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.

Salt and Light

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

In the Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus covers the Beatitudes, He turns His attention to the way we present ourselves to the world. These verses are the natural outcome to our living as He describes in the first twelve verses of Matthew 5. In those verses, Jesus tells us to strengthen our relationship with God through humility and a hunger for righteousness. Then He teaches that we should take God’s grace and forgiveness and share them with others in our own conduct. This will lead us to stand out from the crowd in our priorities, our attitudes, and our conduct.

Matthew 5: 13 – 16:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Salt and Light

Salt preserves, and light guides. Both are usually used to improve our lives. In contrast, both can be unpleasant if used incorrectly or overmuch. Neither do any good if they are hidden, and both require us to take action if we’re going to make use of them. Here, Jesus doesn’t talk about how these things can be used improperly; instead He focuses on salt and light as good things.

With salt, it’s no good if it loses it’s flavor. For us, that means that we are unhelpful when we cease to behave in the ways Jesus teaches us to. When we stop hungering for God’s word, when we stop showing mercy and forgiveness, when we let the negativity of this world turn us sour — then we stop profiting God’s purpose for us.

Light provides sight and it is necessary for life to grow. Light guides, and light travels. If we are that light on the hill, then that means we are going out and guiding others to Christ. We’re opening their eyes and then helping them grow in God’s word. His light shines through us in a way that others would want to learn more about our God.

Seasoning and Illuminating

What can you do to help do these things? How do we flavor and preserve the world around us as well as providing light and life? The first and easiest application is to make Jesus part of our everyday conversations. We should be sharing Him with others — not in a hostile argumentative way but in way that opens paths and allows others to see God’s light in our words. This then may lead to further study that allows for nourishment and growth.

Then, our actions must agree with our words. In the Beatitudes, Jesus doesn’t stop at merely hungering for righteousness. It’s not enough to know God’s word. We must live in a way that shines a light toward God. Our conduct must always be gracious, peaceful, and merciful. We should be keeping ourselves pure of heart and reputation. The way we treat other people testifies to the extent we have allowed Jesus to change us.

Worship helps us keep our flavor, and it energizes us to keep shining our lights. Even correction can help us grow stronger. In Acts 18, when Priscilla and Aquila take Apollos aside to help him better understand baptism, we see him then fellowshipping with other Christians and spreading his knew knowledge to others. What’s important in this correction is that Priscilla and Aquila come to Apollos, they correct him gracefully and peacefully. This grows, rather than extinguishes, his light.

Our words and our conduct travels far and wide. These can season others’ live. They can help point others to God. They can grow others’ faith. One example of this is in Acts 16 when we meet Lydia. Here, one woman hears God’s word from Paul and opens her heart. She then shares that word with her family, and God’s word would continue to travel from there. This is a repeated pattern in the New Testament — one person responds to the gospel, and that leads to others who lead to further others. It’s the simple way God travels from one person to the next.

Living to Guide

Sometimes we lose our spiritual seasoning. Sometimes we hide our lights. When we do, we need to seek forgivenesses, forgive ourselves, and then get back to work. We are God’s mouths in this world. We are His arms and His legs. He trusts us to do His work in this world so that others may find Him. We do that by seasoning the lives of others through our behavior and then shining God’s light for them. We use this light to guide others to Him as a beacon of hope in a world so full of darkness. Let’s work together to light our lights and season our conduct so that we can point others to God.

lesson by Alan Miller

Parables of the Kingdom

Rembrandt's painting depicting the hidden treasure

We’re going to spend almost our entire lesson today in Matthew 13. Earlier, we looked at one parable from this chapter — that of the sower and the soils. Then we looked at the parables of of the mustard seed, the leaven, and the weeds out of this same chapter — each of these containing the words, “the kingdom of Heaven is like…” In this lesson, we’re going to look over a few more of those short parable where Jesus talks about the kingdom.

Reviewing the Kingdom

In our last lesson, we looked at what Jesus means by the kingdom. Is He talking about the next life, of is He talking about something a bit closer? Remember that when Jesus sent the twelve out to preach in Matthew 10, He instructed them them to teach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 16:28 and Mark 9:1 even has Jesus promising that some standing in His presence would live to see the kingdom established with power.

Based on these passages and the events of Acts 2, it’s clear the the kingdom of Heaven can also refer to Christ’s church. While some of these parables can indeed apply to Heaven above, they are deeper and more immediate when we view them through the lens of Christ’s church — the kingdom doing His will in this world.

The Value of the Kingdom

The first three parables we’re going to look at speak to us about the value of the kingdom. Let’s start in Matthew 13:44 – 46:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

In both of these parables, the treasure has to be found. The first person finds their treasure by happenstance. They find it in a field, but there’s no indication that they were looking for anything. The second person was diligently seeking. They knew what they were looking for, and they knew where to look. In both cases, the result was the same — completely sacrificing all that they had so they could possess it.

