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Upside Down (Wednesday Teaching UPCh

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After a successful time in the synagogue in Thessalonica, charges are made against Paul before the local Roman authorities
Acts 17:1–9 ESV
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
Acts 17:1-9
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
[1] Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. [2] And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, [3] explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” [4] And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. [5] But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. [6] And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, [7] and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” [8] And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. [9] And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
The charges against Paul are significant: he is accused of “defying the decrees of Caesar” and “advocating another king, Jesus.”  These are dangerous charges indeed.
First, Paul and his companions are troublemakers.
This could be standard rhetoric, although it does seem that wherever Paul goes there is trouble. But Rome did not particular care for trouble-makers.  Kavin Rowe uses this phrase as the title for his excellent book subtitled “Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.” As he points out in his chapter on , to “turn the world upside down” is a grave accusation in the Roman world (p. 96). Luke used the phrase later in Acts to describe the revolutionary activities of the Sicarii, actions that will result in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (). It is possible to take this phrase not as “they are troublemakers” but rather as “they are rebels against the Roman Empire.”
Second, they undermined the decrees of Caesar.
In
1 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV
for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
Paul says that the congregation has “turned form idols.”
Obviously any pagan Gentiles saved during Paul’s time in the city would have turned from whatever idols they worshiped.
But this “turning from idols” must have included the Roman cult. 
If this is the case, then turning from the Roman cult could be understood as an act of disloyalty. 
Third, they advocate another king, Jesus. 
Third, they advocate another king, Jesus.  In and 5 Paul clearly teaches that Jesus is coming back in power and he will establish his own glorious kingdom (, for example).  This could easily be understood in terms of a change of emperors, that the empire of Rome was about to be supplanted with the empire of Jesus. It is clear, at least for Kavin Rowe, that “the figure to whom King Jesus is juxtaposed is beyond a doubt the Roman emperor” (p. 99).
In and 5 Paul clearly teaches that Jesus is coming back in power and he will establish his own glorious kingdom (, for example). 
This could easily be understood in terms of a change of emperors, that the empire of Rome was about to be supplanted with the empire of Jesus. It is clear, at least for Kavin Rowe, that “the figure to whom King Jesus is juxtaposed is beyond a doubt the Roman emperor” (p. 99).
Fourth, Paul’s preaching of the gospel challenges the truth Pax Romana (Roman Peace)
Pax Romana (La tin for "Roman Peace") was a long period of relative peace & minimal expansion experienced by the Roman Empire over a span of roughly two hundred years.
During this period, the Roman empire achieved its greatest territorial extent, and its population reached a maximum of up to 70 million people.
1 Thessalonians 5:3 NIV
While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
Paul says that when Jesus returns, it will be at a time when people are saying “peace and safety,” but they will in fact be destroyed. 
Paul says that when Jesus returns, it will be at a time when people are saying “peace and safety,” but they will in fact be destroyed.  Peace and security is exactly what was promised by the Empire, pax Romana meant that the empire was a safe and peaceful place to live.  Paul says there that the peace of Rome is an illusion.
Peace and security is exactly what was promised by the Empire, pax Romana meant that the empire was a safe and peaceful place to live. 
Paul says there that the peace of Rome is an illusion.
All of this points to the radical nature of Paul’s gospel from a Roman perspective.  After the Jerusalem Council, we are well aware of how radical the gospel is from a Jewish perspective.  But now we see how dangerous the idea of Jesus can be from a Roman imperial perspective.  Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Real King and that his empire of peace is going to overwhelm the so-called peace of Rome.  This alternative way of viewing the world provoked violent reactions from Rome.
All of this points to the radical nature of Paul’s gospel from a Roman perspective. 
After the Jerusalem Council, we are well aware of how radical the gospel is from a Jewish perspective. 
But now we see how dangerous the idea of Jesus can be from a Roman imperial perspective. 
Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Real King and that his empire of peace is going to overwhelm the so-called peace of Rome. 
This alternative way of viewing the world provoked violent reactions from Rome.

