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The age of the Scriptures alone might make us wonder about the relevancy of these texts, some as remote asthousands of years. Then there’s the cultural difference. Though Edgefield can be called an agricultural community, that label is a far cry from what those words meant to Moses, Boaz, or David or even to the farmers and shepherds of Jesus’ day. No doubt, the technological problems and benefits of our times would look strange to them–perhaps as curious as the animal sacrifices of the Mosaic Law to us. We know that the Bible is God’s Word, but if his Book isn’t relevant, the very relevance of God could be questioned. These are significant issues we should think about. Is the Bible practical even for us?
The first thing that comes to mind with respect to such practicality is the permanent, changeless fact of human relationships. We live with other people as surely as did the Patriarchs and Jesus’ disciples. Some human dealings are smooth, some aren’t, always have been. We find this person a pleasure to be around, that one, not so much. Human beings still take each other to court and go to war. We fall in love, raise families, and grow from childhood through puberty and maturity to old age. Every human being dies. Each of these big issues is addressed as a matter of immediate concern in the Bible. But the small, common-sense word of advice for everyday living is in there too. Solomon says, for example,“Don’t visit your neighbors too often, or you will wear out your welcome” (Prov 25: 17 New Living Translation). Can you beat that, whether it’s 2022 the Year of Our Lord or 2022 BC?
And what about this teaching of Jesus: “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. By doing this you will show that you come from your Father who is in heaven; for he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, he sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t those despised tax collectors do as much? If you just greet your kin, what more are you doing than anybody else?” (Matt 5: 43-47a, my reading). Not easy!But who can lay on a charge of irrelevancy? Relationshipsgive rise to our biggest challenges, the most difficult to meet.
Notice this too: Jesus is talking about our even-handed God, demonstrating that he doesn’t play favorites. That is aconcept we cherish deeply as Americans, going back to the words of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence: “ . . . all men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s how God looks at us. We’re equal in his eyes.
Our national efforts to put these teachings of Jesus into practice are imperfect, it seems to me, but impressive. How many international friendships match the ones we have with our World War II enemies, Japan and Germany? Think of the sweeping economic and cultural alliances we’ve formed and the many practical benefits of forgetting the hostilities of that era. The fact that we were shooting at these people not too many decades ago isn’t even remembered. On a personal level, how many quarrels would be avoided if we put our hearts and souls into doing good to our adversaries? The problem is the difficulty, not irrelevancy.
And what about the difficulty of all that? We may be wondering how practical is any word of wisdom if walking it out simply can’t be done because it’s too difficult? We’d have to call such counsel theoretical, wouldn’t we? That word might sound nice, but if a teaching is too hard to put in practice, what do we have? Not much benefit! However, when it comes to the teachings of Jesus, we have to remember one point: He gives us the Holy Spirit. Peter exhorts that crowd,“Repent, all of you, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit! For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2: 38-39). With the Spirit as our Helper, even the difficult teachings of Jesus become doable. What could be more practical? Our God is named Emanuel, “God with us.”