Raca: Christian Contempt in the Public Square

Raca: Christian Contempt in the Public Square

Counseling

Have you ever been in a discussion with a group of people and posited an idea that drew an expression of utter condemnation? Were you shocked by the other person’s or people’s contempt? Does this happen often when you speak to a group of people in person?

The answer to the last question, and perhaps the others as well, is probably “No”. These kinds of situations, especially among ordinary, everyday people who are generally kind and gentle, rarely or never happen. People, who speak in group settings especially, are usually quite civil and reasonable. This is even more true (or at least it should be) with people who are followers of Jesus.

Unfortunately, what many people have observed in most social media environments is a common incivility, condemnation, and contempt coming from people who otherwise would be civil and reasonable. Something about sitting alone in front of their computer, or other, screen makes them susceptible to the idea that they alone exist and they alone have the most cogent answers to most important (or at least controversial) questions. It’s a sort of modern solipsism.

This leads us to the interesting Aramaic word translated as “Fool”, Raca. It is taken from the Aramaic “reqa” which means “empty-headed”. It is considered one of the most insulting terms of contempt in Jewish culture. This word in the context of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:22 reads as follows:

21“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

This is a cause for concern in the context of social media. Too many times, Christians find a way to say something like, “You’re a fool if…” or “You’re an idiot if…” indicating that they not only cannot see the other person’s point of view they will not.

This is the thrust of Raca. It means that the other person’s view is worthless to you and you have no problem saying it. It means that you have the superior view in your own eyes and you have no interest in even considering that you are wrong, no interest in a discussion that might bring you closer to truth. It means that you have contempt for another human being, created in God’s image, who has value and feelings. Raca is dehumanizing. It’s the ultimate way or “writing someone off” and dismissing them as nothing. It’s cruelty; a spit in the face.

This is completely counter to the Way. Jesus’ Way is about listening and responding with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. The Way is about loving your human brother and sister (whether Christian or not) so that you can truly love God whom you have not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Leviticus 19:17 says it well, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.”

There are many problems with contempt in the life of a Christian, but here are a few important ones:

  1. Contempt drives people away from Jesus
  2. Contempt promotes a very negative stereotype of Christians
  3. Contempt poisons those who feel and show it from the inside and outside
  4. Contempt stops conversation, not only in the middle but possibly for good, causing people to never resolve a matter or get to the truth about a matter
  5. Contempt is completely unnecessary and anti-intellectual
  6. Contempt is based on fear and disdain, not love
  7. Contempt will never win someone over. It only pushes people farther away

Raca should have no place in the hearts, minds, or conversations of Christians, not even toward those who hate us. We have to be ready to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29). This doesn’t mean that a person standing for truth should give up, but it does mean that we must never make a statement out of fear or hate. After all, “Perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Be courageous in love family of God!

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Identity

identity-in-christ

Who Am I?

People wrap their identities in where they came from, who their parents are, or even what sports team they pull for. Their primary characterization of themselves is all about something in this physical reality. But, for a Christian this is a real and spiritually fatal problem.

There are a couple of primary issues that come to mind when we as Christians consider who we are. One, of course, is the fact that we are supposed to be ONE in Christ. This is an issue that has been on God’s mind since before the creation. Just look at what Jesus says in John 17: 23-24:

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

God wants us to have unity in Him! He wants us to identify ourselves as a body of believers who hold Him up as our single point of honor, glory, and praise!

This unity has everything to do with identifying ourselves as His. God wants us completely. He wants us undividedly! This goes all the way back to Ex 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are the center of who we are.

This being said, we also have to understand WHY God is the center of who we are, not just as a body of believers, but as individuals.

For everything else that scripture tells us about who God is and who we are, the one most defining fact that stands out is that we are individually created in God’s image.

But, what does it mean to be created in God’s image?

While both humans and animals are referred to as “nephesh chayyah” (living souls), the Scriptures make it clear that God did something special in reference to man. Genesis 1:26-27 records: “And God said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. …And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” Nowhere does the Bible state or imply that animals are created in the image of God. This fact leaves us with the special distinction of a closeness to God that is lacking in the remainder of Creation. As God’s image-bearers, we have souls and spirits that allow us a privileged position within God’s created order. This understanding and ability to not only have dominion over the Creation, but understand it by way of observation and study, allows human beings the envied ability to see the universe for what it is; a physical manifestation of God’s awesome love for us all.