Changed Maps

The map of global christianity that our grandparents knew has been turned upside down.
At the start of the 20th century, only ten percent of the world’s Christians lived in the continents of the south and east.
Ninety percent lived in North America and Europe, along with Australia and New Zealand.
But at the start of the 21st century, at least 70 percent of the world’s Christians live in the non-Western world – more appropriately called the majority world.
More Christians worship in Anglican churches in Nigeria each week than in all the Episcopal and Anglican churches of Britain, Europe, and North America combined. There are more Baptists in Congo than in Britain. More people in church every Sunday in communist China than in all of Western Europe. Ten times more Assemblies of God members in Latin America than in the U.S. The old peripheries are now the center.
More Christians worship in Anglican churches in Nigeria each week than in all the Episcopal and Anglican churches of Britain, Europe, and North America combined.
There are more Baptists in Congo than in Britain.
More people in church every Sunday in communist China than in all of Western Europe.
Ten times more Assemblies of God members in Latin America than in the U.S.
So, can the West be re-evangelized? Only if we unlearn our default ethnocentric assumptions about “real” Christianity (our own) and unlearn our blindness to the ways Western Christianity is infected by cultural idolatry. It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is often harder to receive than to give. That reverses the polarity of patron and client and makes us uncomfortably aware that what Jesus said to the Laodicean church might apply to us in the West:
So, can the West be re-evangelized?
Only if we unlearn our default ethnocentric assumptions about “real” Christianity (our own) and unlearn our blindness to the ways Western Christianity is infected by cultural idolatry.
It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is often harder to receive than to give.
That reverses the polarity of patron and client and makes us uncomfortably aware that what Jesus said to the Laodicean church might apply to us in the West:

NORMAL CHRISTIANITY
Paul was eager to make Rome a base for planned work further to the west in Spain. Jerusalem was simply one center among many. Christianity has never had a territorial center. Our center is the person of Christ, and wherever he is known, there is another potential center of faith and witness. So, as mission historian Andrew Walls has said, the emergence of genuine world Christianity and the ending of Western assumptions of heartland hegemony simply marks a return to normal Christianity, which looks much more like the New Testament than Christendom ever did.
Paul was eager to make Rome a base for planned work further to the west in Spain. Jerusalem was simply one center among many. Christianity has never had a territorial center. Our center is the person of Christ, and wherever he is known, there is another potential center of faith and witness. So, as mission historian Andrew Walls has said, the emergence of genuine world Christianity and the ending of Western assumptions of heartland hegemony simply marks a return to normal Christianity, which looks much more like the New Testament than Christendom ever did.
MULTIDIRECTIONAL MISSION
NORMAL MISSION
Mission today is from everywhere, to everywhere. So another piece of unlearning we must do is breaking the habit of using the term mission field to refer to everywhere else in the world except our home country in the West. The language of home and mission field is still used by many churches and agencies, but it fundamentally misrepresents reality. Not only does it perpetuate a patronizing view of the rest of the world as always being on the receiving end of our missionary largesse, but it also fails to recognize the maturity of churches in many other lands.
Christianity probably reached India before it reached Britain. There was a flourishing church in Ethiopia a century before Patrick evangelized Ireland. There were churches in Eastern Europe centuries before Europeans reached the shores of North America. There have been large Christian communities in the Middle East for 2,000 years. So it is discourteous (at best) and damaging (at worst) when Western mission activity ignores all such ancient expressions of the Christian tradition and lumps all lands abroad as the “mission field,” in comfortable neglect of the fact that the rest of the world church sees the West as one of the toughest mission fields in the world today.
This is not, of course, to suggest that countries of ancient Christian churches need no evangelism, any more than we would exclude nominal Western Christians from the need to hear the true gospel. But the real mission boundary is not between “Christian countries” and “the mission field,” but between faith and unbelief, and that is a boundary that runs through every land and, indeed, through every local street.
