2-15-2 The Positivism of Jesus
One hallmark of the spiritual way of life is an indomitably positive spirit. Not a simplistic naivety, blindly hoping for the best in an almost fatalistic way. But as the Father and Son are so essentially positive, so will we be, if we absorb something of His Spirit. Just consider these examples of the positivism of Jesus:
- The disciples are said not to have believed " for joy" (Lk. 24:41). But the Lord upbraided them for their arrant foolishness and plain unbelief. Despite His peerless faith, the Lord Jesus marvelled at the extent of other's faith (Mt. 8:10); and the Gospels stress how sensitive He was to the faith of others (Mt. 9:2,22,29; 15:28; Mk. 5:34; 10:52; Lk. 7:9,50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42). Yet measured by His standards, they probably hardly knew what faith was. Yet He " marvelled" at their faith, even uttering an exclamation, it seems, on one occasion (Mt. 8:10). “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Lk. 7:9) suggests the Lord thought that Israel’s faith was something very high; when their rejection of Him was the cruellest tragedy in their history. The disciples’ sleepiness is excused in the statement " for their eyes were heavy" (Mk. 14:40), even though their falling asleep at that time was utterly shameful. Luke’s record excuses them by saying they slept for sorrow- which isn’t really possible. It’s the grace of inspiration covering up for them. Yet He kindly says that their spirit is willing but their flesh was weak (Mk. 14:38); although elsewhere, the Lord rigorously demonstrates that mental attitudes are inevitably reflected in external behaviour, and therefore the difference between flesh and spirit in this sense is minimal. He spoke of how that band of rough, mixed up men were filled with the joy of little bridesmaids because He was among them (Lk. 5:34). Now this is an essay in imputed righteousness. The Lord saw the zeal of the uncertain, misunderstanding disciples as storm troopers taking the city of the Kingdom of God by force- knowing exactly where they were coming from and where they were going (Mt. 11:12). And even after reprimanding them for their slowness of heart to believe, the record graciously says that they “believed not for joy”- although joy can never hinder faith.
- John, surrounded by apostacy and a break-up mentality, could “rejoice greatly that I have found certain of thy children walking in truth” (2 Jn. 4 RV). That at least some were holding on was a great joy to him. He focused on the positive things in ecclesial life.
- The chief rulers are described as believing on Christ (Jn. 12:42), even though their faith was such a private affair at that time that it was hardly faith at all. The positivism of Jesus counted them as believers. " My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God and do it" (Lk. 8:21), refers back to His recent parable of the good seed that “did” the word which they heard (8:15). But surely that group of fascinated, surface-interested onlookers didn’t all come into the good seed category, who held the word to the end, all their lives? He saw the hypocritical Pharisee Simon as being a man forgiven 50 pence, who therefore loved Him (Lk. 7:41). In the same chapter, the Lord recognised that John the Baptist had suffered a crisis of faith. But He tells the crowd that John wasn’t a reed shaken with the wind, an unstable believer (Lk. 7:24 cp. Is. 7:2), but the greatest of God’s servants; He overlooked the temporary failure, and judged the overall spirit of John.
- Whether the woman of Mk. 14:8 really understood that she was anointing His body for burial is open to question. But the Lord's positivism graciously imputed this motive to her. The women who came to the garden tomb weren't looking for the risen Lord; they came to anoint the body (Mk. 16:3). But their love of the Lord was counted to them as seeking Him (Mt. 28:5).
- The Lord condemned the Pharisees for devouring widow’s houses (Mk. 12:40), but then goes on to show how the widow who threw in all her wealth to the treasuries of the corrupt Pharisees had actually gained great approval in God’s eyes by doing so (Mk. 12:44). Out of evil, good came. The Lord didn’t just lament the cruel selfishness of the Jewish leadership. He pointed out how God worked through even this to enable a poor woman to please Him immensely. There is a wondrous ecology in all this; nothing is lost. Nothing, in the final end, can be done against the Truth, only for the Truth.
Paul likewise exudes a very positive spirit about his brethren, notably Corinth, in the face of so much reason to be discouraged. When dealing with the problem of fornication, he doesn’t appeal to any legal code, not even the ten commandments, nor the agreement at the Council of Jerusalem, because he was appealing for life to be lived according to the spirit rather than any law. Likewise when writing about meat offered to idols in 1 Cor. 8, he could so easily have appealed to the agreements made at the Council as recorded in Acts 15. But he doesn’t. For love’s sake he appeals. He asks them “judge ye what I say”, he seeks for them to live a way of life, rather than obey isolated commandments as a burden to be borne. It is simply so that brethren and sisters, men and women, prefer simple yes / no commandments rather than an appeal to a way of life. In those communities and fellowships where everything is reduced to a mere allowed / not allowed, there tends to be less internal division than if it is taught that life must be lived by principles. Paul was smart enough to know this, especially with his background in legalism. And yet he chose not to lay the law down with Corinth; instead he appealed to a spirit of life, even though he must have foreseen the strife that would come of it.