Tag Archives: woe

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.

Why Jesus says the poor are blessed – Luke 6:17-26

22 Apr


We want to be rich. We do not want to be poor. In Luke 6:17-26, however, Jesus takes that normal desire and turns it on its head.

He says the poor are blessed, while he says “Woe” to the rich.

To understand why in the world he would say that, we need to take a look at those two terms: Blessed and Woe.

Blessed is basically the word “Happy”. Some Bibles actually do translate it that way. And why is the person happy? The definition says that it implies that the person is happy because they are enjoying favorable circumstances. So you would normally use this word to describe the emotional state of someone who is going through a good time. They are happy.

But look at the circumstances that Jesus describes. They are poor, they are hungry, they are weeping, people hate them, exclude them, insult them, and call their name evil.  Nice, right? Good times!

We look at that list and don’t want any part of it. I am not a fan of any of the items on that list.  You?  Who really, truly likes being poor, hungry, weeping, and despised? The prevailing opinion in the world back then and still today is that those are bad, bad places to be!

But Jesus says “Hey poor people. And you hungry ones. And you who are crying and despised…you guys be happy! You are the ones who are in favorable circumstances.”

I wonder if any single person in the crowd that day believed him? I can see them perking up though.  Especially as he goes on to say, “Woe to you wealthy people”.

What does Woe mean? It describes hardship, distress, even horror. Verse 24 could be translated “how disastrous it will be for you who are rich.”

The rich are not enjoying favorable circumstances, Jesus says!  Instead, they are in terrible horror.

Anyone else thinking what I’m thinking? “Jesus, are you serious?” Is he basically saying here that if you’re poor, you’re going to heaven and if you’re rich, you’re going to hell? It could really sound like that, couldn’t it?

In that day and age, the prevailing notion was that poverty meant God was cursing you, and wealth meant God was blessing you.  Health and wealth, to that audience, meant that God was blessing them. Many of us feel the same way!

And Jesus comes along and turns that idea totally upside down.

He goes on to say that if you are well fed now, if you are laughing now, if you are popular now, you are getting your reward now. You are loving life now.

But a day will come when things won’t be so fun.

So does this mean we are supposed to live lives of poverty? If so, we American Christians are pretty much done for.  If the measure is health and wealth, most American Christians have already received their reward.

So what do we do with Jesus’ words? We read this stuff, and we very, very quickly say “Well, he didn’t mean that.” We like Matthew’s spiritualized version better.

Luke’s version confronts us pretty hard, doesn’t it? Maybe we want to take Luke’s version, throw it in the trash, or spiritualize it, and then, whew, we are off the hook.

Think about it, we make delicious, indulgent meals all the time. We laugh a lot. At lip sync concerts.  We are entertainment happy.

Would Jesus say, “Woe!” to us?

As I was studying this I had to ask, “Jesus, why in the world did you say all this stuff?” It is very hard to hear his words from a wealthy American context. If you are a Christian, say, in one of my denomination’s sister EC Churches in Liberia, Africa, where it is super poor, where your country has had nothing but civil war and poverty and Ebola for the last 20 years, you probably hear this passage and jump for joy.

But you and I…what do we with this?

First and foremost, Jesus is not teaching about how to get to heaven. Instead Jesus is speaking very provocatively, which he does often, to get our attention. He was a master of that. Educational theorist Jean Piaget called it disequilibration. What happens to a pond whose waters never move? It gets stagnant. Piaget basically said that happens to our brains. Our brains need to be moved, challenged. To keep a pond from stagnancy, you need to throw rocks in that pond, create wave ripples. Jesus is throwing rocks in the pond of a very stagnant culture.

So remember this rock he once threw into that stagnant pond?: “It is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” Remember that? Splash!

Is Jesus saying that being wealthy is inherently bad? No, he is just speaking what is so often true, that we can get very dependent on our wealth, we can become addicted to our technology, and we can become distracted by our comforts and entertainment. We can allow this stuff that we love to turn our hearts and minds away from God! That’s why another time a rich man came to Jesus and said “What must I do to be saved?” And you know what Jesus said? “Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” But the guy couldn’t do it. He was too connected to his wealth. He couldn’t let it go. That guy had no idea that following Jesus was better, way better, by far!

Now here’s the question, is it possible for a wealthy person to depend on Jesus and truly follow him? Yes it is. But Jesus is at least saying that it is very, very hard.

But it is possible. Many times on this blog, I’ve mentioned John Wesley’s, phrase about wealth: “Earn all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.” We’ll talk more about this in the next post. But let me introduce it here. Wesley is saying that we should earn all we can, and for some of you, hard work, using the mind and body God gave you, will result in wealth. That is a good thing! So earn all you can. But also save all you can. By that Wesley meant “don’t spend it on yourself.” Amass wealth, yes. But be careful, it is very, very easy to start spending that wealth on the so-called good life. Wesley says, save it. Don’t spend it. And next week we’ll see why.

So Jesus said these blessings and woes to that crowd that day because he wanted them to understand what is valuable and important in God’s eyes. We are so accustomed to the values of our culture. The crowd that day 2000 years ago in Palestine was likewise accustomed to judging things based on the values of its culture.

In First Century AD Israel, the value was that if you are poor, God was cursing you, and if you are rich, God was blessing you. It was basically a health and wealth Gospel.

Jesus says “No, No, No. The opposite just might be true.”

Jesus says that we need to use the values of the Kingdom of God to evaluate our lives.

Will we make our financial decisions based on our culture or based on Christ? We will make our decisions for how we spend our time based on the mission of God’s Kingdom? If we simply spend our money and our time on ourselves, Jesus says, we have gotten our reward here. He is saying that we should be a people who desire God’s rewards!

Where do we draw the line? I don’t want to be legalistic. I am purposefully not going to give you examples of how to spend your money or how not to. There will be many, many possibilities for the choices we should make. Rather I want you to do the hard work of taking the key principle we should adhere to and applying it to your life, and that is this: Go to the Lord and say “Lord, I want to honor you with this decision about how I spend my time, my money, my life.”

I will recommend this: accountability. Will you consider submitting your life to an older, wiser Christian who loves the Lord, who is willing to speak blunt truth, and lay everything in your life open before them?

Jesus is saying that it is not correct to view wealth and health as blessings from the Lord. You might be poor and sick, but if you follow him, there is hope, because one day you will get your reward. Make your life about following him and the mission of his Kingdom!

Instead, be people who give your time, your talent, your treasure sacrificially to God and the mission of his Kingdom.