December 4, 2020

Texts that Should Be Taught (NT)

I was thinking the other day, “What texts would I turn to if I as a preacher, teacher, or writer wanted to infuse some needed emphases into today’s churches?”

Here’s a few that I came up with (not exhaustive, of course, but suggestive of some key themes):

  • James 1:27. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
  • 1Thessalonians 4:11-12. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
  • Luke 6:20-26. And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.
  • Luke 14:12-14. And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
  • Philippians 1:29. “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”
  • 2Corinthians 4:7-12. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.


  1. But how can we market Christianity as the feel-good religious option for prosperous middle-to-upper-class Americans if pastors go around preaching depressing scriptures like these? It’s just not good for our primary mission to keep those pews and offering plates full.
    Get with the program, Mike, and come onboard for the BIG WIN.

    • I catch your satire, slug, but that is a fairly valid question. These scripture passages are not exactly the most palatable to the upper-middle-class audience that a lot of megachurches cater to. These are very difficult passages to wrestle with for a demographic accustomed to prosperity and accustomed to the church affirming their prosperity.

      Jesus didn’t seem to be afraid of losing followers when his teaching didn’t suit their tastes (John 6:60-67), so to what extent should we try to hang on to followers when Jesus-centered Christianity doesn’t jive with American folk Christianity or the “feel-good” religion they expect to hear? Is there a way to convince these people that Jesus’ call to humility is not impossible and they shouldn’t be too scared off by these teachings?

      • I am convinced that the message of Scripture and the job of a preacher is to challenge us in our complacency. If we never do that we are not teaching what God would have us teach. I am convinced we should do this with gentleness and not with an argumentative attitude (2 Timothy 2:24-26). But Jesus seemed to have accepted the idea that there would be those who would walk no more with Him because of His hard sayings (John 6:66). Perhaps we need to be too.

        • I completely agree with you. Complacency is a shortcut to spiritual death, and a pastor is called to help keep us alive. But there’s definitely a point of going too far and saying, “This is how it is; get over it or get out,” which can cause people to give up rather than trust that with God’s grace, they’ll get to a point eventually where they can accept such difficult teachings. I think we need a balance between not being afraid to lose followers and not driving people away. It’s a very hard balance to maneuver, of course. But I’m interested to see pastors who preach these difficult Scriptures truthfully and gently. There seems to be a shortage of people able to be speak both truth and love; or at least, I haven’t been around many of them.

          • I would agree it is a difficult balance and one hard to attain and there are dangers on both sides. But I am a strong believer in the idea that, while we need to approach the subject carefully, we ultimately need to follow God’s truth wherever it leads.

    • When will we admit that Christ was a massive failure by human and earthly standards? He was a poor, uneducated working class man from a nothing family, never even normal enough to find a wife and start and family, who wandered around like some smelly hippy ticking off everyone important. He hung around with hookers and crooks and didn’t even have a home of his own. He wasn’t even good looking or buff, and he had a bad temper. Since he didn’t know when to shut up around authority, even though he was warned, he was whipped like a dog and dying while being publically humilitated.

      Now, let’ s go sell THAT as prosperity gospel.

      OR~~~realize that His Kingdom is NOT of this world, His ways are not our ways, and everything that we “know” and “respect” is the antithesis of what Jesus came to tell us His Father cares about.

      • True enough.
        But since the early fourth century, the church has been a little confused as to whether she is to be an agent of spiritual transformation in a fallen world or an expanding empire of religious, cultural, and political conquest seeking dominion over this fallen world.
        And when the church starts lining itself up behind cultural idols — be it the American Dream of today or the Roman Dream of Constantine’s era —she stops lining up behind Christ.
        Whether we like it or not, we can’t really travel two diverging roads at the same time. Sooner or later, there will have to be a parting of ways.

  2. another good one for the list is the classic Micah 6:8.

  3. Lot’s of law in there.

    Personally, I would place the emphasis on the gospel (using the law to kill off any self-righteousness).

    And let the Spirit do as He wills.

    • Steve, I’m not sure I would preach them as law, but as characteristics of the new life that grows out of the Gospel. The themes of true religion through loving the least of these, vocation, having a different perspective on the “winners” and “losers” in the world, practicing radical hospitality, the theology of the cross and suffering, and dying to self that others might live all grow out of Jesus and the Gospel, not the Law.

  4. Steve Newell says

    I would add Eph 2:1-10 since we don’t want to admit that we are all dead in our sins towards God and that there is 100% God is gives us life. Even our ability to have faith is a gift of God. We have both Law & Gospel in one passage.

