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BUILDING BRIDGES

It has been pressed upon my attention lately to consider the possibility that I would be more faithful and more fruitful in the kingdom of God, if I would just try to build bridges with people who disagree with my doctrine, instead of being so ready to contradict and confront what I see as egregious error.

Well, I went to the Old Testament to see if I could find a good example of what we would call a "bridge builder" and I found one.

King Jehoshaphat, king of Judah was a good and godly king, unlike so many of the others, and he was one of the bridge-building sort.

The Bible says about Jehoshaphat,

(2 Chr 17:3-5) And the LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; {4} But sought to the LORD God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel. {5} Therefore the LORD stablished the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance.

Now, at last, here is a man to be emulated, and especially since we live in days of apostasy like he did.

To continue the story,

(2 Chr 18:2-3) And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramothgilead. {3} And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramothgilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war.

Yes, Ahab, the king of Israel, was a wicked king, one of the most wicked kings to be named, BUT he was of the chosen people, a "brother" to Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat, anxious to prove his pledge of good will, volunteers to join Ahab in Ahab's war against the Syrians. Besides, being also zealous for the Lord, Jehoshaphat hoped to be influencial in Ahab's reformation, and what's wrong with that?

The fact is, Jehoshaphat had good reason to believe that he could win his brother. Just look at all of his own sheep and oxen that Ahab killed while joining with Jehoshaphat in their unified worship together. Never mind that Ahab had an ulterior motive.

(2 Chr 18:4-5) And Jehoshaphat said unto the king of Israel, Inquire, I pray thee, at the word of the LORD to day. {5} Therefore the king of Israel gathered together of prophets four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall we go to Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for God will deliver it into the king's hand.

Of course, Jehoshaphat knew that these many prophets were all false prophets of Baal and so he prevailed upon Ahab to inquire of a true man of God. Ahab complied, but also complained that Micaiah always prophesied against him, and so it was, and so it was also, that after the war of the prophets (400 vs. 1), in which God sent a lying spirit into the mouths of the 400 false prophets, that they decided to heed to lying counsel of the false prophets and go to war against the Syrians.

Jehoshaphat was preserved,

(2 Chr 18:31) And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, It is the king of Israel. Therefore they compassed about him to fight: but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him; and God moved them to depart from him.

But, Ahab died that day, by the judgment of God.

(2 Chr 18:33) And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness: therefore he said to his chariot man, Turn thine hand, that thou mayest carry me out of the host; for I am wounded.

Hence, Jehoshaphat's attempt to reform Ahab, failed, and though Jehoshaphat's life was saved, the story doesn't end there.

(2 Chr 19:2) And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD.

Far from being commended for his attempt to build a bridge with his "brethren," he is rebuked. Did he learn his lesson? No!

(2 Chr 20:35-37) And after this did Jehoshaphat king of Judah join himself with Ahaziah king of Israel, who did very wickedly: {36} And he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish: and they made the ships in Eziongaber. {37} Then Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the LORD hath broken thy works. And the ships were broken, that they were not able to go to Tarshish.

Jehoshaphat was certainly not one to give up was he? He was just positive, that he could effect unity and fellowship with Israel. After all, he was quite successful at bringing reformation into Judah, and God had blessed him greatly as a result. But in these matters, God was not pleased with his "bridge-building" because it represented being unequally yoked with unbelievers.

WAS JESUS A BRIDGE-BUILDER?

Maybe if I looked in the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, I could find a different perspective. If there was ever a good bridge-builder, it would have to be Jesus, Himself, right? Let's look at some of the potentially divisive situations that Jesus found himself embroiled in to see how He handled the problems. Perhaps we could learn something. What do you think?

(Mark 3:32) And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.

Ah! Here we have a situation, in which multitudes are gathering around Jesus. They are being healed and taught about the kingdom of God. They have seen Him do miracles; they are enthralled.

Now, here comes Jesus' mother and brothers: they want to talk to Him. They send word through the crowd and the crowd is pleased to pass the word on to Him that His family is here. What a marvelous opportunity for Jesus to show how much he loves His family.

(Mark 3:33-34) And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.

