Ruthlessness and the Lord’s renown

Today’s readings are From Isaiah 25-26 and Acts 20:13-38

It doesn’t take much to observe evil in our world today. Evil has been around since Adam was a boy (or a young man at least…). Each generation not only has to deal with this significant life issue, but also with the manifestation of evil in our world.

Living where we do, at the time we do, we have the blessing of living free of many types of evil. However, as much as our culture wants to tell us that we can live in some evil free utopia, we know that it is not true. Evil finds a way to manifest itself. Lately, I have been noticing evil rear it’s head in ruthlessness.

Ruthlessness is seen by some as a good thing. Business decisions get made, profits can soar and concerns for anything outside of myself and (perhaps) my relational sphere become unnecessary. Yet the lack of compassion that stems from ruthlessness is as evil as the dropping of bombs. The ruthless have no need to care for the weak, to provide for the poor or defend the marginalised. Whether it be in politics, business or even in morality, a new ruthless edge has been rising in our culture. The new moral majority (with a very different morality to the moral majority of 30 years ago) are ruthless in crucifying anyone who does not fit in to their idea of how the world should run.

Both our readings today remind us of how to approach ruthlessness. Paul gives the summary of our response in Acts 20:24:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Paul’s aim isn’t to attack evil – whether it be ruthlessness or the hardships and injustices that will face him in Jerusalem (v23). His aim is to testify to the good news of God’s grace. In testifying to God’s grace though, evil is attacked. Paul says later (v35):

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Testifying to God’s grace will result in compassion, and the overturning of evil. It will have this effect because that is what God is doing in the world through his people. Isaiah (25:1-5) picks up the same ideas. In his faithfulness, God has overcome the ruthless. God has overcome evil.

Toward the end of our Isaiah reading (26:4-6) we read:

Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
He humbles those who dwell on high,
    he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
    and casts it down to the dust.
Feet trample it down—
    the feet of the oppressed,
    the footsteps of the poor.

The imagery in Isaiah 25-26 if of God making things that are evil and bad, good again. There is much worthy of quoting, but in the context of Ruthlessness, I think verse 6 speaks loudly. While the ruthless trample on others in this day, another day is coming where justice will come for the ruthless. God is not putting up with evil, he is overcoming evil.

We know, as Paul did, that he has overcome evil through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And so, in the midst of evil, whether it be ruthlessness or some other kind, we get on with the task of testifying to God’s grace and trusting that he is making all things good again.

In his letter to the Romans (12:21), Paul reminded them:

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The people of Israel trusted what God was doing:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,[b]
    we wait for you;
your name and renown
    are the desire of our hearts.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
    in the morning my spirit longs for you.

May our desire also be for the name and renown of the Lord God.

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