Real Faith for a Real Life in a Real World.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Baseline Discipleship

Reading 

Micah 6:1-8

Introduction

Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, and his message was much the same – hardly surprising if they are both speaking on behalf of the same God to the same people. 

He foresees God's judgement of both Samaria and Jerusalem, representing the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.  Their crimes?  Idolatry and injustice, false and meaningless religion, the strong oppressing the weak for personal gain. 

He foretells the time when Messiah will arise from Bethlehem and that he will rule over all.

In our passage, God lays his case before the people: he has done them only good.  Micah is devastated and asks what people can do to save themselves from God's judgement, and then sets down God's simple requirements of his people.

What I'm about to explore here is, in my opinion, the most important concept for anyone who claims to be a Christian: Baseline Discipleship.  The title implies very basic teaching, a setting forth of the bare-minimum that we need to do to be disciples of Christ, and so it is.  However the title doesn't really do the subject justice.  I could just as easily have called it ‘The Sum-total of Discipleship’ without making any extravagant claims.

Micah has implied that the practice of religion is not enough to placate God's anger or to earn his favour, neither the Hebrew sacrificial system practised in his day nor the despicable child-sacrifice adopted from the surrounding nations.  Nor is the mere practice of religion in our modern age, what we do on a Sunday morning, enough to satisfy God.

In verse eight of our passage, God gives us three simple requirements for life, requirements which have never been superseded or set aside, and which are rooted very firmly in the nature of God himself.  They are requirements which impact on each and every one of us personally and daily.  God expects us

  • to act justly
  • to love mercy, and
  • to walk humbly with him.

That's all there is to it!  Three requirements that are extremely simple to grasp, and at the same time deeply challenging to live.  Let's look at them in more detail.

First of all, we are told to

Act Justly

If you read through Micah, you'll see various examples of injustice being practised in his day.  We see a people of very questionable personal integrity: the strong depriving the weak, people seeking personal gain regardless of how it affected others, vengeful behaviour if they didn't get what they wanted.  When we look at western society today, it seems to be going more and more in the same direction.

Justice is about giving people what they deserve.  This is not just a matter of doling out punishment for offences.  It is also a matter of treating others fairly and seeing that they get what they need.  It can mean going to the defence of the oppressed and disenfranchised, even if it costs us. 

We can think of the refugees so prevalent in our news today, or those whose lives have been devastated by natural disaster; we think of Haiti, or—even more recently—central Italy.  What should governments do?  What should our personal actions be towards them? 

But it's not just about the big issues tackled by large, impersonal organisations.  Acting justly is about my personal integrity in the way I conduct my affairs.  As a trivial example, we may be very quick to point out an error if we are short-changed in a shop but what's our response if they give us too much change?  Only on Friday night, my wife and I were out for a meal.  We asked for the bill and they brought us the wrong one.  It was for less than our bill, and some would have paid it and left.  We pointed out the error and paid our own bill.  Acting justly is about my everyday interactions with the people around me, as well as my personal response to the wider injustices I am aware of. 

One dismally wet Saturday afternoon, a Christian couple were sitting quietly in their lounge when there was a knock at the door.  They opened the door to find three Swedish girls asking for help.  They were on a cycling holiday, and one of them had fallen off her bike and injured herself. 

What should the couple do?  What would you have done? 

The couple took the girls' bikes in for safe-keeping, and drove them to A&E, leaving their phone number with them so they could be collected after being tended to, and reunited with their bikes.  All ended well and the girls gratefully continued their journey.

Acting justly is about doing the right thing.  This couple chose to do the best they could in response to the need of three complete strangers. 

We hear of many people crying out for justice – and there are many in our society who need justice doing for them.  Justice is rooted in the nature of God—he is the God of Justice—he will always do what's right.  Justice is something that God sees as a good thing, and he requires us to do the right thing; to act justly.  It's not an optional extra.

But justice cuts two ways.  In Micah we read of God preparing to execute judgement on his people because of the injustices they were doing.  In our own lives there are people who have done us injustice, and there are those to whom we have acted unjustly.  What would happen if God gave me what I deserve for the injustices I have done?  What would happen to you?

For this problem, justice doesn't go far enough.  That's where mercy comes into the picture.

