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Compassion And The Kingdom

• Efrem Smith

Efrem Smith preached about how being a Christian means participating in the Kingdom of God in between the first coming of Christ and the second. He used Matthew 25 to help us grasp this.

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Efrem Smith preached about how being a Christian means participating in the Kingdom of God in between the first coming of Christ and the second. He used Matthew 25 to help us grasp this. This chapter ends with the teaching about the sheep and the goats. Jesus gives us very clear examples of what practicing the Christian faith looks like when he sorts out the sheep from the goats (vs. 34-40).

The parables that came earlier in that chapter also emphasize the importance of how we spend our time here on earth in between the first and second comings of Christ. The parable of the 10 bridesmaids is about being prepared for Christ’s return and living each day with the expectation that it could be today. And the parable of the talents illustrated how God not only forgives our debts through
Christ’s sacrifice for us, but also sends us out with talents to be invested in the kingdom of God! Rather than waiting around idly for the master to return, we are to get out there and use what God has entrusted us with to build the kingdom.

Again, when we ask what this looks like, we can go right from these parables to the sheep and the goats. God’s calling for us is to express compassion. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison, these are the examples Jesus himself gave us of what compassion looks like practically.

Efrem closed with a challenge to us. He told us about the African impala that is able to jump from a standstill 13 feet in the air. Even though they are able to do this, when they are kept in captivity, zoo-keepers have learned that they only need 3 foot high fences to keep them in because the impala will not jump if they cannot see where it is they will land. Efrem used this as an analogue for how we often lack the faith we need to act on what God is calling us to do. Even though God has equipped us to “jump” by serving others in the ways described in Matt. 25, we often can’t picture ourselves doing it, so we just don’t. When Jesus has been so clear, we owe it to ourselves and each other to challenge one another to jump with the eyes of faith!

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Topics: Faith, Kingdom of God, Poverty

Sermon Series: Compassion by Command

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Focus Scripture:

  • Matthew 25:31-40

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
    “Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
    “Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
    “The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

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8 thoughts on “Compassion And The Kingdom

  1. Bill Watson says:

    First, I comment somewhat tentatively as I don’t disagree with this post, but I do wonder if clarification might be necessary. You state, “… If you want to know God, read about Jesus and what his companions said about him. Start there, stay there, end there.” I have just read a somewhat pejorative statement calling this a sort of Christian reductionism, ignoring other Scripture which might paint a picture of God, i.e. of wrath and anger, that doesn’t necessarily match up with looking only at Jesus. I know Greg’s work on this is due out soon (I’m guessing), but it is problematic when discussing with some believers.

  2. Vinny says:

    @ Bill

    What i believe the post (and God) is revealing to us is that the picture of Jesus, His Life and His Word, is the only way to know God’s IDEALS. Up until then, He was limited to using sinners to carry out His plan of salvation. It was because of the fallen nature of the world- even of His own beloved people- not of God, that we see Him resorting those mediums. However, in the Life of Jesus, God is not bound to such limitations and is able to carry out and display His ideal Way of Life in Himself to His people. Such a revelation trumps Old Testament pictures of God, no matter how preposterous or profound.

  3. Mary Reyes says:

    I’ve come to trust the perspective articulated in Scott’s post and Vinny’s response. At the same time, Bill brings up a point upon which I’ve also been reflecting. Many of Greg’s sermons contain the message: if you want to know who God is, look at Calvary–God is others-centered, self-sacrificial love. But it seems to me that Calvary doesn’t unambiguously communicate this message. If we interpret Calvary this way, it’s because of the theological beliefs we’ve accepted. If we limit ourselves to Scripture, we must rely very heavily on John’s writings to provide direct evidence that love is indeed God’s core character. Even then, it seems that the concept of “love” could be interpreted in different ways. I’m left chewing on how I could succinctly answer a tough skeptic who asks, “How can I know that God’s core character is love? And if so, what kind of love is it?” (The Bible has many more direct references about our need to love God and others than it has about God loving us. Why would this be so, if love is God’s core character?) Any thoughts?…

  4. Mary Reyes says:

    [While considering the questions I posed in my previous comment, the following idea came to mind: Maybe even the compelling portrait of Jesus’ love in the Gospels is not enough to convince the toughest skeptic of who God is. Maybe it is only when we–as the Body of Christ on a massive scale and in a multitude of ways–love others (especially our enemies) that the world can see that indeed God is love. Surely only God can empower us to do it. Maybe the sum of human history will communicate that love is the ultimate reality and that will be the conclusive evidence of who God is. Hmmm…that sounds like John 17 and Ephesians 4 : )]

