Week 5 Devotional Plan
“Jesus, Politics and Religion – Loving Your Neighbor with Whom You Disagree”
SUNDAY, February 12, 2023
Words can deal death or life
MONDAY, February 13, 2023
Matthew 5:21-22, 43-48
Jesus forcefully described the spiritual danger of choosing to despise our neighbor(s) and hold them in contempt rather than loving them. The Old Testament did not say “hate your enemy,” but some rabbis thought it did: “The command to hate enemies, while emphasized by some contemporary Jewish sects, was not explicit in Scripture, but extrapolated from pious examples there (Ps 31:6; 119:113; 139:21).”* Jesus stressed God’s mercy to both “the evil and the good.”
Jesus saw “Romans insulting Jews, Samaritans attacking Jews, Jews fighting back, different Jewish
parties insulting and attacking each other....Jesus takes the commands of the law and shows how they provide a blueprint for a way of being fully, genuinely, gloriously human....Every time you decide to let your anger smolder on inside you, you are becoming a little less than fully human.”** When has deep inner anger shrunk your ability (or someone else’s) to be fully human?
“Idiot”? “Fool”? We’re just kidding, right? Not in Jesus’ day. The Aramaic and Greek words he cited could destroy a person’s reputation and label that person as less than human. What kinds of words and ideas do we use today (in politics, but not only there) to create the same effect? How is that kind of speech (and thinking) the direct opposite of loving your neighbor?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, teach me how to love all the people you love, as hard as that feels. Help me to love because your love has changed me inwardly. Amen.
*HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 219237-219240). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
** Wright, N.T., Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 42-44). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
TUESDAY, February 14, 2023
Jesus knew that we humans are quick to judge others. He also knew we tend to overlook or excuse similar (or even worse) things in ourselves. That pattern is destructive and hurtful in workplaces or families. But somehow, taken into the realm of politics, it seems to go on steroids. Has there ever been a time when a political figure you disagree with came under fire, and you thought, “Actually, the side I favor has done similar (or even worse) things”?
“Don’t judge” did not mean “don’t have opinions” or “don’t vote.” It just meant “Don’t hold those who reach different conclusions in contempt.” We have seen two candidates modeling respect and unity regardless of the outcome. If candidates can do that, how can we follow suit, and love even your neighbor who votes differently?
Of course, Jesus’ words applied not just to politics but to all relationships. Think about all the family or friend relationships you have. Is it possible for two people to care deeply about each other’s well-being, and yet come to different conclusions about the best way to address issues that arise? Can they work together toward solutions without doubting each other’s honesty or motives?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, please rid my spirit of contempt and judgment. Remind me that people, in my nation or in my family circle, who disagree with me aren’t necessarily dishonest or unworthy of love. Amen.
Blessing God while cursing human beings?
WEDNESDAY, February 15, 2023
James described people taming BIG, dangerous animals like lions, tigers, or elephants. But humans have yet to tame the small organ we call the tongue. It can do damage that reaches farther than any animal, fire or ship. Because you were made in the image of God, you can choose to use your tongue to speak words that give life, like a warm, crackling fire in your fireplace, rather than words that are as destructive as a forest fire.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Your general outlook on life might be influencing the words you speak. God created humans with the ability to control their tongue; you have that ability. But we humans are also imperfect, and at times we make undesirable or hurtful statements, even though this is not God’s hope. What helps you to speak life-giving words rather than destructive ones, whether you’re feeling optimistic or pessimistic right then?
Peter Bohler, a friend of John Wesley (Methodism’s founder) told Wesley when he was struggling to have faith: “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”* Sometimes our feelings shape our words. Other times our words determine our feelings. This week try to speak with optimism and respect, even at moments when you don’t feel optimistic and respectful. Ask God to use your own words to change your heart, as well as uplifting others.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes those who disagree with me bug me so much that I wonder “where they came from. Remind me that they, like me, ultimately came from your creative heart, and help me to see them (and treat them) as you do. Amen.
