Uninvolved

photo depicting a woman alone in a field
photo by Matthew Henry

On March 13, 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was murdered in Queenes. Two weeks after the attack, the New York Times ran a story that there were some thirty-eight witnesses to the crime. But no one wanted became involved. Thirty-eight people watched a young lady assaulted three times, and they watched her die. No one, however, interceded in any way – not even to call the cops. Kitty’s death may have been prevented had someone simply decided to get involved.

Staying Uninvolved

Think of the souls you see every day. How many of them are dying spiritually? How many need us to become involved in their spiritual lives? With how many of them do we study the good news of God’s word? Too often, like those witnesses to Kitty’s death, we just don’t get involved.

We make many excuses about our lack of involvement. We claim to not know enough, but II Timothy 2:15 says the remedy to that is simple: study. Ephesians 5:17 calls on us to understand that word. Think of all the things you’ve learned in your life — a specialty, how to cook, trivia and information that fascinates you. We can put the same energy into our study of God’s word that we do into those other topics.

We may believe we don’t have anyone to study with, but think of the numerous people we see every day. How many people do you tell when you have a piece of good news to share — around our workplace, on Facebook, with perfect strangers. Matthew 10:38 calls our world a field in which to sow the seed of God’s word. Everyone we meet is a potential recipient of God’s word.

Unfortunately, we sometimes decide those people are unwilling to hear God’s word. I Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready to share the hope within us, but we may fear ridicule or rejection. II Timothy 3:12 and Matthew 10:35-39 both warn us that we will indeed face that rejection we fear, but we can’t let that stop us.

Conclusion

We cannot be timid when it comes to God’s word, and we need to be seeking God’s approval more than man’s. Romans 1:16 calls the gospel God’s power of salvation. Do we truly believe that. Are we really unashamed of that good news? What will we say when we see those souls again on the last day? John 15:1-2 warns us against being cut off for lack of bearing fruit.

We should be making every effort to share God’s word every chance we get. We should be actively involved. Matthew 5:13 calls us the salt of the earth, and verse 14 calls us the light of the world. We must be active sharers and doers of God’s word if we are to fulfill the roles. We cannot be like those who just stared out their windows when tragedy struck one of their neighbors. We need to be involved in saving souls.

Editor’s Note:

This lesson was first delivered in 2011. Since then, the New York Times has run a follow-up on the story stating that the original account was flawed and exaggerated the extent to which the neighbors understood what was going on.

While there was no question that the attack occurred, and that some neighbors ignored cries for help, the portrayal of 38 witnesses as fully aware and unresponsive was erroneous. The article grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses and what they had perceived. None saw the attack in its entirety. Only a few had glimpsed parts of it, or recognized the cries for help. Many thought they had heard lovers or drunks quarreling. There were two attacks, not three. And afterward, two people did call the police. A 70-year-old woman ventured out and cradled the dying victim in her arms until they arrived. Ms. Genovese died on the way to a hospital.

I wanted to preserve this lesson in its original form, but I also feel its important to share updated information since the premise of the message was inspired by real-world events.

Worship Together

image of church pews

Hebrews 10 begins by reminding us how good we have it under the law of Christ. In the first several verses, the author talks about how much better Jesus’ sacrifice is than the bulls and goats offered up under the law of Moses. He talks about the abolition of the first covenant in the creation of the second – one that can wipe away sin, one that makes us a nation of priests, that resides in our hearts and minds, that grants us the confidence to approach the throne of God with a high priest who knows all the challenges we face.

It’s a chapter full of big ideas that tell us all we have to be thankful for in the sacrifice of Christ. It’s a chapter that contrasts the shadows of God’s kingdom with the reality of His true spiritual kingdom established under Christ. It contrasts the rolling forward of sin with the eternal forgiveness and abolition of sin. The author tells us of how the Old Testament law pointed toward Christ and how Jesus brought us something that both fulfilled and replaced the ancient system of sacrifices.

A Better Sacrifice and Priesthood

In this, the author quotes Psalms 40:6-8:

Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.

Then I said, Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

He then explains the insufficiency of those sacrifices. They could not take away sins with imperfect sacrifices administered by imperfect priests. In contrast, Jesus stands as our perfect priest and our perfect sacrifice, bringing true forgiveness. When we accept that law, we then accept His law into our hearts, submitting to Him obediently, abandoning the lawless deeds God has promised to forgive.

Because of that forgiveness, because of that better sacrifice and priest, we can have confidence to approach God. Previously, no one could approach the Holy Place, except for the High Priest once a year. Our new high priest, one who has been through all the trials and challenges we face, grants us direct access to the Father in a way those living under the Levitical priesthood could not. Because of this, the author encourages us draw near to our High Priest, holding fast to our faithful confession, encouraging one another to live worthy of that calling.

