Paul's Four Criteria of the 'Worshipping Unbeliever'
- Saturday, March 15, 2008
And He marveled because of their unbelief (Mark 6:6).
At the very end of Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth comes an arresting exhortation from the apostle’s pen: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). That seems a curious admonition to serve up to church members, don’t you think? Why would Paul urge those listening to the reading of his letter to examine themselves as to the matter of salvation? He even punctuates his exhortation further by saying, “Test yourselves.” Clearly, Paul intended that the people assembled as the Church in Corinth should put themselves to the test, by careful examination, in order to determine whether or not they truly belonged to Christ.
Any pastor who made a practice of doing that sort of thing today might just find himself looking for a new place to serve. These days, it is not considered politic to suggest that people might be, you know, lost. Especially not church members. Pastors are advised in all their sermons to be positive, upbeat, and encouraging. Stay away from anything that tends to indict, convict, or put people on the spot. But as is clear from the ministry of the apostle Paul, as well as the experience of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is altogether possible that some, perhaps many, of those who attend our churches today do not, in fact, belong to Jesus. Rather, they are living in unbelief at the same time they persuade themselves, and would have others believe, that all is well between them and God.
But how can we know who falls into the ranks of what we might call “worshiping unbelievers”? What “test” might we apply to discern the presence of unbelief in those assembled for worship in our churches? The story of Jesus’ experience in His own home town of Nazareth, recorded in Mark 6 and Luke 4, provides some guidelines to discerning the shape of unbelief that we can apply in taking up Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians. We may discern four facets to the shape of unbelief from the people who worshiped in Jesus’ congregation in Nazareth.
THE “WORSHIPING UNBELIEVERS”
First, though, let’s have a look at the “worshiping unbelievers” who were present when Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth. They look pretty much like church people we might see today. There they are, all dressed up in their Sabbath best, politely seated in their pews, quietly listening to the preacher and even approving His words. Luke tells us that, as He was preaching, they marveled at His sermon, and even spoke well of Him to one another. We might even detect a note of hometown pride in these ordinary folks’ query, “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and Joseph?” Local boy makes good and all that.
But when Jesus came to the application section of His sermon, their view of Him changed dramatically. They who had listened so approvingly and spoken so laudably, suddenly became furious, and they grabbed Jesus and led Him out to the brow of the hill, where they intended to throw Him down to His death. For His part, Jesus simply “marveled because of their unbelief,” and quietly slipped away.
What we might have seen as fickle worshipers, Jesus regarded as worshiping unbelievers. What can we see in the behavior of these people to test and examine ourselves?
QUESTIONING THE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST
The first indication of unbelief in these people is that they questioned the power and authority of Jesus: “Where did this Man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands?” This was the carpenter who had repaired their gates and doors, built them a table or cradle, or fixed a broken axle on their cart. No doubt they liked Jesus and appreciated His work for them in the past; and, as we have seen, they busted a little pride to see what a fine speaker He’d somehow become.
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