NORMAL MISSION
GOD WITH A MISSION
Philip goes from Jerusalem to Samaria, to Gaza, to Azotus, and to Caesarea ().Peter goes to Lydda and Joppa (). • People from Cyprus go to Antioch and initiate a multiethnic church there ().Barnabas goes from Antioch to Tarsus to get Saul ().Timothy goes from Lystra to Ephesus, while Titus ends up in Crete (, Timothy, Titus).riscilla and Aquila come from Italy and end up in Corinth ().Apollos comes from Alexandria to Ephesus, then ends up in Corinth ().
What held together these crisscrossing lines of missionary movement all over the international Mediterranean world? Carefully tended relationships of trust. That is what lies behind the letters of recommendation and the exhortations in 3 John to treat traveling church planters and teachers “in a manner worthy of God” and to respect their self-sacrificing for the name of Christ. Indeed, 3 John is a much-neglected missional tract for our times. We need to recapture this relational, partnering, reciprocal style of missional interchange.
GOD WITH A MISSION
But behind all this stands God with a mission (the redemption of his whole Creation from the wreckage of human and Satanic evil). The mission of God is what fills the Bible from the brokenness of the nations in to the healing of the nations in . So any mission activity to which we are called must be seen as humble participation in this vast sweep of the historical mission of God. All mission or missions that we initiate, or into which we invest our vocation, gifts, and energies, flows from the prior mission of God. God is on mission, and we, in that wonderful phrase of Paul, are “co-workers with God.”
This God-centered refocusing of mission turns inside-out our obsession with mission plans, agendas, goals, strategies, and grand schemes. We ask, “Where does God fit into the story of my life?” when the real question is, “Where does my little life fit into the great story of God’s mission?” We want to be driven by a purpose tailored for our individual lives, when we should be seeing the purpose of all life, including our own, wrapped up in the great mission of God for the whole of creation. We wrestle to “make the gospel relevant to the world.” But God is about the mission of transforming the world to fit the shape of the gospel.
We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God expects for his mission in all its comprehensive fullness. I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should ask what kind of me God wants for his mission. We invite God’s blessing on our human-centered mission strategies, but the only concept of mission into which God fits is the one of which he is the beginning and the end.
RELEARNING THE CROSS
Most of all, we need to go back to the Cross and relearn its comprehensive glory.
The Cross is not a personal exit strategy to heaven
Colossians 1:19–20 NIV
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
) and thereby lose the Cross-centered core of holistic mission.
Vital that we see the Cross as central to every aspect of holistic, biblical mission – that is, of all we do in the name of the crucified and risen Jesus. 
Why is the Cross just as important across the whole field of mission?
Because in all forms of Christian mission, we are confronting the powers of evil and the kingdom of Satan – with all their dismal effects on human life and the wider creation.
If we are to proclaim and demonstrate the reality of the kingdom of God and his justice, then we will be in direct conflict with the usurped reign of the evil one.
In all such work, social or evangelistic, we confront the reality of sin and Satan.
In all such work, we challenge the darkness of the world with the light and Good News of Jesus Christ and the reign of God through him.
By what authority can we do so?
On what basis dare we challenge the chains of Satan, in word and deed, in people’s spiritual, moral, physical, and social lives? Only the Cross. The Cross must be as central to our social engagement as it is to our evangelism. There is no other power, no other resource, no other name through which we can offer the whole gospel to the whole person and the whole world than Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
Table Of Contents
Special Section Loving Your Community
Why Should I Care?
Discover God’s passion for the people in your community.
by Paul Thigpen
Illustration by Andy Levine
The boisterous crowds with their gritty palm branches stumbled alongside Him, shoving and shouting. But His gaze was riveted ahead. There in the distance, stones blinding white under merciless sun, lay the city—the city He loved with a fury, the city that had broken His heart.
It was both symbol and sample of all He had lived for, all He would soon suffer and die for. Within its ancient walls lived the Pharisee with his phylactery; the widow with her mite; the jeweled harlot; the cutthroat Zealot; the little girl newly back from the dead, gathering lilies for her still-dumbfounded papa. A market full of beggars, a temple full of thieves, a city full of all things human, crying out for all things divine.