I use this illustration (Figure 1, God’s Image) to describe to the sixth grade Bible class I teach each year how God can be three, but one. As image bearers of God, we also possess three parts of a whole, (1 Thessalonians 5:23). This similarity agrees completely with the fact that we are created in God’s image. If God is three-in-one, then as beings who are modeled after Him, we should maintain the same properties. That is not to give the false impression that we are divine in any way, but to simply draw a parallel between the nature of human beings and a God who desired to make His pinnacle of Creation like Himself.

InHisImage

Figure 1, God’s Image

In the end, we as individuals are three in one, Image Bearers of God! Our entire identity is wrapped up in Him and Who He is! We must never let this escape us, but live each day as people whose identities are indelibly conjoined to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Sacrifice of God: How God Himself Was Torn Apart

eloieloilamasabacthani

The Sacrifice of God: How God Himself Was Torn Apart

Covenant was the highest of all agreements in the Bible and remains so today. The act of making a covenant consisted not only of ceremony, but of blessings, curses, and blood. One of the most instrumental passages for explanatory power of God’s covenant is found in Jeremiah 34:17-20:

“Therefore, thus says the Lord: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts— the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.

In this passage, the curse of the covenant is highlighted. When the halves of the calf were divided, the people making the covenant would walk between the parts as a promise that if they broke the covenant, then they themselves should be torn in half as a curse for breaking it. They effectively walked a straight and narrow path in order to uphold the promise. This is seen in an elevated way in Genesis 15 when God Himself makes His eternal covenant with Abraham as a promise that ALL people would be blessed through him.

In verses 9-10, Abraham obeys God’s instructions to bring a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. He then cuts each of these in half, but instead of passing between these himself, something else amazing and unheard of happens in vss 17-21.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

God Himself passes between the parts! He makes a promise that if He does not fulfill this covenant, then God, the God of all creation, would be torn in two.

And that is exactly what happened.

In Matthew 26:26-27, see what Jesus says about this same covenant promise made in Genesis 15:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

When Jesus tore the bread in half and said, “This is my body.” He was saying, I am about to be torn in two for you. But, He wasn’t being torn in half for us because of anything He had done. We know this from 2 Cor 5: 21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God Himself was about to take the curse for us all. In Mark 15:33-34, we see God Himself being torn in two:

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In that three hour period for the first and only time in human history and for eternity, God Himself was torn apart. The Father turned away from His Son because of the sin of all mankind, for our sin! God Himself tore Himself apart like the calf in Jeremiah and the animals in Genesis 15. He tore Himself and between Heaven and Earth, a straight and narrow path of the New Covenant Jesus instituted in His blood (Matt26:27) was made for you and me and His Spirit walked the path between (Gal 4:6) as the Spirit of God in the form of the fire pot did in Gen 15. And now Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me!” Matt 16:24.

We tear ourselves from this world and die to ourselves to follow this path and in doing so, we are joined to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever!

Jesus Works Chapter One Jesus – A Man of Many Talents: Upper Echelon Jesus

Jesus Works Chapter One Jesus – A Man of Many Talents: Upper Echelon Jesus

Jesus the Son

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I understand how being a son might seem to be outside the bounds of work. But, it’s important to realize that not only was the position of son in the first century an occupation, it was an elevated position in society. Inheritance and the transfer of power and wealth in first century Jewish society was very similar to what we see throughout the Old Testament. The firstborn son basically inherited the greatest share of the father’s wealth and then carried on the family name. In Jesus’ time, He as a Son was doing this very same thing. He had all the inheritance, he was the firstborn, and He was expected to rule in His Father’s house and learn how to be just like Him. Not only was this a huge responsibility, it was very hard work and carried with it dominion over hundreds (or in Jesus’ case all of humanity for all time). This brings us to the upper levels of work in society. In a wealthy and powerful family of that day, the place Jesus occupied would have carried with it great wealth and influence. Not only did Jesus understand this extremely important position, He excelled at it! We’ll look at Jesus’ as the Son later, but keep in mind that as The Son, His work was and still is pivotal to our understanding Him and His Kingdom as well as our place in His Kingdom as heirs and sons.

Jesus the Prophet

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While the position of Prophet in the Old Testament was definitely one of power and exaltation, it was also one fraught with danger and rejection. However, in the manner of highly favored prophets like Samuel and Nathan, Jesus was able to bring information from the Father to the world and make a difference that was immediate and eternal. In the God-centered governments of David and Solomon, prophets were seen as not only respected, but absolutely vital to doing God’s will. As God’s special Prophet, Jesus was placed in the highest position of being a prophet that any prophet ever had been placed.  We don’t have a modern day equivalent to that of the Old or New Testament prophet, but we do have those who are in today who advise those in positions of power. In His infinite wisdom, Jesus perfected the work of the Prophet to such a degree that no other prophet before or after Him could even touch His insight and power.

