Sometimes Christians struggle to believe that God is just. This is, in large part, because we see injustices being done to innocent people all the time. In fact, this was Habakkuk’s complaint to God–that innocent, God-fearing people were suffering in poverty and oppression while the oppressors lived high on the hog. It’s very easy to get discouraged when we see this pattern repeated over and over again.
But Hebrews 6 tells us that it’s impossible for people who have once been enlightened and tasted the goodness of the word of God to come to repentance. The message is clear: “But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:8 ESV). At this point the Christians might be questioning where God’s justice is in all of this.
There is tremendous hope for saints who serve other saints: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (vs. 9, 10). Not only does God care for the saints who serve others, but they “have full assurance of hope until the end” (vs. 11). The people who are patient and serve others will see God’s justice and receive full assurance of hope until the end!
Paul wrote to the church in Colosse, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love” (Colossians 2:1, 2 ESV). There is something special about being together with people, face to face. Paul recognized this multiple times to multiple Christians. He often longed to be with people in person, and that was a two way street. When the Ephesian elders met Paul at Miletus, “there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again” (Acts 20:37, 38).
These encounters went well beyond just a surface-level friendship. To be sure, Paul wanted the church at Colosse to know how great a struggle he had for them and those at Laodicea. Paul labored for the people he knew. He struggled for them. Paul made it clear that he did not want to “rob” the Christians he served. He was a tent maker. He did not ask for money, because he felt that would hinder his ministry. Consumerism was not of any interest to Paul struggled, and gladly so, for the sake of his fellow man.
It does Christians well to work hard–even to struggle–for the sake of others. It communicates that our relationship is not shallow and that the other person is worth struggling for. But most importantly, Paul emphasized that, “though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). We struggle for others to ensure the firmness of their faith. This is (and should always) be motivated by our love of God and love for others.
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Christianese is the language Christians speak in Christian circles and it often has inside, hidden meaning. An example of this is, “A sin is a sin.” That’s “Christianese” for “I don’t want to confront this, so don’t bring it up again.” “Lord willing” often means “I won’t be there.” And “In God’s time” can mean “I’m not really vested in this right now.”
But what really is “in God’s time?” To be fair, God really does work on his own timetable, and his timing is perfect. But oftentimes we use “in God’s time” as a cop out. In the church we are used to red tape. We are accustomed to hearing and making excuses. “I’m too busy,” “I have a lot on my plate,” “this isn’t the right season.” What we are saying is that in God’s time really means “in my time.”
In the gospel of Mark, he uses the word “immediately” 41 times. The word is used 59 in all of the New Testament. Some have dubbed Mark “the Gospel of Immediately.” Mark is drawing attention to the fact that Jesus was a doer, not a planner. Jesus was not locked into board meetings, planning sessions, committee break outs, or leadership meetings. Rather, he was serving. Every time Jesus saw a needy person he immediately served. He healed. He prayed. He taught. He fed. Immediately.
We sometimes miss how active Jesus was because we read snapshots of his ministry. But Mark shows that “in God’s time” is immediately. Mark says, “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Mark 1:21 ESV). “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit” (vs. 23). Jesus healed the man by driving the spirit out. “And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (vs. 28).
Mark wants his readers to know that the needs were immediate and that Jesus immediately took care of those needs. He didn’t wait for permission or take the time to include others. When there was someone in front of him who was desperate, he immediately served. This is God’s time in the gospel of Mark. Though the other gospels don’t use Mark’s method, there is still movement. Jesus is rarely sitting around, and he certainly didn’t clothe himself in red tape. At a time when people are searching, God’s time is. . . immediately!
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If we actually go through the gospels and look at the glaring consistency of Jesus, we see that he was far more interested in healing than following traditions. Each gospel writer arranged their books with a specific purpose in mind. The stories aren’t necessarily chronological as much as they are thematic. In Matthew’s gospel, he arranges his stories to fit mathematical equations (he was a tax collector, after all), the discourses of Jesus to mimic the first five books of the Old Testament, and demonstrates how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
Within that structure, Matthew focuses heavily on Jesus’ ministry to heal and preach. As the stories unfold, he sprinkles in stories that interrupt the flow of Jesus’ ministry. These stories are about religious leaders. For example, right after the healing of all who were sick in Gennesaret, The Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat” (Matthew 15:2 ESV).
Rather than get into a full on argument or debate (which in churches can last for long periods of time), Jesus rebukes them and goes back to healing people. He had no interest in winning arguments. That was a waste of time and kept him from ministering to people in need. The very next things Jesus did were healing a woman’s daughter from a demon, healing many along the Sea of Galilee, and feeding a hungry crowd of 4,000. To say Jesus was busy serving was an understatement.
Enter the Pharisees and Sadducees. “And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven” (Matthew 16:1). Testing Jesus. Let that sink in. He was exercising the greatest form of compassion on mankind. He was healing, feeding, and redeeming people–setting the captives free and treating them with dignity and respect. And the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test him. They couldn’t help themselves. They were deconstructing what Jesus was accomplishing.
Jesus was clear that followers of him must do all that he commanded. We all are essential workers in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ clear example to us demonstrates that serving others in need takes priority over everything else. This is the fulfillment of the Law. Loving our neighbors requires service to others.