    And our good works are from God as well, so we contribute a big zero to God.

  5. Being fairly new to a lectionary tradition myself, I’m not quite to where I think I could do it with integrity, but I’d like to do a series sometime (maybe a Bible study or something) on the texts that don’t show up in the lectionary….it’s telling to see what we leave out.

    That being said, lectionary preaching is a good discipline for me, because I wouldn’t naturally gravitate to some of these passages, and I wouldn’t try to find the links between some of them for sure! (Last week was a prime example if you follow the 1979 Episcopal lectionary.)

  6. “His yoke is easy and His burden is light.”

    God forbid that anyone should be able to relax in Christ.

  7. I think all of the above are beautiful passages. Just one thought- in regards to the verses from the beatitudes…the poor in spirit- it is a spiritual poverty…at least as I’ve always understood it. We recognize we don’t have anything good to offer God and we see our need for Christ. It’s not talking about simply being poor as in not having material wealth.
    I absolutely know God cares for the poor (both in spirit and those lacking in material wealth) and I know the church is called to do the same, but at times I think as an extreme reaction to Joel Osteenish teaching people act like your righteous in God’s eyes simply for not having money- and that is an equally fallacious idea on level with the “your best life now business.” I don’t think that was the intention of posting these verses whatsoever, I’m not trying to criticize! But God can save, love, and redeem “upper” class people too (just meaning people who have material wealth)- and He can change there hearts and allow them to use their money in a way that glorifies Him.

  8. These are all great scriptures. At the top of my list is Ephesians 4:1-6 which is an encouragement to to live according to our heavenly calling. Verses two and three read:

    “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

    Seems we too often forget the “Make every effort.”

  9. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion”.

    All of those law verses just put the onus and focus back onto us. I live in Southern California and Christian radio here is dominated by this ‘how to’, ‘get busy’, ‘try a little harder’ Christianism.

    I thank God that when we hear the law in our Lutheran congregation it is to kill us off…and not to throw gasoline on the fire (of self).

    Repentance and forgiveness. That is a picture of the Christian life. And then, freedom.

    Freedom to do for the neighbor. Or not.

  10. Mike, it’s so much more than that.

    God calls us to be perfect.

    We must love God with all everything that we have, and or neighbor as ourself.

    How’s that going for you?

  11. The inability of Christians to differentiate between law and gospel is one of the biggest problems in our churches.

    The law exposes us and drives us to Christ. It’s not to make us better. St. Paul says so in the New Testament.

    The law (what we do) “is the ministry of death”. When the law came in, sin increased.

    There is a fine line between Christian encouragement (in freedom) and law preaching that we should, ought or must be doing something (anything) to improve in the eyes of God.

    We help our neighbors because they need help. Not because we are ‘told’ to do so. If we did it out of obligation then it is not love, but out of self interest and then it is a filty rag. Doesn’t the Bible tell us that “all our righteous deeds are as filty rags”? I think it does.

    • Steve, I hear what you are saying, and I appreciate the law/gospel distinction. But I think your presentation of it here is too simplistic and does not reflect the richness of the Gospel. The Augsburg Confession speaks of the “new obedience” that grows out of the Gospel, organically, from the new life and Spirit that God has placed in our hearts under the New Covenant. God has already prepared good works in which we may walk (Eph 2:10). We do these good works, not to be justified, but as free participation in the new life Christ has granted us. Yes, we do them imperfectly and need continual renewal through Word and Table. But as Christians, we are no longer under the bondage of the Law. We walk in the light, and “if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1Jn 1:7)

  12. Mitchell Hammonds says

    I’m amazed at how many people are so sure of their motives toward “pure obedience.” We all produce good works [if you have a family and provide for them it’s a good work. But it doesn’t do anything toward ones holiness before God. That is given as a gift]. The Christian life is lived in Romans 6,7, and 8. Give some comfort that Christ is going to actually do what He said he would. We all live in moments of true sincere gospel motivation and other moments where we simply live life according to what the “self’ wants. Any denial of this reality is an unbiblical view of the life of the Christian. And furthermore, you do nothing but add despair upon grief.
    I find that most versions of what the “Good News” actually is… well… there isn’t much good news in it.
    All who are weary in the fight to believe… be of good cheer! Christ has overcome the world… because we have all failed!

  13. Chaplain Mike,

    The New Obedience does not need to be taught. That’s part of that “3rd use” mentality.

    The law is written on our hearts. We already know what to do. We just flat out refuse to do it so much of the time. And when we do do it, our motives are shot to hell if we are doing it because such and such a text is telling us to do it.

