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Measuring Our Responsibilities According To Jesus
Jesus speaks to the principle of measuring our responsibilities and its connection to stewardship several times in His parables. In Luke 12, for example, He describes a good steward, one who, in his master’s absence, faithfully administers his estate. Jesus promises that such a steward will receive a rich reward: “Truly, I say unto you, that he will make ruler over all that he has” (v. 44). This makes “measuring our responsibilities” one of our Lord’s regular themes. The reward for faithfulness is the opportunity for greater faithfulness. The reward for responsibility is a greater responsibility. This is true in earthly matters and in the kingdom of heaven. OK so far, right?
But then Jesus suggests an alternate scenario: What if the steward isn’t faithful? What if he abuses his authority? And what if he beats his subordinates and wastes his master’s larder and wine cellar? What if he’s drunk on the job? Then, Jesus said, his master will return without warning and pass immediate and frightening judgment. He “will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers” (v. 46). Some have argued that “cut in sunder” (in two) is likely figurative, but even if that’s so, it doesn’t change the application: the portion of unbelievers is certainly hell. Jesus is saying that those who pervert their stewardship show themselves to be His enemies and worthy of His wrath.
Measuring Our Responsibilities And Our Accountability
But there’s more. Jesus now discusses the question of accountability: Does ignorance of the master’s will constitute excuse? Or at least grounds for some sort of mitigation of the penalty? Here is Jesus’ answer: The servant who knew his master’s will and violated it “shall be beaten with many stripes,” but the servant failed to learn his master’s will but still violated it “shall be beaten with few stripes” (vv. 47-47-48). “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required” (v. 48).
What Jesus is saying is that both in his parable and on Judgment Day, there are degrees of accountability and, therefore, degrees of punishment. “Many stripes” versus “few stripes.” Should this be any great comfort to those who rebel against God and His law? Nope, hell is still hell. Dante was not only nuts but dead wrong. Hell has no fringe or limbo zones for folks who didn’t love God but didn’t really hate Him either. No neutrality here. And no such people among the children of Adam according to the bible. Here’s the thing: We are all conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Rom. 3:10, 23). We all know God and hate God until God brings us to Himself through Jesus Christ. Yet our Lord still underscores the principle that greater knowledge and accountability may lead to greater punishment.
Measuring Our Responsibilities: The Case Of Caiaphas And Pilate
What Jesus teaches in Luke 12 is consistent with the rest of Scripture. Some sins are worse than others. The whole Mosaic law testifies to this in its sacrificial system and its penology. The sins of the priest required a young bull as a purification offering; those of a ruler required a young male goat; those of the commoner required a female goat or lamb (Lev. 4). A murder was a capital crime; theft required restitution. It allowed the judges to punctate particularly vile or vicious crimes with lashes, the number determined “according to his fault” (Deut. 25:2). The basic rule of Mosaic penology was “life for life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand” (Ex. 21:23-24). Extreme? Nope. Just means that the punishment should always fit the crime. You shouldn’t go to prison for life … for jaywalking.
In the New Testament Jesus told Pilate that the high priest’s sin in handing Jesus over to Rome was greater than Pilate’s sin in trying and condemning Him (John 19:11). Given that not all sin is punished in this world, we should assume some sins will receive greater punishment than others in eternity. Jesus told the Pharisees that those who “devour widows’ houses” but cover their sins with the pretense of long prayers will receive “greater damnation”—greater because they commit the greater sins of sacrilege and extortion (Matt. 23:14). (Some TV preachers probably should read that part of the bible once in a while.)
Measuring Our Responsibilities Inside The Covenant
Then there are the passages that compare the final fate of notoriously evil cities to that of the Jewish cities that rejected Jesus during His earthly ministry. Jesus said of Capernaum, “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (Matt. 11:24). He said the same of any city that rejected the testimony of His seventy missionaries (Luke 10:12). Of Chorazin and Bethsaida, He said: “It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you” (Luke 10:13-14). Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician cities and generally loyal to Baal.
