8 Sayings Christians Use to Let Ourselves Off the Hook

Sojourners: 8 Sayings Christians Use to Let Ourselves Off the Hook

We’ve mastered Christian-ese catch phrases to get us off the hook from ever really having to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Before I go on, please allow me to climb off my high horse and admit that I know all of these phrases by heart because I have disingenuously used them all myself. They’ve rolled off my tongue with ease and a sense of identity. But the more I listen to those who have suffered, the more I realize how much I’ve manipulated Scripture to stay comfortable.

These sayings are not bad or untrue at face value, and sometimes they are said with sincerity. But American Christians also use them as an escape hatch to turn our backs on suffering. We proclaim what we believe as rock-solid theology, while ignoring those who are at the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry.

  1. “I’ll pray for you.”
  2. “I love everybody.”
  3. “Let’s keep the peace.”
  4. “God is sovereign.”
  5. “Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us.'”
  6. “God works in mysterious ways.”
  7. “Mercy is not my gift.”
  8. “The Bible says we should submit to authority.”

Treasure in Jars of Clay

II Corinthians is an interesting letter by Paul. It does not flow as smoothly as most of his other epistles, and we see a very emotional side of Paul throughout the book, particularly in chapter 2. He continually returns to the concepts of glory, of mercy, and of his own efforts as a minister in Christ. He spends much of the book defending his efforts, his motives, and his authority. In II Corinthians 2:17, he reminds his audience of his sincerity in teaching them.

Paul’s Defense

We can see many discouraging things in Paul’s letter – opposition from the world, our family, and even brethren, those who would seek profit from Christianity, those who would challenge him at every turn. In chapter 4:1, however, Paul asserts he will not lose hope in his ministry from God. He contrasts himself with those who would tamper with, dilute, or peddle God’s word. He sees opposition all around, but he remains sincere.

When we dilute God’s word, we dim the glory of God. As Paul, we should so internalize the glory and joy of God’s word that we feel a personal attachment to it. Think of Paul’s use of “our gospel” and “my gospel,” not claiming ownership but demonstrating the personal attachment he has to that word.

Paul writes about the god of this world, in verse 4, blinding us to God’s word and crowding it out of our lives. The sins of this world, our physical desires and pursuits, can appear less bad than they are on the surface. Sin can look brighter than it really is, and this leads us to being blinded by that false light. Paul reminds us, though, in verse 6, that God’s light can bring us from that blindness.

Paul’s Treasure

Then, in verse 7, Paul refers to a treasure stored in jars of clay. In contrast to those Pharisees of Matthew 23, who Jesus described as being whitewashed tombs filled with death and bones, Paul says we may be clay pots, but the gospel stored within us is priceless treasure. We may be imperfect and fragile as those earthen vessels, but what is contained in our hearts is beyond value.

In verse 8-9 he speaks in generalities about the persecution that comes from carrying that treasure within him, but II Corinthians 6:4-10 and 11:23-33 go into more specific details. Any of us might lose heart at those obstacles, but Paul does not. Instead in II Corinthians 4:11, Paul says he endures so Jesus may be seen in him. Once, the Word became flesh and dwelt among man. Now, others should see Him in us by the way we reflect his glory in our lives.

In verse 13, Paul quotes from Psalm 116:10 about believing and speaking God’s word, about maintaining hope among discouragement and trials. He reassures them of the hope of resurrection, reminding them the more they reflect the treasure of Christ’s gospel, the more souls that will turn to Christ, the more God will be glorified in our earthen vessels.

Do Not Lose Heart

As in chapter 4:1, Paul repeats the refrain, “We do not lose heart,” in verse 16. Here, he puts his trials, his afflictions, his humiliations, and his pain in perspective to the treasure of eternity. Eternal life is his goal, so he does not lose heart. We have a lot to put up with, as did Paul in his life, and we may feel as fragile and ugly as jars of clay at times. We have a treasure, though, beyond value if our faith and hope are in the resurrection of Christ.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Suffering Before Glory

In I Peter 2, Peter describes what Jesus underwent on our behalf, and he holds up that sacrifice as an example to us. In verse 21-25, Christ’s suffering is the basis of our calling. Philippians 2 then gives a clearer picture of what Jesus would go through before His exultation. In his book, Peter relates suffering to glory. Our endurance and perseverance leads to God’ glory and our’s in Him. Paul, in Philippians, details that suffering, that endurance, that perseverance. In recognizing that God has highly exalted Jesus, we must first appreciate the extent to which he submitted Himself.

Christ’s Humility

II Corinthians 8:9 records Paul writing that Jesus made Himself poor, and he writes, in Philippians 2:7, that Jesus submitted as a servant. The Creator of John 1:1 becomes as the created – subject to pain, sorrow, frustration, sickness, and death. In Matthew 20:26-28, when Jesus’ disciples begin to argue over who should be highest in Christ’s kingdom, Jesus remonstrates them to put such thoughts aside, that they should seek servitude as He lives in service.

