We’re continuing on in our series entitled “Seek the Welfare of the City” which we started last week. In these first couple of messages I’m merely introducing a couple of core ideas that we’ll be honing in on later in the series. Last week the key idea was that the church is to engage the city by seeking its shalom – peace, prosperity, wholeness. We are to do so even while living in the tension between living for God’s eternal kingdom while residing in the temporary kingdoms of this world.
Today we are going to look at the nature of the church’s engagement of the city. It’s important to ask this question, because even in the time of Jesus, there were those claiming to be the people of God who took various and divergent approaches to seeking the welfare of the city. While they are our spiritual predecessors, these approaches are still common today among those who seek to transform their city.
The Hermits: Public Withdrawal: One approach (or lack of approach) is the strategy of public withdrawal. At the time of Christ there was a number of these groups, most famous of which were the Essenes. The Essenes withdrew from society to form their own community, where they lived by their own holiness code, published their own writings for themselves, had their own secret initiation rites and religious practices and basically awaited the teacher of righteousness who was going to come and annihilate the worldly society around them and set up a new kingdom, of which the Essenes would rise to a prominent position. Some people think that john the Baptist was influenced by the Essenes – here’s a weird guy coming out of the desert – we don’t know. What we do know is that these guys were the spiritual fore-runners of the hermits and monks and Anabaptists and all those that have withdrawn from the city, from public life, from society, to form their own little bubble society and refuse to seek the welfare of the city. We still do this as a church – we have a little hermitism in us. We make our little Christian sub-culture, our own little bubble, with our own music, our own language, our own art, and never really mix or mingle or become engaged with the broader city around us.
The Zealots: Political Activism: On the way other end of the spectrum were the zealots. This was a strong and popular movement towards political activism (‘Zealot’, the name of one such group later in the century, is often used loosely to denote the various groups who took this stance), particularly since the abortive revolt of Judas of Galilee, provoked by the census of AD 6. Sporadic outbreaks of insurrectionary activity, particularly in Galilee, led up eventually to the devastating Jewish War AD 66–70. We know of one of Jesus’ closest followers, Simon the Zealot was associated with this approach. The key idea here is not withdrawal, but overthrow. Down with the system! Occupy Palestine! Fight for the 99%! This is the party of political activism whether it be from the right or the left. Sadly, much of modern evangelicalism has taken this approach, so that evangelicals are often known in our culture as being tied to the Religious Right, being a political activist group, Christian reconstructionists – throw off the governmental order and set up our own kingdom to impose our morality upon others.
The Taxmen: The Professionally Complicit: A third approach, which the other two though insidious and shameful was that of Matthew and Zacceus and their friends. They were Jews who made their living by finding a place in the system that would serve their own self-interest and exploiting it. They didn’t want to withdraw or overthrow the system, because they were getting rich off of it! They were hated by the others, in fact, Jesus was hated because he ate with these guys and accepted invitations to their homes. These may be represented by the conservative right – we want to preserve the status quo because its benefitting ourselves. I think a lot of us in North American churches often fall into this position by default – we don’t even know how much we are benefitting from the system and are rarely challenged to seek the welfare of others instead of ourselves.
Now, here is the crazy thing. Jesus somehow got all these guys in the room together. Perhaps this is one of his most astounding miracles – getting the tax collector, the zealot and the hermit together. This is like getting someone from the Occupy movement with someone from the Tea Party, a Wall Street banker, and Jerry Falwell, some prostitutes, a jihadist, and a couple of dock-workers from Newfoundland and asking them to come up with a strategy to transform the city. You get them together in one room and you’re not hoping a social movement comes out of it – you’re selling pay-per-view TV packages because there’s a fight about to break out. Yet Jesus drew all these kinds of people to himself. They came to Jesus because they saw in Him the answer for the transformation of the city. The answer to the city’s troubles and the secret to the city’s shalom is not a political position or a program or a protest, but a person – the person of Jesus Christ. He came to offer a kingdom – His kingdom, and pressed people to receive Him as their King and so be part of the shalom He was building. Make no mistake – the only hope for the transformational shalom of the city is Jesus. Jesus is our ultimate aim, Jesus is our ultimate motive, converting people to Jesus is our ultimate goal. People say, well that’s exclusive – but look how broad it is! Hermits, tax collectors and zealots all found their place in his movement. Politicians, Pharisees (the self-righteous religious types), skeptics and sinners of all walks of life found their place. The rich, the poor, the left, the right, liberals, conservatives – Jesus went to them all, met them where they were at and drew them all to Himself. It was a miracle. This is probably where I should end the sermon and do the altar call.
