Over the past several weeks we’ve been talking about the pattern of the church, the bride of Christ. We’ve noted that there is a pattern for the head of the church, a pattern for becoming a Christian and part of His church, a pattern for the organization of the church, and a pattern for worship. But there is also a pattern for the church’s behavior, the moral pattern by which its members “walk”. Let’s then take a brief look at the pattern of the church’s moral life.
Love the Lord
At the beginning of every synagogue service the Jewish congregation that gathers recites what is known as the “Shema” — Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”. It is sometimes considered to be the essential creed of Judaism, but it is more; it is an eternal principle and essential guide to morality in every age. But the love that is commanded here is more than merely a warm, sentimental feeling toward God. It is a love that demands something of us, obedience — John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” and 1 John 5:3 “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”
Another fundamental moral principle that one may see in both Old and New Testaments is “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (e.g., Lev. 11:45 and 1 Pet 1:16). But the problem for men often was not knowing how to go from the abstract commands and acts of God to the practical moral choices of daily life. In the spirit of “be holy, for I am holy”, Jesus became the Word — the Word made flesh that could be seen, touched, and heard (John 1:14 and 1 John 1:1-3) — and made this principle truly accessible. For example, part of Jesus’ Great Commission is that disciples be made. Disciples are students, learners, those that follow in the footsteps of Jesus — the ultimate pattern. We are, in fact, told (1 John 2:6) “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” Integral to discipleship is to see Jesus as “the pattern” — act like Him; speak like Him; and think like Him.
Be careful of your heart
Following Jesus will certainly include all the moral commands of the Bible, but sometimes as humans, it becomes easy for us to focus only on what we do with our bodies and words and discount what goes on in our hearts and minds. Jesus, however, tells us that we must also be careful of what our thoughts dwell on. The moral teachings of Matthew 5:21-48 emphasize not only the external deeds, but thoughts of the heart like lust, hate, and covetousness. Jesus, in Luke 6:45, warns us that what thoughts we harbor in our hearts will eventually come out. And Paul tells us that transformation springs from the “renewal of the mind” (Romans 12:2).
And more specifically…
There are other principles to this pattern of moral behavior, too — things we are specifically told not to do. Clear lists of things that we are specifically told to avoid can be found in places like Galatians 5:19-22, Romans 1:18-30, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 John 2:15-17. They would include commands against lying, stealing, murdering, the many forms of sexual sin, disobedience to God-appointed authority, idolatry, witchcraft, gossip, greed, divisiveness, drunkenness, and much more. They are deeds that, given our modern society’s persistent denial of sin as sin, we’d all do well to review from time to time, just as a reminder of what really is sinful and what is not.
And more positively…
But avoiding sinful behavior is not the sum total of morality. I mention this, because it is common for modern people to define morality by what they don’t do — “I’m a good person; I don’t steal or beat my wife, or do drugs.” For the sake of those who define their morality this way, it is important to point out that Jesus’ perfection was not merely “avoiding wrong”; it was much more about doing good and “fulfilling all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). The New Testament, therefore, is filled with many, many encouragements to be involved in good deeds (e.g., Titus 2:14; 3:1; 3:8; 3:14), including lists of things that we should engaged in both as individuals and as churches. They include passages like Galatians 5:23-24, Ephesians 4:17—5:21, and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
In the form of…
So, God has given us a pattern for morality. It comes 1) in the form of commands (e.g., Matthew 28:20), 2) in Jesus’ example (see above), and even 3) in the righteous examples of Christian living we find within the church (e.g., Philippians 3:17 “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”).
There have always been some doubts and misunderstandings about moral living down through the centuries, and our own age is no different — sometimes even among Christians. But there’s no need for confusion. The principles are clear; the commands are plain; our example in Jesus makes application unmistakable; and the pattern does not vary because of calendars, changing social norms, or new philosophies.
Are you following the pattern?