The LORD is your keeper … The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”

Psalm 121:5,8

Kandinsky's Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles

Hypocrisy is high on the list of critiques about religious people. As leaders who claim to follow Jesus, we are susceptible to being criticized for not “walking the talk.” And, rightly so.

One way to limit the damage of the critique of hypocrisy is to draw our circles tighter. It is easy to narrow the scope of the great commandment to love God and our neighbor. “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) is just such a question asked in Jesus’ day by someone theologically astute. Nothing like a clever theological question to divert attention from what God intends.

In the creation account, God placed human beings in the garden “to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). The sense of the word “keep” is to take loving care of something. Interestingly, the same verb is used in Psalm 121 about God’s care for Israel (and by implication for all humanity). For emphasis, it is used no less than six times in the psalm. God actively cares for his people – in all circumstances and at all times.

God does for his people exactly what he expects his people to do with what has been entrusted to them. It is a wonderful example of the very opposite of hypocrisy: congruent leadership. But the question remains, what (and whom) are we to “keep”?

The tragic response in the biblical narrative is to narrow the circle. In Genesis 4, Cain responds to God’s question about the whereabouts of his brother Abel by asking the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Read narrowly, God’s mandate to human beings was to keep a garden, not each other. But it is clear from the story that God’s intention for keeping the garden was to include also all its inhabitants. The answer to Cain’s rhetorical question is “Of course you are your brother’s keeper!” The great commandment makes that abundantly clear – we are to love our neighbor.

But back to Jesus’ questioner. Who is my neighbor? In Jesus’ day, the distinction was made between enemies and neighbors – as in “love your neighbor but hate your enemy.” Another way to draw the circles tighter. But, Jesus won’t have it. He recovers the intent of the great commandment: “You have heard it said… but I say to you, love your enemies…” (Matthew 5:44). The largeness of the originally intended circle is restored.

In our day, in my evangelical tradition at least, we seem much more comfortable keeping our brother than the world in which we live. We struggle with those who are different from us and make them our enemies. We relegate the physical world to, at best, second class status, not giving the garden that God originally committed into our care the attention it deserves.

I struggle with this as much as anyone. In my attempt to avoid hypocrisy, I draw the circles tighter, making my cares more narrow. And, that is perhaps hypocrisy after all.

QUESTIONS:

Can you relate to the practice of tightening the circle in order to lessen your scope of responsibility? Do you ever tighten the circle? If so, what causes you to do so? What might help you to enlarge the circle?

Whom, and what, do you keep? Can you improve the ways you keep others and the things entrusted to you?

How have you recently experienced God keeping you?

PRAYER:

LORD God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, I am grateful for the many ways you keep us, as the psalm reminds us. Your attention and commitment never waiver. You protect us for our good, even in what we suffer. You watch over all our ways at all times.

Help me to have the same comprehensive care for what you’ve entrusted to me. In the world in which you’ve placed me, help me to love all that you love.

Help me to care for those who are different from me. Help me to pray for those whom I see as my enemies in my work. I pray for the well-being of those who compete with me and my organization. May they bring out the best in me and I in them.

Help me to care for the physical world in which you have placed me. Help me to work in such a way as to care for this planet that you have entrusted to human beings. I know that my ability to affect global change is limited. Help me to do small things with great love, this day and toward that end.

I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Thanks to Uli Chi, Founder and Chair of Computer Human Interaction and Senior Fellow at the De Pree Center, for contributing this devotion.

Image: Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles by Wassily Kandinski, 1913 in Public Domain via WikiArt.org.

 

One Comment

  • I just read this today (Thursday). It’s very powerful, Mark, and very convicting. I appreciate the illustration of circles being made smaller in an effort to protect my own sense of integrity — when the result, hypocrisy, is most often the case.

    Thank you for your strong, clear words, and the for the love and challenge with you write them.

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