Explore the Bible: Compassionate

The Explore the Bible lesson for Jan.17 focuses on Luke 6:27-38.

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  • The Explore the Bible lesson for Jan.17 focuses on Luke 6:27-38.

“Orthodoxy” is a fancy theological word that simply means “right thinking.” “Orthopraxy” is the word that simply means “right living.” Jesus certainly was concerned with our orthodoxy, our “right thinking.” In John 8:31-32, Jesus famously declared, “If you hold to my teaching (orthodoxy) you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth (orthodoxy), and the truth (orthodoxy) will set you free.” Jesus obviously cared a lot about believing the right kind of teachings and knowing the right kind of truth. But in our focal Bible study passage this week from Luke 6:27-38, we see Jesus now focusing on our orthopraxy, our “right living.”

This passage is a part of what’s referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, which has striking similarities to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Both sermons focus on the right kind of “right living” that Christ followers ought to be living. Take a look at the list of “orthopraxy” imperatives that Jesus declares in this “Sermon on the Plain” passage:

  • Love your enemies.
  • Do good to those who hate you.
  • Bless those who curse you.
  • Pray for those who mistreat you.
  • Turn the other cheek.
  • Give to everyone who asks you.
  • Do to others as you would have them do to you.
  • Lend to your enemies without expecting anything in return.
  • Be merciful.
  • Do not judge.
  • Do not condemn.
  • Forgive and you will be forgiven.
  • Give and it will be given to you.

Is there any wonder why these sayings of Jesus are referred to as the “hard sayings” of Jesus? If this is the kind of “right living” God expects from us, we have what seems to be almost impossible lives to live up to. What a high bar of orthopraxy Jesus is holding us accountable to!

Belief and behavior

We Baptists always have placed a high priority on our “right thinking,” and rightfully so. We believe it’s imperative that we teach and preach the “right thinking” kind of things that the Bible affirms. Our orthodoxy and our high view of the Scriptures has always been one of our denominational hallmarks. What we believe is important, but so is how we behave.

What we believe affects how we behave, and how we behave is always impacted by what we believe. Do you see how important it is that we keep our orthodoxy connected to our orthopraxy? In John 7:17, Jesus certainly tied the two together: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God (orthopraxy) will find out whether my teaching comes from God (orthodoxy) or whether I speak on my own.” Interestingly, our English word “belief” actually comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word “be” which means “by,” and the word “lief” which means “life.” Perhaps it’s no coincidence our “belief” comes “by” our “life.” What we “live by” is actually our belief, or “by-life.” Our orthodoxy is shaped by our orthopraxy and vice versa.

Perhaps it’s time that we sought the more balanced “ortho-” focus of Jesus in our lives and in our churches today. We need both “right thinking” and “right living.” Perhaps we’ve been neglecting one of these imperatives over the other. A quick internet search of the word “orthodoxy” will give you some 14.9 million results. But a search of the word “orthopraxy” will only give you 353,000 hits. We certainly see how the internet prioritizes the two. A search of Baptist Press articles during the past three decades reveals only 10 articles on orthopraxy but some 306 articles mentioning orthodoxy. Perhaps in our own Baptist life we’ve tended to focus a little too much on our “right thinking” to the neglect of our “right living.”

Perhaps James said it best when he wrote in his epistle:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:14-16, NIV).

Did you catch what James is really saying here? “Faith by itself (that’s our orthodoxy), if not accompanied by action (that’s our orthopraxy), is dead.” Could the Bible be any clearer about the interrelatedness of “right thinking” and “right living”?

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And what about you? What’s the shape of your orthodoxy these days? And what’s the shape of your orthopraxy these days? As you study the Bible you are being challenged to think about and believe the right kind of orthodoxy. And as you study passages in the Bible like this week’s passage from the Sermon on the Plain, you are being challenged to live out the right kind of orthopraxy. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy, Jesus focused on both. What about you?

Jim Lemons is professor of theological studies and leadership at Dallas Baptist University. He is a senior adult Sunday school teacher at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas.  

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