Jesus the Priest

JesusthePriest

Priests also were included in the higher levels of society in the first century as well as the Old Testament. They were very powerful, usually to their own spiritual detriment. But, those who humbly carried out God’s will were counted as those who were closest to God, not only in proximity, but in heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus’ position as our High Priest is absolutely singular in all of history. His place of importance as intercessor cannot be overstated. But, how does this position of priesthood apply to us and to our own work? When we look at Jesus the Priest, we see someone who doesn’t hide that power or keep it from those who follow Him. There’s a place of work and importance in the priesthood for us all and we need to know what that is.

Jesus the King

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The highest level of work anyone could think of if asked would have to be King. Even during this epoch of history when the office considered as the “most powerful in the world” is occupied by one man, it’s really not a position of power anything like what a king wields. Kings don’t answer to anyone. They rule completely and without need for advice or instruction. At least, that’s how a true Kingship should be. This is the kind of King we have in Jesus. He is perfectly loving, just, kind, and powerful. There is no comparison anywhere else or at any other time in human experience. But, do you know what is the most amazing part of Jesus’ Kingship? He shares it with everyone in His Kingdom! We are princes and princesses in an eternal Kingdom.

Work Application

WorkApplication

All of us do different jobs and have to make various decisions about how we are going to work for God. Working for God isn’t just about the work we do for Him in His Kingdom, but the way we accomplish our daily jobs. Working with love, kindness, and deferential treatment toward our coworkers, supervisors, and subordinates must be a part of how we conduct our Christian walk. We think of Colossians 3:17 many times when we consider how we work. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” But, what does Paul say immediately preceding this verse? “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (vss. 12-14).  Working in Jesus name is more than just saying it; it’s a change of heart and mind where we live it! This is where Paul ties up the loose ends with verses 22-24: “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Wow! Isn’t that freeing? Isn’t it great to know that we are serving the Lord of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Himself? I can think of no better motivation to do a good job.

Questions for Thought

  • If a supervisor, coworker, or subordinate approached you in anger about something you did or did not do at work, how would you react? What if it was not your fault?
  • How do you accomplish your work as “working for Jesus”?
  • What kinds of conflicts might we come across when working for the Lord in our secular occupations?

Jesus Works Chapter One Jesus – A Man of Many Talents: White Collar Jesus

Jesus Works Chapter One Jesus – A Man of Many Talents: White Collar Jesus

Jesus the Public Relations Rep

JesusthePRRep

We now shift into the realm that most people today would identify as “white collar” work. Jesus knew how to bridge the gap between those who were considered the working class and those who were in the upper echelons of society at the time. Today, He still knows how to do this. Interestingly, there wasn’t really a middle-class during the early first-century. Basically, there were those who lived on most of the wealth and then those who were the poor, scraping along through life. Of course, there were exceptions like tax collectors (Matthew), but even these exceptions would have been considered so far above the poor in social and monetary status as to be considered wealthy. However, Jesus was in the mix with all of these segments of society and was able to understand and communicate with all of them, effectively demolishing the boundaries that separated them. This comes to fruition in the early church and later as Paul writes about the equality of humanity (no slave or free, male or female, etc.) Jesus was and is the penultimate PR guy. We’ll look at just how great he is at understanding and dealing with humanity on all these levels in a later chapter.

Jesus the Teller, Teacher, and Trainer

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There are three main ways to get information across to other people. You can tell them something. Telling is basically just giving someone information. I tell you that Jesus is God’s Son. Now you have the information. The end. Teaching goes farther. When you teach someone, you give them the information and then tell them what it means. I tell you Jesus is God’s Son and that He died to save you from your sins and that means that if you become a Christian, you can be with Him forever. But, the ultimate way to get information to someone is through training. When you train someone, you’re making a disciple. I can tell you that Jesus is God’s Son and that you can have eternal life in Him, thereby teaching you about what it means, but you won’t really get it if I don’t live it. Jesus was what you would call today a Full Professor of teaching about how to live in Him. He combined telling, teaching, and training into a perfect synchrony of how to have life and have it more abundantly. In our study on Jesus the Professor of life, we’ll get a clearer view of how He Professed life and how those who tell, teach, and train today can produce life and power in their own work.

