Double-Edged Sword
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My father was a sculptor. His medium of choice was wood. He was also one of the most patient men in the world. Anybody who asked for a lesson would immediately find themselves situated behind a fresh piece of wood, holding a chisel.

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Image © Jeff Preston from GoodSalt.com

The very first thing my father would tell everyone is, “Always cut away from yourself.” And everyone would smile, nod and think to themselves, “Well of course, everybody knows that.”

The lesson would begin and somewhere along the thirty minute mark, my father would be carefully bandaging his newest student’s hand because they had forgotten the first rule of sculpting – “Always cut away from yourself.”

I wish I could say that, since I heard the rule so often, that I learned the lesson best … Sadly, no. I can’t count how many times the sharpened piece of metal I am using to cut something has turned itself on me – even when I could swear I have been cutting away from myself. It’s almost like the tool I’m using has two sharp edges, one facing toward me as well as the one facing away.

That makes me think of something I was just reading in the first and second chapters of the book of Amos. Through the prophet Amos, God told the Israelites that He was going to punish all the “heathen” nations that surrounded Israel and Judah – Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. I can imagine the Israelites cheering because these people whom they had been fighting for centuries were finally going to “get what they deserved!”

Have you ever felt that way – glad when someone who was doing bad things finally got caught and punished? Especially if some of those bad things have been directed at you? But even when it’s not about us, most of us hate to see someone or something (like an animal) victimized. The news is full of stories that cause us to become angry and demand justice. We want the bully to get his comeuppance and we’re glad when we see it happens.

But there’s a problem with that whole, “yeah, they got what they deserved” attitude. If we keep reading in Amos, when we get to Amos 2:4, the knife of justice turns back toward the Jews themselves.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not relent. Because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed, I will send fire on Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.’

“This is what the Lord says: ‘For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.’” Amos 2:4-8

Oh, bummer. Can you imagine? Here the Israelites are feeling all superior because God was taking care of their enemies, but then He lets them know that they’re in trouble too.

Those other nations were condemned, it seems, for committing atrocities in war. Terrible? Yes. But Judah and Israel were guilty because they seemed to be using their status as God’s people to take advantage of people who couldn’t defend themselves.

“Hear this word, people of Israel, the word the Lord has spoken against you—against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: ‘You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.’” Amos 3:1-2

In the parable of the wise and foolish servants Jesus taught that “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:38) I think that applies to “great privilege,” don’t you?

God gave the children of Israel privilege and power as His chosen people. Their role was to point the people who saw them to the One True God and to portray Him accurately. They didn’t do that, in fact, the Jewish nation repeatedly rejected God altogether while still claiming the privilege. They subjugated their own poor and defenseless and rejected any who could not increase the nation’s worldly status.

Are we, as Christians, able to stand up to the same scrutiny that God gave to the Jewish nation? How are we using our great privilege? Are we carrying God’s message of love and redemption to the people who need it most?

Yes, we send missionaries to all parts of the world to share the gospel, but are we doing anything for the people nearest us who also need to be touched by the grace of God?

Mark Buchanan, author of “Messy, Costly, Dirty Ministry” describes an evening that changed his perspective.

“The Tuesday night prayer meeting at Brooklyn Tabernacle felt like skydiving into a tornado, exhausting and exhilarating all at once. I’d read about the meeting in Pastor Jim Cymbala’s book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, but nothing prepared me for the event itself: 3,500 God-hungry people storming heaven for two hours.

“Afterward, my friend and I went out to dinner with the Cymbalas. In the course of the meal, Jim turned to me and said, ‘Mark, do you know what the number one sin of the church in America is?’ I wasn’t sure, and the question was rhetorical anyhow. ‘It’s not the plague of internet pornography that is consuming our men. It’s not that the divorce rate in the church is roughly the same as society at large.’

“Jim named two or three other candidates for the worst sin, all of which he dismissed. ‘The number one sin of the church in America,’ he said, ‘is that its pastors and leaders are not on their knees crying out to God, “Bring us the drug-addicted, bring us the prostitutes, bring us the destitute, bring us the gang leaders, bring us those with AIDS, bring us the people nobody else wants, whom only you can heal, and let us love them in your name until they are whole.”’

