One of our ways of relaxing is to watch old movies and selected engaging TV series. Every now and then we hear an actor profoundly share a (whether the script writer realised it or not) great biblical principle or life principle. Such as one we heard recently in a Person of Interest episode.
Without going into details regarding this hit TV mystery action series, let’s just say that repeatedly the dialogue carried some great life truths, such as this one.
‘We all have free will – and with that comes great responsibility’ explains billionaire software genius Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), creator of ‘the machine’ (a secret government Big Brother surveillance system that watches everyone, everywhere) to his top operative, former CIA agent John Reese (Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion). He adds, ‘Sometimes great loss.’
This phrase often comes up in church circles or conversations of concern about the evil in the world – the wars, bad judgments, murders, family distresses, terrorism, Holocaust type atrocities, the quickness to sin, Christians falling from grace, drug taking, alcoholism and other sad happenings.
When trying to offer explanations, hope and comfort, Christians often say, ‘Well it all gets back to the fact that humankind was a free will by our creator … we either choose to do or say the right thing or not.’
And, of course, this is true… and today the responsibility of making the right choices needs to be reinforced not only to the world in general but in the church. Good parents teach their children to think, say and do the right thing. Likewise pastors and Bible teachers need to emphasise this foundational principle to their church people as a certain carelessness has crept into the church and Christian’s lives.
Paul’s pastor’s heart for leaders was strong: ‘I’m not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don’t we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers?’ (1 Corinthians 5:12).
His 1 Thessalonians 5:12 direction called for commitment not only by leaders but by those hearing them: ‘And now, friends, we ask you to honour those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience.
Back in Eden, God laid down the rule of responsibility…he gave Adam the responsibility of looking (shamar…protect, guard) after the garden and freedom to eat of any tree except a special one (Genesis 2:15-17).
It was a matter of honouring the creator and his work. God’s first couple ignored their responsibility to honour God and disobeyed and, as they say in the classics, the rest is history!
Unfortunately Adam and Eve both made the wrong choice. (Hey, guys…don’t be like Adam, blaming Eve or even like Eve blaming the devil!).
Sadly many human beings have been doing similarly ever since – even unwise, unthinking Christians today who do not seek God or wise counsel from experienced friends.
He was human too! Life wasn’t rosy-dosey, easy-peasy in Jesus’ time on earth. There was trouble all around…not just the strong Roman Empire control but corruption, shallow religion, dictatorial religious leaders, easy virtue, treachery, followers unsure of themselves and of him, greed, avarice, sexual immorality, temptations and satanic deceptions.
Yes, the devil had it in for the Lord too. As a human Jesus faced situations where he had to make choices. Scripture recounts that he always made the right ones, even the one that lead him to Calvary. He knew ‘his rights’ but chose to put God’s commands first. He held his Father’s views on ‘free will.’
Remember how in Matthew 4 Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan? Interestingly the Message Bible regards this tempting as ‘The Test’ adding in verse one that ‘The devil was ready to give it.’
Verse two tells of one of Jesus’ great build-ups for challenge – ‘Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger.’
Despite his hunger, Satan’s goading and sly usage of certain scripture, Jesus acted responsibly and went for the right choice – he refused to yield to mischief, deceits, wrong choices and blatant temptation about power. In the end (verse 10) his refusal was curt: ‘Beat it, Satan!’ He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”’
‘Serve’ and ‘single-heartedness’ indicate ‘ministering to the Lord as an act of worship.’ Being responsible in correct free will decision-making is an act of worship! No wonder Matthew 4:11 records a hasty departure: ‘The Test was over. The devil left.’
Get the picture? Jesus only put up with temptations for a short while, then he strongly dealt with them. His free will choice on these occasions was not to benefit himself – it was first and foremost to honour and glorify his Father. It so happen that not only was the enemy defeated but Jesus benefited too as we all can when we too take great responsibility and right decisions.
Incidentally…it may seem longer in this chapter but perhaps that was just for our example to show that even when they hang in the air they can be defeated by weary righteous Christians. Let’s be honest… we may tend to let temptations float around for a while before we (hopefully we do!) make the right decision to take our responsibility and deal with them.
Free will …choice … great responsibility is an amazing thing that God gave humankind. We can do whatever we want …but responsibility ensures we don’t abuse, we make wise and balanced choices. It’s really a matter of laying down what ‘tickles our fancy’ and what we want for the better good, to please someone else, to avoid getting into trouble and from doing/saying something wrong.
Of all the remarkable statements ‘the human Jesus’ made, John 10:18 (Mge, emphasis ours) about choice, ‘I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down’ is outstanding in this respect. He deliberately chose to put God’s will ahead of his own.
This ‘right’ to lay down is akin to prostrating on the ground, throwing something off, getting rid of. We recall a touching scene from The Passion where Satan as a snake is tempting God’s Son. Suddenly, having had enough, Jesus (actor Jim Caveizel) forcefully stomps his foot squashing the serpent.
As well as being a graphic reminder of Genesis 3:15, it’s a very picturesque way of ‘prostrating’ – determinately laying down, dealing with – something that could have had him doing his own thing, taking Easy Street as it were and being diverted from God’s will.
Our free will choices must line up with honouring God’s will. Repeatedly this will mean ignoring Easy Street decisions and travelling the Road of Hard Knocks – but, like Jesus, with the Holy Spirit’s supernatural help.
Scripture speaks quite a bit of responsibility. Peter indicates that this is a trait of God and adds a warning – ‘You call out to God for help and he helps–he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God’ (1 Peter 1:17).
Responsibility and making right decisions on this journey of life calls for best actions: ‘Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life’ (Galatians 6:5).
Mr Finch’s statement infers that at times taking responsibility may involve losing out – at least it may seem that way.
Oh we could talk about those times we make the right decision to put others first, causing us to lose promotion; giving away valuable assets and losing the pleasure of having had them as our own; contributing needy finance resulting in doing without something we had wanted; making do without something so that someone benefits; and such.
Personally we’ve done such acts of generosity, even recently. Did we lose out? Only for a moment! We learned a long time ago to make right decisions and then let it all go! And we discovered that our generous Father made it up in incredibly different, even overwhelming ways.
Really, we never lost anything. But the key is this: We never did anything on the basis of ‘giving to get.’ That’s yet another false teaching perpetrated by some Bible teachers and hyper churches!
Jesus, the most selfless of all
In the end, Jesus’ examples always remain the best! Paul highly honours his great commitment to honour the Father: ‘Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death– and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion’ (Phil. 2:8).
For Jesus his decision to choose Calvary meant shame, belittlement, loss of friends, torture and agony. But Isaiah 50:7 speaks of his determination: ‘I’m not disgraced. Therefore I set my face like flint, confident that I’ll never regret this.’
And he didn’t! He arose triumphant over death and all his foes to birth his church and send the Holy Spirit! To change the world, to bring joy to countless and guarantee a new future for all who follow him.
Remember Jesus’ blunt words of Luke 14:27? A reminder of that Genesis 2:15-17 shamar – be careful to guard, protect – direction?
Maybe ‘Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple’ includes taking responsibility and making right decisions – even if we sometimes appear to lose out on something.
This month’s links: Opinion – Dr Murray Capill’s Evangelistic Preaching / Inspirational – Ron Chatelier’s Random Thoughts of a Physical Biochemist / Generational – Jeanette Chaffee’s God Present in Roseburg Shooting Aftermath / Biblical Perspectives – Dr Jim McClure’s Confusion in the Church, Part 2