This evening I want to encourage you to think about what four scriptures have in common. The first two focus on situations that occurred in Jesus' life.

First, read with me Luke 7:36-50:
Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, "Say it, Teacher." "A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?" Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly." Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven." Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?" And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

I especially want you to focus on the Pharisee's thoughts when the sinful woman came in uninvited and went to Jesus (verse 39): "If Jesus were a prophet (the prophet), he would know who this woman is and what this woman is, and if he knew those things, he would not allow her to touch him."

The Pharisee was thinking from the concept of exclusion instead of inclusion. He did not think with compassion, "Look at her grief!" He thought judgmental thoughts, "She does not belong here, and if Jesus was who people say he is, he would know that."

Now read with me from John 12:1-8:
Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?" Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, "Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me."

Judas said, "This woman has the wrong priorities! We should be using this money to help poor people instead of buying and wasting perfume!"

The concept is distressing. "Poor people are our opportunity to show our righteousness." They were not people to be seen with compassion, but people who were "our" opportunity.

The next statement is one made by Paul to Timothy about something Timothy needed to stress to Christian women in the city of Ephesus (1 Timothy 2:9,10).
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

The social context of the city of Ephesus was quite different to the social context in most other major cities in the Roman Empire. In fact, circumstances were literally opposite many other population centers in the Roman empire. The chief religion of the city centered on a female idol, a goddess. Because of that, women had roles and forms of prominence in Ephesus that women did not have in other places.

Paul instructed Timothy to tell Christian women not to get caught up in these false measures of significance. Paul said, "Help them understand that what they wear should be consistent with what they do. Help them understand that they should be known for the good they do, not for the clothes they wear."

The next statement was made by James perhaps to Jewish Christians (James 2:1-9).
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

I am confident that I could demonstrate this was a primary emphasis in the first century church among Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians: anyone from any level of life should feel comfortable in a gathering of Christians. James said for that to occur Christians had to make the poor slave and the wealthy citizen feel equally accepted, equally welcome. That was the responsibility of the Christians, not the visitors.

  1. Let me encourage you to consider some past emphasis among us.
    1. Let me begin by sharing recent and past experiences.
      1. More than one person lightheartedly teased me about being the only clean shaven person when Ron, Brad, and I talked with you recently and Larry led us in singing.
        1. I remember when growing a beard was reason for dismissal from some of our Christian colleges.
        2. In fact I remember two separate occasions at two separate colleges when it was stressed that a beard was an expression of ungodliness.
          1. One college had a wall dedicated to the school's founders with their pictures on that wall--and the majority of the founders had beards.
          2. One college had pictures of the school's founders in the room where students and faculty gathered for a daily devotional, and the majority of those men had beards.
        3. In those days beards were a symbol of ungodly rebellion, and we focused on the symbol instead of the attitude.
          1. My point is not that all men should wear beards.
          2. My point is that we should not judge a person's character by a beard.
          3. That is a "people criteria," not a "God criteria."
      2. I do not often notice those who are serving communion.
        1. I am just glad they are helping us as we remember Jesus.
        2. On those few occasions when I do notice, I gratefully am struck by the variety represented in those serving.
          1. Usually there is a variety of ages.
          2. Usually there is a variety of clothing styles: suits, shirts and ties, dress pants and casual shirts, casual pants and casual shirts.
          3. Given our diversity as a congregation and a people, I personally think that is appropriate.
    2. When Christians assembled in the first century, there often was a mixture that ran spectrum that included slaves, people freed from slavery but poor, people who had never been slaves and were above the poverty line, and patrons who were wealthy.
      1. Their clothing was not comparable--the poverty stricken slave and the wealthy patron did not dress alike.
      2. The New Testament writers stressed these points:
        1. Jesus Christ is the great equalizer; in him we are all equally dependent on God's mercy and grace.
        2. God is impressed with the person's faith, not his or her clothing or jewelry.
        3. God's people make others feel wanted, not excluded.
      3. The objective of Christians has not changed: anyone with a broken heart or seeking heart should be able to come into an assembly of Christians and feel comfortable.

  2. That is what must happen among us--that is where our faith in God and Jesus Christ must lead us.
    1. Let me encourage you in this way when you are here: always be more concerned about wearing your best heart than you are wearing the best clothing.
      1. My point is not that we should be careless and indifferent.
      2. I surely understand there are inappropriate ways to dress when we assemble.
      3. We certainly need to be sensitive to others and to be careful:
        1. Not to intentionally be distracting.
        2. Not to intentionally be disrespectful to God or to people.
    2. However, if we have a significant impact on our community, we increasingly will touch the lives of people who have no religious background.
      1. Those people will come from all levels of Fort Smith society.
      2. Because of their background, they may have no concept of what is appropriate or not appropriate.
      3. Whoever attends our assemblies, I want him or her to know and to feel that he or she is welcome, and that we genuinely care about him or her as a person.
    3. To that end, allow me to encourage everyone to wear your best heart to every assembly.
      1. Let the heart you wear say more about you and us than the clothes you wear.
      2. What is my "best heart"?
        1. A heart that is humble.
        2. A heart that repents.
        3. A heart that is merciful.
        4. A heart that is loving.
      3. That is the heart that represents God correctly.
      4. That is the heart that reflects Jesus properly.
      5. That is the heart that makes people feel at ease in our assemblies.

In the incident of the sinful woman in Luke 7, Jesus said, "I know who she is and what she does, and she belongs here because I care about her." In the incident of the anointing in John 12, "The priority is knowing who I am." Paul said to Timothy, "Teach Christian women to be known for the good they do instead of the kind of clothing they wear." James said, "Make people feel welcome among you even if they are obviously very poor."

May God give us the wisdom, understanding, and insight to do that.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 1 December 2002

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