what is your passion?

Here is my latest effort for Our Daily Journey (constructive feedback is always appreciated). I hope the opening paragraph doesn’t sound too critical. I’m just being honest, and I put myself in the same boat.

When asked what my seminary students are passionate about, I immediately ticked off a few issues of social justice—the plight of the poor, the rights of minorities, and ending slavery and sex trafficking. And then it struck me. While this is an impressive list, something seems to be missing. The Bible teaches us to seek justice for the oppressed, but its longest chapter is a meandering poem about itself.

Could I imagine my students—could I imagine myself—being as passionate about the Word of God as the Israelite who wrote Psalm 119? Do we “delight in your decrees” and rejoice “in your laws as much as in riches”? Are we “always overwhelmed with a desire for your regulations”? (v.20).

God’s laws may not tug on our hearts like the sad and weary eyes of the oppressed, but we must never forget that the primary reason we care is because God cares, and his Word instructs us to fight for them. “Seek justice. Help the oppressed,” urges Isaiah, “Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows” (1:17). James concurs:  “Pure and genuine religion…means caring for orphans and widows in their distress” (1:27).

Here’s one way to tell whether our right concern for social justice is replacing our passion for God’s Word. When we read something in Scripture that seems to oppose the rights of the oppressed, do we brush off the passage and explain it away, or do we submit to it as God’s best for this group? For example, do we believe God when he declares that homosexual practice is sin (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9), or do we look for a rationale to accept this behavior?

The best way to love people is to love God’s Word. Make Scripture your primary passion, then do what it says. You’ll help a lot of people.

11 Comments

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  1. “Longest chapter” is anachronistic and a vague way to establish the priority of one thing in Scripture over another. Besides, I’m pretty sure Jesus said something to the Pharisees about this somewhere…

    OR, we could replace the word “Scripture” with the phrase “Word of God” and with a wave of the equivocation wand mean that we are talking about Jesus. So, sure, a passion for Jesus is primary.

    Yet, Psalm 119 is in the Old Testament and we are no longer under the law but under grace!

    Okay, the first sentence was serious, the rest you can ignore.

  2. Mike,

    I appreciate the thrust of your piece, but are you unwittingly creating an unneccesary case of either/or? The fact that your students are passionate about the full scope of redemption may not indicate a lack of passion for the Word, it may simply be an indication of your success in teaching the full scope of redemption in contrast to previous reductionisms still evident even the give and take in the blogsphere between Moore and DeYoung of late.

  3. good devotional!

    I recently attended Catalyst, a young church leaders conference, and was dismayed at the over emphasis of social justice at the expense of the gospel. While there was a large provocation of these young leaders to give up everything to either support or join various social justice efforts, there was little to no provocation to give up everything for the sake of the gospel—for the sake of the proclamation of Jesus life, death, resurrection, exaltation and second coming, and provocation of people to repent, believe, and be baptized.

    I’ve come to call this phenomenon the “social justice-ization” of the mission of the Church, and it’s something that’s been going on for some time, one that I fear will have lasting implications for my generation in the Church…

    PS—I wrote about it here: http://www.novuslumen.net/the-social-justice-ization-of-the-churchs-mission-a-post-catalyst-reflection

  4. Jack, I read Mike’s post as a test to make sure that we have a both/and passion for the Bible and good works. A genuine passion for God’s Word must lead to a genuine passion to help others since God’s Word instructs this. Loving the Word of God first is the way to ensure that we have both. I think the test that Mike offered is helpful for people to check if they have a both/and view, or if what they really have is primarily a passion for the trendy social issues of the day.

  5. I hope Nate is correct. I had the exact same thought as dad, only with less diplomatic rhetoric. Otherwise I would kindly ask that you not give God’s people more justification for not caring about God’s people.

  6. Jack and Seth:

    I am not sure I follow you. My point is that I have observed that on certain social issues, some Christians aren’t concerned too much about what the Bible says. They take their cues from the culture. They already know what the right answer is, and they won’t let Scripture get in their way. So rather than follow this either/or thinking, I’m arguing for both/and. We must love God (and His Word) and His people. I don’t see how you can think that I’m giving people justification to not care about people, as I’m clearly arguing for the opposite. At least I thought it was clear–this is why it’s helpful to receive feedback before I turn it in.

  7. Mike,

    Thanks for the clarification. As I reread your article I realize I was focused more on the first portion than on the end. When I think in terms of justice issues my thoughts predominantly go to the majority world and the challenge facing believers in the West to respond appropriately. Your article took a different turn when you used homosexual practice as an example of a conflict between the Word and cultural cues. Since I have little contact with most of your students, with the exception of Seth, I cannot read into your comments what type of social concerns they may be dwelling upon.

  8. Jonathan Shelley October 13, 2011 — 9:33 am

    Mike,

    You can’t blame a politician, even one in recovery, for not seeing the obvious! (Just kidding Jack. Thanks for being such a great target for cheap shots.)

  9. Jonathan,

    Good to see you respond. Someday we will need to meet and compare notes. I hope that neither I or Seth were attempting to take cheap shots. I greatly appreciate Mike’s contribution in both teaching and writing. I just thought he was somehow failing to give himself credit for properly challenging his students to embrace the full scope of redemption.

  10. Jack – when it comes to cheap shots, you are always on the receiving end. Politicians can’t afford to dish it out, but they have to know how to take it! You give a few years of public service and get a lifetime of abuse.

    To Mike’s point, though, I read the devotional to teach that it is only when we are passionate about Scripture and truly conform to it that we can work for real social justice. So, in a sense, it is an either/or: either you are passionate about Scripture and therefore building the Kingdom, or you are still wearing filthy rags. And I think the implied premise of Mike’s devotional comes from James – the real Christian is known by his works, which emphasizes Mike’s point that if we really care about what Scripture says, if we really hunger and thirst for the Word of Life, then we will work for what God says is right rather than chasing after the spirit of the age.

    And yes, we should get together sometime. My sarcasm is so much more effective in person.

  11. I have to frequently remind myself that the effect of my words is at least as important as the content of my words. So, while I do understand your overall point (and agree with it), my fear is that -even though you want to promote a both/and approach to reading and obeying God’s word- your opening paragraph plays into the hands of those (even among your students) who already think social justice is getting in the way of God’s Word and orthodox theology. I think your comment on Ps 119 is a red herring that further plays into that perspective.

    Your sentence, “Make Scripture your primary passion, then do what it says,” only complicates the issue. Many “modern/conservative” Churches (as you describe them in DSB) are filled with persons who would consider themselves 100% Bible believing and place the exposition of God’s word at the center of their worship. Yet they are aware that they could never fully exhaust the truth of God’s word, nor will the task of defending the faith once delivered ever be completed, and there will always be post/post-post/post-post-post-modern innovators to condemn. When will we ever have time to get to the, “then do what it says”? In fact, it appears that social justice gets in the way of proper passion for the Bible.

    Is this a slipper slope argument? Probably, but I think we’re starting at the bottom of the slope. While the content of this devotion might be fine, I think it effectively preaches to a choir that will always happily listen to another sermon if it means they can avoid their neighbor.

    (Also, your students are spending thousands of dollars and years of their lives rigorously studying God’s Word. If they weren’t passionate about it, they wouldn’t be there.)

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