Knowing When to Quit - and Five Other Values of Jesus — By Ronald T. Habermas
When talk comes around to Jesus’ diverse ministries – especially those upholding the dignity of humans – many of us recall our Lord’s advocacy for powerless people. That’s a worthy place to start. Yet several other people-driven values characterize Jesus’ work, too, because at the heart of those values is the fact that everybody still possesses God’s Image. Consider these half-dozen axioms that prize our Divine reflection.
1. Jesus displayed ethnographic sensitivity. Our Lord honored people he served by meticulously studying their historical culture, as well as their contemporary context. These talents empowered him with useful insights into folklore (‘red sky’ forecasts), traditions (‘Corban’), and misbeliefs resulting from regional tragedies (Luke 13:1-5). These abilities similarly enabled him to observe, then teach, the significance of motivations behind personal offerings (widow’s penny). Sometimes Jesus’ transition from his study to application was quite simple, like when he cited a memorized children’s saying to capably criticize his opponents (Luke 7:31-32).
2. Jesus exhibited superb listening and responding skills. James, in his inspired letter, focused early on a universal wisdom: "take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (1:19). No doubt this Apostle often saw that prudence embodied in his oldest brother.
Last summer I studied every human encounter Christ experienced from Matthew’s gospel, for the purpose of determining who initiated Jesus’ ministries of teaching, preaching, and healing – was it the Son or others? An extraordinary 92% of all passages indicated it was others. That is, Jesus’ servant ministry occurred in response to other people’s questions, issues and needs –more than 9 out of 10 times!
3. Jesus never manipulated people. Mark 6:1-6 say our Lord returned to his hometown. When Sabbath came he taught in the synagogue, and many people were amazed. But that sentiment eroded into personal offense, as the crowd soon wondered how ‘Mary’s son,’ this ‘carpenter’ – the one they knew growing up – could become so talented. Consequently, Jesus "could not do any miracles there" except heal a few. Humanly-speaking Mary’s Son knew and loved these hometown people more than anyone. He preached the greatest message in the world. If there ever was just the right time to coerce people for a means-justifies-the-end situation, it was now. If Jesus decided to manipulate his hearers to accept his incredible gift of eternal life (even against their will), certainly they all would thank him one day. But the Messiah refused. He valued the Image ‘right to choose’ too much, even the choice to say ‘no.’
A similar, tragic outcome emerges in Luke 13:34, where the Lord cries out, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem …how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"
4. Jesus required faith from needy people desiring health. Whether for consequences of salvation, healing, or godly instruction, the Son of God – after a point – curtailed further ministry unless needy individuals showed trust in him. His deliberate role as Great Physician parallels this virtue to secure personal commitment (Matthew 9:12-13).
From a human perspective, the faith of an individual ignited healing from three vantage points. Sometimes healing occurred "immediately," as soon as faith was expressed, which was the case of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). Sometimes, healing occurred in a process. This was the testimony of the ten lepers. They were told by the Lord to go to the priest to obediently demonstrate their healing, according to the Law – even though they were still leprous! Luke 17:14 says the ten were healed "as they went." Finally, some people were healed after their faith was fully exhibited. As four men completed their demonstration of trust by lowering their lame friend through the roof – Jesus "saw" their faith – and total health resulted (Matthew 9:1-8).
5. Jesus refused to do too much for people. Another people-driven value set boundaries. Don’t do anything that the individual could do for themselves. This goal aimed at curbing irresponsibility and unhealthy dependency upon Christ. Mark 5:35-43 record the encounter between Jairus and our Lord, regarding the ill health of the synagogue ruler’s daughter. After this twelve-year-old is eventually healed, Christ issues one of the most provocative Biblical commands to the child’s parents: "give her something to eat." He raised the pre-teen from the dead, which the parents could never do. But he declined to fill her stomach, something they faithfully performed for a dozen years.
6. Jesus knew when to start and to stop. Good, godly leaders rarely need prompting to start their ministry well. Few know when to stop well. Mark 4:33 offers insight into this predicament: "With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand." Knowing when to stop ministry is not common knowledge because many leaders don’t possess two of Jesus’ unheralded skills: (a) a thorough practical knowledge of each individual served; and (b) a wisdom that realizes that, when teaching sours, then enough is enough.
In sum, people-driven, Image-based values are relevant and potent. Multiple principles can be deduced from them, because they are and permanently grounded in Creation. This is the essential point Jesus makes when he is asked his view of divorce. Authoritatively, Jesus ‘returns to Eden’ for his answer, directly quoting the last part of Genesis 1:27 and all of Genesis 2:24. It is the first half of Genesis 1:27 that twice cites the creation of people in their Creator’s image.
What has been your background concerning people-driven, Image-based values? What would you add to this list? In your experience how have these values been emphasized or violated?
For more information on this topic of Christocentric values and roles see R. Habermas, Introduction to Christian Education and Formation: A Lifelong Plan for Christ-Centered Restoration (Zondervan, 2008), especially Chapters 6-10.
Dr. Ronald Habermas is professor of biblical studies and Christian formation at John Brown University and a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education. He holds degrees from William Tyndale College, North American Baptist Seminary, Wheaton Graduate School, and Michigan State University.
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