Staying in Love with God (Community vs. individualism)

I’ve been looking at Matthew 23:1-12, and if you look at this passage you begin to see one of God’s dream for the Jewish nation. Many times the Pharisees get a bad reputation as being completely evil and vile. Jesus said that that is not the case. He gives them the honor of being the ones to decide the meaning of scripture to the people. You will hear people say do not be a Pharisee or a religious leader, but we have to be careful with this. The point Christ wanted to get across was what the Pharisees did not do. They understood what was written and what was taught in the Law. They understood the Way of Life. They told everyone else to live in that Way. They just did not live it. They were very lenient on themselves and strict with everyone else. It is a sad sight, a dangerous existence that only brings hell. All of us are to do everything with love for God and not just love ourselves.
Famous author and pastor Rob Bell once wrote on being a super-godly yet fake leader. “I can’t begin to describe what it was like because it was happening so fast. One minute you have these ideas about how it could be and the next minute you are leading this exploding church/event/monster. All of a sudden there are all of these people who know who you are and want something from you and think you’re a big deal, and you are the same person you’ve always been. I think of people who never before cared if I existed who suddenly wanted to be my friend. And that’s why I tell you all of this. Because there’s a dark side. I was moments away from leaving the whole thing. People were asking me to write articles and books on how to grow a progressive young church, and I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian anymore. I was exhausted…burned out…done.”
One thing that can be so easy to fall into is that we need to love ourselves. Some of you are saying, “No, not me.’ But if you are taking conveniently look good over responsibly living what God teaches; if your wanting your very own works and leadership instead of humbly being someone who is broken and can be healed like every one else;
Now, let’s look at the Pharisees. They were people who knew the Law of God, or the Way of God, very well. They could tell you every single command that God had given his people. They had been to every temple or synagogue event. They had been faithful in the sacrifices. They claimed to be like spotless lambs with God’s ultimate favor. Jesus noticed that they were sitting in the seat of Moses, which was a position of great authority in the religious community. Here they could be presented with new and confusing issues and would decide how they should be handled. The Pharisees were basically interpreting the Law for the people. Jesus said to follow that. Do what your leaders say when they give you something that is from God. What Jesus said not to do was what they were doing, which was living a life for their own comfort and pleasure.
A life lived answerable to me is a dangerous one. It is here we find separation from God, which is known as Hell. Pharisees were imposing this severity of the Law on all the people who were lesser in knowledge of the scripture. The one person that they forgot was the Pharisee. This is probable the most serious power crime of the time and culture. Imagine a judge going out and murdering a man right after he had sentenced a man to prison for the same crime. It makes no sense. Imagine a police officer stealing some money from a bank. There is something wrong with that picture as well. The point is that imposing a way of life on someone and not following that same way of life is the very heart of what living a life not in love with God. All the kindness and justice and worship found in the Way of God taught by the Pharisees were meant for the Pharisees as well as the common man in Israel. The Nation of Israel as a whole had made the marriage covenant with God, no exceptions.
Another thing was killing the Pharisees, or any religious leader for that matter, was the desire to be noticed. These men wanted everyone to know that they were the holiest men in Israel, when even they messed up just like the common people did. It was not that they were sitting in the seat of Moses, it was that put off the face of perfection and did not live it out. Jesus said that they “tie heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” They simply did not live what they preached. They also loved the terms Rabbi, Father, and Master. These terms were common for someone who was superior to you in religious training. The people who were not religiously educated would use these intimate terms for these leaders. They loved being loved for their knowledge, leadership, and perfection.
One last thing that the Pharisees had was a draw to impress. Remember what Jesus said when he talks about the phylacteries, the tassels on their prayer shawls, and the seats of honor in the Synagogues. Phylacteries were boxes wrapped around the head or the arm of a Jewish man during their daily prayers. It was a tradition put into place by the Jews to honor and remember God. It was not a bad tradition until the religious leaders began to demand that people look how big their phylacteries are, and oddly enough, they seemed to keep getting bigger. The tassels come from the Old Testament command to have tassels on the end of their prayer shawls so that they would remember God, and these same guys’ tassels kept getting longer. So we can see that the tassels became something to remember the men wearing them instead of remembering the God who ordained them. They also relished the receiving of seats of honor in the synagogues. Seats of honor were probably special seating places in the synagogues for speakers or special guests. In these places they would be either closer to the place set aside for the reading of the scripture or they would be sitting in chairs while everyone would be on mats on the floor. Their need to be seen as holy led them to impress everyone with their clothes positions. The power over people and the fear from the people drove them to be some of the most hypocritical leaders of their time. They just wanted to impress, and not live out the Way of God.