In part, we are dealing with the relative nature of individual sins; in part, with the principle that greater knowledge, the reception of fuller or clearer revelation, brings with it greater responsibility. Jesus told His disciples, “If I had not come and spoke unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 15:22). The writer of Hebrews twice argues along the same lines: If the revelation mediated by angels at Sinai required a “just recompense of reward” for those who violated its terms, “how shall we escape” if we neglect the promise of the gospel revealed by God’s own Son? (Heb. 2:1-4).
And again, he who despised Moses’ law died without mercy at the word of two or three witnesses: “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he thought worthy” who willfully rejects and despises Christ as He is offered in the gospel? (Heb. 10:28-31). Yep. Those who despised Moses’ law died in their rebellion. But, those who despise Jesus face an even greater punishment. Makes you wonder why some people say the New Testament is “kind and gentle” compared to the Old Testament. Now, what does all of this have to do with history?
Measuring Our Responsibilities In The Course Of History
History is God’s creation, His story or drama. God is sovereign in all His acts, immanent in all that He does. Also, God reveals His glory, wisdom, justice, mercy, and truth in every incident and episode of Earth’s history. God plays the shorthand and the long game. God purposes the collapse of empires and the fall of a lone sparrow (Dan. 2; 7; Matt. 10:29). He lays waste to great cities before the watching world (Nah. 1), but in some remote corner of our planet, He sends showers and causes green grass to spring up and grow, though no man will ever see it (Job 38:26-27).
All of these things God works by His own wise providence. This means they all matter to Him. They matter eternally. But they don’t all have the same level of significance. God says to His people: “Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31). Elsewhere Jesus lays down a broader principle: “How much then is a man better than a sheep?” (Matt. 12:12).
The things men do matter greatly to God. He considers the heart; He weighs the effect. This is true when He judges His people; it is also true when He judges His enemies. His judgment in history and beyond history testifies to His great regard for history.
Measuring Our Responsibilities In This World
In time and eternity, God measures out the consequences of men’s evil acts precisely because history is important to Him. If it were otherwise, then how we behave in this world would be irrelevant. And while we’ve discussed hell as having no gradients earlier… on earth we make distinctions in the way that God prescribes. If we don’t use Gods word to understand and discern the temporal gradients given to us… the serial killer and the petty thief would be on an equal footing. So would the child molester and the weekend drunk. Hatred and murder would be moral equivalents. But this isn’t Christianity. Maybe more like Hinduism or Gnosticism.
Rather, Christianity though scripture tells us there is a real difference. And that there is, in history, a difference between a Thomas Jefferson and a Joseph Stalin, between an Albert Schweitzer and an Adolf Hitler, or between an Attila the Hun, who destroyed men’s bodies, and an arch-heretic like Arius, who destroyed men’s souls. That means it’s important to learn how to judge your fellow man’s character with a lot of discernment and respect. We’re all sinners after all.
So we must look at God’s distinctions and not our own. The Bible says unbelievers are hellbound for example. But it doesn’t say you can treat the unbeliever in any way you think is right. Meaning that you can’t “run-over” your unbelieving neighbor literally or figuratively. For example, that might mean telling an unbeliever the truth about hell. But it also might mean commending him for his compassion or practical charity. But the point I’m making is that we can honestly tell those who don’t know Christ as Lord, that restraint in their sins is better than no restraint at all.
Measuring Our Responsibilities On The Last Day
I guess there are lots we can tell our unbelieving friends. We can assure them that God in some measure considers (judges less severely) their chastity, courage, and honesty even when such things spring from a faithless heart. But on the last day, none of the practical and pragmatic stuff … none of the outward virtues and nothing born merely of common grace … will lead one step toward heaven.
Nope. No amount of outward or external good can save a human soul, but such external virtues can have a real impact on Christ’s Church and on the future of His kingdom. Every single one of our actions matters now and into eternity.