Conservative Fox TV commentator and rabble rouser Glenn Beck and liberal rabble rouser and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis recently faced off in a theological boxing match. Beck threw a right hook saying “social justice” and “economic justice” are code words for liberal wealth redistribution and that they are not biblical ideas. Wallis responded with a left undercut claiming social justice is core to Scripture and said Beck was “strange” or greedy.
It’s not a heavyweight bout, according to Peter Wehner. “Neither man will be mistaken for [theologian] Reinhold Niebuhr,” Wehner wrote. Now in the late rounds both men continue to throw punches but not land many.
It’s too bad though, because justice is a heavyweight issue, one that God seems very concerned about.
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Philippians 1:1-26: Some scholars consider Philippians a support thank you letter. The church in Philippi was close to Paul and supported him. He is now in prison and wants to reassure them their ministry to and through him was not in vain. “I will continue to rejoice for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus . . . Christ will be exalted in my body.”
Imagine how those friends of Paul mourned when he was eventually martyred. Imagine too how they rejoiced when they were reunited after death and they saw and heard how their care and friendship made an eternal difference. Today God uses your prayers, financial support, and love for friends in difficult callings and ministries. Be encouraged. Your “partnership in the gospel” is making an eternal difference too.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Wallis and Beck: who wins the bout? Both and neither.
Speaking through Isaiah God tells us, “Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.” Fasting is a valuable spiritual discipline that, with each hunger pain, reminds us of our need for God’s sustenance. But in this passage it can also be a more general symbol of an empty spiritual belief that produces little or no true reliance on God or caring for one another.
The religious people in Isaiah’s day knew the right practices (worship, prayer, fasting, ritual cleanliness) a person who loved God and his neighbor was supposed to engage in. Too often, however, these practices were devoid of faith in action. And just like today they failed to grasp the heart of the issue.
“Is this not the kind of fasting I [God] have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?”
See! Social justice, Jim Wallis may claim. And it’s true. God wants our faith to translate into social justice for the poor and homeless and hungry. God has chosen to provide for the needs of others through us.
But what about breaking the yoke and freeing the oppressed? Beck might ask. True again. overdependence, the yoke, is the first step toward bondage and oppression whether that overdependence is fostered by family members, religious rules, the workplace, or governments. God wants no false provider–idol–or false provision to bind us and come between us and our True Provider.
What’s more, might it work this way? What if in sharing my food with the hungry, shelter with the homeless, and clothes with naked, I depend less on my own wealth and ability? Instead I must turn to God to provide what I gave away. I am fasting from my abundance and as I pour myself out, I am filled with faith.
So too the needy (of which I am one, just in a different way). They turn to God for provision and God’s provision comes without expectation of repayment through me–or you. Their fasting, their hunger, is filled and produces faith.
“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say,
‘Here am I,’” saysGod to the hungry.
“And if you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed . . .
You will be like a well-watered garden
like a spring whose waters never fail,” God reminds the well fed.
We wish the world were black and white: Beck and Wallis. It’s not. But it’s not a forlorn, indistinct gray either. Fasting, giving, needing, praying in faith, whether expressed from the heights of God’s provision or the depths of our need is bright, colorful, alive. Faith, without which there is no making God smile, is what rich and poor, Beck and Wallis, me and you seem to need most. The good news is God has an endless supply of faith for us.
- Which passage spoke most to you?
- What did the four have in common?
- What spiritual practice fills you with the most faith?
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