  5. Vinny says:

    @ Mary

    You absolutely nailed it in your second post, I have one consideration though in that I never could agree with a statement that begins with “Jesus’ love wasn’t enough” but I do agree that it is precisely our job as the body to communicate God’s character. We are to be the continuation of Jesus’ life as evidence of the Gospel’s truth and power. As far as questioning the core of God’s being as being Love, I disagree with the notion that we are relying on John’s writings at all to come to that conclusion. Most scholars do not even use John’s Gospel or epistles for apologetics because they are so explicit in their praise for Jesus as God and God as Love. They rely much on the writings of Paul, which are generally accepted by believer and skeptic alike. Yet, I would submit to you that Paul’s description of Jesus in Colossians 1:15 and 2:9, when seen in light of His Incarnation and atoning death, leaves no question about whether Love is God’s core substance.

  6. Mary Reyes says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Vinny.

    In as much as we (the Body) are able to share love, I have no doubt that God is the source and we the vessels. In fact, I’ve been marveling at the phenomenon that we seem only able to give love when we’ve first received it. (I believe we’re born “primed” to be able to receive love and that our progress towards becoming those-capable-of-loving is greatly enhanced if we’re nurtured by loving adults as we grow up.)

    To clarify: I am convinced that Jesus’ love was/is enough. I recognize that even some who don’t identify themselves as “Christians” hold up Jesus as a personification of love. But it’s harder for me to explain to a skeptic why I’m convinced that the core character of God the Father is also love. (For example, it’s not uncommon for polytheists to divide up character traits among various deities. Likewise, it can be tempting to “split God” with the Son having a core of love and the Father having a core of holiness or righteousness.)

    Here’s my latest stab at defending a loving Father(!):

    I agree that we can use Paul’s writings alone (Hebrews helps, too) to make that case that Jesus shows us the essence of God. So maybe a second step is to use Ephesians 3:14-19 to make that case that love was central in Paul’s understanding (not only John’s): “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Although Paul refers to this love as “of Christ” we can extrapolate that the Son was/is able to give love to such a radical degree because of the love he was/is receiving from the Father. (Even Matthew, Mark and 2 Peter record Jesus as being called “My beloved Son”.)

    Any thoughts?

  7. Scott Boren says:

    This is some rich interaction. I was edified by it this morning, reminded again about God’s character. It is remarkable that after working with Greg to do the Scandalous Love series and writing 50 blog posts during that series which explored the implications of God’s love, it is so easy to forget this truth. Of course, I find that there are many reasons for this, i.e. most churches don’t teach this, the cultural view of God is far from a God of love and the historical view of God depicted in art and theology rarely centers around this truth. But there is another reason: I am realizing that most of us are taught to read our Bibles flat. In other words, every word in the Bible has equal weight. But if Jesus is the full revelation of God, then it seems to me that we need to read the rest of the Bible through the lens of Jesus. Greg is writing a couple of books on this as he has wrestled with the violence attributed to God in the OT. But this principle goes beyond our understanding of OT violence. It goes to how we understand what being a Christian is all about. If we read the Bible flat, then there is a lot that might seem contradictory and we will likely get caught in our tracks, stuck in our discipleship. But if we read Jesus as the climax of the grand story of God’s redemption of all creation, then we can see how the OT points forward to Christ and the NT points back to Christ. It is his life in us that matters. When we read the Bible flat, we come up with all kinds of principles for living, steps for making life work, moral life-lessons from Bible figures, etc. And while these may be in the Bible and they might be correct, they can distract us from the center of all and actually turn us back in on ourselves. We make following Jesus about doing the right things instead of experiencing love and allowing his love to move through us. I think this is what Paul is saying in Ephesians 3. He is being redundantly repetitive, saying over and over to the point of beating people with the need to get this fact: everything centers around Jesus who is the full revelation of God and if we don’t get this radical love then we miss everything in life.

    Thank God this is a blog comment, as I feel like this is such a random thought.

  8. Mary Reyes says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond, Scott. I really appreciated the Scandalous Love series–it “locked in” the Jesus-lens perspective for me. I didn’t keep up with all of your blog posts back then, but plan on working my way through them starting now.

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