But I’m not going to because we have more to uncover. Because Jesus didn’t stop there. Let me ask you something: now understanding the diversity of people and backgrounds of those who followed Jesus, wouldn’t it be something spectacular if from out of this rag-tag bunch of hermits, tax collectors and zealots a consistent approach to seeking the welfare of the city emerged? If you threw Jesus into a group of people who couldn’t agree about anything, and they came out of their experience with Jesus with such a one-minded approach to seeking the welfare of the city that within a few hundred years they had infiltrated every city of the Empire. Historian Rodney Stark has directly connected the growth of Christianity with the care and concerned they showed one another and to the city. Stark cites the non-Christian Emperor Julian who attributed the growth of the Christian movement to their approach to seeking the welfare of the city: “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans [Christians] observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence … The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”
So what was the core of this one-minded approach? Well, that is what we’ll be studying over the next few months, but I want to quickly introduce you to some of the passages today because I want you to see how the core ideas run through each passage, whether the passage is written by Peter or Paul or James or whomever – I want you to see that the early church had one view in mind when it came to seeking the welfare of the city, and then explore these passages in more detail in the coming weeks.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
1Th. 4:1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more … 1Th. 4:9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
• Live quietly and mind our own affairs: not stirring up unrest as zealots.
• But not in isolation as hermits: before outsiders
• Work with our hands so that we are dependent upon no one. Paul speaks more to this last point
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.
• Stay away from idleness, if you are able to work, you work
• Again the idea of a quiet life: do your work quietly.
• Note the progression: do your work quietly, provide for yourself to not burden others, but out of your industry bless others by doing good works.
1 Timothy 2:1-2; 8-10: The idea of a quiet life comes up again in 1 Timothy 2
1Tim. 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1Tim. 2:8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
• We are to pray for the government, but specifically that we might be able to live quietly and at peace (free from persecution and promoting peace and harmony among citizens
• That our men may not be known by the outside world for our political stances as being quarrelsome and angry (stirring up differences and public debate), but prayerful; and that our women (and men as we shall see in other passages) may adorn ourselves with good works. Again, note the ideas of quietness (lack of political activism) – yet engaged in the city in good works.
1 Timothy 5:9-10 Paul underscores for the women this life of good works later book:
1Tim. 5:9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.
• Notice the bracketing
Romans 13:1-7: In addition to praying for the authorities Paul writes in Romans:
Rom. 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
• Be subject to the authorities – not zealots, or resisting.
• Yet do what is good, act as good citizens and you will receive his approval so that we can live quietly – the things we prayed for.
• Pay taxes – meaning we are industrious and supporting the city, and give honour and respect.
1 Peter 2:11-17: Is this only Paul’s idea? The passage we looked at last week:
1Pet. 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
• Again, not that your life is lived among the Gentiles in a public way, not as a hermit.
• Note again that we are to pursue good works that will bring glory to God.
• Also, our quiet submission to governing institutions is accompanied by good works in the community that will put to rest any slanderous accusations that those who hate us may make against us. Good works are a testimony and a shield.
1 Peter 3:15
1Pet. 3:13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
• The approach: A disciplines lifestyle of good works → being observed and asked → Giving an answer.
Titus 2:1-10 the major passage
Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
• Again: ministers are to be a model of good works, and older men and women are to instruct the younger men and women in this disciplined life that that the word of God may not be reviled and no one can say evil against us. This is called adorning the gospel of God.
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
• Zealous of good works. Yes conversion is our ultimate motive, but it is not an ulterior motive, meaning that we are zealous for good works no matter what the response is. If people see them and come to Jesus, great! That is our hope! But God redeemed us to be zealous for good works regardless of whether we see any spiritual fruit of conversion.
Titus 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
• We need to be taught, (the word is “disciple” in these things).
• Particularly we need to be ready to meet pressing needs in our community
4 Main Ideas:
• We are to engage in good occupations so that we can provide for our own family’s needs, so as not to be a burden to others, but instead so that we can bless others out of our abundance.
• We are to avoid political activism that stirs up dissension in the community, yet be fully engaged in public life through our pursuit of good works.
• Collectively and individually we are to meet pressing needs in the community in which we live.
• We are to disciple younger Christians in developing a lifestyle of good deeds.
“We need to develop a public life of good works. This will protect us when we are persecuted, and will adorn the gospel of God to those who are watching. It will create a dialogue in the city, rather than dissension. Each of this, in this kind of context will be asked to explain his faith.”