Careful Distinctions
Wednesday of Pentecost 10
27 July 2016
Basic logic is in short supply today. I was amazed by the number of times people rose to speak against resolutions on the floor of our LCMS convention this summer by invoking a false either/or. For example, if a resolution honored our pastors and thanked God for their ministry, someone inevitably rose to oppose this, saying that we are obviously demeaning lay people and their lives of service in the church when we commend pastors and their ministry. This is akin to saying that because I love my wife, I hate my children. Wouldn't it be more likely that loving my wife is also truly loving my children? Loving the shepherds of the church is also loving the sheep for whom they care, and vice versa. Just because you love one thing, does not imply that you hate another. In our common speech this is called "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

Careful distinctions are essential to clear thinking, speaking, and, of course, theology. For example, just because some external things do not justify in the sight of God, does not mean that we must get rid of all external things. Food and shelter do not justify in the sight of God, however, we may not ignore working for our daily bread so that we can eat, be clothed, and have a place to live. Having adequate shelter does not assure of salvation; in fact, those who, like our Lord, lack it may be among the most blessed persons. Each kingdom must be kept to its own area of life. One thing can be important in the kingdom of the right (God's kingdom) and the other in the kingdom of the left (the kingdom of the world). For example, demanding hard academic study from students in Lutheran schools and rewarding their efforts when they work hard is not a rejection of the grace of God or the gift of righteousness in the sight of God. Forgiveness of sins should not lead to moral laxity. God requires that you work for success in the world for the sake of community and family. Such success, no matter how great, can never be taken as a sign of God's grace toward us. Grace is just that: gratuitous. It can never be earned or merited. Merited grace is an oxymoron. When we encourage people to embrace hard work to succeed in the world, we are not thereby rejecting God's gift of grace in Christ.

Such careful distinctions also apply when we consider what Jesus Himself says about external things. Jesus says, "The flesh is of no help at all" (Jn 6:63). Here our Lord is warning us against confidence in our own fleshly power and ability. By our own human capacity, we are unable to be pleasing to God. That's why we live by grace. However, some people understand this to mean that all external things, all fleshly things are of no benefit for salvation. This idea is quite hard on the basic truths of the Christian religion, including the incarnation of our Lord. Holy Scripture teaches, "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14). If the flesh is of no help at all, then why did Jesus come in the flesh (Heb 5:7; 1Jn 4:2)? When God's word says that fleshly things are of a benefit for our salvation, then they are. This would be especially true of the Bible's teaching about the real presence in the sacrament of the altar. God has taken up and used the earthly elements of bread and wine and placed them under his word and command so that they themselves are the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. If we are unable to make such distinctions, we will find ourselves bereft of the real presence, the incarnation, and other essential teachings of the Christian faith. Some external things are beneficial to our salvation, because God has commanded them for our use, while other things are not, simply because he has not commanded them for our use unto salvation.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"It is not only a foolish but also an ungodly argument of the Sacramentarians [who denied the real presence] to maintain that externals are of no profit for salvation and then heap up examples and statements of Scripture such as: 'The flesh is of no help at all' (Jn 6:63), etc. A distinction must be made among externals, and not all externals should thus be cast aside in general. Externals are rightly condemned as profiting nothing for salvation when they have been instituted by the will of man or, more correctly, rashly, without the Word of God. In other respects, God wants to work through the service of His creatures. For this reason, one must consider above all whether these externals are performed in accordance with the institution and will of God or not. If there is no Word or institution of God, then you are correct in saying that the externals profit nothing for salvation but even do harm. Thus Christ says: 'In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men' (Mt 15:9).

"But if you see that the externals rest on the Word and were instituted by God's command, then worship those externals silently on bended knee, and say: 'Not my pastor, not Peter, not Paul, commands this to be done; it is my Father in heaven who gives the command. Therefore, I shall obey in humility, and I shall believe that this obedience will be profitable for salvation.'

"Thus the spoken Word is indeed the word of a human being, but it has been instituted by divine authority for salvation. For God wants to govern the world through angels and through human beings, His creatures, as through His servants, just as He gives light through the sun, the moon, and even through fire and candles. Here, too, you could say: 'No external thing profits. The sun is an external thing. Hence it profits nothing; that is, it does not give light, it does not warm, etc.' Who would put up with one who argues in such a silly way?"

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 19.14
Matthew 15:1-9

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God," he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

"'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (ESV)
Dear Lord Jesus, you commend to us those things of the flesh in which Your Spirit abides through Your Word. Help us to recognize them, receive them with thanksgiving, take them and hold them in the highest faith and confidence of Your promises. Bring us to Your altar that we might receive forgiveness through Your body and blood under bread and wine; never doubting that what you say about these elements must be true, because you have staked Your own reputation and Word upon it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Julie Krueger, that the good Shepherd would send her healing and strength in her time of convalescence and recovery

For those who are seeking work in keeping with their vocation, that the Lord would give them a productive sphere of service in which to serve the neighbor

For all shut ins, especially Pearl White, Lois Vaughn, Ed Jutzi, Anita Markwardt, Rita Baker, Marie Hoyer, Joanie Hoyer, Lucille Herter, and Jane Twietmeyer, that their gracious Lord would be with them in the midst of their trials
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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