Helping Each Other to Heaven

Sometimes, however, we forget what we have. We take those blessings for granted, and the Hebrew author warns against neglecting each other’s spiritual needs. He warns that we should continually encourage one another and to avoid falling back into the traps of sin. We need to be stirring up one another. We need each other’s help in drawing nearer to God, and this is one of the reasons we meet together, whether in the assembly or in social settings.

When we neglect our worship services, we neglect the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead of approaching worship and Bible study with the attitude of, “What can I get out of it,” we should be attending for each other’s sake. The same is true if we are avoiding each other outside the assembly. We need to take every opportunity to build each other up, and verses 22-24 bring faith, hope, and love into the equation. We have hearts full of faith, hold fast to hope, and stir up love. But we need to be working together to accomplish these things.

The Dangers of Neglect

When we fall into the traps of sin, we fall into danger of losing our souls, but we can help each other avoid the pitfalls of sin. When we neglect spending time together, when we neglect assembling together, we are showing a lack of concern for the souls of our fellow Christians. When you are present to lift me up spiritually, we are both less likely to fall into patterns of neglect. Hebrews 10 gives us a picture of how much better Christ’s law is than that of Moses, and we should live gratefully for that new covenant. Let’s avoid neglecting these blessings and neglecting each other, and let’s instead push each other toward Heaven and rededicate ourselves to His service each day.

The Beatitudes

Carl Bloch's painting depicting Jesus sitting before a crowd and delivering the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

We’re going to be looking at the Sermon on the Mount through the next several weeks. This is Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, and it contains some concepts that are easy to read but difficult to actually live. This message is also meant to change minds about what people look for in Christ and their roles in God’s kingdom.

Prior to delivering this message, we see Jesus tempted in the wilderness. When He returns from that, Jesus begins His ministry, teaching in synagogues and performing miraculous healing. While this is going on, Jesus’ gathering grows into a great crowd. It is to this crowd — these people who had been listening to His teaching and had benefitted from His miracles — that He begins to deliver the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus Begins His Message

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Blessed Are Those That Seek

Starting from the beginning, Jesus lays a foundation of spiritual humility. Being poor in spirit means admitting we cannot reach perfection on our own, and we have to come to Christ in full knowledge of the emptiness that only He can fill. Like both James and Peter say in their letters, we should humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand so that he can lift us up from our broken state.

From this humility, Jesus then blesses those who mourn. In this, Jesus is not talking about those who are always downcast and find the worst in any situation. Instead, this is a person who has a tender heart for their own soul and the souls of others. They are those who comfort others and look for comfort in turn. When we know we are truly poor in spirit, we will seek comfort and we will find it in the Lord.

This humble need then leads us to a mind of meekness. This is a preference and deference for others. This is a quiet strength that speaks of an outpouring of inner peace that God is in control. When we look for the peace that comes from God’s comfort in our spiritual humility, then we hunger and thirst for His sustenance. We look to Him to fill that empty feeling in our souls. We know we are empty, and that leads to humility, mourning, and meekness. These guide us to fill that emptiness with our God.

Blessed Are Those Who Act

Jesus then transitions to what we do with the fullness we receive from God. First, Jesus says we should demonstrate this in the mercy we show others. As David in the Psalms, we often ask for God’s mercy, but we must also be showing that mercy to others, especially if they have wronged us in any way. As God forgives us our wrongs, so should we forgive others.

This mercy helps purity of heart. In this, we truly seek the good in others, laying all grudges and ulterior motives aside. It’s a heart that does not seek credit, praise, or vindication. It is a humble heart at peace with fulness from God that does not seek out fulfillment from this life.

If we are pure in heart and showing mercy to others, then we will be peacemakers. We will be the type of people who actively seek peace in times of anger and conflict. We value peace over conflict, and we value restoration over resolution. This carries right into those times we face criticism and persecution. If we are passionately pursuing righteousness, then we will come under fire from those who do not seek God. But we should be gracious in persecution, full of mercy and peace toward those who would mistreat us.

All of these things describe the identity of us if we are to be Christ-like. We hunger and thirst for our God that He might fill the emptiness in our lives. This fulfillment should then bring us a pure heart and inner peace. We then share this peace with others, whether or not we feel they might deserve it, through our peaceful conduct and the mercy we share.

A Christ-Centered Heart

This is a fundamental shift in our perspectives, our priorities, and our conduct. This is not about maintaining a checklist; it’s about an identity. This is not about success in this life; it’s about the next. It’s not about doing well based on my own standards; it’s about holding ourselves to God’s. It’s not about having my way; it’s about completely submitting myself to something higher. We are called to a better way, but better does not always mean easy.

The attitudes and conduct Jesus’ describes in these verses take commitment. They take sacrifice. They take resolve. These are more than a collection of proverbs or general suggestions. These are commands from our Savior about the mindset that should define our Christian lives: humility. When we start with that, our relationship with God and our relationships with others will all begin to reflect these words that open the Sermon on the Mount.

lesson by Donn Koonce