Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly.’-Matthew 7:21-23
If a preacher like me is not made a little nervous by this passage, maybe enough attention is not being paid. We tend to talk a lot. We work hard at getting the words right. We say “Lord, Lord” in all kinds of ways. In all that chatter, are we doing the will of the Father in heaven?
Evangelicals often say that the key to salvation rests on saying the right thing, articulating just the right statement of faith. Other traditions place hope on words of liturgy said just the right way. I’ve run across preachers and teachers who talk about grace till they’re blue in the face, but practice a religion marked by judgment, ministry that is anything but graceful. Politicians promote religious values and then shape policy that contradicts it. It’s not hard to come up with a list of ways that people say “Lord, Lord” while living lives that say something else.
Perhaps the greater challenge is to think about what it means to do the will of the Father. It’s easy, fun, and often delicious, to point out the hypocrisy in other people (although I find it totally annoying when folks point it out in me). But the more pressing question, and the best way I know to battle hypocrisy is to ask: What do I know of what God wills? Am I focused on that?
I’m starting a list based on what I find in scripture. You may want to add your own ideas.
God wills unity. With divisions in so many parts of society, including those who might say “Lord, Lord,” the gospel of John reveals God’s intention. Jesus prays to his Father and asks that they (his followers) may be one “as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” (John 17:21) Jesus doesn’t pray for uniformity or agreement. He prays for something more profound.
God wills healing and reconciliation. With brokenness of relationship on full display in families, neighborhoods, nations and even churches where people rattle off “Lord, Lord,” one of the key themes in the Lord’s Prayer is forgiveness. Many who say “Lord, Lord” can’t seem to let go of resentment (author included). I sense that the intention of the Holy One is that we move on, look forward, look up.
God wills thanksgiving. With widespread deficit of an attitude of gratitude, people who mindlessly repeat “Lord, Lord” often act as if God owes them something, as if God is lucky to have them on the team. I love the verse from the psalm that tells us what God intends: Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me (Psalm 50:24).
God wills inclusion of those on the edges. With migrants now heartlessly shipped around the country as chattel, often by folks who say “Lord, Lord”, a word from the book of Deuteronomy indicates the divine will: For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
God wills love of God and neighbor. Jesus called it the summary of the law. We express the love of God in worship (with our lips and with our lives). We have opportunity to express love of neighbor all the time, using Jesus’ expansive vision of neighborliness found in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). The prophet Micah presented it as a three-point plan: What does the Lord require but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) Not a bad mission statement for my life.
God will trust, perhaps the ultimate expression of love of God. Too often, religious folks (the “Lord, Lord” crowd) act as functional atheists, relying on their own resources, their own righteousness. Proverbs 3:5 issues a different call: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
For me, that’s a gracious plenty to work on. While recognizing my own hypocritical behavior, I commit to focus on these holy intentions. How would you describe the will of the Father? How might you focus on that this week, and in the weeks to come?