Almana Ger Yatom

Widows, Strangers, Orphans: Journeying with the Poor

Deuteronomy's Account of Witnessing to the Nations

Deuteronomy’s Account of Witnessing to the Nations

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The gospel is a movie or an advertisement to the whole world. Israel was formed by God as a display to all the nations. God put out a challenge that when the world sees Israel, they would agree that it is a far better system than the systems of the world. What will the world see? Listen to Moses:

“I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” Deut 4.5.

Israel was on display to all the nations. there is an ongoing contest between God and Satan and it is about who has the better community, the better system.

When studying evangelism in the bible, the best guide is the phrase, all the nations. when you see that, it will most likely explain what evangelism is supposed to be. In Isaiah 43, the word witness became the name and office of Israel. note that in this context, the calling was to a whole nation. God has called his people to mission, the call is to a nation, not individuals. So when we read for example the great commission, it must be seen first as primarily a call to mission of a people, His People, God’s people, the Lo ammi of Romans 9. it is not first and foremost a call to individuals. the important distinction is this, the witness is not done by individuals but a people who live together and follow the laws of God. what is on display is not our personal lives but our lives as we interact with one another as a community and within community.

The most important reason why Jesus left us was so the Holy Spirit would come and in that way, Jesus would now be distributed to the whole Body. What Jesus could not do alone, now the Body could do, which was to demonstrate community life together. Jesus as an individual could not demonstrate forgiveness and sharing and love and justice. it could only be demonstrated within a community or family.

One major error in church doctrine needs to be attended to here also. the justice spoken of  which is part of the social action of the church (justice and righteousness) is not supposed to be done primarily outside of the church or outside of the community, to unbelievers. the justice work of the church or christians was supposed to be demonstrated first inside the community, among the people of God, as part of the contest between God and Satan. it has to work first within the church before it can work outside. it would be a terrible travesty if justice worked outside and did not work inside. and what horrible irony it would be if people outside became saved from our work of justice, our mission or social action outside but when they come inside the church, they find that such thing, justice and sharing and equality do not exist or are not even allowed to operate in the church.

So what is this justice and righteousness that Israel was supposed to demonstrate and which the church has now inherited, which is now the calling also of the church today? it is all the acts of the church that would demonstrate the Kingdom. the church was called to point to the Kingdom. by living Kingdom life inside the church, in community, demonstrating forgiveness (70 x 7) and sharing with the poor (so that, according to Deut 15, there shall be no poor among us, us meaning, the people of God), then the world will sit up and listen and believe.

Although Jesus preached about the kingdom all his life and in his last 40 days after resurrection, he spent it all talking about the kingdom, sadly or happily (depending on your theological disposition) the kingdom did not come. but the church came!!! and the reason is that we are not only called to preach the gospel, we are called to live out the gospel as well. kingdom must define both the gospel and the church. without the church living out the kingdom, there is no gospel.

Inside the church, sharing and caring and forgiving are done in such a way that the world or the Old Testament phrase if you prefer, all the nations will sit up and listen.

God has no super agenda to get rid of poverty in the world!!!! the only mission of the church or Israel is to evangelize the world, to save the world. 2 cor 5 is on the spot, God is reconciling the world to himself through Jesus Christ and ignoring their sins. the church has gotten distracted with all these teachings about helping the poor in the world or doing social action among unbelievers, when we don’t even do it inside the church, among believers. rich Christians hate and look down on poor Christians.

The church i talked to in India (Chennai, Hyderabad) are fearful of the poor invading and crowding the church, perhaps implying that the resources will then be diluted, divided between more people than it is already today.

The church is also distracted from its main work of evangelism. the social action should be done inside the church and when that happens, the church can now preach the gospel because she is living out her message of Kingdom living which is the content of her gospel.

John Stott was wrong when he taught that witnessing (evangelism) needs to be balanced by social action. if the church is not living as a community, if the church is not living out the kingdom within, then our evangelism is useless even if we balance it with social action outside. why do we think that social action (justice and righteousness) will work outside among unbelievers when it will not work among believers, the one people most qualified to live out the Kingdom, born again people who have been freed from their attachment to worldly material wealth and thus more able to share liberally and generously to the poor?

The calling is to share among the poor within the church, to share to the poor believers. 1 john 3 says, he who has a surplus of the world’s goods and finds a brother in need and does not provide for him, does the love of Christ abide in him? this brother mentioned here by John is not a generic brother human being but a branded brother, a christian, a believer, a brother or sister in Christ. we need to see verses like these as first referring to Christians before it is made to refer to unbelievers or to the world outside. if we cannot take care of our own poor brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a mockery for us to take care of the poor outside the community.

