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August 2019

July 31, 2019

Thoughts From The Cottage

Dear Friends

I wonder what words of Jesus you find most difficult. If we are honest with ourselves we all have sayings of Jesus we like and others that we dislike as well sayings we find easy to understand and follow and others that we find difficult. The tendency with those we find hard is to ignore them or say that they were for that time and we have moved on. The reality is that Jesus never time limited any saying. They are supposed to stand for all time. One list I found had these as the seven hardest sayings of Jesus: 1. Let the Dead Bury the Dead (Matthew 8:22); 2. Whoever Divorces and Marries Another Commits Adultery (Matthew 5:27-32); 3. You Must Hate Your Parents, Spouse, Siblings, and Children (Matthew 10:37); 4. You Must Be Perfect (Matthew 5:48);5. Fear Him Who Has Power to Cast into Hell (Matthew 10:28); 6. Sell What You Have (Matthew 19:21); 7. Let Him Who Has No Sword Buy One (Luke 22:36). Other scholars have other lists.

I want to take a saying that is not in the above list, one which we might agree with in principle but one we find extremely hard to put into practice. ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28 vv 19-20). This is known as The Great Commission and is the final earthly words of Jesus to his first disciples. I remember using this passage at an Elder’s training day in Yorkshire when one elder said, ‘if this church does that I am leaving’. Not a single elder challenged her. No surprise that the church has since closed. This saying is the authority for all that we do as a church and it is timeless. The instruction to ‘teach them to obey everything’ includes this saying so each generation of Christians must fulfil it in order to be faithful to Jesus.

This a threefold commission, make disciples, baptise them, teach them. Our programme as a church and our lifestyle as individual Christians has to reflect this. So to take ‘making disciples’ first our coffee mornings, lunch clubs, messy church, youth club and other social activities have to have this as their aim. I don’t mean that we must preach at them but we must have relevant literature around, be ready to engage in conversation, offer invitations to worship and be good role models for Christianity.

The second one ‘baptise them’ is easier but it is conditional on the first one. It means we have to offer baptism to all who make a profession of faith. It is about the individual believer and does not allow for the baptism of those who cannot make their own profession of faith.

The third one ‘teach them to obey everything I have commanded you’ is also conditional and relates to those who have made a profession of faith and been baptised. This is discipleship, it must cover everything Jesus did and said and also include Old Testament and the teaching of the Apostles in the New Testament. It may take years to complete.

This saying shows that the church must have treble standards. Anybody and everybody is welcome within the life of the church but its membership comprises those who have made a profession of faith and are seeking to make their lifestyle in line with Jesus whilst its leadership comes from those who’s lifestyle best reflects Jesus. This is tough, uncompromising and difficult. It is one of the hardest sayings of Jesus but it is the key to growth both of the church and of the kingdom of God on earth.

Ian Ring