Jesus and Issues
The Christian is to continue "looking unto Jesus" (Heb. 12: 2). Involved in this "looking" is to consider how Jesus viewed life and all that appertained to living in the flesh for the purpose of emulation (cp. I Pet. 2: 21, 22). Indeed, Jesus had an actual physical body (Heb. 2: 14 ff.). Notwithstanding, deity bodily indwelt Jesus (Col. 2: 9). What all of this entails is that Jesus was real and lived in a real world that had real issues (see addendum 1). In Jesus’ real world there were issues such as, but not limited to: False religion; racism; divorce and marriage to another; taxes; homosexuality; cruel slavery; materialism; and poverty. Did Jesus acknowledge and address such issues or did he avoid them, saying nothing about them so as not to upset others or even appear to "take sides"? This is the question we shall answer.
Anterior to really noticing Jesus and the issues of his day, we want to point out the avoidance of issues mentality that is so common in and out of the church today. Not only the avoidance of issues, but a perceived virtue by refusing to address current issues. During the almost twenty-five years I served as a minister and often one of the overseers of the church in Denver, Colorado, we received many requests by preachers for financial support. Some of these requests were commendable, but some were reflective of a growing mind-set. Here is one that came to us, submitted by a preacher in the church whom many viewed as worthy of support:
"Brethren, I am in need of financial support….I have a good reputation, having never been involved in controversy or division. I am not an issue oriented preacher and I avoid all things that might cause disagreement and disunity in the church…."
This request for support reveals a number of values, attitudes, and beliefs. This preacher had his own, we shall see, definition of "good reputation." He, unlike the apostles, believed his record of "having never been involved in controversy" was consistent with Christianity (see addendum 2); and he associated "division" with dealing with issues. Hence, those who so address issues are divisive. He proudly stated that he was not an "issue oriented preacher." Is the description that this preacher provided of himself such as also characterizes Jesus and worthy of all today?
Jesus and racial prejudice. Racism has characterized man since almost the beginning of society. Racism, simply stated, attempts to determine superiority and inferiority just based on national descent, skin pigmentation, etc. Every "race," Caucasian, Negroloid, Mexican, etc., is guilty of racism. Racism is the result of hate and eventuates in the horrible and totally unfair treatment of fellow human beings (see addendum 3).
As a rule, those of mixed ethic and racial groups are targeted more frequently when it comes to racial hatred. The Samaritan race, if you will, of Jesus’ day was a mixed group and hated by the Jews. Jesus did not shun the issue of racism. Jesus took the time to discuss religion with a woman from Samaria (John 4: 9-26). The fact that Jesus spoke with a woman and especially a Samaritan woman prompted the following response, even from Jesus’ own disciples: "…And upon this came his disciples, and marveled that he talked with the woman…" (v. 27).
The most familiar scripture in which Jesus teaching what being a neighbor means is the "Good Samaritan" (Luke 10: 29-37). This man is the hero of the lesson Jesus presents and he is presented as being greater than even those who served in the exalted Priesthood (Luke 10: 31ff.). Yet this man used by Jesus to present the ideal neighbor was a racially hated Samaritan (v. 33).
Jesus dealt with the issue of racism by commending where the truth determined, regardless of race, ethnicity, or national descent.
Jesus and the practice of homosexuality. Many in Jesus’ day had no aversion or disapproval when it came to homosexual practices and even homosexual marriage (Rome often accepted such without question and even, on occasion, considered such as status symbols to be admired). Jesus presented natural biological desires, albeit in the context wrong, as involving a man and woman (cp. Matt. 5: 28). In all of Jesus’ teaching relative to marriage, only the man and woman relationship is observed (cp. Matt. 19: 4ff.). In the just mentioned allusion, Jesus shows that God originally ordained marriage between man and woman and that such is in keeping with the natural design of man and woman (Gen. 2: 21-25).
By way of extension (see addendum 4), all sexual relations not involving approved of men and women constitute "uncleanness," "dishonoring of the body," "vile affections," "unnatural use," and that which is "against nature" (Rom. 1: 24, 26). All who practice homosexuality shall not enter heaven, Jesus taught (I Cor 6: 9, 10). The good news is that such can with God’s help repent and change (I Cor. 6: 11).
Jesus and the issue of cruel and abusive slavery. Today when the word "slavery" is mentioned, many only think of Africans and early America. The truth of the matter is slavery has included all peoples. Slavery was common in Jesus’ day, often horrible and inhuman in its nature. While the scriptures do not come out and pronounce all forms of "slavery" wrong, Jesus did enunciate teaching that would when ideally practiced abolish cruel and degrading servitude (cp. Matt. 5, 6). "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them…," Jesus taught (Matt. 7: 12, see addendum 5).
