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048 God's Family Loyalty

A couple of issues back I raised the idea that God provided grace for those who maybe didn't have perfect theology but did show honor to His Son. I cited as a starting point for investigating that idea a comment Jesus made in Matt 10:41:

The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward.

I had a conversation with one of my readers and he confessed, "That's one of those comments by Jesus that I never really understood."

Fair enough. There are some things Jesus said that I don't understand yet, too. But this isn't one of them. This one makes perfect sense to me.

It helps if you keep verse 40 in mind: 

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.

This is an idea that will sound familiar to anybody who's got Irish or Sicilian friends. An enemy of their brother is their enemy, too. A friend of their brother is their friend, too. And in fact, that's also true of Russians, Mexicans, Serbs, Middle Easterners...really, anybody who values family. Family counts, and loyalty is a virtue. It should not come as a surprise that God shows loyalty, too, particularly when you show respect to His most precious and holy Son.

Now, please don't get tripped up by systematic issues, like "where does this fit into salvation!?" I'll address that below, but just let the idea settle in for a while that God intends to reward those who treat His servants with respect, and that your idea of "salvation" is not the only possible reward. God really does mean what He says, always. And our systematic theology messes things up as often as it clarifies them. If you just let God say His piece, it all just kinda fits together in the end.

In Matthew 10:41 I'm pretty sure that Jesus was quoting obliquely the account of Elijah and the widow from Zarephath that's in I Kings 17:8-16. Rabbis did that--cite some tiny detail of a Bible story and expect their students to know and apply the whole story as though they were looking at the text. They all knew the Tanakh (Old Testament) that well. That's why you need to understand the Tanakh if you want to understand the New Testament. You'll miss all the references if you don't know the Tanakh. And no, not all the references are in ALL CAPS in your Bible or have footnotes in the margin. The translators miss a lot of the references, too.

In I Kings 17 God said to Elijah that this Gentile lady was going to take care of his needs during the 3-year drought that Elijah had called for, saying "I have commanded [her]..." (v. 9) when in fact she didn't have a clue what was about to happen. Elijah found her as she was gathering sticks to make a fire and cook her last meal before she ran out of food. He told her to cook him something to eat instead (imagine the nerve!) and prophesied that what little food she had was going to last until the end of the drought. Incredibly, she did it--and she got supplied along with the Prophet for as long as he stayed there, plus some other things (like, when her son died of a heat stroke Elijah raised him from the dead. Read the rest of I Kings 17.)

So Jesus inferred, correctly, that if you believe the prophet and do what he says, you'll get supplied like the prophet, just like it happened in that story. "Give a prophet a meal, get fed just like the prophet." It's right there on the page.

The general idea is that God sees how you treat His people, and He really cares about that. You show them favor, and He'll show you favor. And I apply that to mean, if you love Jesus as you encounter Him, and you love His people as you encounter them, He's not going to feed you to the wolves over some little detail that you believed wrong. He's not like that.

You can say, "Well, that doesn't really mean 'salvation', it's just about temporal rewards." Yes, it's about temporal rewards, and doggone it, I like those. So do you. But I think it means more than just that. I think it means everything God does that's good, including...well, everything. Peace, prosperity, protection, provision, restoration, healing...

...and if you need it, an extra shove in the direction of what you have to do to become part of the Family of God. Go take a look at Acts 10 and see what the angel told Cornelius in verse 4. Cornelius was a Gentile, but he prayed all the time and gave lots of alms to the synagogue. Then this angel showed up and said: "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.  And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter..."

Did you catch that? God noticed how Cornelius treated the Jews in his town. So what did God do? At the right moment He sent an angel, and the angel directed Cornelius toward the gospel.

I suppose that if Cornelius had heard Peter out but thought, "This is the stupidest nonsense I've ever heard," he would not have received the Holy Spirit like he did. So, we can say that he was saved by his faith like everybody else. But--well, I dunno about you, but if there's something I need to know in order to settle my eternal destiny, I'd really like for the Almighty to give me little hints about it like a frakkin' big angel standing in my living room, wouldn't you? Doggone right you would. And if the angel is to be believed, he was there because Cornelius was generous to the local Jews. That's what it says. Again, I'm just reading the words off the page.

So however you want to take it, do yourself a favor and be kind to God's people, including but not limited to Jews. And especially show appropriate respect to His Son. Do that, and you'll have a place in olam ha-bah (Hebrew for "the world to come"). He won't leave you stranded. He's not like that. When you care for God's family, He takes that as caring for Him.

Practice kindness, and I'll be back in a couple of weeks.

Phil Weingart


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