The worse thing the church has done today is separate the rich Christians from the poor Christians so the rich no longer see the poor. the poor worship in the slums and the rich in their expensive air-conditioned buildings in their secure suburbs. with the poor out of sight, these verses in 2 Corinthians and 1 john 3 have lost their meaning and relevance. the epistle of James is an obsolete text. even the renowned preacher and bible commentator Rick Warren wrote a bible study guide on the epistle of James and almost entirely ignored the teachings about the poor. He practically denied that the main theme of James is about the poor. today very few believe or very few can understand that the poor are rich in faith as stated in James. Christians think James was just being metaphorical there, it referred not to literal poor but symbolic poor only.

It is thus imperative that we live in community, embrace the poor brothers and sisters, and begin to apply the kingdom values within the community. Paul says it well, when rich and poor Christians live together, this is what must happen, he who gathered much must not have too much and he who gathered little does not lack anything. if someone in our community has 3 cars and is seated beside a poor believer who has not had a decent meal that week, he must sell one of his cars to make sure that brother eats enough.

The rich and poor believers must come together or else James and 1 john or 2 Corinthians will mean nothing. and it is not the poor Christians who must go to the rich church in Makati or Alabang, it is the rich christian who must go to the poor church in Payatas, Montalban, Tondo and there be in solidarity with the poor Christians. 1 john 3 is clear on that, it is the rich who needs the poor to authenticate their spirituality or else, John says, the love of Christ does not abide in them, and all their worship quiet time prayer good works will be empty and inauthentic, useless.

This is economic equality and justice, that there shall be no poor among you, that in your community, there is no discrimination, no male female jew gentile black white rich poor free slave etc. this is the display of the kingdom and in this way, the community living out the kingdom becomes a witness and the world will sit up and pay attention.

What is the gospel then? this is what the gospel is according to the bible, God is calling out to the whole world, to all the nations if you may, and saying, hey world, look at my people, are they not wonderful to behold? they are blessed, they prosper, they share generously so that there are no more poor people in their midst. they don’t ignore their poor christian brothers and sisters. they take care of them and when they have a conflict, they reconcile and forgive each other, even 70 x 7 times. are you not envious of them? if you want to become part of this community, become part of my people, you can join them through Jesus Christ, my son. Through Him i will forgive your sins and make you my son also and then you can become part of my family.

The gospel today is not the gospel of the kingdom. it basically says, receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and now that you are saved, be on your way, and leave me alone.

The gospel of the kingdom says we are saved to Jesus and also to His family, to His Body. it would have been so bad news if in the first century church, poor believers were told that, and they became Christians but then they stood alone, apart from the rest, and the rich Christians could not care less. But the greatest news was this, when they received Jesus, they also now had a new family.

The disciples asked that question because it was important to them: what happens to us now, we have left all, our families, our livelihood, our village? it was a form of social suicide to leave their home because in that time, no one could just decide to be a farmer. the lands were communally owned. it was also an inheritance. by leaving, one also gives up his inheritance, gives up his share of the land. also, no one could just decide to become a fisherman. it was a community work. you could not just buy a net from the store or a boat. it took a whole village to do that. usually a village was a whole extended family, with cousins, grandparents, slaves, strangers, and the poor.

The good news was Jesus who forgave our sins but the church was also good news because she now provided for the family that the disciples left behind. the entire social security system of the village needed for sickness, burial, education, companionship, etc. was now replaced by the church. that is why they are called brothers and sisters. it is not just a cool label, but a real relationship with economic and political implications.

The good news was good news to the aliens who had become christians because before, they could not enter the city, could not find lodging inside the city or a livelihood. but now they were warmly welcomes inside homes, and when before they did not enjoy a day in court, now they even had christian lawyers representing them.

The women were the most excited with church. some say the new community, the messianic community, the contrast society, broke the back of the roman caste system where women were chattels and slaves could be killed by their owners. now paul says of the church, there is now no more male female jew gentile slave free alien citizen black white in the church.

The women who used to worship outside the temple and when they had menstruation could not even get near the temple, now stood side by side their men in worship. the church was good news.

The third to celebrate were the slaves. Onesimus stole from his master and fled 2,500 km until he reached Rome and while there, panting, hungry, cold, alone, fearful for his life, hiding as a fugitive, he heard the gospel. it was Paul preaching in the market place and Onesimus became a christian. when they met, Paul recognized his accent and then later recognized his boss, Philemon.

Paul had a dilemma, to report Onesimus to the police or break the law and not report him. Paul did more than that. he wrote a letter which Onesimus carried back to Philemon, a letter he held in his hand for 2,500 km, sweaty hands, with hearts pounding, afraid that Philemon might not see like Paul. masters then had the right to have a slave executed who stole from them. but that letter eventually came to us as Paul’s epistle to Philemon and Onesimus in the end became one of the first bishops in that city.

Paul told Philemon, if Onesimus owed him so much, Philemon should charge it to paul but Philemon should also remember that he owed his entire life to Paul also. Paul said Philemon should receive Onesimus not just as a slave but as a brother also.

This was the greatest news ever, unprecedented in the entire history of mankind up to that period. from that time on, slaves and masters sat side by side in church, worshiping God as equals. never before heard of in the known world then.

This is our gospel!

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