And Jesus wept.
Do you want to see the heart of God? Then look, here, upon the face of God: tear-streaked, pain-creased, terrifying in its holy jealousy. Behold how He loves them: fickle little creatures, their days like the grass, their souls like quicksilver. Today they adore Him, tomorrow they abhor Him. Before the thorns, before the nails, already His soul is pierced; and sorrow flows down, a salty prophecy of the blood to come.
Do you want to see the heart of God? Then look, there, upon the faces of God’s children: tear-streaked, pain-creased, terrifying in their holy need. Behold how He loves them: fragile little creatures, weak and poor, sick and dying, hungry and thirsty, naked and alone. The least of His brethren, He suffers with them; He cries through them; He holds them so close to His heart that whatever is done for them is done for Him (see ).
Your Jerusalem
In Miami or Moscow, New York or Nairobi, Denver or Dublin, in the 1st century or the 21st, whatever may change, some things remain the same:
spiritual need
material need
empty hearts
empty hands
Could God’s heart be any clearer?
Could His call be any louder?
Think of it: Our Lord weeps for our community, for those who surround us every day.
The waitress we snub, the boss we complain about, the driver we cut off in traffic, the child next door whom we scold for playing in our pansies.
He weeps as well for those who surround us at a distance, invisible to us but all too visible to Him.
The unwed teenaged mother, the crack addict, the patient and the prisoner, the disabled orphan awaiting a foster home, the forgotten great-grandmother alone in her room.
Can we afford to turn away from His tears?
"But, God . . . "
For every excuse we offer for ignoring our "Jerusalem," He has a reply if we will only listen to His Word.
I can’t possibly be the one God is sending to the lost and needy of my community. It must be someone else.
"As the Father has sent me," Jesus says, "I am sending you" ().
If He was sent to the lost and needy of your community, then so are you.
But I have so few resources to share.
"If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple," Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" ().
Do you have a cup of cold water? Find someone who needs it.
A few loaves and fish? He’s an expert at making them stretch.
But I don’t feel competent to talk about my faith.
"Do not worry," Jesus says, "about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you . . . Go and make disciples . . . And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (, ).
But what can one person do?
But what can one person do? I feel as small as a grain of sand on the seashore. Not a grain of sand, the Lord says, but a grain of salt: "You are the salt of the earth" (). Just a dash of savor can make all the difference. "You are the light of the world" (v. 14). Even a small candle turns back the darkness. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast." It only takes a pinch to work "all through the dough" ().
Small things matter - “You are the salt of the earth" ().
Just a dash of savor can make all the difference. "You are the light of the world" (v. 14).
Even a small candle turns back the darkness. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast."
It only takes a pinch to work "all through the dough" ().
But I’m afraid of people who are pagan.
So was Jonah, but God sent him to a community of pagan foreigners in one of the most wicked cities of his day—Nineveh. Jonah learned that the Lord cared about even such wicked heathen: "Should I not be concerned," He asked the prophet, "about that great city?" ().
So was Jonah, but God sent him to a community of pagan foreigners in one of the most wicked cities of his day—Nineveh.
Jonah learned that the Lord cared about even such wicked heathen: "Should I not be concerned," He asked the prophet, "about that great city?" ().
But I find their way of life offensive.
Remember the words of the Apostle Paul: "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly . . . God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (, ). Was God pleased with your way of life before you gave yourself to Him? Did that stop Him from giving Himself for you?
But I have too much to do already just making a living and planning for the future. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also . . . Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (, ).
But I have too much to do already just making a living and planning for the future.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also . . . Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (, ).
But my family comes first. God calls your whole family to reach out to your community. Let them join you in serving. What better way to teach them how to follow Jesus? What better way to bind your family together in a common obedience to His will? "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" ().
But my family comes first.
God calls your whole family to reach out to your community. Let them join you in serving.
What better way to teach them how to follow Jesus?
What better way to bind your family together in a common obedience to His will? "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" ().
