FROM THE 'DEEP' END: Jesus' message wasn't complicated and shouldn't be today
Mark Twain once said, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
Even though I’m a pastor I can kind of relate to Twain’s sentiment. It’s not that what the Bible says that bothers me, it’s more that the parts of the Bible that should be simple to understand can be made complicated fairly easily.
When I speak to people about Jesus, I try to keep it simple and relatable and that makes me open for criticism for being shallow. Why don’t I ever go “deeper” into scripture and break things down to a more theological perspective? Well, I’ve studied the Bible for decades and I am always trying to deepen my understanding of it, but the truth is I still have a hard time comprehending the simple truths, like “love your enemies” or “sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.” It doesn’t matter if I break that down into the original Greek translation, it’s still hard to live out.
A lot of times when people talk about being “deep” what they really mean is complicated. In fact, I think it’s been very easy for the church to take the simple truth of the gospel and turn it into something else. We’ve put the cart before the horse in order to avoid being simple. If you asked the average person what are the telltale signs of a good Christian, what would they say? Good scripture memorization? Perfect church attendance? Good rule following skills? It’s easy to get the idea that a good “Christian” is someone who knows a lot, not necessarily someone who loves a lot.
Compare that to what Jesus said in John 13:35:
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
That’s it? Love one another? How could it be so simple?
When Jesus said this, it flew in the face of the religious norms of the time. People knew who the most ardent followers of the Hebrew God were by their scholarly pursuits, their strict adherence to the law and their hierarchal place in the religious order. In fact, in Matthew 22 one of those religious higher ups tries to trip up Jesus and asks him what was the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus responded by saying:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest and commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If you weren’t a Christ follower and you asked God “What is the most important commandment, you might think it would be something like:
“Quit doing that!”
Instead, Jesus uses a relational term because the most important thing to God wasn’t obedience or knowledge, it was relational. This was a revolutionary idea to people at this time who knew God mostly through the lens of thousands of rules handed down from their religious leaders. Jesus came and simplified that message. He took the entire religious tradition up to that point and boiled it down to this: I love you. I want you to love me and love the people around you. God isn’t looking for an army of rule followers, He’s looking for a deep relationship with His people. He’s looking to us to love others in the same way that we love ourselves. That’s really what Christianity boils down to.
The message is simple to understand, but we tend to complicate it anyway by making it secondary to the church’s mission. The consequences are apparent. Most of the time when people leave the church or a church splits it’s not over theological differences, it’s over relational differences. God created us to be in community with him and with one another. When we don’t get that right, we miss the entire purpose of what the church was designed for and it doesn’t function properly.
Our mission as Christ followers has been laid out for us and it’s so simple to understand. We just have to keep the main thing the main thing. Just love God and love others as much as we love ourselves. It’s simple, but it’s deep.
Pastor Eric Partin is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Destin and can be reached at email@example.com.