In the third chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, we read about John the Baptist chastising some people who came to be baptized by him. He felt that they weren’t repentant – that they were not turning away from their lives of self-serving behavior. They were selfish and self-centered – they didn’t care about other people or about God. He felt that they shouldn’t be baptized because to them it was just something that everybody else was doing. Essentially, they wanted to get baptized by him because it was fashionable, like the latest dress style.
He said in Luke 3:8 that they needed to “…produce fruit consistent with repentance.”
What does this mean? If you are truly repentant, if you’ve really changed your ways, your actions change as well. You don’t continue to live in a selfish and self-serving way. Not being repentant is like an alcoholic saying that he’s going to get clean, and right after he goes to his first AA meeting, he goes to the liquor store. This is a sure sign he isn’t changing his ways – he just says he is. John wants people to really change. He won’t go through the motions of baptizing them unless they really are ready to live in a changed manner.
Some of them were startled, and asked him what he recommended them to do. This is in Luke 3:10-14 –
“10 “What then should we do?” the crowds were asking him. 11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.” 14 Some soldiers also questioned him: “What should we do?” He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or false accusation; be satisfied with your wages.”
Ok, so the first part is easy – share what you have. If you have extra, share it with someone who has nothing. But then the next two kinds of people who ask, what do with do with that? How does their situation apply to us?
Sure, you’re probably not a tax collector or a soldier, but notice that both of these replies are about money. Only take what you are expected to take – nothing more, whether it is money you are collecting for someone else (in the case of the tax collector) or money you are collecting for yourself (in the case of the soldier.)
Probably the most easily understood example is with the soldier. Say you are at a job where you feel that you are doing all the work and the manager is getting away with doing nothing. You get paid less than she does, but she gets to sit in her office all day and play games on the internet and works on her book she’s writing. You might be mad about this. Maybe you’ve thought about reporting her to upper management. Maybe you’ve thought about sneaking in some of your personal chores while on the clock. She does it – why not you?
The difference is that you can’t fight fire with fire, and because of the covenant you have made with God, you shouldn’t act like this. You have to act better than she does. Goofing off on the clock isn’t the right thing to do – and even though she is doing it, that doesn’t mean you should. Reporting her will only make you look like a snitch, and might get you in trouble. But more importantly, it isn’t in line with what God expects of you.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-48 –
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
We aren’t expected to mirror the world – we are expected to be better than it. When bad things happen to us, we aren’t to be lowered by them, but to rise above them.