Since early times in Israel’s Old Testament history, prophets have been more outsiders than insiders. And we start with a shepherd who was called by God to fo and speak to the royal court of the neighbouring and rival kingdom. His message speaks to our world of soaring executive salaries and growing queues at food banks, immense wealth funding a war and humble courage and faith resisting, a loss of moral compass among those who govern in a country where 97 per cent do not regularly atttend church.
What is God saying to us through this week’s story? It’s right here in this excerpt from Psalm 82. This reminds us about God’s priorities and where in our humanness we are prone to get it wrong.
Psalm 82:1-4, 8
1 God presides in the great assembly; He renders judgment among the “gods”:
2 “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?
3 “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4 “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.
The video What is God’s Way for How We Live? is about 13 minutes and tells this story in a more compact way using excerpts of the Bible readings
The Bible study — for small groups or individuals — explains the Bible passages with commentary, short reflections and discussion questions. Here on The Living Word for July 10.
God is love — and God loves us, every one. So to live God’s way is to love others — to be caring and considerate in our various relationships. When we don’t, He has something to say about it. In every age, He has called prophetic people to hear what He says and to tell others. That message is not always a vote-winner — so His spokespeople have tended to be regarded as outsiders.
And this week’s story opens with one who was more of an outsider than most. Amos is a shepherd from the plains southwest of Jerusalem and as well as keeping sheep he tends a grove of sycamore figs to supplement their feed. God tells him to go on a journey north and into the more prosperous, rival kingdom of Israel. He is to share his message from God at the shrine of Bethel where it will be heard by the king and his court. This is way outside his comfort zone.
7 This is what He showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in His hand.
8 And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”
“A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with My sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
10-11 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. For this is what Amos is saying: “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”
12-13 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
14-16 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say, “‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’
17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says: “‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
He’s a country person, he has the wrong background and wrong accent and no credentials whatever to be a voice to the establishment, let alone the king. And the pompous priest in charge of the shrine sends him away with a flea in his ear.
But within a generation, Amos’ words were seen in a new light as the Assyrians carried out what we might call a ‘military operation’ and carried off the landowners and principal people into exile. The arrogance of the establishment around the shrine at Bethel who wouldn’t listen to God and who dismissed His messenger brought its own judgment.
What did Israel’s failure to keep the covenant means in practice? In essence, it comes down to living as those who love God, and show His love to others.
And this is what Jesus referred to in the debate with a scribe about the law and its most important precept in Luke 10:
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 “He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
31-32 “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 “But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34 “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
35 “The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This is one of Jesus best-known parables and the phrase ‘Good Samaritan’ has passed into general use, meaning someone who goes beyond what is expected or reasonable in showing kindness to others.
It’s a memorable story and powerful challenge to the prejudices and judgments we all hold. Teaching from the Bible can be dry and legalistic — especially if it comes across as being commanded to do more of this and to avoid the other. That sense of what we are commanded to do or not to do overtakes our understanding who we are and how we are as those who have received Jesus into our hearts as our Saviour and Lord.
How we hear teaching from the Bible can come with the wrong tone — hard to digest and difficult to live out. It can also be warm with the heart of God Himself — full of His love and with a dynamic of its own which the Holy Spirit provides. The choice is ours. Where one is guilt-inducing, the other is freeing; one seems to present us with hurdles and difficulties that we may not manage, but the other is encouraging and enabling with the sense of what God is living out through us.
There are two things that stand out from his story, to anyone of any age or any background. First, from the Scrive’s question, is whether we see what God says in His word the yardstick for how we live?
Second is the question of priorities. Is it a priority to help someone who needs it, or is it acceptable to safeguard one’s position and presumed holiness? The answer the story gives is obvious — seen through the contrary priorities of the priest and the Levite. They were supposed to be examples of living in covenant with God, clearly stated in the law and in the prayers they would have recited daily.
So the story lays bare their hypocrisy, as it exposes the hypocrisy of every religiously-minded person today who puts form above faith and love.
The third standout truth from his story is how improbable it was for a Samaritan to show kindness to Jewish neighbours who hated them. Because Samaritans held to slightly different values, they were not considered proper Jews. And as they didn’t profess what was considered the ‘correct’ doctrine, that made them aliens and even enemies.