But if I get involved, I might neglect my personal spiritual growth. "What good is it, my brothers," asks Scripture, "if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? . . . If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (, ). If "personal spiritual growth" is your concern, consider how much faster you’ll grow spiritually if you give yourself to those in need!
But if I get involved, I might neglect my personal spiritual growth. "What good is it, my brothers," asks Scripture, "if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? . . . If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (, ).
If "personal spiritual growth" is your concern, consider how much faster you’ll grow spiritually if you give yourself to those in need!
But my experience is that most people who need help aren’t grateful for what others do for them. God will be grateful. "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done" (). In the meantime, are you sufficiently grateful yourself? After all, "what do you have that you did not receive" from God in the first place ()? If all you have came from Him to begin with, dare you hold back from "lending" it to Him once more?
But my experience is that most people who need help aren’t grateful for what others do for them. God will be grateful. "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done" ().
In the meantime, are you sufficiently grateful yourself? After all, "what do you have that you did not receive" from God in the first place ()? If all you have came from Him to begin with, dare you hold back from "lending" it to Him once more?
Pilgrims’ Progress
But aren’t we just pilgrims in the world—a world that God will soon judge and destroy?
Yes, we’re exiles in this world, and we look for another.
Sometimes the world itself seems a stranger, a Babylon; its alien tongue sings of alien loves.
Why should we care about this city of our exile?
Hear God’s message of long ago to His chosen people, carried off in chains to ancient Babylon. Jeremiah prophesied, "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" ().
Hear God’s message of long ago to His chosen people, carried off in chains to ancient Babylon. Jeremiah prophesied, "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" ().
But didn’t Jesus say we are to be "in the world but not of the world"? Yes, and read the rest of His words as He went on to pray to the Father: "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (). Like Jesus, we are servants of the world (see ), sent into the world so that the world might be "turned . . . upside down" (, RSV).
Our hope is, of course, in the next world, but our rewards there will be based on how we have cared for the needy in this world. "Command them to do good," says the Apostle Paul of those, like us, who are wealthy in this world, "to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they make take hold of the life that is truly life" ().
But didn’t Jesus say we are to be "in the world but not of the world"?
But didn’t Jesus say we are to be "in the world but not of the world"? Yes, and read the rest of His words as He went on to pray to the Father: "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (). Like Jesus, we are servants of the world (see ), sent into the world so that the world might be "turned . . . upside down" (, RSV).
Yes, and read the rest of His words as He went on to pray to the Father: "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (). Like Jesus, we are servants of the world (see ), sent into the world so that the world might be "turned . . . upside down" (, RSV).
But how can I know where to start? The answer echoes throughout the Old Testament law, the Gospel calls of Jesus, the apostolic commands: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (, , , ). "Neighbor" means literally "near-dweller." You must love those far away as well as you can, of course; but you must love at the very least, love without fail, those who are nearby. If they are close enough to see, to hear, to touch, they are your neighbors. Start with them.
But how can I know where to start?
The answer echoes throughout the Old Testament law, the Gospel calls of Jesus, the apostolic commands: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (, , , ). "Neighbor" means literally "near-dweller."
You must love those far away as well as you can, of course; but you must love at the very least, love without fail, those who are nearby. If they are close enough to see, to hear, to touch, they are your neighbors. Start with them.
Are we called, then, to serve only those nearby? Does our outreach to our community extend only to the end of our block and no farther? Might anyone else be our "neighbor"? This question was posed to Jesus long ago, and the answer came swiftly in a story (see ).
The familiar "good Samaritan" of our Lord’s parable has become too familiar; the point of the story, in fact, was that he was by no means "familiar"—not "of the family," as that word means literally. He was a foreigner from a faraway home, with strange clothes and an odd accent. He was not like the others—not like the man whose life he saved, not like the priest and Levite who passed by merely near at hand and not near at heart. But like the Savior, the Samaritan brought himself near, made himself a neighbor, leapt over the walls between familiar and unfamiliar, acting like family in order to create a new family, opening the door to bring inside the stranger in need.
