to the experience of God. By experience I mean coming to an understanding about who God is. Worship is core to our purpose and identity. Worship involves following God with our whole lives, and doing the specific acts of worship God has given us to do.

Why is worship important (to discipleship)?

In worship we turn our eyes towards Jesus and this allows us to properly interpret and respond to our present situation.

Call

Regularly and actively participate in the worship of your local church. Local churches need worshippers. Above any particular set of skills we need people who understand the incredible and gracious acts of God, and who respond with love and service.

 

Communion service, November 8

communion

On Tuesday, November 8, at 8:00 pm, our church will be holding a special communion service. The purpose of this election day communion service is not to compete with the task of selecting our government leaders, but to put it in perspective.

Communion is an essential Christian practice which should be performed regularly. It is typically celebrated as part of a Sunday worship service. For our church, the meaning is the same in whatever context it is performed. It is a God-ordained way of memorializing and proclaiming the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is an occasion for confession and reconciliation. It is an opportunity to thank God for the body of Jesus which was broken and the blood that was spilled for us. But we have placed this communion service on this particular day and this particular time for a purpose – so that we can re-orient our hearts toward the eternal and re-prioritize our lives around the gospel, the good news of Jesus.

In a sense, there is a “confession of the election” and a “confession of the gospel.” By “confession” here I mean a statement of beliefs. In other words, when we think about an election we tend to hold to certain beliefs. Those beliefs are not always in line with the gospel. Sometimes they stand in opposition to it. Sometimes they simply need to be relativized in relation to it. Sometimes it is possible to hold both beliefs in tension. Sometimes the gospel undermines our false beliefs. One of the goals of the communion service is to proclaim the “confession of the gospel.” In the context of this particular day and time, this will necessarily be contrasted with the “confession of the election.” Allow me to elaborate:

The confession of the gospel is that we all must approach the cross with humility, confessing our sins, and our sins alone.  The confession of the election allows us to believe that ours is the side of righteousness and to look down on our political adversaries. Communion breaks down our pride and self-righteousness.

The confession of the gospel is that we as believers are fundamentally united in Jesus, through his reconciling work. The confession of the election allows us to believe that we fundamentally divided by political parties. Communion reminds us of our essential unity around the table.

The confession of the gospel is that Jesus conquered our greatest enemies of sin and death through his sacrifice on the cross. The confession of the election leads us to believe that victory can only be one through earthly power. Communion reminds us that the greatest victory ever performed was won through love and self-sacrifice.

The confession of the gospel is that God is sovereign and that it was through the sovereignty of God that Jesus died for our sins. The worst that man could ever do – killing the author of life – turned out to be the exact way in which God would atone for the sins of his enemies and bring about his perfect will. The confession of the election is that our futures depend on the will of man and that man stands in that decisive place, either for good or for evil. Communion reminds us that God is sovereign and that he will bring about ultimate good, no matter what path it takes to get there.

The confession of the gospel is that after Jesus’ death and humiliation he was raised and glorified. God raised Jesus up and place him the position of ultimate authority. There is one who reigns over the entire earth and to whom all other authorities are subject. The confession of the election is that authority rests in the government. Communion reminds us that Jesus is still the one with ultimate authority.

The confession of the gospel is that Jesus’ death instituted a new era in salvation history, allowing for a new relationship between God and his people. If we can speak of a time on which history turns that time was two-thousand years ago. It was the days of Jesus’ death and his resurrection. The confession of the election is that election day is the most important day in history. The narratives of the political activists frame November 8th as the day on which history turns. Communion reminds us that history has already turned and it turns along the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Finally, the confession of the gospel is that Jesus is coming again. We celebrate communion in anticipation of that future wedding banquet of the resurrection. We proclaim the Lord’s death, until he comes. The confession of the election is that – unless the people act in a particular way – all is lost. Communion reminds us that because God has already acted, all is already won. 

We invite you to join us.