Monday, June 11, 2018

The Aphorisms of Jesus

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” (Luke 6:30).

Early in my ministry, I served a community with many people suffering from mental health issues. Seeking to apply the principles of the Sermon on the Mount. I did a lot of things that overextended me, including giving away lots of money that I really didn't have to give away.

From this incident, I began to see that applying Jesus’ statements literally could be very problematic. If people find out you’ll give people anything they ask of you, soon you won’t have anything left! I found help in the Didache, a book dating from the second century, written by the church fathers. Speaking of charity, these wise men said to let your alms sweat in your palms until you see where your gift is going (Didache 1:6).

Scholars call these short, pithy statements of Jesus “aphorisms.” In them, Jesus sets down for us very weighty principles in universal terms. I learned that it is important, as a method of interpretation, to take Jesus’ aphorisms in the context of the whole of Scripture and in the context of the whole of Jesus’ teaching. In other words, we are not to take these proverbial sayings out of their biblical context.

For instance, when Jesus says, “You may ask for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14), we are not to understand that God is at our beck and call. We have to take this aphorism in the context of the whole biblical teaching on prayer. In John 14, Jesus is speaking about our attitudes more than about our actions.

Just so, Luke 6:30 is speaking of our attitude. We are to have an open-handed attitude toward the needy, but at the same time, we are to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” in our actions toward the needy. Jesus Himself sums it up for us in the next verse: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

Faith comes before works, although they go hand in hand in practice. This means that it is our attitudes that need adjusting more than our actions because our actions flow from our attitudes. Do an attitude-check right now. Read Luke 6:27–38, and open the attitudes of your heart before the searing light of Jesus’ holy aphorisms.