Guests: Dave Thomas and Phil Muthersbaugh
Relevant Verses: Matt. 34-39; Luke 12:13-21; Phil. 2:5-8; Luke 22:14-30
Leading Question: Jesus clearly calls us to rest in him; but is it possible to look at “restlessness” in a positive light?
While we can all see the advantage of resting peacefully in Christ, what truth can be found in Augustine’s statement at the beginning of his Confessions?
“Thou dost arouse us to delight in praising thee, for thou hast made us for thyself;
And restless we must ever be until our heart find rest in thee.”
The authors of our study guide have planted their flag on the idea that restlessness is something we should seek to resolve and banish. Indeed, the opening passage in the lesson is potentially a very troubling one, Matthew 10:34-39:
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Question: One of Jesus’ most beloved promises is: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). But how can we find rest when Jesus promises us a sword?
Comment: William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible commentary on Matthew summarizes the four things that Jesus offers here: Warfare, choice, cross, and adventure. Is that fair summary?
Following the tension engendered by Jesus’ words that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword, our authors focus on three ideas that they see as containing the “roots of restlessness”: 1) Selfishness, 2) Ambition, and 3) Hypocrisy. Let’s address those three ideas.
1. Selfishness. Two contrasting biblical passages illustrate the two sides of selfishness: Luke 12:13-21 is the parable of the wealthy man who tore down his barn to build larger ones. In the parable, God labels the man a fool because he has not considered his own imminent mortality.
The other passage is Philippians 2:5-8, considered by many to be the richest expression of Christ’s self-sacrificing love:
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Questions: How does one avoid the fate of the rich fool, and experience the “mind of Christ” as presented in Philippians 2? What role can be played for us by stories and examples from Scripture, selfless lives modeled by fellow believers, and passages of Scripture? All of the above?
2.Ambition: Luke 22:14-30 and Matthew 20:20-28. The dangers of ambition are illustrated by two “teaching” passages of Jesus, coming from quite different angles to the same pointed truth.
In Luke, Jesus is at table with the twelve and overhears them talking about who is the greatest; in Matthew, the mother of James and John has brought her boys to Jesus, asking that they be given the highest places in the kingdom – which quite angered the rest of the disciples! Let’s look at Matthew’s “punch line” though Luke’s is very similar:
Matt. 20:25-28: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Question: What was the more powerful motivator for the disciples: Jesus’ teaching and example while he was alive, or the impact of his sacrificial death? What would be more powerful in our day and for us?
3. Hypocrisy: Matthew 23. The official study guide notes that Jesus uses the word “hypocrite” seven times in this hard-hitting chapter against hypocrisy. In everyday usage, “hypocrite” identifies someone who pretends to be something that he is not. But in a very subtle way, there is one setting, at least, where such pretending is fully in accord with the best of New Testament teaching, namely, Paul’s weaker brother argument in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. In that setting he clearly shows that there are circumstances when we cloak our true position for the sake of the “weaker” brother or sister. A C. S. Lewis quote from Screwtape Letters is to the point [Note: in Screwtape, everything is backward theology – Screwtape is the head devil, training his nephew Wormwood how to catch the “patient” and God is the “enemy”]:
We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials – namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that, the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility. – C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, p. 75 [XVI.5]
In short, when we have allowed God to tame the roots of restlessness in our souls, everything we do will point our brothers and sisters to rest in God.