A FATE WORST THAN DEATH
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6
Wherever He went, Jesus was the champion of outcast and the oppressed. Yes, we know that “God is love” and that Jesus was tender and kind, but His love made Him fierce in defense of the helpless. The gospels contain some of the most dramatic verbal battles in literature, and almost without exception, Jesus fought against the powerful and the proud to protect the powerless and the poor.
We often focus on Jesus’ promises to give us an abundant life, peace, and joy, but He delivered stern warnings, too. To make Himself crystal clear, He said that those who mislead, wound, or take advantage of helpless people in this case, children-would suffer God’s righteousness, fierce justice. In comparison to God’s punishment, it would be better if abusers were drowned in the ocean.
Does this warning have anything to do with us? Yes whenever we find ourselves in a position of power, we need to heed Christ’s warning. When we relate to children (our own or others), poor people, displaced people, employees who serve under us, or anyone else over whom we exercise authority, that relationship is a sacred trust. We report directly to God for our attitudes and behavior, and He isn’t thrilled if we abuse those under us, ignore them, use them for selfish gain, make jokes at their expense, or take them for granted. Jesus didn’t mince words. He made Himself very clear. Will we listen?
“If Christ lives in us, controlling our personalities, we will leave glorious marks on the lives we touch. Not because of our lovely characters but because of His”
Jesus said that one of the earmarks of being Christian is to “love one another even as I have loved you.” That’s a strong statement. First we have to consider when Jesus began loving us. We notice the He didn’t wait until we were living in a way that pleased Him. The Bible says that while we were still sinners- doing things contrary to God, disobeying Him, and actually working with the devil against Him, Christ died for us. Now God isn’t asking us to literally die for others, but He is asking us to crucify our selfish desires and to put to death our preferential demands. Paul says that we are to daily be “crucified with Christ. It’s easy to use status, position or wealth to take the advantage of those we perceive that are somehow weaker than we. We hear phrases like: “it’s a dog eat dog world, if you don’t take care of yourself, nobody else will” and so on. But Christ called us to the life of servanthood. In this teaching He said to us that taking the advantage of others and harming them incurred the wrath of God. Notice that the reference speaks more to the spiritual for Christ said, “whoever causes one of these little ones…..to sin.” In other words if our conduct or treatment of those weaker than we- in this case children- creates an environment that moves them to sin, we are in danger of God’s judgement. In every story you can find about Jesus, you will never find Him acting toward people in such a way that they were drawn to sin. Instead you will find that He called them to a life of righteousness. In yesterday’s devotion we read that Christ picked up a little child, sat Him on His lap and told the disciples that this was the picture of the kingdom of God. A little child sitting on God’s lap. We too are called to love our neighbor even in their sin. There will be those who will challenge this statement. Some will take it to mean that we love people and accept their sins as well. But Jesus never loved this way. That He loved is beyond question but He never tolerated sin for He knew that sin would ultimately destroy the person. He called out those who were practicing sin to a better life. To love like Jesus loved is to stay silent or to “tolerate” sin. It’s sacrificial love that moves us to call those we love to a better way. It’s a love that loves sinners while hating the sins. We don’t wait until someone is “living right” to begin to love them. We start loving them where they are. I’m convinced that the church needs a baptism of love. We may talk about how we are to love the world but then we huddle inside our buildings with those like us and ignore those around us still trapped in sin. We may talk about loving one another and yet find that conflict and division are the accepted norms. So Christ is calling us not to just love our neighbor but to love them just as He has love us. Only this kind of love will keep us from taking the advantage of those who are weak.
The second thing about the love of Jesus is that it is a patient love. He recognized that like little children, we have to be taught, we have to learn and growth is messy. Little children fall down often, they sometimes get more food on the floor than in their mouths, and they can mess up a clean room in seconds. That’s us in our walk with God. The beauty of the church is that it is to be a place where we can learn and grow in safety. There are barriers that keep us on the path, moving in the right direction. There are the elders who teach and train us in the ways of God. There are those who love us enough to correct us when we are acting out.
The final thing about Jesus’ love is that it’s enduring. You simply can’t make His stop loving you. We can walk away, disobey, try to ignore Him, but His love is faithful and consistent. He loves us just as much when we fail as He does when we succeed. It’s a never ending love that always seeks the best for us. Christ never calls us to Himself to take the advantage of us, to use us or to abuse us. Even when He allows us to experience the consequences of our actions, His love is unfailing and His end goal is to grow us in relationship.
If you’re reading this and maybe you have not acted in love toward others, this is a good time to confess that to God and ask for His forgiveness and help. If you have been subjected to abuse or being taken advantage of, this is a good time to ask God to heal your brokenness and hurt and to remind you of His unfailing love.
Dr. John Thompson