    Lutherans don’t teach the text. We pull the gospel out of the text and preach that.

    • Steve, I know we’ve had conversation on this in the past, and will continue to do so. Because if the new obedience does not need to be taught, then Paul was a law-teaching apostle and we can just ignore the second half of every epistle in the NT — a proposition I find ridiculous.

      I think what is important is HOW the new obedience is taught. One must stress the Christian’s freedom to participate in the life of the Kingdom through Christ. Not the Christian’s obligation to obey the rules of Christ.

      As Paul said, “Let me explain it like this. Through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with the Messiah. I am, however, alive — but it isn’t me any longer; it’s the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, Kingdom NT).

  14. Encouragement in our freedom is a good thing. Teaching specific texts is not.

    St. Paul also said “Christ is the end of the law for all those who have faith.”

    They even asked Jesus “what is it to be doing the works of the Father?.”

    And our Lord said, “to believe in the one whom the Father has sent.”

    Some Lutherans use the law (3rd use), but many of us do not buy it. It let’s the fox back into the hen house.

    • Steve, I admire your tenacity in holding to your theological system. I also agree with a great deal of what you say. In my view though, the Bible is not so neat or cut and dried as simply either/or, Law/Gospel. While maintaining that distinction is crucial, one must allow the richness of the Biblical text to speak. After all, one of Lutheranism’s main contributions to the Church is reminding us that we must honor Word over system, text over tradition.

      But please don’t miss the fact that I think what you are saying is also absolutely essential for the church to hear today. The church is overwhelmed by rules-based teaching, moralism, and tradition, and though I think you overstate your case in the other direction, I would stand with you all day long.

      • Thanks, Mike.

        Us Fordeian Lutherans believe that when it comes to the pure gospel, it’s either all…or nothing.

        That is why we do not want to let one drop of poison into the glass of pure water.

        Off to hear it, receive it, yet once again. The pure, sweet gospel.

  15. Chaplain Mike,

    Thank you so much for including the passage from Thessalonians!

    When I first read this passage as a teenager, I was amazed nobody had ever covered it or mentioned it before. Besides you, to my knowledge nobody else has. I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed it. I have to go back and reread it sometimes, because sometimes I’m not sure it’s still there!

    • Ben ~ I agree. The Thessalonians passage takes a lot of pressure off. I damaged my health as I thought I had to “save the world.” Worked like crazy thinking I was “doing the Lord’s work.” When I “really “read this passage I was amazed – make it my ambition to live a quiet life??? I live in an area where there are Amish communities and of course these people live this out. Now, thank God, I can rest and understand that I am not the savior. It is part of what has taken me away from a mega-church into a Lutheran Church. Totally different Christian community with humility and love quietly lived out.

      Thanks Chaplain Mike for another outstanding post.

  16. Kelby Carlson says

    I would agree with Steve in that, insofar as we preach these texts, we must also preach Christ crucified, resurrected and ascended, victorious over death and the devil if we are to have any hope of following the advice the Apostles give us. For it is only by the grace of Christ, the love of the Father and the gift of the Holy Spirit that I can walk in the good works God has prepared for me. So yes, we do need to preach these texts, but these texts are not enough–telling me to “just go do it” will, as Steve said, only lead to despair.

  17. Jack Heron says

    I’d personally go for 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For we see now as through a glass, darkly”. In other words, “stuff in this world is really very unclear”.

  18. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus in Mt 22:37-39

    This is touched on above but I think it needs specifying. In my view, if this was all that you ended up with out of the whole Bible, it would take you home. I regard it as an umbrella under which all the other texts quoted above shelter. If you dig deep enough into Paul you come to the same foundation.

    And the handle of that umbrella is “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”, Jesus in Luke 6:46. Of course there is a special exemption to that for Lutherans lest they endanger their salvation thru works, as Steve Martin Luther reminds us from time to time. Altho in my experience that mostly applies to the Show Me Lutherans and the Cheese Heads rather than the Mainstreamers. My two favorite churches from my past are an ELCA Lutheran followed closely by a Foursquare. Both showed me those commandments in action. Neither one bashed you with doctrine.

    In fact if God showed up at my door saying, “Saddle up, Cowpoke, and pick out the church to attend until I tell you different,” it probably would be the closest Mainstream Lutheran altho the little United Methodist down the road possibly could edge them out. I will give the Ethnic Lutherans this, they once showed me what it feels like to be refused communion and that has to be experienced to be believed.