This story about a despised Samaritan showing kindness that the religious officials lacked was shocking and even offensive.
We find we have conflicting priorities when we become Christians. When we make an intentional decision to believe who Jesus is, the Son of God who we receive into our hearts as the One who has paid the price for our wrongdoing, our values change. To put it simply, receiving Jesus into our heart as Lord is undertaking to live with Him and for Him. So this sets us apart as belonging to Jesus and also because we share His values together with others who belong to Jesus.
How do we reconcile living for Jesus with people around us who have a very different way of living — living for themselves? This is where it all starts to go wrong. We have become separated from the ways of the world and we want to stay that way. We have been called out from the world (and you could probably name sects who are notorious for being exclusive, not even friendly neighbours). Like the Pharisee in the story, we want to define ‘ne ighbour’ as ‘someone like me’.
But wait! We have been called out of the ways of the world, in order o become missionaries to the world. We hold some different beliefs and different values to many people around us and our call, with Jesus, is to engage with them and share the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom.
This comes out of the story which challenges us about how generous-spirited we are. The Samaritan in the story is an outstanding example of somebody who was both generous in His provision, and (this is the important bit) generous in his attitudes. He didn’t care whether the beaten-up fellow traveller was of his tribe or not. He just knew he had to do what he knew to do, to give whatever help he could. His generosity is not just some money he paid to the innkeeper but much more about what he gave from his heart.
This despised, alien transgressor of the Covenant — as Jews would have seen it — was the one actually carrying the love and compassion of God and sharing it with another.
The previous story was about doing, or failing to do, what is just and caring. This story is moving more to how we are inside – and whether we are guarding it, or giving it away..
The next scene takes us into Paul’s discipleship teaching for the gatherings in and around Colossae that had emerged out of the work of an evangelist called Epaphras.
These are new believers who have very recently come into the realisation of who Jesus is and what He has done for them. They are new creations! And Paul wants to encourage them in their walk with God, being fruitful for Him in this new life.
This is moving from what we do, which was the focus of Amos’s message and the reason for God’s judgment to fall — to an awareness of who we, belonging to Jesus, *are*, in God’s sight, and how His Spirit works in usm.
Paul writes to them about how the growing faith and love they are experiencing comes out of this new identity, this assurance that they have of belonging to God and being accepted by him. This, he says, is how they relate to people differently, and this is a way the good news works. People just like them are bearing fruit and growing the kingdom of God all over the world — as we hear in Colossians 1:
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3-6 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven, and about which you have already heard, in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world — just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.
7-8 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
9=12 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light.
13-14 For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
There is repetition here underlining something that they know, that they have received, that they have heard — and truly understood by spiritual impartation.
Paul gives this great emphasis. Let’s pick out his about hearing and understanding. He talks about the hope stored up for you in heaven about which you have already heard… Since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace… You learned it from Epaphras… We… Ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives… growing in the knowledge of God.
There’s a truth here that he is very keen that we get hold of. Is not just growing in knowledge – that’s dry and legalistic and not life-giving. It’s growing in the knowledge of God, the knowledge of his will,The wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives
The covenant with God in the Old Testament was about doing right by God’s law – loving him and loving others. This was easily misunderstood. And too many Christian churches today are still basically Old Covenant, with people called priests who teach the duty about obeying the commandments. There’s no much help there fopr doing it.
Jesus came and showed what that looked like in practice. His challenging story defines for us the unconditional breadth of God’s love. Who are we to put our conditions on it?
And it defines how God sees loving others. Humanly, it’s too difficult — but not with the Holy Spirit of Jesus, who grows in us Jesus’ love and compassion for all. He keeps us in the flow of God’s boundless love, grace and compassion.
O God our Father, we ask You to keep filling us with the knowledge of Your will, through the wisdom and understanding the Holy Spirit gives. May we be sensitive to hear and willing to go, as Amos was, and have compassion to be present for others You may bring across our path. May we, being confident in belonging to You, overflow with faith and love in bringing the present reality of Jesus to others. For Your glory, Lord, we pray this. Amen