The Ninth Sunday after Trinity, 2017

The Epistle – 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

The Gospel – Luke 15:11-32

Article 38 – Of Christian Men’s Goods, Which are Not Common

Article 39 – Of a Christian Man’s Oath

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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Two quite important things are found in today’s Articles.  The ownership of property is taught in Scripture and the concept of taking an Oath as a Christian.

 

We are to be governed by scripture and conscience when it comes to our possessions. We must not be rash in making oaths when we have to.  We are held to what we swear by.

Especially at the time of the 16th century and yet true at other times in the history of the Church, both of these issues came up.

 

THE Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, (says our Article) as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast.

 

These Anabaptists were called that because they believed in baptizing people a second time as adults… if they had only been baptized as children.

 

They rejected infant baptism because of faulty reasoning.  They reasoned that if a child could not exercise faith, then he could not desire to be a Christian on his own.

 

Godparents were making the decision for him and this was not valid.

Therefore the child should not be baptized. 

So those who had been baptized at an age where they did not make the decision themselves, they were baptized as adults by these Anabaptists… when they could make a profession of faith.

 

So they believed they were really baptizing for the first time since they held the first to be invalid.

 

Along with this incorrect view of baptism, they also held to a view about ownership of personal property.

 

At least twice as we find in the Gospels Jesus telling someone, “sell all that you have and give to the poor.”

 

And yet these statements come as a challenge to lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.

 

Jesus does command the Christian or men in general to divest themselves of all possessions and follow Him leaving all behind.

 

But there is always a reason why Jesus challenges His hearers to do so. It is usually because they are so tied to their possessions that they are unable to grow spiritually.

They are unable to see what Jesus is talking about in some circumstance because of the blindness their riches has brought down on them.

 

They are clinging to worldly possessions and are hindered from hearing the Gospel.  There is an imbalance.

There would not be a law telling us “thou shalt not steal if ownership of certain things were against God’s will and design. 

Each of us ought to, as best and as sacrificially and yet as responsibly as we can to supply the needs of those who legitimately have need.

 

Selling all that one had… and following Jesus would certainly apply to those He called in His day, since that would be what was required to follow Him at that time.

 

Today, however, Christ is not wandering the earth gathering followers.  He is gathering them through the work of the Holy Spirit by changing men’s hearts….to turn away from worldly desires and even riches and to prioritize the Kingdom of God over the transitory kingdom of this world.

 

 

 

And even if we press the words of Jesus to their utmost, they would be merely telling us to renounce our wealth…but ….not as a rule binding on society, that private wealth of each individual ought to be confiscated and only a public fund permitted to exist.

 

This is what some call for today, even in the modern (though liberal) Christian church.  Through a misreading of verses such as this one, it is determined by some that we should live in a socialistic type of system.

 

In Acts 4:35 and following we read this about the early Church.  This is a common verse that is exploited by liberals to insist that the Church and even secular governments should collect all and distribute as best they see fit…

 

 

Acts 4:32-35

 

“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. [33] And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. [34] There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold [35] and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

 

This is a beautiful image of the early Church. 

 

 

It is obvious this is a report of the outpouring of faith and sacrificial love the early Church was demonstrating….out of their own “free will” if you will and desiring that the poorest among them be helped as best as could be done.

 

This is a good example for us to see just how far the Church can go in helping those in need, especially inside the Church amongst the brethren.

 

This is certainly not a model for governmental enforcement….nor is it written in the bible to give governments any bright ideas.  How inefficiently this system would run…and in fact does run when it is tried.

 

It will always fail because it is not God’s design.

The evil of men’s hearts certainly would not let this type of system run for long before they would take advantage of it for themselves.

 

Of the Christian Man’s Oath is the other Article. 

 

The background here is a misunderstanding and a misuse again by the Anabaptists and even some modern Christian groups of scripture passages.

 

When the early Christians were called before the civil, secular magistrates, they were mostly required to swear by some sort of heathen idolatrous oath.

 

They would be called upon to swear by the name of some heathen god or something.

 

This of course was abhorrent to Christians.

 

This would naturally give them a fear of swearing altogether.

 

But from even the earliest Christian writers and Church Fathers we find that Christians did not refuse to take an oath, just those that would go against the conscience of the Christian and the guidance of scripture.

