Jesus was fond of speaking in parables. A parable is a made-up story to illustrate a poignant truth.
Here’s one of His lesser known ones: “Jesus said, ‘I will tell you a story about a man who had two sons. Then you can tell me what you think. The father went to the older son and said, ‘Go work in the vineyard today!’ His son told him that he would not do it, but later he changed his mind and went.
“The man then told his younger son to go work in the vineyard. The boy said he would, but he didn’t go. Which one of the sons obeyed his father?’ ‘The older one,’ the chief priests and leaders answered.
“Then Jesus told them, ‘You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will! When John the Baptist showed you how to do right, you would not believe him. But these evil people did believe. And even when you saw what they did, you still would not change your minds and believe.’” (Matthew 21:28–32, CEV).
There is a great footnote on verse 30, the younger son who said he would go but didn’t, in the Life Application Bible. It reads, “The son who said he would obey and then didn’t represented the nation of Israel in Jesus’ day. They said they wanted to do God’s will, but consistently disobeyed.
“They were phony, just going through the motions. It is dangerous to pretend to obey God when our hearts and far from him because God knows our true intentions. Our actions must match our words” (“The Life Application Bible,” Tyndale House & Zondervan Publishers, 1986).
Things haven’t changed much. I find this same attitude in the church today. We have made it a specialty to take the words of God and twist them to our benefit allowing us loopholes in obeying the will of God.
I love theology, the study of God. I have a doctorate of philosophy degree in theology. I believe that proper thinking leads to proper living. Where theology becomes a problem is when we use it to create our tests of acceptance and use it as a mace against those we disagree with rather than a mirror to judge our own conditions.
We see this played out by the way in Revelation 2:1-7 where the Head of the Church, Jesus, evaluates His church at Ephesus. He points out that they are doctrinally pure, and that’s a good thing, but He goes on to point out that in their doctrinal purity they lost their heart.
They lost their love for Him and they lost their love for people. They were so focused on being right that they failed to realize their primary call was to make people right.
It is a small difference that can lead to a big fall. In this passage in Revelation, Jesus says to them and to us, “if you don’t correct this, you are going to lose your testimony; you’re going to lose your influence and your witness will be worthless.” (See Revelation 2:4-5).
Christians love loopholes. All through history we have used Bible verses taken out of context to support slavery, to justify prejudice, to pervert justice and to support political causes on both sides of the fence. We’ve used it to justify hate instead of following the clear teachings of Jesus to love others as He loved us (see John 13:34-35.)
In fact, after I preached on that passage one time, I was invited to lunch by a Christian man who proceeded to tell me that if I persisted in insisting that the mark of the Christian was love, I would mislead a whole generation of people.
We seem to struggle so much with the clear teachings of Jesus; we’d much rather cloud it over so we can create our own loophole version of Christianity. When you use a loophole, you may be technically correct, that’s why we like our loopholes so much.
It is so much easier for us to pick and choose what is easiest and more convenient for us, than it is to face the high demands of following Jesus.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.