Finding the kingdom is like that. In some cases, like Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9 – 24, God’s word may come into our lives without our looking for it. Simon certainly wasn’t looking to become a disciple, but that’s exactly what happened. Others, like Cornelius in Acts 10, will diligently seek God out. Whether by chance or by effort, both of these individuals’ responses were the same — to cling to the kingdom as a treasure of great value.

If we asked a group of Christians how each came to be converted, there would be a variety of histories. Some of us were raised in the church. Some of us might have fallen away at some point and returned when you realized what you lost. Others may have been converted by the influence of another person you happened to know, and yet others may have been seeking answers. Regardless of how you came to God, His kingdom is no less valuable to any of you. It is a great treasure, and it requires sacrifice.

Jesus told the rich, young ruler that he lacked one thing to inherit the kingdom. He told that young man to sell all he had and give to the poor. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful, and it was because he was unwilling to let go those things that were so meaningful to him. We have to decide what God’s kingdom is worth to us, and then we have to be willing to sacrifice. Sometimes, that looks like giving up people and things that can draw us away from God. Other times, it looks like sacrificing time and priorities, so we can do God’s work.

That brings us to an additional parable on this topic.

Matthew 13:52:

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

This parable creates a simple image. Here, the homeowner is showing off some valuables. Do you have anything you like to share with guests? Whether the treasure is old or new, it carries great personal value. And that makes you want to share it with others. No matter how long we’ve been part of the kingdom, it should be so valuable to us that we want others to know about it.

When we do that, it might be that we will help someone else find the treasure. It might be someone who wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but your influence helps them realize the kingdom’s value. You might be in the right place at the right time to reach out to someone seeking the truth. As Paul writes in Romans 10:14, no one can hear unless we teach. So, if you’ve already come to the kingdom, if you’ve already laid hold of that great treasure, then tell others about it so they can find it too.

The Kingdom’s Harvest

The other two parables we’re going to look at talk about the judgment. The first of these in in Mark 4:26 – 29.

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

This parable has obvious similarities with the parable of the sower. Again, Jesus is talking about a person spreading seed on the ground. This encourages us to go out and teach others about the kingdom. Jesus takes it further in this parable, though. In this case, the seed sprouts and grows, and Jesus says that the sower doesn’t fully understand the process. The beautiful thing is that he doesn’t have to. The earth knows how to nourish the seed, and the seed knows what to do with the nourishment. It just needed to be planted.

This is like what Paul is saying in I Corinthians 3:6 – 9.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

If you’re not familiar with the context here, Paul is getting on the members of the church at Corinth for taking too much pride in who converted them, whether it be this preacher, that preacher or another. In this case, Paul says to them that the person who taught or baptized them is irrelevant. It’s God who saved them.

You or I? We’re just workers in the field. It’s our job to plant, and to be happy with simply doing that. We may never know how we might touch someone else’s life, but we keep on planting all the same. The planting may take time and effort, but it’s still God’s word working in the other individual that eventually brings about repentance and conversion. We start the work; God finishes it.

But there is a last bit to the parable. When the grain is fully grown, it gets harvested. From this point, the grain dies to go on to serve another purpose. The grain that is good will be preserved. That which is not good will be discarded, and that leads us to our final parable of this lesson: Matthew 13:47 – 50.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The fishers simply fish. They throw the net out indiscriminately, and that is exactly how we should be spreading God’s word. We sing, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His site,” and though those words are a little culturally insensitive by current standards, they carry an important meaning. Regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, or any other divide, we are all precious in God’s sight. Do we then act like we really believe that? We cannot let cultural, economic, geopolitical, or any other barrier stand between us and casting that net as far and wide as we can.

And it’s because of this: at the end of the day, God will separate the good from the bad. It’s easy to point at someone behaving in an obviously ungodly way, or that wholly rejects the notion of God, and say, “You’ll be cast out.” But what about those of us who believe but refuse to cast our nets, refuse to sow, refuse to share our treasure? What do we think He will say to those of us who hinder the harvest through inaction? Will He not cast us aside also? As James sums up in James 4:17: ‘So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Conclusion

The kingdom of God is of immeasurable value. When we find it, we should be willing to sacrifice of ourselves to obtain it. Self-sacrifice is part of finding the treasure that is God’s kingdom. Then, if we truly recognize the value of God’s kingdom, we are going to share it with whoever we can, without assumption, without reservation, and without discrimination. We are going to teach and teach and teach. And we do this because we know the harvest is coming. We should be laborers in the field; we should be fishers of men; and we should be doing all we can to be like our God who wants all people to repent. That is when we know we truly value God’s kingdom.

lesson by Robert Smelser