 

James teaches in the 5th chapter, “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (ESV)

 

The Church has for the most part understood this to mean that Christians can swear an oath in a legal inquiry if it is legitimate.

 

What the Article is getting at for the Christian is directed against vain, trivial and thoughtless swearing, and ungodly swearing…but not against that legal confirming of the truth by a solemn oath… in the sight of God.

 

If we have to swear in a court of law, we may do so, without violating scripture or conscience.

 

In the Old Testament, Jews were forbidden to swear falsely or swear by false gods. Apparently Jesus was addressing the Jewish abuse of this in particular.

 

In Matthew 26, Jesus stands before Caiaphas the High Priest and this passage is pointed to in order to support even Jesus accepting being put under oath and answering the questions put to Him.

The Article commentators note that in later ages, the Anabaptists come up again…. as well as the Quakers and some other sects have held that all oaths are unlawful.

 

This Article is most likely aimed again at the Anabaptists in particular as they were prominent at the time of it's writing.

 

In the lessons for today, we have the third of a string of Parables for the Gospel reading…that are at least placed together by Luke.  Jesus is shown here by the text to apparently have delivered these three consecutively.

 

If not Luke groups them all for a reason.  They all convey a similar theme.

 

Luke begins the chapter by setting the theme and the reason why Jesus gave these sorts of parables.

He writes “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

 

So Jesus proceeds to explain in parable form why they are unjustified with their prejudices…of why He does in fact receive sinners and eat with them.

 

He does so because this is at the heart of why He came.  To call sinners to repentance and to bring them into fellowship with Him.  To eat and drink with them and to live with them and to dwell in them.

 

First the Lost Sheep.  Then the Lost Coin.  Both are lost and the diligent search for them pays off and joy over retrieving the lost item is abundant.

 

The Father takes great joy …the angels in heaven take great joy in the salvation of one sinner…of the finding of one lost sheep…of the finding of something valuable.

 

Today, the longest of the three is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  This parable is essentially teaching at it's core the same thing.

 

Jesus many times has the Jews in His audience and they are usually either singled out or they get what Jesus is getting at and also usually are insulted.

 

They either end up trying to seize him or kicking Him out or once in a while the parable’s meaning sinks in and someone sees it's deeper meaning and responds positively to it.

 

But our own reading of it is what is at issue here today.

 

The first two parables are more generic in that there are simply the words, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep.” “Rejoice with me for I have found my coin.”

 

But in this Parable of the Prodigal Son, there is this lively, graphic, detailed picture of the joy itself…the “seeing far off” of the father awaiting the return of his son in hope….the compassion shown to him, the embrace, the kiss, the festive robe, the ring, the sandals, the best provision of food and a feast.

This is such an earthly picture that we can all grasp, and relate to in one degree or another. The images are clear and recognizable.  Perhaps even the story itself has played out in an earthly fashion to some of you.

 

What we are to grasp by such a parable is its more spiritual, evangelical meaning and application.

 

For us, we are to see the loving, forbearing Father who is God. In this and the other parables mentioned, the thing that is lost has been formerly watched over or owned in some way…and it is misplaced.

 

So, we might see this parable as speaking to one who is a Christian who has gone astray. 

 

 

Who at first was of the family of Christ and has chosen to stray in some way for some time. And after some sort of gracious awakening has returned to the father who loves him.

 

Yet we can also see this as an image of all sinners who at some point return to their natural first Father.  We have all sinned and strayed like lost sheep.  Each has gone his own way.

 

And each Christian that has returned has been found and returned. This is why Christ received sinners and ate with them.

 

He came to seek the lost.  We all like sheep were at one time lost and have been found.

We were sought out even when we were unlovely and had squandered eternal life in the beginning.

The joy of being not only sought out, but accepted back is what we might think on from this parable this day.

 

We might then be pointed back to the Articles briefly here only to say that out of a grateful heart, our yes should be yes, and our no should be no. 

 

And that we be most abundantly gracious and sacrificial with all that we possess as He is gracious in seeking us out…sacrificing and dying for us.

 

Never failing to share what we have with those who are in need and remembering ….all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20, ESV)

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.