Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sticking Up For Others - A Biblical Calling

This topic is something that I have been thinking about for almost a year now. Here is what I presented this morning for the joint Sabbath School program. “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 'Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?' they asked. 'Hasn't he also spoken through us?' And the LORD heard this.” (Numbers 12:1) A little background: Moses had just appointed 70 elders to help him govern the unruly Israelites. Miriam was not part of that decision and was not considered for the position of elder. Miriam felt neglected, slighted by God. She was a former slave—hated by the Egyptians. She chose to lift up herself by bringing down Moses’ wife. Miriam was the instigator, her name is listed first. She publicly scorned Moses’ wife based on her place of birth, her culture, and her skin color; all of which she had no control over. Miriam also scorned Moses for his decision and brought Aaron along for the ride. But she didn’t stop there; she spoke against the one who gave Moses authority—God. She didn’t feel that He recognized her importance. God likened this to being spit in the face and publicly punished her with temporary leprosy. Miriam truly felt slighted. Those feelings were very real. But her response was wrong. Throwing a temper tantrum and saying “If I’m not happy, you shouldn’t be either” is not the way to go. Why not? Galatians 5:14-15 tells us “The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” We need to find another outlet for our feelings. As Christians we are to “...rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Peter 2:1) But Miriam was a stumbling block to Aaron. The term “stumbling block” comes from the Greek word “skandalon”, where the words scandal and scandalous come from. Skandalon literally means a baited trap. This is an intentional act made to trick or trip up someone. Here is a more recent example of someone being slighted. My nephews Dean and Luke like to play Uno. Dean, 7, likes to win so he cheats. Everyone knows that Dean is a cheater. It’s the first thing my brother mentions when anyone new plays with Dean. Luke is almost 5. Luke adores his older brother and looks up to him. He wants to do everything that Dean does. When they play Uno Luke has 3 options: ignore the cheating, cheat back, or voice his displeasure and call Dean on it. Luke has decided that he won’t let Dean get away with cheating. He calls him on it. If Luke cheated back, he would be just as bad as Dean. But what if he just ignored it? He sees it and stays silent. He becomes an accessory to Dean’s cheating. Our legal system says that “An accessory must generally have knowledge that a crime is being, or will be committed. A person with such knowledge may become an accessory by helping or encouraging the criminal in some way, or simply by failing to report the crime to proper authority. The assistance to the criminal may be of any type, including emotional or financial assistance as well as physical assistance or concealment.” (Italics are mine.) The bank robber’s get-away driver is just as guilty of murder as the robber to shot and killed someone. When we refuse to stick up for someone, we become accessories to their sin and commit a sin of omission. James 4:17 tells us “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.” This is not the same as sins of ignorance (like Abimelech taking Sarah as a wife in Gen 20:1-7). Abraham committed the sin of omission and dragged Sarah into it by only telling a half truth. Abimelech committed a sin of ignorance because he could not be held responsible for not knowing that Sarah wasn’t married. Why did Abraham lie? He was fearful. What if sticking up for someone or doing the right thing harms you or your image? “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4) It can’t always be about us. We are to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We are to represent Christ on Earth. Matt 18:6 warns “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matt 5:21-22 takes it a step further: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca [good for nothing],' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.” That doesn’t bode well for those of us who have sibling rivalry in their closets. Too often we look at each other as a gage for our actions. We tend to fall to the lowest common denominator. If so-and-so can do x, than I can, too. Or if so-and-so leader doesn’t bother doing x, then I don’t need to either. For example, at work I pick up the recycling. I ask that everyone break down their cardboard boxes. My co-workers are pretty good at this. But, if one person doesn’t break down their box then the next 3 people won’t break down theirs either. As Christians we need to keep our focus on God and not those around us. We are told to warn, encourage and be patient with others (I Thes 5:14) not to look to them for what actions are acceptable. If someone was being physically beaten instead of being slandered would the decision to stand up for them be so hard to make? What if it was a child being hurt instead of an adult? How different might the Good Samaritan story be if the hurt Israelite was a hurt child—a victim of abuse by its parents or family? Are we not all children of God? When we see someone hurting we have the responsibility to act. When we see someone hurting someone else through words or actions we have a responsibility to act. Even when the person being hurt isn’t present, we have a responsibility to stand up for them. Is it only the responsibility of leaders or those in authority to stand up for others? No. Sometimes the leaders can be the problem. We only have to look back to the Catholic priest abuse scandal to see leaders taking advantage. “Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field; they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland.” (Jer 12:10) Jer 23:1-2 goes on to say “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: "Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done," declares the LORD.” People often develop a skewed view of God if they were physically or emotionally abused by their parents or someone they considered to be in authority. We are told to keep watch over the flock (Acts 20:28). We know that God does not wish any to perish; therefore all people are His potential flock. Ezekiel 34 gives a warning to the church and its leaders about the need to lift up and encourage others. We should not tear anyone down. “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” (Eze 34:18-19) When we tear people down or refuse to stand up for them because it might make us look bad, we are showing a false image of God. We are muddying the waters of Life for those wanting to drink. God knows our hearts. He knows our secret motives and weighs them with our actions and words. When we dwell on negative things, on being slighted or on getting revenge we are more likely to cave in to temptation to act on those feelings and bring others down with us. Therefore we should abide by Paul’s council in Phil 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

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