daily biblical sermons


THE GOOD WORKS THAT A REDEEMED CHRISTIAN IS TO DO
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, First Week of Lent, February 15, 2016
Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18, Psalm 18, Matthew 25:31-46


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).


This is Jesus' description of the final judgment. Those who help those in need help Jesus and are rewarded with eternal life. Actually he says, "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40), and so will enter into eternal life. We cannot help everyone in need, but we can help one person, or some persons. Those who do so will enter into eternal life. Those who help at least one person in need will enter into life. Jesus also says "As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Matthew 25:45). That is, those who did not help a single person in need did not help Jesus and so go to eternal punishment.


Sometimes when we hear this gospel, we can feel overwhelmed, thinking, How can I possibly help all these needy people in all these different situations? And, of course, no one can help all the needy people, all those in jail, all the sick, and still have time and resources to also do something else, like preaching the gospel, or living a cloistered monastic life of prayer and fasting in the desert. But we should not over interpret this teaching. Jesus is not telling us to help all of these poor and suffering people, but is telling us we will be judged as to how we helped him by helping one of the least of his brothers. If, on the other hand, we do not help even one of these, we will be sent to eternal punishment.


But what should we then do with the rest of our money, resources, and time if we only help one of the least of Jesus' brothers? Should we use it for ourselves, for our own comfort, pleasure, and entertainment, for fine dining, and expensive, luxurious vacations? I don't think so.


Our life as Christians should be lived for the Lord, for him who died and rose for us, for Christ "died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:15). But how do we use our time, talents, and money for the Lord? We do so by helping those in need. "As you did it to one of these the least of my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). When we help those in need, we are living for the Lord. So we can conclude that all our resources, all we have, all our money, beyond what we need to live, should be used in the service of the Lord, and we do so by serving people who are in need. But here God can inspire us as to how we are to focus our ministry, since we cannot help everyone in need. He may inspire me, for example, to focus on preaching the gospel and to spend my time and money to make sure that this happens.


Our lives should be totally devoted to the Lord. But how do we do this? We do it by loving our neighbor and serving him, by preaching the gospel to him or helping him in other ways. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love has been perfected in us" (1 John 4:11-12 NKJV). Since no one has ever seen God, the way we can express our love for God is to act in a loving way to our brothers whom we can see. "If anyone says, ‘I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also" (1 John 4:20-21). The way we come to love the God whom we have not seen is by loving our neighbor whom we have seen.


"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1 John 3:16-17).


This is how a Christian is to live. We are to lay down our life for Christ's brothers in the same way that Christ laid down his life for us, and in this way we are loving Christ who is in the least of his brothers. Indeed, "greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13 NKJV).


Christ has laid down his life for us to redeem and justify us. He gave his life to ransom us (Mark 10:45). Our response is to now give our lives for others, and in doing so we are loving and serving Christ in them. In loving and serving one of the least of his brothers, we are loving and serving Christ in him. This should be the whole direction, orientation, and motivation of our life as Christians. We should love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30); that is, with all our resources, without reserve, and we do this by loving and serving our neighbor, whom we can see. Serving God in this way, through serving our neighbor, should be our only concern, our only focus in life. We cannot serve two masters, God and mammon (Matthew 6:24), God and money, God and worldly pleasures. We cannot serve God and also live a worldly life.


We should renounce all the unnecessary pleasures of the world to seek all our delight in the Lord. We do this by spending ourselves and our money and resources completely for the good of our neighbor, preaching the gospel to him and helping him in other ways. This is how we are to love God with all our heart and all our resources, all our talents, time, and money. This is how we are to serve only one master, not two, not both God and our own worldly pleasures. Using all our time and money in this way is how we renounce all that we have. "So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).


This sounds like an impossibly difficult saying; but Jesus really does mean, intend, and expect us to do exactly that, even to the point of living a simple life ourselves, eating only the simplest, most basic, plain food, because we want to renounce all else and find all our delight in the Lord.


So what do we then do with all our money? We use it to serve others. Some give it all away outright. This is what monks in a monastery do. Others keep their money and use it gradually over many years in a life of service to others.


This is how a Christian, redeemed by Christ, is to live. This is how we lay down our life for our brothers out of love for God, as a way to express our love for God.


We do not do this to pay off our debt of suffering due for our past sins, because that debt has already been paid by Christ on the cross; and we are freely released from that debt through putting our faith in him, for no one but the Son of God is able to pay our debt of suffering for our sins to make reparation for them before God; and he has done that on the cross for those who believe in him.


We serve our neighbor rather as our way of loving God with all our heart. This is how we grow in progressive sanctification. This is how we act as "new men" in Christ. These are the good works that our living faith in Christ is to produce. And since these works give visible evidence of the quality of our faith, God rewards us for them with eternal life. We are justified through our faith "apart from works" (Romans 4:6), because of Christ's reparation-making death on the cross, and then these are the good works that we are to do as redeemed Christians, which Christ rewards with eternal life, since they visibly manifest our faith.

 

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