Sunday, November 11, 2007

Grace

Most Christians understand grace to be God's unmerited (undeserved) favor, His unmerited love. They hold that God gives us something even though we deserve the opposite; that God's grace is the basis of our relationship with the God of the universe; and that such grace is made known through Yeshua Messiah, God's unmerited gift to mankind. Now, all of this seems true enough, but it represents a superficial understanding of grace and a profound underreporting of the mutual nature of grace. Yeshua said (Mat 7:2):

"for with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured again to you."

James 2:8-10 says:

"If you truly fulfill the Kingdom Law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well. But, if you discriminate, you work sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep all the law, but stumbles in one, he has become guilty of all."

Thus, grace is not free, and grace is not a matter if "deserving." Grace is a mutual obligation designed to instill safety and shalom within a community. It is the law. One is kind to a neighbor, not because the neighbor either deserves or does not deserve kindness, but because one wants to solicit kindness and peace from their neighbor in return. Likewise, communities pass and enforce laws to protect the peace. This system of obligation to mutual respect is grace.

These concepts of Christian grace are derived from the Hebrew notions of chanan ("hospitality"). Specifically, it is the hospitality of the Hebrew tent camp that is the ancient focus of chanan.

Genesis 33:9-11 says:

"And Esau said, I have much, my brother. Let what you have be to yourself. And Jacob said, No, please, if I now have found favor (chen) in your eyes, take my present from my hands. For I have seen your face, like seeing the face of God; and you are pleased with me. Please take my blessing, which has been brought to you, because God has favored (chanan) me, and because I have all things. And, he urged him; and he accepted."

And, Genesis 42:21 says:

"And they said each to his brother, We are truly guilty because of our brother whom we saw in distress of his soul, when he sought favor (chanan) from us, and we did not heed. So, this distress has come to us."

One of the major responsibilities of the Hebrew clan was to provide hospitality to anyone who came to them. This may be a member of a related clan or even an enemy of another tribe. In both cases it was the responsibility of the clan to provide food, shelter and protection as long as the "aliens" were within their camp. An important custom in Hebrew society was the practice of hospitality. A guest, even an alien guest, was honored and entertained, even at considerable expense to the host (Gen. 18:1-8, 24:28-32). Once under the host's roof, or having shared food, the guest was guaranteed protection (Gen. 19, Judg. 19). Should the stranger settle in the community, he enjoyed most of the rights and responsibilities.

From Deuteronomy 10, we hear a call to do what God requires, to love, fear, and serve God, to walk in God's ways, to keep God's commandments. God does require something of his people -- a certain kind of culture. God's people are to do this with all their heart and soul! After all, God is calling for this particular way of life because the very "well-being" of the people is at stake.

Exodus 22:21 says:

"You shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: because you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

The inescapable meaning of this verse (in its proper context) is that we are to treat others with grace precisely because of the grace of God. While grace may not be deserved or even earned ahead of time, it is, in God's plan, certainly to be repaid.

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