Jesus Works Chapter One Jesus – A Man of Many Talents: Blue Collar Jesus

Jesus Works Chapter One Jesus – A Man of Many Talents: Blue Collar Jesus

JesustheCarpenter

Jesus the Carpenter

When people think of Jesus and work, one of the first things they imagine is Jesus the carpenter. This is obviously due to the nature of His earthly father’s occupation, but is this where Jesus’ experience with craftsmanship ends? Jesus uses His vast experience with the craft and art of carpentry on numerous occasions; probably far more often than we realize. His parables and sermons are replete with words like cornerstone, line, and build.  There’s a depth to His understanding and personal enjoyment of making something beautiful and useful that transcends the work itself and moves into a mentality and practice of being made new in His Kingdom. We’ll look more deeply at Jesus the carpenter in a later chapter.

JesustheShepherd

Jesus the Shepherd

I am a sheep and the Lord is my Shepherd…We’ve sung this song many times. We all can probably recite Psalm 23 by heart. There’s something about being a shepherd that Jesus not only understood, but found extremely instructive for the Christian life and work. Jesus used this type of work to explain the relationship between Himself and us and He uses this example today as well. The work of a shepherd is one of love, sacrifice, and danger. It’s a place of authority and protection and care. Our Shepherd leads us in a way that would impress Jacob and David, even though they were veritable masters of the trade. Jesus as the Shepherd, watching over our souls will be discussed later. We’ll also look at His shepherding pattern that continues in His Kingdom today.

JesustheFarmer

Jesus the Farmer

You might see a pattern emerging to the study. Yes, we’re approaching Jesus’ knowledge of occupations from what we would call “blue collar” jobs first. We’ll also look at some “professional” or “white collar” and finally the highest levels of work as society sees them. But, as the Farmer of farmers, Jesus understood a great deal about how to grow things. We’re very familiar with His parables concerning soil and seed. But, where does He draw this from and how does He interpret how this type of work can change humanity? You see with Jesus, it’s not just about using the farmer’s work as a model, but also telling those who are producers how they can use their own talents and might to produce for Him. Jesus, like you and I, loved to watch things grow and make something good and beautiful and delicious. When we look at Jesus the Farmer in a later chapter, we’ll see just how much joy He takes in things that grow!

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Jesus the Fisherman

Jesus spent some serious time in boats. A full third of His core disciple group were fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) so He not only was exposed to fishing, but immersed in the full scope of a fisherman’s life. While fishing and the act of changing His followers into “fishers of men” were central to Jesus’ teaching, the act of fishing itself seemed to be of some importance to Him. Jesus didn’t just catch fish, He ate fish, multiplied fish, and even used fish in His ministry! Jesus the Fisherman was the best angler you’ll ever read about. He didn’t need radar equipment, waders, or even a fishing pole. He was that good! We’ll take a look into Jesus’ tacklebox in a later lesson to see how He viewed the act and work of fishing and how our own work can catch, produce, and multiply today.

JesustheCook

Jesus the Cook

Food and eating together was an integral social and religious activity of the day when Jesus carried out His traveling ministry around Palestine. The Jews still carried out all of the various feasts that are mentioned in Numbers 28 and 29. Besides daily, weekly, and monthly offerings, there were five major religious festivals on the Jewish calendar and every one of them included cooking and eating. Jesus didn’t just cook, He created. When we think of the culinary arts, we tend to see them as a means to an end. Someone takes the food, adds some spices, applies heat in order to soften, warm, and sanitize the food, and then it’s ready for consumption. But, Jesus did more than this. He went a step further and made food something altogether new. He showed humanity how to look at food and other material necessities in a new way. The blessing of food today is no different than it was then. We still need it to live and we still need to look at it in a way that makes sense within the context of the Christian life. Not in a legalistic way, but in a way that takes our attention off of the material and directs our heart, soul, mind, and strength toward the spiritual.

The Gift of Song: Part 1 Why Do We Sing?

gift of song

This is the first part of a lesson I presented at Dalraida church of Christ several years ago. It’s all about worship in song…

Music is a part of everyone’s life. Whether they choose to admit it or not, most people sing (get people to raise their hands if they have ever sung with the radio in their car; in the shower; in front of the congregation; during worship). This last one is the one we’ll mainly focus on during the lesson. But, mostly I want us to look at how music is a part of us. It is a gift from God and one that we use to praise Him. Singing makes us feel good about ourselves and others and is mentioned in conjunction with some of the most significant events in the Bible. Let’s see what the Word says about singing.

Why do we sing?

For Worship (horizontal and vertical aspects):

Eph 5:19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (horizontal)

Rev 5:9-14 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. (vertical)

For Learning (education through song)

Col 3:19 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – listen to the words of the song and learn…

Because we have joy in the Lord!

If you love God, you will not be able to restrain your heart and mouth from song…