Romans 5:12-21 / Matt. 10:40-42
As children, my brother and I were always throwing or shooting at targets of some kind. First, we had a cheap, string bows and arrows. We would set up a bale of hay in the yard and shoot our arrows at paper bulls-eye targets.
Then when I got a BB gun, everything became a target – cans, leaves, fence posts. I never shot at people. I knew that if I ever misused a BB gun in that way, my dad would take it away from me and I’d never see it again. But just about everything else was fair game for my efforts to improve my aim and to hit what I was aiming at.
The Greek word for “sin” does not mean you broke a rule found in the Bible. “Sin” means ‘to miss the mark” or “ to miss the target.” It also means to fail – to not hit what you are aiming for.
So what is the target for followers of Jesus? Is it merely the Ten Commandments? No. Paul told the Christians in Rome that sin was in the world before Moses was given the Law. If people sinned before the Ten Commandments – then sinning must be more than breaking some Commandments.
Based on Jesus’s teaching in Matt. 10:40-42, these are the targets we should be aiming at in Christianity:
1. Be kind to those who follow Jesus.
Jesus said those who follow in his steps will be called terrible names (Matt. 10:25). Why? Because they point to the goodness of God rather than the penal justice of God, and they stand up for the poor and outcasts. Today there’s an online article about Dick Cheney criticizing President Obama for sacrificing defense money in order to pay for food stamps. Wow. Money should go to weapons instead of feeding the hungry poor. Which one is walking in the steps of Jesus?
Yesterday, the state of Indiana was the latest to be told that their law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Those who stand up for the right of two people to live in committed relationships to each other will be blasted and called ugly names by those who consider themselves the religious right.
Be kind to those who stick out their necks and fight for the rights of the unwelcome. Give them a cup of cold water. You will be strengthened in your conviction to follow in Jesus’s footsteps. Maybe one day you’ll actually be the one walking in the steps of Jesus himself. When you do, just remember that you’ll become a target for those who deny Jesus’s message of hope for the poor and outcast.
How many terrible names have you been called because you walk like Jesus? It’s something to ponder.
2. Be kind to prophets—those who speak what God speaks into their hearts.
Some Christians think God has only spoken English for all of eternity. They believe the English words are the final truth. Other people think the printed words in the Bible are word-for-word what God said and meant.
Yet Martin Luther suggested in one of his sermons that “God” or the Holy Spirit speaks from the white on the pages – from the spaces in-between the words. You’ll see from Luther’s quote on John 14:23-31 that he believed it was the Holy Spirit who taught him it was okay to get rid of bad laws in the Bible. The laws you get rid of are those that do not show love for your neighbors, your enemies, or each other.
Support and encourage those who are brave enough to say the Bible is not the final word – love is the final word.
3. Be kind to those who do the right things, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.
The righteous are those who do the right things because they are mature enough to realize there is more to a person than the damages they’ve caused. We live in a society that glorifies payback and equal justice more than it seeks to understand and repair the core problem. I speak about this in my book In Living Color: The Beatitudes (Ch. 4 The Dept. of Righteousness). An Old Testament kind of justice prevails in the world rather than a New Testament kind.
When someone sins against you, i.e., gets into your garage and steals from you, what rule did Jesus suggest? “If your brother takes your coat, give him your shirt as well.” Most people steal to survive. They don’t steal if their basic needs are being met. Do you want to reduce crime in your hometown? Make sure people have a way to work and pay for their food, clothing, and shelter. It’s not rocket science.
Give a cup of cold water to those who are more focused on restoring those who are harmed and rehabilitation of the perpetrator than on utilitarian or avenging justice.
4. Be kind to those who bear a cross and love (work for the good of) the unloved in spite of the odds.
To bear the cross is to accept the pain others give without returning it. It’s what Jesus did on the cross. He didn’t return evil with evil. He accepted evil and returned it with forgiveness. He accepted the lack of development of the human race and let go of the need for avenging justice. To bear the cross stops the eternal cycle of evil in the world. On the third day, he moved on to a new life.
In a nutshell, there are many targets to be found in Christianity, but at the heart of them all is the bulls-eye of love. Listen to the word of God spoken into your heart. Stand up for the poor and disadvantaged no matter what any institution or book says. Learn to absorb someone else’s pain and not give it back. Do the right things because they are the right things to do.
And if you don’t hit the target, devote more time to practice so you can improve your aim.