Salvation, Discipleship, and Priorities


"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

 – Matthew 25:31-46

I have recently come to understand that "the nations" in verse 32 would be goyim if the Gospel of Matthew had been written in Hebrew. To Jesus' audience, the goyim would have been gentile nations, i.e., those not part of God's chosen people. In light of Christ's teachings, we would see non-Christians as goyim.  We can see thing from the tradition, going back to the time of the apostles, of referring to the Church as the new Isreal or the new Jerusalem.

My point is that this parable is descriptive of those outside the Church (in the broad sense). In it, Jesus tells us how those who do not have faith in Him, but did not explicitly reject Him, are to be saved. What it amounts to is an explication of His command to "love our neighbors as ourselves". To borrow from another parable, a good tree will not bear bad fruit, nor will a bad tree bear good fruit. That is, to act with agape love is to follow Christ, whether one knows it or not.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not endorsing universalism. There are plenty of uncertainties in this parable, such as how different charitable acts balance against failures to act charitably, to leave more than enough rope for man to hang himself. There's also the matter of explicit rejection of Christ, which seems to be pretty…well…condemned.

I believe this parable shows us how those of other faiths, or no faith at all, can be saved. Consequently, it represents the barest minimum of loving behavior that is expected from humanity. Isn't it reasonable to expect that those who have faith in Jesus Christ to do even more? Shouldn't the love we receive from our Lord and Savior spill over into our relationships with other people? Shouldn't we, who allegedly have the Law written on hearts, be more focused on loving one another as Christ has loved us than beating each other with doctrinal sticks?

I do not deny that there are real and important differences between different sects within the Body, and I do not believe they can be ignored. However, there are times and places for discussing such matters and there are people who are better equipped to do so than the average Joe blogger. Surely there cannot be as many qualified theologians in the blogosphere as there are bloggers spouting pontifications. We cannot all be hands in the Body Christ. Some of us have to be feet. Others are part of an arm. You get the idea.

Far too much air is expended, too much ink spilled, and too many pixels lit in battles over orthodoxy. Why don't we spend a little more time talking about orthopraxy? I addressed a specific aspect of this topic, civility in discourse, in an earlier post. There's more to being Christians than just being civil, though. That's not meritorious behavior, just what is expected of us. There are poor, lonely, hurt, angry, sick, and otherwise needy people in this world. Let's try spending a little more time caring about them, and leave theology to the theologians once in a while. It's fine to have a rousing debate once in a while, but it doesn't fulfill our duties as Christians, as people commanded to love to the point of laying down our lives. Instead of being quick to label each other heretic and refuse to have dealings with each other, let's work together to spread the love of God. Even nonbelievers can do that; Jesus said so.

Comments 5

  1. John wrote:

    The jump from saying that Jesus was speaking of the gentiles to meaning that he was speaking of people outside the church is somewhat suspect.

    Also, are we sure that’s the meaning we’d apply ot “the nations” that it’s not a term including both jews and gentiles?

    But as to the actual content of your post: right on! :)

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 4:26 am
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    The phrase “the nations” is used extensively in Scripture and aas far as I know, I almost always means those outside the faith. Before Christ, that meant the gentiles.

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 1:52 pm
  3. Jerry Nora wrote:

    John, I think we can be pretty sure of that distinction from everything I’ve read. It still exists, as non-Jews who distinguished themselves in saving Jews from the Holocaust are dubbed “Righteous among the Nations”.

    Posted 22 Feb 2006 at 2:58 am
  4. Squat wrote:

    I believe it is supposed to refer to all the “nations” outside the “Nation of Israel”

    Posted 22 Feb 2006 at 9:47 pm
  5. Funky Dung wrote:

    I believe it is supposed to refer to all the “nations” outside the “Nation of Israel”

    Aye, it did originally mean that, but the Church is the new Israel, the new holy nation, chosen not by birth by by grace.

    Posted 07 Sep 2006 at 10:52 am

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