There was an interesting segment on radio host Dennis Prager's "Ultimate Issues" show today. He discussed the Bible being the most wisdom-filled book in human history, and showed this by pointing to a famous Bible verse that explains in a clear picture what God wants from us. Here is the Bible verse Dennis Prager talked about today on his radio program:
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 (this is from the NIV, which is the translation he used.) See, Hosea 6:6. What does God require of us? The spokesperson Micah explains that it is -To act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly before God. As background, in case you are not familiar with him, Mr. Prager, he is a practicing Jew, who is also very supportive of Christians. And so, it is not surprising that he would look to an Old Testament verse as being so important. To explain why this is so important to him, he emphasized that he does not care if a person is religious or not. Instead, he looks at one's actions toward him and to others –he says that if your religion does not make you a better person, then it is worthless. Dennis Prager calls his view "virtues based", where virtues of good actions from others is all that is important to him.
OK, so it should not be surprising to us Christians that a Jewish teacher / radio host would be focused on actions (or could we say, works?) But can we argue against the importance of being a good person? Of course not! When we want justice or mercy in our lives, we want a person's action to respond to our need. I don't care where if I was in need, whether the person who helped me was a religious person, an atheist, a pagan, or a follower of Cthulu. It is their response that I need, and Christians certainly do not have the market cornered on being nice people. See Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan. And this was Dennis Prager's point, it doesn't matter what you believe (or have faith in), it is only actions that other people look at and see.
As a Christian, I reflexively objected to what Dennis Prager was saying. Actions are more important than faith? For Christians, faith in Jesus is the beginning and end of what we believe. Our actions have no eternal significance, but faith in Jesus does. But does faith in Jesus make our actions unimportant? As James the brother of Jesus writes in the New Testament, faith without actions is dead (James 2:17). Our actions are obviously very important. So how should we piece this together?
Let's look at Jesus' teaching on the two Greatest Commandments we have: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-38; see, Leviticus 19:17-19). So the greatest Commandments are to love God and to also love our neighbors. So here is my take: The first and greatest Commandment to love our God with all of our heart, soul and strength, is what we know of as Faith. We trust in God and His promises to us, as set out in the Bible. And when we receive this gift of faith from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), and we reflect back this love to the Creator, we are then empowered to love others. For me, the transformation in my life took place when I started seeing God doing things in my life. This led me to begin reading the Bible, and taking what was written there seriously. Next, I saw my sinful and broken condition before a Holy God (perhaps the last part of Micah 6:8). But then I also started beginning to turn the focus off of me and my life and I was for the first time, realizing the needs of others around me. So the connection in my life was that God's love caused me to love Him, and His love then helped me to love others. I think this is what Matthew 22:37-38 means when Matthew writes saying that loving others is "like" loving God – that loving God is tied to loving others. In my case, loving God first enabled me to start seeing and then love others.
My final note is that for the most part while your actions are more important to me than your faith or religion, but for me, my faith is the most important part of my life. Again, this makes sense in that once I received my faith and the salvation offered by faith in Jesus, I no longer was an enemy of God, under His anger. What gratitude joy and peace I received on that day – have you heard the song "Oh Happy Day"? This gratitude, joy and peace I have towards God allows me to be part of other's lives and to walk alongside them in their battles and trials, and to help them if I can. I now understand that what happens to others is really important, and I want to help them in their needs, and rejoice with them in their victories. So Dennis Prager is partially right – actions are important for others. But for me (and from your perspective also) faith is by far the greatest gift of all.
May God bless you this week with growing insights, financial provision, and the Lord's shalom peace, in Jesus' name, Amen. /s/Tom