Contributed by Jen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA
What do you consider great faith or devotion to look like? Share an example with the group.
Are Christians Christ-like?
Throughout his ministry, Jesus repeatedly criticized the religious leaders of his time, the Pharisees, for being self-righteous and judgmental of others, while not seeing their own sins. The Pharisees loudly condemned people for breaking God’s laws and made it clear that they were different, were more righteous. Jesus, on the other hand, did not hesitate to spend time with sinners and eat with them if it gave him an opportunity to show God’s love to them and gently encourage them to follow God’s ways. With sinners who knew their broken state, Jesus was merciful. On the arrogant Pharisees, he heaped contempt and judgment.
A recent study by Barna Group shows that while some Christians model Christ-like attitudes and behaviors, many are more like the Pharisees in their viewpoints and actions. 51% of the self-identified Christians surveyed had behaviors and attitudes consistent with those of the Pharisees, such as avoiding those people they consider to be sinful and thinking that “people who follow God’s rules are better than people who do not.”
Only 14% of self-identified Christians had behaviors and attitudes consistent with those Jesus modeled during his life (as written about in the scriptures), such as caring about persons for who they are rather than what they’ve done and having compassion for people doing immoral things. A slightly higher percentage, about 21%, had a mixture of attitudes and behaviors, some Christ-like and some Pharisaic.
In a time when many people outside the Christian church consider Christians to be hypocrites, it is significant to consider whether our attitudes and actions mirror Jesus or a group for whom he had many harsh words.
- When you look around at the Christians you know, do they seem more like the Pharisees (focused on rules and appearances) or like Jesus (focused on God’s love and on showing compassion to others)?
- What steps do you think your church could take to be more Christ-like?
- Many non-Christians see Christians as being hypocrites. How do you think Jesus would answer such an accusation?
- What is the difference between accepting a person as they are and accepting an immoral behavior? Can we as Christians “love the sinner but hate the sin”? How?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 6, 2013 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
To understand these verses, we need to realize that saying that we have faith and acting according to our faith are two totally different things. When Jesus tells the disciples that if they had faith as tiny as a mustard seed they could make a tree throw itself into the ocean, he isn’t talking about reciting the Apostles Creed.
The kind of faith Jesus talks about is faith that gets into your life and changes you from the inside out, faith that compels you to treat those society thinks are the lowest of the low with dignity and respect. He means faith that leads you to stand up for what is right without putting down those you think are wrong, faith that takes you far out of your comfort zone to be the hands and feet of Jesus to all those people who think Christians are hypocrites.
This kind of faith isn’t primarily about doing things, although it ends up that way. This kind of faith is about being someone who gets to know Jesus in the most personal, give-away-your-heart kind of way. It’s about becoming a person who does what Jesus would do because you just love Jesus so much that you can’t help but follow in his footsteps. It’s about transforming from a self-centered person into a God-centered person. God can really work through a person like that.
The verses about the servant (7-10) don’t appear to have much to do with these verses about faith. A deeper look, however, does show a connection. Jesus is making a point here. He’s saying we can’t do good deeds and think that God somehow owes us some kind of reward. That’s not how God’s kingdom works. We can get caught up in the “servant” or “slave” language and start thinking it doesn’t apply to us today. We don’t have slaves and not many people have servants anymore either.
In the time when this was written, a servant was someone who was totally devoted to another person. Is it making more sense now? That’s us, or it should be us—totally devoted to God, right? In our devotion to God, do we feel like God should thank us or reward us? It’s good to remember that in reality, we are all unworthy of what God has already given us. When we get to thinking we deserve rewards for doing what God wants, we can’t focus on knowing Jesus and following him. The focus shifts back to ourselves, and God can’t use us as well.
Both these passages, seemingly very different, show what it is like to be a disciple–challenging, difficult, and yet so rewarding.
- If faith only counts when it is backed up by actions, do you consider yourself a person with great faith or little faith? Why?
- Why is it so difficult for the church as a whole to follow Jesus’ example?
- Why is it difficult for you to follow Jesus’ example?
- What steps could you take to be more Christ-like in your daily life? Do these steps seem difficult or easy? Why?
- In most parts of the country, the weather is changing from summer into fall. What a great time to take a prayer walk, enjoy God’s creation, and draw near to God. Thank God for making everything, and ask God to reveal what you can do to impact the world around you for Christ.
- With your class or youth group, explore the attitudes Jesus would have toward different groups of people you come into contact with regularly. What would Jesus think of the cheerleaders? Of the football players? Of the kids on the fringe of middle or high school life? How do you think Jesus would want you to approach them with the love of God? Try to come up with some concrete ideas for actions to take.
Lord God, bring us into an ever deeper relationship with you. We pray that we would allow that relationship to transform us to be more like your son, Jesus. Help us to take Jesus’ attitudes and actions into the world around us and love people with your love. Amen.