We are told to

Love Mercy

When someone has done badly by us, it can be the hardest thing in the world to show them mercy, especially when there's no sign of them ever changing!  Even if there's genuine repentance on their part, the enormity of their offence against us can make mercy seem an impossibly costly action.  Yet we are called not merely to show mercy but to love mercy. 

If Justice is about giving people what they deserve, then Mercy is about giving people what they don't deserve.  It's quite clear in Micah that God isn't happy with his people.  Justice is set up and ready to roll but the longer view is one of mercy for God's people: Messiah is promised!

We've all done wrong, and what we deserve is justice.  But we don't need justice for our offences, we need mercy! Where would we be without mercy?  Without mercy there would be no relationship with God, no forgiveness, no new beginning, no hope.  If you know you deserved justice but instead you've  received mercy you will love it.

Mercy is a wonderful thing. For the one who receives it, there is a deep sense of gratitude and joy, not to mention relief.  For the one who bestows mercy, there is a tremendous joy in setting someone free and the restoration of relationship.  Mercy is one of the best and most generous gifts you can give.  If you've ever had to give mercy, you'll find that you love it.

Having received God's mercy, we must be willing to show mercy.  Jesus said, 'Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.'  And there's a kind of justice in that.

We all still get things wrong, and we go on needing mercy.  And we all need to go on showing mercy to those who wrong us.  Mercy oils the wheels of life and allows us to carry on travelling together.  Don't you just love it!

Mercy is something that God sees as a good thing, and he requires us to love it and to show it.  It's not an optional extra.

How do we learn what's right and how to be merciful?  We do that as we

Walk Humbly with our God

The Christian life is a journey. It's a long journey—a life-long journey.  That's why God calls us to walk with him, at a pace that give us time to learn and grow.  It's a journey that calls for commitment and determination.

God also calls us to live in relationship with him.  He hasn't sent us out on our own; he asks us to walk with him and, by implication, promises to walk with us.  He keeps company with us through all the hills and valleys of our experience.

He walks alongside us, all the way.  And yet it's clear who is to be the one leading the way.  We are told to walk humbly with our God.  After all, he's the one who's been around forever, he's the one with all the knowledge and wisdom.  He made us, and he knows best.  He wants to teach us his way of doing things so that we can do the same.  That's what it means to be a disciple.  We can't go our own way.  Proverbs 14:12 says, 'There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.'  We dare not go our own way.  

My wife and I have a dog.  We've had her from a puppy.  She was the most wilful, stubborn Labrador puppy you could imagine.  Many times I've asked myself, why on earth did we get a dog?  She's been really hard work.  She's three years old now, and she's finally begun to get the hang of behaving the way I want her to on our walks.  Walks are becoming more enjoyable—for both of us!  The better behaved she is, the more treats she gets (food is something very close to her heart!).  The more she's walked in my ways, the more freedom she's been allowed; she's now off the lead for most of the time. 

Jesus said in John 8, '31bIf you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples.  32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'  The more we walk in his way, the greater the freedom we discover.  We need to allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate scripture for us, and for the truths we discover to change our minds and our living.

Walking humbly with our God is something that he sees as a good thing, and he requires us to do this essential thing.  It's not an optional extra.

Godly Nature

I said at the beginning that these requirements are rooted very firmly in the nature of God himself.  We see that perfectly displayed in Jesus Christ.  God sent his only Son to live as one of us so that he could willingly to take the penalty of our injustices, thus satisfying God's just demands of us and allowing him to show mercy to all who put their trust in Christ.  Christ walked in humility and obedience before his Father, and through his perfect sacrifice reconciled us with God so that we too can know him and walk with him, indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Earlier in our service, we noted that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.  What does this mean? Christ has already paid the penalty of our sins.  God will not unjustly exact a second payment from those whose account has been settled by Jesus!

Summary

For me, this Old Testament text has long been a foundation stone in my understanding of what it is to be a New Testament disciple of Jesus.  These three facets are inextricably intertwined.  Walking with God must decant something of his just and merciful nature into our lives; and it must overflow through us to others in our world in whatever ways we find available to us, be that in giving or in going.

So let's be determined to be the kind of people God calls us to be:
  • people who act justly
  • people who love mercy, and
  • people who walk humbly with our God.
This is the bare minimum and the sum total of all that God requires of us, and it's made possible through our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen!

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