The source of judgmental things we say
THURSDAY, February 16, 2023
James pointed to the inner sources of our behaviors long before the birth of modern psychiatry. Romans, Jews and Samaritans blamed each other for conflict, as people still do today. But James said conflict is often rooted not in the noble motives we try to claim, but in deep inner cravings for “more.” He asked, bluntly, “You who judge your neighbor, who are you?”
When you find yourself with strongly negative feelings about a political candidate or election winner, do you ever look inside and ask, “What is there in me that feels threatened or frightened by this person?” In what ways can James’ wisdom, encouraging us to recognize the inner sources of conflict, help us love our neighbors in more Christ-like ways, in politics and other parts of life?
History says political foes accused Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt (3/4 of Mount Rushmore!) of deceit, ruining freedom, having vile habits and more. Pastor Adam Hamilton wrote, “Does the Lord give us an exemption from practicing the Scriptures when it comes to our political leaders...and others with whom we disagree?....This does not mean we are not to practice discernment. Nor does it mean we should remain silent in the face of wrongdoing. Yet we can make known our disagreements with others while doing so in love and with respect for the other.”* Can you? Why or why not?
Prayer: Lord of life, help me tame my tongue, and the inner insecurities that so often set my tongue off. Help me to respond to the grace you give me by living ever more faithfully. Amen.
*Hamilton, Adam, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White (p. 22). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition
Say “what is helpful...for building up the community”
FRIDAY, February 17, 2023
We’ve seen, over and over, what happens when people use words to tear down community and set people against one another. Ephesians 4 made it clear that God cannot possibly find such words and thoughts acceptable. Fix firmly in your mind and heart a resolve to “only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community,” not just politically but in all ways.
Pastor Adam Hamilton used an ironic but truthful chapter title to name a sad fact we all know happens—
“When Christians are Unchristian.”* Ephesians 4:32 said our ideal is to treat one another “in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” Have you learned ways to “be angry without sinning” (verse 26)? What steps can help you grow a character strong enough to treat others as God treats you?
Scholar William Barclay wrote, “Paul...tells us to be kind (chrēstos). The Greeks defined this quality as the disposition of mind which thinks as much of its neighbour’s affairs as it does of its own. He tells us to forgive others as God forgave us. So, in one sentence, Paul lays down the law of personal relationships—that we should treat others as Jesus Christ has treated us.”** Which of your attitudes come closest to living up to that standard? In which do you see the most room for growth?
Prayer: King Jesus, give me the courage to speak truth in love, the humility to say I’m sorry when I’m wrong and the heart to forgive others who admit a wrong. Amen.
* Adam Hamilton, When Christians Get It Wrong. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010 and 2013, chapter 1.
** William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 160.
Love can heal and unite
SATURDAY, February 18, 2023
Colossians 3:12-14, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul listed six positive qualities we can “put on” (verses 12, 14), with love as the crowning quality in the list. That kind of inner changing is not as quick and easy, of course, as changing a soiled garment for a clean one. If it were, we’d need verse 13 about forgiveness, or Corinthians’ words about what love isn’t, a whole lot less! Nevertheless, God offers you these qualities. But God never forces you to grow--it is up to you to decide to “put them on” to make your life better.
Scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “People who are enslaved to anger and malice may think they are ‘free’ to ‘be themselves’, but they are in bondage.”* Have you ever said words meant to hurt, and then wondered, “Why did I say that?” What helps you understand your feelings better, so you don’t blurt out damaging words? Before you forward that e-mail, or post that tart response on social media, are you willing to ask, “Does this give grace? Does it build up? Can I picture Jesus sending this?” How can you keep your mind and heart open to learn how to better love your neighbors?
Prayer: Loving Jesus, help me to speak and live so that words like “peace,” “unity,” “humility” and “love” will be the main qualities others see in me. Amen.
* N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 56).