Tag Archives: death of the church

Woe to you, Christians – Part 2 – How to stop the two main things that will cause your death

11 Nov

Imagine you have been invited to your pastor’s house for dinner and some leaders of the church are there.  It is a nice meal with pleasant dinner conversation.

Do you think you would take this time to point out all the things you didn’t like about the people around the table?

Some of you might!  Some would be mortified of doing that.

Jesus, in Luke 11:37-56 was invited to dinner with a Pharisee, and an expert in the Law was there.  Before dinner Jesus chose to forgo the traditional washing, and the Pharisee noticed and was surprised.  Jesus saw this as a cultural open door, and stormed through it.   Over the course of the next few minutes he proceeds to insult the Pharisees and Law Experts, using a prophetic Woe Oracle against them.  I introduced the concept of a Woe Oracle last week.  Woe Oracles used funeral language to proclaim “if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will die!”

I also said last week that perhaps the American Church would do well to listen in to this sharp conversation.  Stats have been telling us that we are declining.  Maybe there is something that Jesus was saying to the religious leaders of his day that could help us avoid death in our day.

So what were the Pharisees and Law Experts doing that was so wrong?  Two things.  They were being hypocritical and legalistic.  Read through the Woes again and you’ll see how they were not practicing what they were preaching (hypocrisy), and they were burdening people with extra laws (legalism).

Is it possible that the decline of the American Church is attributable, at least partially, to our own hypocrisy and legalism?

I know this is a difficult passage. These are hard and harsh words from Jesus. He is speaking to those who are living a lifestyle of hypocrisy.  I know that we are not the Pharisees, but don’t we all have areas of hypocrisy?  I know not too many of us are living lifestyles of complete and total legalism, but I don’t want to let us off the hook here either.  Instead I think we all should wrestle with a passage like this.  We are disciples of Jesus.  And Jesus certainly called out his disciples, who had areas of struggle, many times, just as he is calling out the teachers of the law here.  I think it is always good for us, as people who are disciples of Jesus, who desire to make our hearts more and more like the heart of Jesus, to take a hard and honest look at ourselves and see what areas we have improved in and what areas we still need to work on. We should always have teachable hearts, ready to make changes and to do the hard work to change attitudes that work themselves out into our actions.

To use the language of the parable Jesus told to the Pharisee, in what areas are we clean cups on the outside and filthy on the inside?  Are we living secret lives?  Are we hypocritical in any way? We need to get that out in the open, confess it, and change.

This does not mean that you need to be proclaiming all your junk to the public all the time – that is not what I am saying. I am saying that our hearts should be beating like Jesus and that will naturally overflow into our actions.

Additionally, we need to address any potential legalism in our lives.  If the Gospel is about grace through faith, not by works, we can hinder people from the Gospel by emphasizing rules.

Do we believe that following these rules define us as a Christian? If so, is it possible that we have led people astray by communicating to them the perception that they, too, if they want to be a Christian must follow those rules?

Let me give you an illustration. In the early church, in Acts chapter 15, the leaders of the church called a conference. At this point the church was maybe 10 years old or so, and it had grown a lot from the original 120 who started out. Guys like Paul and Barnabas had gone on mission trips and non-Jews from outside Israel had become Christians. Some of the Jewish Christians, including some Pharisees who became Christians, heard about these non-Jews becoming disciples of Jesus, and while they were happy, they felt that the non-Jews needed to start following the Old Testament Jewish Laws now. Especially the law of circumcision. Imagine that. These Jewish Christians felt that adult male non-Jews needed to be circumcised! Ouch!

Paul was totally against this. He argued that the message of Jesus was that the Old Testament Law was fulfilled in Jesus, and that Christians, disciples of Jesus, didn’t have to follow those Laws. Those Laws were essentially the treaty or the covenant between God and Israel, not between God and the church. Paul was right, and thankfully the leaders saw things Paul’s way and they did not require the non-Jewish disciples to get surgery. Whew.