In Philippians 2:8, Paul writes that Jesus humbled Himself, and this humility would be prerequisite to His coming in the form of man, living in service, or submitting to obedience. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul pleads for Christians to live in humility, and Ephesians 4:1-3 appeals to a walk of humility. I Peter 5:6 and James 4:10 call on us to humble ourselves before God. Jesus emptied Himself, became a servant, and He learned obedience in humility. In the gospels, He is obedient, even to a humiliating death on the cross.

Emptying Ourselves

Knowing these things and applying them are two different things.

  • Where we would be full of ourselves, our Savior emptied Himself. Galatians 2:20 reminds us we must dethrone self and allow Christ to reign in our hearts.
  • Where we would have others serve our interests, Jesus was servant to all. Whether foreign, poor, rich, sick – Jesus reached out to their needs. Our lives should be ones of service.
  • Where we would exalt ourselves, Jesus humbled Himself. We need to start with humility so we can look to the needs and interests of others.
  • Where we want to do things our way, Jesus willingly and unconditionally obeyed His father. We should have the same trust we see in His submission.

Conclusion

In I Peter 1:22, Jesus calls on us to love one another fervently, living and abiding in the word of God. When we can empty ourselves, humble ourselves, serve others, and obey God, we purify our hearts before the Lord. We should be amazed at what our Savior was willing to do for each of us. The one who knows all things and spoke all things into existence – He did much for us in humility. He faced endurance and suffering before glory and exaltation. We should expect and be willing to submit to no less than that.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Receiving Good & Evil

Then said his wife unto him, “Dost thou still hold fast thine integrity? Renounce God, and die.”

But he said unto her, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

In all this did not Job sin with his lips (Job 2:9-10).

No one enjoys pain, difficulties, and suffering. We all would much rather enjoy the good life, pleasures, and success. We often believe that we deserve to obtain the good things, and we do not deserve the bad things.

When pain, difficulties, and suffering come, we have an impulse to blame some higher authority. Many people blame God for their problems and difficulties. They do not understand how God could do evil to them, or, at least, allow the evil to be done to them. Where is God when there is pain and misery and suffering?

But notice, if you will, how one-sided we humans tend to be. While many will blame God for their failures or pain or suffering, who blames God for the fact that they are successful and healthy and prosperous? Many will claim that God does not exist on the basis of the existence of suffering, but no one in his right mind will argue that God does not exist because people find success, prosperity, and health. Job’s wife never imagined to tell Job to let go of his integrity, curse God, and die while their children and possessions remained! No – when people obtain prosperity, success, and health, they may very well praise and thank God for it.

It is easy for people to have such immature views and ideas about God. We know for certain that God does not tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13), and provides a way of escape from any sinful situation (1 Corinthians 10:13). But there is no guarantee that the life of the believer– or the life of anyone– will be free from pain, suffering, and misery. As we live our lives, we will receive both good and evil. If we are willing to honor and praise God when we receive that which is good, why should that change if we receive evil?

No one is saying that evil is desirable or pleasant, but it has its place in our fallen, broken world. Evil reminds us regarding the fundamental dis-ease that we should have while living on earth – this is not what God intends for the creation (cf. Romans 8:19-23). We must feel the “heat” of the law of sin and death at work in the world (Romans 5:12-18). If we did not experience discomfort, we would get rather comfortable on this planet and forget about Jesus and His sacrifice, just as the Israelites forgot about the LORD their God when they received the land of Canaan and enjoyed it!

Furthermore, human character is not developed through success and prosperity. Maturity and growth do not come from success and pleasure but from failure and suffering. Success and prosperity easily lead to belief in self-sufficiency and arrogance; trial leads to patience and growth in faith (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9). Job could only truly learn to appreciate all of God’s blessings when he suffered great misery in life, and it is the same with us. We only appreciate health when we suffer illness and pain. Success is sweeter after experiencing failure. Those best suited to handle prosperity are those who know how to live contented lives in poverty (cf. Philippians 4:11-12, 1 Timothy 6:8).

It can be guaranteed that we will receive both good and evil in life. Let us remember that through times of health or illness, prosperity or poverty, happiness or misery, God is there, He loves us, and desires for us to seek after Him (Hebrews 11:6). Let us hold fast to God whether we receive good or evil!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Putting Away My Sword

Some days are easier to practice the example and the teachings of Christ than others. 9-11 is not one of those days. In the midst of remembering those who died in the attack on the twin towers, remembering those firemen who put themselves between life and death – sometimes at the cost of their own lives – and remembering those who have been sent into harm’s way in the wake of the attack, it’s difficult to avoid feelings of vindictiveness and rage toward those who could be responsible for such a horrible event in any way.

Knowing we would all have events that make us feel this way, Jesus still said:

“You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ I tell you not to resist the evil person. Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him. If anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak also. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two…”

-Matthew 5:38-41

“You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ I say to you, love your enemies; bless those who curse you; do good to those who hate you; pray for those who spite you and persecute you – that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven…For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? If you greet your friends only, what do you do more than others…?”

-Matthew 5:43-47

If we are trying to be Christ-like, we purge our minds of anger and malice. Remember what Paul writes in Romans 5:10 – that while we were enemies to God, He paid the price for our iniquity. We strive to be holy as our Creator is holy (I Peter 1:15-16), and God is love (I John 4:7-11).