The moral of the story thunders: "Go and do likewise!" (). Down the centuries the divine command rolls, drowning out our excuses, demanding our attention. Every day that we delay, more hungry souls slip off to eternity, more hungry bodies crumble to dust—the empty souls and empty bodies of our neighbors.
And Jesus weeps.
Sidebar: A Heritage of Caring
On Your Own
Paul Thomas Thigpen is a fellow in theology at the College of St. Thomas More in Fort Worth, Texas. Most people would be surprised to know that even though he’s written professionally for 18 years, Paul still types with two fingers. "They’re very fast fingers," he says.
On Your Own Salt And Light
emiah is speaking to God’s chosen people who are living as captives in a pagan land. How might his instructions help God’s people live as salt and light in their new community (consider especially v. 7)?
2. In which of the following arenas are you involved? Check all that apply.
__ a suburban neighborhood
__ an urban neighborhood
__ a rural community
__ a military base
__ a school dorm
__ your child’s school
__ the workplace
__ a community service agency or project
__ a group formed around special interests, such as sports or hobbies
3. How might you function as salt in the places or situations you checked above?
4. In , Jesus uses a second metaphor for the believer in the world: light. What does Jesus imply is necessary for our light to be effective?
5. Do you feel your current lifestyle is one of shining your light in your community or hiding it under a bushel? Explain your answer.
6. Read . Jeremiah is speaking to God’s chosen people who are living as captives in a pagan land. How might his instructions help God’s people live as salt and light in their new community (consider especially v. 7)?
7. Peter also wrote to some people of God who lived in a hostile culture. What instructions does he give in about how to live effectively among an unbelieving community?
8. What is one small step you can take this week to act as salt or light in your community?
Paul Thomas Thigpen is a fellow in theology at the College of St. Thomas More in Fort Worth, Texas. Most people would be surprised to know that even though he’s written professionally for 18 years, Paul still types with two fingers. "They’re very fast fingers," he says.
On Your Own Salt And Light
1. In , Jesus compared our role in our communities to salt. In New Testament times, salt purified, preserved, and flavored. How are these three functions of salt applicable to believers living among the lost?
2. In which of the following arenas are you involved? Check all that apply.
__ a suburban neighborhood
__ an urban neighborhood
__ a rural community
__ a military base
__ a school dorm
__ your child’s school
__ the workplace
__ a community service agency or project
__ a group formed around special interests, such as sports or hobbies
3. How might you function as salt in the places or situations you checked above?
4. In , Jesus uses a second metaphor for the believer in the world: light. What does Jesus imply is necessary for our light to be effective?
5. Do you feel your current lifestyle is one of shining your light in your community or hiding it under a bushel? Explain your answer.
6. Read . Jeremiah is speaking to God’s chosen people who are living as captives in a pagan land. How might his instructions help God’s people live as salt and light in their new community (consider especially v. 7)?
7. Peter also wrote to some people of God who lived in a hostile culture. What instructions does he give in about how to live effectively among an unbelieving community?
8. What is one small step you can take this week to act as salt or light in your community?
Table Of Contents
Sidebar to Why Should I Care?
A Heritage of Caring
by Paul Thomas Thigpen
When we love our communities, we become part of a rich Christian tradition.
When the Christian faith exploded onto the international scene in the 1st century A.D., the pagan culture it invaded was often startled by the heroic efforts of the churches to serve their local communities. Churches quickly established generous traditions of caring for the needy, both in their midst and beyond. Early on, deacons were set apart to care for "the daily distribution of food" to widows and others (). Each congregation had a treasury for relief of the poor, and special efforts, such as famine relief, were made in times of crisis (see , ).
Among the needy who were specially targeted for assistance by the early church were widows, orphans, the sick, and the elderly. Those who died penniless were provided with a decent burial. Many ancient pagans practiced infanticide by abandoning unwanted babies, so the church rescued such children and gave them homes. Exiles and travelers received gracious hospitality. Prisoners were visited and comforted, especially those who were condemned—often for political or religious reasons—to the inhumane conditions of labor in the imperial mines. At times, relief was brought to such prisoners from a distance of hundreds of miles.
