As the new owner of a rescue puppy who is training him seven days a week, he was bound to become the focus of my introduction. It’s not that he’s the most significant thing in my life, but he’s the closest, with the most immediate needs, and I am the one responsible for him. I have friends who suffer from illnesses, injuries, trials with adult children, and relatives with coronavirus. I also grieve for those who have lost their businesses and jobs, and my elderly neighbors lose intellectual ground without activities and visitors. They are all more important, but at a little distance or not in my daily circle, so we pray and stay in touch. However, GG is right here in my apartment, depending on me for everything and still can’t be left alone. So my world is now tied to him, and the number of spiritual applications arising from his ongoing training is enormous. The most significant parallel is how I use positive training methods to teach GG (God’s Gift) to obey me, with gentleness, calmness, and patience. (Except when I forget.) Kindness, gentleness, mercy, and good judgments seem to be the key to having a kind, gentle dog. When we recognize God’s gracious tenderness toward us, we also become more like him. Shame on us if we don’t learn and grow with God through our daily encounters with people and creation.
I can’t command GG to be gentle and kind, but God does command us to be so with everyone, and especially the most vulnerable among us. “And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.’” (Zechariah 7:8-10) This passage provides the theme and foundation of today’s devotion. The Lord commands and empowers us to be exceedingly just, kind, merciful, and forgiving to one another. In Christ, we must extend gospel kindness, mercy, and justice to those in need, rather than oppress those who are weak and powerless or fall back on evil devises for each other. Either we live our gospel kindness or resort to our sin nature, without respect to Christ. During the extended pandemic, we may become discouraged or disheartened. But it was more difficult for the Israelites who concluded their seventy-year exile only to deal with a harsh reality of life in a decimated Jerusalem. “For the exiles who returned to Jerusalem in Zechariah’s day, the reality fell far short of the earlier prophetic hope. The community faced many challenges: financial hardship, opposition from outside enemies, and low morale. There were also social problems, possibly on account of disputes between those who returned and those who remained in the land. It was a time of disappointment, disillusionment, despondency, and guilt.” (1) Now, we have those who feel strongly about wearing masks and staying home, and those disagreeing. We are in danger of the same disillusionment as social isolation continues indefinitely.
In Zechariah’s time, “…there are two things for which the people of his day are faulted…it did not make any difference whether they were fasting or feasting. In each case they were pleasing themselves. Their celebrations had nothing to do with true religion. The second thing for which the people are faulted is that their worship, whether by fasting or by anything else, did not lead to acts of mercy to the abandoned and oppressed. Yet this is what Isaiah, Amos, Samuel, Moses, and indeed all the prophets and writers of Scripture called for. Without such acts the forms of religion are not true religion. Without justice the worship of God, however intense or prolonged, is blasphemy.” (2) “Zechariah calls the people to trust and obey God’s word. He calls on them to get on with and complete the rebuilding of the temple in anticipation of God’s return to establish his kingdom, a kingdom in which God will throw down all opposition by the nations and bring forgiveness and cleansing through his Messiah. In proclaiming this message, Zechariah maintains that the restoration hopes of the earlier prophets still stand, and he calls God’s people to live in light of these promises.” (3) Are we not focusing too much on our circumstances, materialism, and freedoms today? Should we not be looking more to the Lord, for how would he further our sanctification during this time and crystalize our faith? Do we not have a promise of eternal redemption and glorious life in the Lamb’s presence, as the purified Bride of Christ? Does God not have the right to command us to excessive tenderness, forgiveness, justice, and mercy? Last week we considered the quality of our kindness, but should we not contemplate the degree or quantity of our compassion? After all, we are Christ’s, and his kind-heartedness is infinite, as is the Spirit’s.
I have no idea what GG has experienced over the last nine months, but I know he can’t get enough love, affection, and direction. I should be so eager to obey God as he is to follow me, and I have much more reason, considering how Christ has rescued me. Only through the work of Christ in our hearts and our collective Body can we obey God’s command for true judgments, kindness, and mercy to all people. “We have to recognize that sin is a fact of life, not just a shortcoming. Sin is blatant mutiny against God, and either sin or God must die in my life…The culmination of sin was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and what was true in the history of God on earth will also be true in your history and in mine— that is, sin will kill the life of God in us. We must mentally bring ourselves to terms with this fact of sin. It is the only explanation why Jesus Christ came to earth, and it is the explanation of the grief and sorrow of life.” (4)
Christ’s call to our mutual grace contrasts with the work of sin in our hearts and lives. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32) We are changed people through Christ; you and I are not the same human beings we were before his redemption was applied to us by God’s Spirit. I renamed my dog GG because he is not the same dog he was three weeks ago. He is gentler, calmer, with a purpose, to serve as a therapy dog in his future. He is now my present, and one day will be God’s gift to many. He is no longer just surviving and nor are we. We live for Christ, to bring others to his throne for the forgiveness.
We are to be “tender hearted: which is opposed to a being hard-hearted to them that are in distress, and close at hand to the needy…and this should be done in like manner as God forgives in Christ, and for his sake; that is, fully and freely, and from their hearts…saints should give freely to one another, for outward support, where it is needful; and should impart spiritual gifts and experience for inward comfort, where it is wanted, and as they have the ability…[since] all they have…is freely given by God in Christ, and for his sake; with whom he freely gives them all things; in whom he has given them grace, and blessed them with all spiritual blessings; as peace, pardon, righteousness, and eternal life.” (5)
When you hear news reports of protests, BLM activities, and other social concerns, how do you judge those involved? Do you consult God? Listen to biblical commentary? Or just follow those who are the most vocal? Are you as merciful as you can be to those in your home and close-by? Are there widows in your neighborhood or church body who could use a call or help with a task? Millions of children all over the world are without parents; are you doing anything for them? (6) “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) There are also many ways to contribute to the needs of the financially limited during social isolation. (7) Of course, the first step is to check our hearts for the desire to extend kindness to as many as possible, knowing that God will empower and lead us in our selections since our time and finances are limited. “‘Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:16-18)
(1) “NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible,” Introduction to Zechariah, eBook, Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Zechariah 7:1-8:23, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(3) NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Ibid.
(4) “My Utmost For His Highest Devotion,” 6/23/20 (https://utmost.org)
(5) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Ephesians 4:32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-4.html
(6) Among other organizations, The Rafiki Foundation provides Bible studies, Christian Classical education, and practical support for widows and orphans, rafikifoundation.org
(7) To find groups or charities that are helping the poor: https://mswonlineprograms.org/poverty-hunger/
June 26, 2020