Raising the Standard

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

My 9th grade algebra teacher graded our tests on the curve. This meant that the highest grade would be counted as 100%. So if the highest grade was 80, our 70 would be considered 70/80 instead of 70/100, thus raising our percentage and grade considerably. There was only one problem. The same girl got 100% right on every test, so we never got a break! The standard always stayed right where it belonged at 100, instead of 70 or 80. The mornings after our tests, we would be anxious to get out results, and to see what kind of a break we got with the curve, and every morning following our tests, we would be disappointed to find that there was no break. Someone kept the standard right where it belonged. That someone was not a popular person with the rest of the class. Why? Because they kept the standard where it belonged, and left the rest of us with no excuse for getting the poorer grades that we got. She was plenty popular the rest of the school year when she acted just like us, but when it came time for tests, her study habits made the rest of us look bad, and it was just easier to ridicule her for her study methods, than it was to actually study ourselves. Likewise, as long as our church blends in the world we will never be ridiculed or persecuted either. Satan has no reason to persecute a church that looks just like the world. As long as this girl was acting like us it was fine, but we found her study habits to be annoying.

I imagine Judas found the woman washing Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfume to be quite annoying. Not that the perfume did not smell good, but Judas clearly had no intentions of giving all he had for Jesus. On the contrary, instead of giving he tried to take whatever he could. But how do you justify your selfishness in the face of someone else’s giving spirit? Easy, you make them look like a fanatic. “What a waste” Judas said, “The money she wasted on perfume could have been better spent on the poor.” I guess Judas considered himself to be poor, since he wanted the money himself. So he makes the woman out to be fanatical. Do we do this today? Someone gives more of their time and effort for Jesus than we are willing to give, and so to make us look balanced, we portray them as extreme. The woman was no fanatic. She was in love with Jesus! But when people are doing more out of love than we care to do, we label them “legalistic,” “extreme,” or “fanatical” when in fact they are just simply in love with Jesus. Judas was not irked by her behavior when she was sinning all over the place. That did not make Judas look bad. But when she gave all she had to Jesus out of love, that exposed Judas’ selfishness and Judas became offended by her converted behavior.

In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus gives us the beatitudes which are also stepping stones to a complete conversion. Once the conversion is complete Jesus says,

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Matthew 5:10 NLT

Once God’s people become filled with righteousness and pure in heart, by God’s grace they will keep the standard right where it belongs, not because they are legalistic or fanatical, but because they are in love with Jesus. Now here is the key. Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for doing right. Sometimes we bring persecution on ourselves by doing what is wrong. We deserve that, and there is no reward for that. I once heard a man who kept getting harassed by creditors, saying he was being persecuted for being a Christian. No he wasn’t! He was persecuted for not paying his bills!

When God’s grace converts  us our standards will rise above the world’s standards, and just like the kids in my algebra class, and Judas, they will not like that. They will persecute us, but Jesus says to rejoice! For ours is the kingdom of heaven.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Acts of The Apostles-Called to Reach a Higher Standard

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Acts of The Apostles Chapter 30.

This chapter is based on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.

 

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but [this] one thing [I do], forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13-14.

In the hope of impressing vividly upon the minds of the Corinthian believers the importance of firm self-control, strict temperance, and unflagging zeal in the service of Christ, Paul in his letter to them made a striking comparison between the Christian warfare and the celebrated foot races held at stated intervals near Corinth. Of all the games instituted among the Greeks and the Romans, the foot races were the most ancient and the most highly esteemed. They were witnessed by kings, nobles, and statesmen. Young men of rank and wealth took part in them and shrank from no effort or discipline necessary to obtain the prize.  {AA 309.1} 

     The contests were governed by strict regulations, from which there was no appeal. Those who desired their names entered as competitors for the prize had first to undergo a severe preparatory training. Harmful indulgence of appetite, or any other gratification that would lower mental or physical vigor, was strictly forbidden. For one to have any hope of success in these trials of strength and speed, the muscles must be strong and supple, and the nerves well under control. Every movement must be certain, every step swift and unswerving; the physical powers must reach the highest mark.  {AA 309.2} 

     As the contestants in the race made their appearance before the waiting multitude, their names were heralded, and the rules of the race were distinctly stated. Then they all started together, the fixed attention of the spectators inspiring them with a determination to win. The judges were seated near the goal, that they might watch the race from its beginning to its close and give the prize to the true victor. If a man reached the goal first by taking an unlawful advantage, he was not awarded the prize.  {AA 310.1} 

     In these contests great risks were run. Some never recovered from the terrible physical strain. It was not unusual for men to fall on the course, bleeding at the mouth and nose, and sometimes a contestant would drop dead when about to seize the prize. But the possibility of lifelong injury or of death was not looked upon as too great a risk to run for the sake of the honor awarded the successful contestant.  {AA 310.2} 

     As the winner reached the goal, the applause of the vast multitude of onlookers rent the air and awoke the echoes of the surrounding hills and mountains. In full view of the spectators, the judge presented him with the emblems of victory–a laurel crown and a palm branch to carry in his right hand. His praise was sung throughout the land; his parents received their share of honor; and even the city in which he lived was held in high esteem for having produced so great an athlete.  {AA 310.3} 

     In referring to these races as a figure of the Christian warfare, Paul emphasized the preparation necessary to the success of the contestants in the race–the preliminary discipline, the abstemious diet, the necessity for temperance. “Every man that striveth for the mastery,” he declared, “is temperate in all things.” The runners put aside every indulgence that would tend to weaken the physical powers, and by severe and continuous discipline trained their muscles to strength and endurance, that when the day of the contest should arrive, they might put the heaviest tax upon their powers. How much more important that the Christian, whose eternal interests are at stake, bring appetite and passion under subjection to reason and the will of God! Never must he allow his attention to be diverted by amusements, luxuries, or ease. All his habits and passions must be brought under the strictest discipline. Reason, enlightened by the teachings of God’s word and guided by His Spirit, must hold the reins of control.  {AA 311.1} 

     And after this has been done, the Christian must put forth the utmost exertion in order to gain the victory. In the Corinthian games the last few strides of the contestants in the race were made with agonizing effort to keep up undiminished speed. So the Christian, as he nears the goal, will press onward with even more zeal and determination than at the first of his course.  {AA 311.2} 

     Paul presents the contrast between the chaplet of fading laurel received by the victor in the foot races, and the crown of immortal glory that will be given to him who runs with triumph the Christian race. “They do it,” he declares, “to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” To win a perishable prize, the Grecian runners spared themselves no toil or discipline. We are striving for a prize infinitely more valuable, even the crown of everlasting life. How much more careful should be our striving, how much more willing our sacrifice and self-denial!  {AA 311.3} 

 

When I finish my race the cheering of the crowd means nothing. All I want to hear is my Father say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”  Matthew 25:21.