January 17: Thoughts in Response to Reading the New Testament
January 17, 2014
A Tree and Its Fruit
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.
Passages like this get my attention for somewhat obvious reasons this year. Here I am, deeply disturbed by how people of my culture use their resources for seemingly selfish reasons in a world where so many don’t even have the basic necessities. People will say to me that my outrage is prophetic in nature. So when I read a passage like this, it asks the question: Do I in any ways fit the description of a false prophet? Is my message fluffy on the outside but destructive on the inside? A couple of months ago as our church was talking about potentially spending $300-$400,000 on renovating our sanctuary and foyer, I was very disturbed. The crux was this equation I keep going back to: If children are dying for very “simple” and preventable reasons every day (by the thousands), and preventing those deaths doesn’t take rocket science, but rather simple things like clean water, sanitation, vaccinations, mosquito nets, etc, then how can we spend such large sums of money on what are largely aesthetics and yet still feel like we’re making the best decision? When I ask questions like this, people don’t tend to answer. They tend to take it as a rhetorical question. There are probably quite a few reasons for that, but it does lead to frustration on my part -- if someone asks you an important question and you don’t even attempt an answer, what does that say? Shouldn’t we be able to answer for ourselves? And so I contacted one of our pastors and conveyed my sense that it was important that churches be able to explain choices like this -- it was a challenge for the leadership of our church to be able to actually respond in some way to this question.
But over the course of a couple weeks, after a couple back and forths over email, I became less convinced that formally answering the question was going to be life giving for the congregation. And I actually had the thought, “Is this demand to answer this question seemingly good on the outside but rotten on the inside?”. Another analogy I had in my head is to wonder whether this dollars-and-sense thinking can be like a trojan horse for the church that has no trouble getting into the city, but then wreaks havoc? Those analogies are quite similar to Jesus picture here for a wolf in sheeps clothing.
I still don’t know. These feelings seem to come from deep in my subconscious and it’s hard to introspect them. When is wrestling with this issue healthy and life giving for the church and it’s mission? When is it destructive?
Another question to ask: What is the fruit that is being born out of my convictions of recent? Has it been life giving? Has it been destructive?
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
This is naturally a scary one for people who have put their faith in Jesus, and it hints at the struggle of Christians in the early church to know how to understand faith and works, and the connection between the two. For me what this says is that we can be fooled into thinking that we have done what Jesus has asked if we simply believe in Him and then go about living lives that convey to others in striking ways that we are a new creation while we are inwardly still not really surrendered, and the wider picture of our life still filled with disobedience and neutered love. A humbling passage.