Just like them, let us not put rules and regulations in place of faith in Christ and a life of discipleship!  What defines us as a Christian is that we have hearts that beat for the Lord. That we are his disciples, and our lives are totally arranged about being a disciple who makes disciples.

So in conclusion, the message of Jesus’ Woe Oracle to the Pharisees and teacher of the law is that we should remove hypocrisy and legalism from our lives. We should not be one person on Sunday at church and someone very different in our private lives.

Have you heard the story of the police officer who recently committed suicide because he had a double life? Two sets of families?  We don’t ever want to hear Jesus say Woe to you Church, and that means we should live a life fully for him. Ask him to reveal any hypocrisy in your life. And then remove it.

If there are rules you are imposing on others, maybe even unwittingly, would ask God to reveal them to you, so you can present a pure Gospel and not trip people up on legalism?

Woe to you, Christians! – Part 1: How a woe oracle could save the church from death

6 Nov

“Woe!” but not “Woah!”

What’s the difference?

“Woah” is an utterance of surprise, or a command to “Stop!”

But “Woe” is a wailing of sadness.  In the Bible there are Woe Oracles in the Old Testament.  That word “woe” was used in Israel primarily at funerals.  People would loudly proclaim “woe” at the passing of a loved one or friend.  From the descriptions we have in the Bible, it seems like a funeral could have been quite a boisterous, awful display.  Some cultures around the world still today have similar practices of mourning.

A common phrase in our culture is “Woe is me.”  We use this phrase to have a pity party for ourselves, to explain that we are feeling sad.  But in the Bible, the word “Woe” is most often directed at someone else.  In the Bible we don’t read “woe is me”, but instead we often read “Woe to you!”

The biblical prophets often uttered woe oracles crying out the word “Woe” as a part of their prophecy against a nation. In so doing, they were invoking funeral language over that nation.  “Woe to you, who are complacent in Zion” the prophet Amos declared, for the people of Israel lived lavishly while practicing injustice.  There are examples in many of the other prophets as well.  The gist of a prophetic woe oracle, then, was that the nation should be very sad because their funeral was impending!  Thus, a woe oracle is designed to shake people up, to make changes, so that their funeral could be delayed.

In our ongoing series through the Gospel of Luke, our next section is an episode in which Jesus joins the chorus of prophets and proclaims a bold woe oracle.  Who would he say this to?  Like the prophets of old, would he say “Woe” to the nation of Israel?  No.  There was a different group he focuses on.  The religious leaders.  You’ve probably heard of them: the Pharisees and the experts in the Law.

Why would Jesus give a woe oracle against them?  Take a look at Luke 11:37-53, and you can see what he has to say.

As you read this, try to learn why Jesus got so bold.  And then try to imagine what he might say to Christians!  Is it possible that Jesus might have reason to proclaim “Woe to you American Christians…”?

I think he might.  And I think it could be hard for us to hear.

Recently on the Today Show, the hosts each answered one of those “Would You Rather?” questions.  A “Would You Rather?” situation asks you to choose between two options, neither of which is completely desirable.  In this case, the question was “Would you rather know the time of your death or the way you will die?”  I can imagine that the knowledge of either of those could lead to lots of anxiety.  Which would you choose?  I lean toward knowing the way I will die.  But really, I don’t want to know when or how I will die.  When a prophet proclaims a woe oracle they are doing something far better than the “Would You Rather?” question.  A woe oracle is saying “People you will die if you continue living this way!  So make a change and live.”  Therefore, I think we Christians should want to know the woes that Jesus might proclaim over the American church.  We’ve been hearing for years that the American church is in decline, dying.  Perhaps we need a bold woe oracle to shake us up and help us get healthy again!

On Sunday at Faith Church, we’ll study the woes that Jesus proclaims against the religious leaders of his day, and we’ll see if those woes might lead us to woes that he would have for us.