“I had no response. I was undone. He had laid me bare, found me out, and exposed my fraudulence. I was the chief of sinners. I had never prayed, not once, for God to bring such people to my church. So I went home and repented. I stopped sinning. I began to cry out for ‘those nobody wants.’”1

When we see the bullies of the world, whether they are individuals or nations, we cry out for justice. But we have to remember that God’s justice cuts both ways. We who have been privileged to be called His children, have a huge responsibility to bring God’s love to as many people as possible. How many of us have prayed that our church will be filled with the unchurched?

“Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.” Matthew 22:8-10

  1. Mark Buchanan, “Messy, Costly, Dirty Ministry,” Leadershipjournal.net (5-15-09)
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Double-Edged Sword — 8 Comments

  1. My prayer is that The Lord will teach us to pray and be living examples of His love and mercy to each other.

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  2. Strong and needed point. If we let the people in; our church will be filled with the unchurched. That is a challenge for us all. Everything will be different.
    Strife on meaningless things will end, and there will be a situation of confrontation with real issues.
    What can we do to advance that "opening" ? Some sugesstions ?

    The servants went out on the streets and rounded up:
    " everyone they laid eyes on " !

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    • Good stuff coming out from the banquet story,look at this,the master sent his servants just to invite,when the guests came he took upon himself to approve the garment,we too, we are not to base out duty on the garment of others, let them come the way they are....And allow the master to do the interlogation over the garment.

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    • Goran, to answer your question I would say that Jesus gave the answer by both precept and example. Philippians 2 tells us He came as a Servant. Throughout scripture we see promises to the "servants of the Lord".

      In Matthew 25 we have the formula that Jesus demonstrated, given in proper order. In this chapter we are shown how to "watch" until Jesus returns.
      Notice how it is those who serve who are placed at His right hand. They can only truly serve if filled with the Oil that gives Light to the otherwise dark and empty lamp.

      We have been told that if we have the truth, God will send those looking for truth to us. I think in Matthew 25 we are shown that the truth must fully possess us, or it is a farce.

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  3. Lillianne, your article reminds me so much of what Paul told the Jews in Romans 2 after he lowered the boom on the Gentiles:

    Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
    2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.
    3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
    4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
    5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
    6 who "will render to each one according to his deeds":
    7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
    8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness-- indignation and wrath,
    9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek;
    10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
    11 For there is no partiality with God. (Rom. 2:1-11 NKJV)

    As for the bully, many of them are dealing with issues in their lives which we are unaware of that find expression in what they do. I think what we need is less condemnation and judgment in our thinking and more pity and mercy as Micah tells us (Mic 6:8). As it was in the times of Jesus when they hung Him on the cross He could only pray, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Lk. 23:34 NKJV).

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  4. It's really wonderful to know that the teachings of the Lord is really focus on loving and caring for everyone no matter who and what kind of a person he/she is. We are always encourage to share and care for those individuals who are not yet members of the church.

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  5. There is Hope

    Thank you for illustrating the message of Amos with a chisel cutting both ways, reminding us of Scripture piercing our conscience and convicting us of sin for repentance (Hebrews 4:12). Yes, Amos is directing this instrument against the surrounding nations (see also Psalm 83:5-8) as well as on Judah and Israel (Amos 2:4.6). The prophet is rejecting a cock-sureness of election on the basis of living in continual transgression turning election into a cloak for sin to be punished with judgement (Amos 3:1-2).

    This catastrophical event is compared with a shepherd proving the total loss of a sheep to its owner by producing two legs or a piece of an ear (Amos 3:12; Genesis 31:39). The message is aiming at awakening them from false security, preparing them to meet their God (Amos 4:12).

    Then the way will be open for rebuilding the fallen tabernacle of David in Revival and Reformation in the context of Pentecost with the early and the latter rain of the Holy Spirit (Amos 9:11; Acts 15:15-17). Then the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2). Then all kinds of sinners will come in to be healed of all wounds sin has inflicted. Then the church will be a place of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7). There is hope inmidst of that radical message of judgement preached by the prophet Amos.

    Winfried Stolpmann

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  6. Robert, thanks for answering. Both ideas of senssles good and opening were well recieved in my sabbath class.

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