II Timothy 2:22 counts peace as a quality we should pursue, and Jesus blesses those He calls peacemakers in Matthew 5:9. At times, we may feel like the martyred saints in Revelation 6:9 who ask, “How long…until You avenge our blood?” God’s only answer to them is to rest and wait for God’s time. We are the same. We are those described in Isaiah 2:2-4 who “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Remember that only one of Christ’s followers ever seeks violent retribution in the New Testament. In Matthew 26:51-53, one apostle cuts the ear off one who has come to crucify Christ. Jesus rebukes him, and, according to Luke 22:50-51, heals the injured man – a man who had come to haul Jesus off to His death. Likewise, I must be willing to put my own sword away, looking instead to the example set by my Savior.

Today will probably always be a day of complicated emotions for those who lived to see the towers fall. As I Peter 2:1 says, though, let us lay aside “all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speech,” and instead let us dwell on the good things of meditate on those pure things of Philippians 4:8 – those things that are pure, just, holy. Let us remember that Christ died for all ungodly people, even the ones we don’t like, and we should reflect His love in every aspect of our lives.

Facing Suffering as God’s Child [Part 1]

We live in a word filled with tragedies and sorrow. We see innocents suffer unjustly. Our possessions, families, or lives may be taken by factors beyond our control. You can’t make it through a daily news report without hearing of a new shooting, abduction, natural disaster, or fatal accident. From these events comes an understandable question: why does God allow suffering in this world? It is a question theologians have wrested with for centuries, and the answers tend to boil into one of two theories.

  • If God is inherently all-loving, He would stop suffering if He could. Therefore, He is not powerful enough to end suffering.
  • If God is all-powerful, then He must not love us enough to end suffering.

Rabbi Kushner, in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, comes to the first conclusion. God is all-loving but not all-powerful. Job, on the other hand, faces a God that is clearly all-powerful, so does this infer God is unloving?

The Origin of Suffering

To understand suffering, we have to return to its roots. God demonstrates both power and love in the creation of all things and the paradise He provides for His creation. However, there is one provision to this paradise, and this provision is broken in chapter 3 when His love is questioned in that He forbade something from Adam and Eve. From that one sin, suffering entered the world. If God was unloving and merely wanting to just catch Adam and Eve off guard, He would have left it a secret – just waiting to be discovered. God clearly set the boundaries. He did not keep His provision a secret. Then, with the onset of sin, God sets a plan in motion to redeem His creation, but the consequences in this world remain.

The Case of Job

Job is a case study in suffering. He is a righteous man who loses everything. Satan seeks to find his price, and Job comes close to blaming God for his troubles in passages like Job 9:20. He feels he has been wrongly judged. In Job 19:5-7, 22; chapter 31, Job continues this idea. He even lists out evidence of his righteousness. He is a faithful person. Why would this suffering come upon him? If, like his friends argue, bad things only befall the unrighteous, Job is being unfairly judged.

God responds to Job in chapter 40. God asks if there is any who can argue with God. He asks if Job is capable of setting the universe in motion, if He is capable of balancing justice and reviewing God’s judgments? Earlier, in Job 33:13, Elihu asks Job why he strives against God. We are accountable to God – it is not the other way around. This is a hard lesson to swallow, and it is natural to want to know why. However, it is not our place to condemn or try to correct God. Job receives no reason for his suffering, and we may never understand our own.

A Loving, Powerful God

Returning to the question of the reasons behind suffering, can we blame God? Do we serve a Lord either unable or unwilling to end suffering due to lack of power or love?

What hope can we have if God is not all-powerful? How do we know He will defeat the grave? How can we know that he will defeat Satan? How can we have any faith if we cannot have faith in His power? Psalm 139 records David writing of the all-powerful nature of God, able to overcome all and having power over all. Nothing is hidden from Jehovah. In John 16:33, Jesus states that he has overcome. He will suffer terrible things very soon, but His faith was in God’s power. He knows God will deliver Him from the hands of death.

If God is all-powerful, why does He not stop calamities? Does He not love His creation? We see God’s love in passages like John 3:16 where God has shared His very nature and image with us to be killed in our stead. Abraham had confidence in God’s love when he prepared to offer Isaac. In Isaiah 55:6-9, God invites His people to forgiveness. Judah was extremely wicked at this time, but under even these circumstances, He would take back His people if only they turn back to Him. His love allows for infinite forgiveness and mercy.

What would we want God’s role to be? When do we want God to intervene? Should He constantly be altering the forces of nature , continually disrupting the cycles that have been put in motion? Do we want God to take away our own free wills so we can neither harm ourselves or others? Do we want others to suffer consequences so we do not? What stipulations can we put on God’s actions? If God fails us in any way, we automatically will begin to question Him again.

God may intervene in ways we do not see or recognize. We do know, however, that He has a place prepared for us that is absent of all suffering. We can trust His power to be able to take us to this place, and we can trust that His love will allow sinners like us to enter into it (Romans 5:8). Our hope is not in this life but in the next.

lesson by Tim Smelser