And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:8
He said to them,“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Luke 20:25
Luke 20 brings us two encounters between Jesus and his culture which centered around his authority. By this time, of course (late in Jesus’ ministry on earth), the tension was mounting and the danger building…not unlike some of the “culture wars” in which the church finds itself today. There are plenty of opportunities for us to speak into those divisions. Of course we want to speak truth. But we can speak truth with hearts at war or we can speak truth with hearts set on healing.
Our words can be “fitly spoken, like apples of gold…” or they can “curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” The choice is ours. And the model is Jesus.
In the first passage (Luke 20:1-8), the chief priests, scribes and elders questioned Jesus about the authority with which he was acting. They were baiting him into what they presumed would be blasphemy, but Jesus would not bite. He would not lower himself to engage in a war of words. Oh, he could have…He knew the truth. He could have justified hammering them with that truth. He could have convinced himself that he was not afraid of the gospel and that it was time to take a stand for truth. He could have used pretty much any of the excuses we use today to blast our culture with “the truth”. But he sidestepped the entire engagement. He modeled restraint and held his tongue, even on a hot topic such as his spiritual authority in this world. Sometimes, we are much better …
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:8-9
Generally, I have never liked comparing churches…for lots of reasons. It is a thing wrought with pitfalls and other dangers. I think comparing churches just fosters the already-prevalent attitude that churches are somehow in competition with each other for all the best people. We all know better intellectually, but our actions and attitudes say otherwise. I also do not like comparing churches because each local body of believers is dealing with its own special calling to a community or a certain people group or some other such “calling”, and the processes and programs should be specific to that calling, which makes comparing your church’s programs to my church’s programs an apples and oranges kind of thing.
But as with almost any other rule, there are exceptions to my rule against comparing churches. I mean, seriously, if a particular comparison was OK with Paul, then who am I to question it? Paul did not seem to hesitate in his second letter to the Corinthian church, comparing the generosity (in giving) of that church to that of the poorer Macedonian churches.
You see, there is something about “living generously” that transcends cultural differences or even differences of church size or Christian “flavor”. It is the very heart of a church, and it has a way of leveling the playing field in any comparison. The church who focuses on pouring itself into the lives of others, who focuses on being generous in giving …