Links to post and readings for September 27
THIS IS THE BOTTOM LINE. God is God, all-knowing, all-seeing, present everywhere — and right. Because He is holy. And we are, where we are. We have free will to determine the course of our lives well — in agreement with God — or poorly, when the flesh pushes us to be independent. So we have freedom to sin, to disagree with God and to disagree with each other, but there are consequences.
The OT reading for Sept 27 (Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32) brings a word confronting the kind of attitude which had kept Israel in the desert wilderness for a whole generation. In a classic projection, the returning exiles, in disharmony themselves, are grumbling against God and blaming God for their downfall while holding Him to be unjust.
The other side of the coin is what Jesus said about agreement. Here are a couple of well-known verses from Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 18:19-20)
“…Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them.”
The two or three that gather are clearly coming together in agreement, from the context and from the condition “in My name”. Gathering in agreement is something that attracts the Lord’s presence. The twin strands of agreeing and asking has sometimes been misused for man’s purposes rather than God’s — e.g. unscrupulous fundraisers — and we must keep in mind that it is stated in the context of establishing rights and wrongs in church life, but that said, it feels like a restatement of a principle which is much more general.
The tension between disagreeing, appearing to agree but insincerely, and coming into agreement is highlighted by Jesus’ teaching in the gospel reading for September 27 (Matthew 21:23-32). Here is is in the temple courts, right at the end of His time on earth and the temple authorities, threatened by this out-of-town rabbi with a noisy following among ordinary people, ask Him where His authority comes from, not just to teach, but the signs and wonders that accompanied it. Jesus turns their question around with another question, about the authority behind John the Baptist’s ministry. Then He tells a story about two sons of the someone who owns a vineyard, and wants them to work in it. The first son flatly refuses. He doesn’t want the vineyard, or the work that goes with it. However the second son appears to be more accommodating. He acknowledges his responsibility — but he doesn’t exercise it. The first son won’t and the second son just doesn’t, but later the first son changes his mind and enters the vineyard at last.
Jesus shows his hearers that the kingdom of God is like that. Those who should know about. it, and be willing to play their part in it, have reneged on their responsibility — these are the religious leaders, like the ones questioning Jesus. But others, clearly ‘outsiders’ who rejected God’s righteousness in their lifestyles, have had a change of heart and are the new ‘insiders’.
Jesus leaves the way open to them to have a change of heart and agree with God. As He does with us. We start off in disagreement. No amount of religious involvement can resolve that. But we can change, and turn to Jesus, and receive Him, to be born again spiritually into new life and purpose. That resolves the disagreement between us and God, and if we get into independent, fleshly attitudes, the way is always open to come back to Him.
Where else do we find the teaching on agreeing with God and by extension, with each other? This is a teaching emphasised in the early church. Judging by the letters written to churches, disunity and strife was taken extremely seriously; Peter’s first letter exhorts “all of you, be like minded”, with Paul appealing to the Corinthians to “be perfectly united in mind and thought”.
And his letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 2:1-13) sets the high bar of Christlike relationships between believers, warning against selfish ambition and urging them in the strongest terms to “make my joy complete by being like-minded… one in spirit and of one mind”.
First, we get into agreement with God. Then, agreement with others who are also looking to God for their guidance, follows. The enemy will always try to sow his discord and promote strife wherever he can, because he knows the power of spiritual agreement and will try anything he can to upset it.
But we have the Holy Spirit who will always lead us in the way of truth and agreement with God, because that is His nature.