By expansion, Jesus taught that both the master and the servant were to have certain attitudes and render a certain humane and productive service (Col. 4: 1, 3: 22, 23).
Jesus and false religion. False religion in Jesus day just as in our time was everywhere. Did Jesus skirt the issue of false religion or did he address it and if he did address it, what did he teach?
First, Jesus taught that it does matter what we teach and do in the circumstance of worship to God (John 4: 24, 8: 32). Jesus warned others to be aware of false teachers and their modus operandi (Matt. 7: 15-20). Some of Jesus’ strongest denunciations were directed toward the promoters of false religion (Matt. 23: 8-33). Of these false teachers, Jesus said: "…for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than youselves" (Matt. 23: 15). It was in reference to such religionists and religion that Jesus said, "And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matt. 15: 14). All religion not founded and planted by God, Jesus said "…shall be rooted up"(Matt. 15: 13, see context).
Jesus and divorce and marriage to another. A hot issue in our time is divorce and marriage to another. Not a few churches today have a significant percentage of their membership practicing fornication and adultery with the church’s approval (tolerance is tantamount to approval, cp. I Cor. 5). However, sinful divorce and marriage to another was about as common and hot an issue in Jesus’ day. There was the prevailing thinking that one could divorce a wife for any reason; while others limited the divorcement for more "serious causes." Jesus addressed the divorce issue when he said that any divorce not for the cause of the fornication committed by the guilty mate was not allowed by God (Matt. 5: 31, 32).
To put away and divorce for a cause other than fornication and later marry another was to place the putting away party, the one whom he marries, and the one he put away when they remarry all in the state of adultery or fornication, Jesus unequivocally stated (Matt. 19: 4-9). Jesus unlike many preachers today in and out of the church succinctly dealt with the divorce and marriage to another issue.
Jesus and personal infractions or sin. Society necessarily involves people interacting one with another and, sometimes, sinning against one another. Such infractions often become an issue, especially when man legislates his own laws and opinions as to how such infractions are to be settled. Many say, "When one sins against another, the sinned against must unconditionally and automatically forgive and forget!" What did Jesus teach in taking a side regarding this common issue?
First, Jesus recognized the possibility of sins against another (Luke 17: 3, 4, Matt. 18: 15-17). To the surprise of some, Jesus did not teach "unconditionally to forgive and forget." Consider Jesus’ teaching:
"3: Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4: And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him" (Luke 17, further detail is supplied in Matthew 18: 15-17, see addendum 6).
It is obvious based on this study that Jesus the Master Teacher addressed the issues of his day. Not only did he treat them, but he did so in a clear, concise, and matter-of-fact manner. Jesus clearly possessed a love of the truth and a corresponding hatred of false doctrine and evil (cp. Heb. 1: 9). Yes, there was consequent division created by Jesus dealing with issues (cp. John 10: 19, 7: 43, 6: 52). We need to return to Jesus’ example and stop patterning ourselves after fallible men, their teaching and their example. (Related reading is, "Why Many Issues are not Universally Resolved.")
Addendum 1: "Issues" is simply defined as, "A point, matter, or dispute, the decision of which is of special or public importance," Random House College Dictionary, p. 710). An issue by its essential nature contains controversy, that is, matter that will result in those who address the issue with an aim to correct resolve taking a stand and side, the side they believe their criteria indicates as the right side.
Addendum 2: The apostles and early Christians often engaged in controversy, taking sides, and uncompromisingly addressing the issues of their day (cp. Acts 15, Phili. 1: 7, 17). When Paul was at Athens, he addressed the issue of idolatry and clearly rendered an assessment and "his side" regarding the issue of idolatry (Acts 17).
Addendum 3: One of the biggest forms of racism in America today is the politically correct reverse racism. Such not only is racism, but it often requires unqualified people, either in view of education or gender limitations, being placed in positions that they do not have the ability to perform.
Addendum 4: What the Spirit led men of the New Testament taught constituted "the commandments of the Lord" (I Cor. 14: 37).
Addendum 5: The scriptures taught indifference relative to servitude, I say on a relatively simple and surface level (cp. I Cor. 21ff.). Some of the milder forms of servitude would be more comparable to the contractual relationship today between a company and the associate (see the Book of Philemon).
Addendum 6: Be it known that Jesus did not teach or sanction a retaliatory spirit (Luke 23: 34). Christians are to have a forgiving spirit. However, even in the case of Jesus (Luke 23: 34), those for whom Jesus prayed were not forgiven until they or some of them met God’s terms of forgiveness (Acts 2: 33-47). The forgiveness offered by the Christian is after the same nature and manner as God’s forgiveness of man’s sins against him (Eph. 4: 32). Neither, however, man’s forgiveness of man’s sins or God’s forgiveness is without particularity.