Oops! Perhaps I shouldn't have used this example. It turns out that Jesus can't really be called a bridge-builder in THIS situation. Not only is it obvious to the entire crowd that He just snubbed His family, but He came near to disowning His own kin, even calling into question whether or not THEY were doing the will of God. How is He ever going to be effective at reaching His own family and convincing them of His Gospel, after this incident?

Never mind, let's forget about this and go to another situation altogether.

(Mat 8:21) And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.

OK. Here is a situation between Jesus and one of His disciples, one who has pledged to follow and obey our Lord, and one who apparently was admitted by Jesus into His little troop of followers. Jesus had just given command that they should forget about the crowds that had gathered where they were, and go with Him instead, to the other side of the lake. This disciple, who apparently got word that his Dad was about to die, or had died, asks Jesus for permission (appropriate behavior for a disciple with his master) to go and bury his father. What's unreasonable about that?

(Mat 8:22) But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

Now wait just a minute! A witness to this exchange might have asked, "How do you expect to hang on to disciples if you treat them like this? What's so unreasonable about granting him a couple of days off, so that he can go and attend his Dad's funeral? Besides, this may be a perfect opportunity to witness to his family, don't you think? Don't you realize that you probably even lost your disciple by treating him like this?"

OK, OK, bad example. Maybe Jesus did His best bridge-building with the crowds. Let's take a look at one of those moments when He was surrounded by a crowd that sought HIM out. What a perfect opportunity to preach the good news.

(John 6:24-25) When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus. And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither?

What an evangelistic opportunity! These were not just any crowd, these were people who were there when He multiplied the few loaves and fishes and fed thousands. They were so impressed with the power of God that, instead of going back home, they came across the lake looking for Jesus.

(John 6:26-27) Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

Oh NO! Not again! This is one of the worst examples of bridge-building I have ever heard of. He not only does not preach to them, but he impugns their very motive for seeking Him out. And then, following up upon such presumption, He rebukes them for laboring for the bread which perishes. How in the world does He ever expect the world to follow Him if He keeps chasing them away like this?

And if this wasn't enough, and only a few minutes later, He says this:

(John 6:53) Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.

I suppose that this wouldn't have been so bad if He had, at least, cleared up what He knew would be the source of one of the fiercest and longest arguments in history. He could have explained that He didn't mean that they would literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. But No! He left them in the moral quandary. Only later, and to His disciples, He privately explained that the flesh profits nothing but that His Words are Spirit and Life, but even this explanation was insufficient because,

(John 6:66) From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

Whew! This bridge-building is hard work! Not only did the crowds find something else that they had to do, right away and somewhere else, but He even lost many, possibly most of His disciples. One has got to wonder how He thought to evangelize the world if He was going to keep running off all His help.

It would not be right to stop, or give up on showing how Jesus must have been a great and effective bridge-builder, and I did find a representative verse of Scripture in which He appears to be teaching on this very subject. Let's take a look at this verse in one of Jesus' parables.

(Luke 14:23) And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

Ah ha! At last we're getting somewhere. Yes! Go get'm! Bring'm in! Fill up the house! This is the kind of talk we were looking for, all along. Perhaps now we are getting somewhere.

(Luke 14:25) And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,

Now here's progress: great multitudes, that's what we wanted to see! Let's see what He says now.

(Luke 14:26-27) If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

OK, I give up. I'm afraid that I'm having trouble making my case. Certainly, it seems reasonable and effective to be a bridge-builder. It surely seems like it would be more effective to be conciliatory and non-confrontational, than it would be to say these kinds of things that tend to put people off, especially to suggest that an attitude of antagonism towards your own loved ones is a condition to being a disciple of Jesus. It is not so hard to hear that we must hate our own life in this world to be his disciple, but our families? Our children? Mom?

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident but lo, and behold, in another place where Jesus was teaching His disciples about where and how to proclaim the Gospel, He warned them:

(Mat 10:34-35) Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

In a court of law, it would not look good for this Man. Indeed, in their court of law, He was condemned. It is not hard to understand why. This Man is nothing like the Jesus that we have all heard about in Christendom. He was not conciliatory. He was confrontational at every turn. The only bridge He talked about was Himself, and He talked about Himself as the only bridge to God that there is, take it or leave it. No wonder the crowds turned against Him, even to be betrayed by one of His closest friends.

It looks to me like this bridge-building routine ends up contradicting our Lord Jesus Christ. What do you think?

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