Church leaders thundered from their pulpits against the injustices of their day: excessive taxes and the harsh methods employed to collect them, the oppression of tenants by landowners, extortion by usurers, enslavement of freemen, cruelty to slaves, favoritism in the courts, and the tyranny of public officials. Even before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under the emperor Constantine, influential Christians were active in the political arena, offering new standards of justice and helping to shape legislation introducing moral reforms, such as a more humane treatment of slaves. Constantine himself abolished the cruel gladiatorial sports, which had forced slaves and prisoners to fight brutally to the death while bloodthirsty crowds cheered. The church demanded and eventually received other kinds of civil legislation as well: the privilege of Sunday rest for all people, even slaves; the abolition of the right of life and death that fathers had possessed over their children; and the right of the churches to serve as a place of asylum for those who were pursued by the authorities.
By the end of the 5th century, the church in nearly every city administered diaconia, or ministry houses for the poor, and xenodochia, institutions that were originally intended for the care of travelers but soon took on the combined tasks of a hospital, hotel, almshouse, and asylum. Monasteries sprang up throughout the empire which provided surrounding communities with evangelism, poverty relief, education, vocational training, hospitals, and refugee shelters for those displaced by war. The 6th-century collapse of the Roman Empire in the West left the church as the only institution extensive enough and sufficiently well organized to take its place in maintaining social welfare programs, relief services, public works, and even peace negotiations with the invaders.
The Middle Ages
Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, the primary burden for Christian outreach to the larger community shifted from churches to the monasteries. In addition, new religious orders emerged, each with a special mission: Some were evangelists; some were teachers; some were given to medical care or alms for the poor. New "brotherhoods" or "sisterhoods," as they were called, and even military orders emerged as Christian associations for maintaining hospitals, orphanages, and leper houses.
One medieval brotherhood provided burials and maintained cemeteries for indigents. Another specialized in building bridges and roads, erecting inns for travelers who were poor or sick, and protecting merchants and other wayfarers against robbers on the highway. Yet another Christian organization collected funds to ransom prisoners and slaves held by the Muslims in the East—some Christians went so far as to offer themselves as slaves in exchange for captives! Perhaps the greatest gifts of the medieval church to the wider community were schools that soon became some of the finest universities in the world.
American Ministries
Let’s make a giant leap forward in time to the immigration of Christians to the Western Hemisphere. The establishment of the first orphanage in the English colonies by the revivalist George Whitefield was a sign of things to come: The fruit of several spiritual revivals known as the "Great Awakenings" included an intense refocusing of concern on the larger community.
Out of these revivals emerged countless interdenominational "voluntary societies," whose activities included efforts to care for the needy, call for justice, and reform the morals of society. Stirred up by the preaching of social activists such as the revivalist Charles Finney, Christians lobbied successfully for the abolition of slavery, suffrage for women, and the reform of mental health institutions and unjust labor practices. They worked hard to extend religious education throughout their communities by establishing Sunday schools and distributing Bibles and religious tracts. They fought the spread of alcoholism and provided Christian fellowship and healthy recreation for lonely young people moving to the cities, who might otherwise have been seduced by gamblers, prostitutes, and bartenders. They cared for the growing ranks of the poor in urban centers where floods of immigrants often arrived with hardly a penny to their name. And they established hospitals, asylums, orphanages, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens that still serve millions today.
Christians today have thus received from their spiritual forebears a rich tradition of outreach ministries. In each generation, those who took seriously Jesus’ command to "love your neighbor as yourself" have gone looking for new ways to care for their communities, establishing a host of Christian institutions that have displayed remarkable vitality and longevity. When the last page of history is written, what will be said about our generation’s contribution to this wonderful heritage of service?
(1999). Discipleship Journal, Issue 113 (September/October 1999). Page . Exported from Logos Bible Software, 4:53 PM May 2, 2018.
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