Rob Bell discovered what the Pharisees never saw at all. He saw the detrimental effects of being the super leader, the holy man who is never wrong.
Another chapter of the same book describes his healing process. “I meet so many people who have super whatever rattling around in their head. They have this person they are convinced they are supposed to be, and their super whatever is killing them. They have this image they picked up over the years of how they are supposed to look and act and work and play and talk, and it’s like a voice that never stops shouting in their ear. And the only way to not be killed by it is to shoot first. Yes, that is what I meant to write. You have to kill you super whatever. And you have to do it right now.”
Rob Bell is seeing something profound but old. He has discovered the most important concept of life, and that is to love God. Jesus wanted the nation of Israel to see this truth. He wanted the people to have a draw to practice the Way of God. This draw to practice is more than knowing the law or being educated enough to tell people how to live life. The draw to practice the Way is to live out what God has willed in his covenant with you as a community. Loving God is living out what you say you believe in.
Jesus also said the best way to live included being drawn to be humble. The Pharisees wanted so bad to have their power and that attention and the fear. They were not willing to live past themselves. They were not willing to let that lifestyle of living for God overtake their desire to be above everyone else. But that is what you are called to do, to live past yourself, to kill your super whatever. Christianity is not just about getting it right with the rules and traditions; its about something more.
The last thing he wanted people to see was the draw to live out their faith. The leaders were. But they were not doing it with their lifestyle. They wanted the severity of law to be lived out by the people because it defined their position and power, but when it came to their own hearts desires, they did not even lift a finger. To live with the draw to live out your faith means to live the same message you preach. It means to smoke what you are selling. Your faith and your belief are not just defined by what you say, but also what you do.
When people start to fulfill this desire of God, they will see what eternal life is, what true humility is, and what it means to truly be a person who guides others to life. Maybe you are being called away from being just a judge who tells people what to do, and are being called to learn to also obey. Maybe you are being called away from being noticed through your knowledge or special events and positions that you are over, and being taught to also be humble through not leading and not contributing the most noticeable things. Maybe you are being called away from just living to impress others with what you seem to be, and being called to be someone in love with God. Rob Bell says something else in the same book that describes what a community healed from being a community of a bunch of individualists. He says, “I say the system has to be changed. It has to be destroyed and replaced not with another system but with an entirely new way of life. I see it happening and it gives me great hope. I see leaders getting help and refusing to stuff it anymore. I see communities embracing their brokenness and the brokenness of their leaders, and healing is taking place. I see honesty. I see people who want to be fully alive. I see people who want the life Jesus promises and who are willing to let go of ego and prestige and titles to get. I can’t begin to tell you how much better my life is today than it was several years ago. I continue to dig things up and process new insights and learn about my insides. The journey continues.”
I wonder if any of you want to know if Christianity can be saved from this, and the answer is yes. God wants it. Sometimes we just do not get what it means and we are constantly in need of new insight to our insides. Other times we just do not want to give up the things we have to get what God has planned for us. We are constantly in need of saving, even as Christians. Over and over we may fail, but by the grace of God, it is the one who lives in love with God who will be saved, not the one living infatuated with the self. If you want to see the staff positions; if you want to lead in the worship team or the choir; if you want to be the one who directs all the events and plays; if you want to be someone who keeps coming up to the pulpit and sharing, or even share testimonies in the congregation, think about it before hand. Have you thought that you might be doing it for you? Have you thought about not doing that job, but doing something behind the scenes? Have you thought about giving it up period? Maybe God is asking you to reconsider your part in this community. Remember that God wants your heart to match His heart. Live in the community mindset and not the individualistic mindset. Live in love with God and His creation instead of just you. Go, live out what you believe, and do not just be one who only seems Godly anymore. Be wrong every once in awhile instead of fighting to just be right and make everyone else wrong. That’s not trust or love. Let go of yourself. Then and only then will you see God’s kingdom here on earth and start your eternal life.