Monday, March 31, 2014

Raising The Next Generation of Pharisees

In the modern church, there are many of us who are diligently striving to raise up our children in the Word, to provide that Biblical foundation above all else.  We are careful with the shows we allow into our children's eyes as well as the lyrics of songs we allow into our children's ears.  We are standing in the gap for the next generation we're nurturing.

And yet, when I look at my own generation's "us versus them" mentality that we're transferring onto our children when viewing the lost world, I can't help but think there is something serious missing.  A look into Revelation 2 and the seven letters to the seven churches may hold the key, as this passage reveals churches that are missing one thing or another in their service to Jesus.

In all seven letters, Christ is a good teacher, first commending the churches for what they're doing right before showing where their faith is lacking.

Of the Ephesians, He says, "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate " (Rev. 2:2-3, 6).

In this passage, there is so much good Christ finds in the Ephesians' faith.

First, they were not content to be pew-warmers. Instead, they are living a faith in action, working hard for the cause of Christ. A glance at the Greek shows the word "toil" as meaning "to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief)"* This group takes seriously the Great Commission, demonstrating to the point of exhaustion their belief they are not saved to sit but saved to serve. Even in their physically weariness, Christ says they "have not grown weary." Despite physical weariness, they were still strong spiritually.

Next is the Ephesians' commendation for "perseverance." The very fact that this group is persevering implies that there is something they were having to persevere through. They are steadfast. They are enduring great trials and suffering, yet remain loyal to Christ.

These hardships are alluded to when Christ says, "have endured for My name's sake." The King James version renders this phrase as Christ knowing what this congregation "hast borne." This wording seems to better reflect the symbolism offered by the original Greek's "bastaz┼Ź," which means "to bear, to carry"* From this, it is easy to envision the Ephesians bearing the burden of claiming Christ's name and metaphorically "carrying" His cross. It seems they are taking seriously Christ's edict that "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Lk. 9:23).

And finally the Ephesians are seeking out and expelling any who deviate from the true gospel. Unlike today's Christianity where small concessions of false gospel here and there are splintering churches and watering down denominations until the gospel is completely ineffective, the Ephesians seem to hate false apostles just as Christ hates them.

BUT (and here's where the Ephesians went awry), Christ finds something specific wrong with their faith: "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (Re. 2:4).

This problem is so poisonous to the lost world around them.  They hated as Christ hated. BUT, they did not love as Christ loved.

They did not love with Christ's "agape" love, a love only available to those infused with the Spirit, a love not possible by any human means.

Somehow, they lost this kind of love. Whether the Ephesians lost Christ's love because they grew cynical after booting too many impostors out of their church or whether they lost that love in the busy-ness of "doing" for God...I don't know. Maybe it was a little of both, which made them become Pharisees, so focused on busily standing guard at the front door to keep out the false teachings that they exchanged a passionate, merciful love for legalism.

And perhaps then this legalism led their righteousness to turn into self-righteousness...an all-too-easy leap to make when you know you hold the truth and forget what pit God's grace saved you from.

In America today, I see Christianity being painted as a legalistic, self-righteous religion, mainly because too many Christians are using their swords of truth as weapons of hatred and self-righteousness when standing against such polarizing sins as abortion and homosexuality. This using legalism as a justification for not demonstrating agape love reveals that we, too, have left our first love.

While this heart problem affects our witness to a lost world, it also affects our teaching of our own children.  Even when we are doing what is right by raising our children in the Word and carefully guarding their hearts and minds, if we are teaching them the tenets of our faith but are not routinely showing them, ourselves, our love for the world beyond our doorsteps--if we don't consistently give them opportunities to demonstrate that love of Christ beyond the walls of our families and our churches--then we have left our first love.

Even as I write this, I'm still not sure how to walk that line of hating as Christ hates yet loving as Christ loves. They seem so opposite. But I think it goes back to what Jesus pointed out as the top two commandments--to love God and then love my neighbor as myself.

If we maintain or reclaim our first love for God, His Spirit will help us show agape love, which will then infect everyone around us, and the rest will follow.  Yet, if we do not, then my fear is that despite our best intentions to set ourselves apart from the world, we Christian parents will be raising another generation of Pharisees who will hate as Christ hates but who will not love as He loves. 

* www.blueletterbible.org

1 comment:

  1. I have been wrestling with how the Jesus wants the church to deal with the issues of divorce and homsexuality. I noticed that the church often speaks to those issues the same way Jesus spoke to the Pharisees. For days I began reciting the phrase "Raising The Next Generation of Pharisees" and then decided to google it.

    I think Galations 3 sums it up pretty good... We have strong tendency to try and complete in the flesh that which began in the Spirit.

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