There are a few verses from Luke 4 which I (and lots of other people) really love! They are part of a passage in Luke’s gospel commonly known as the Nazareth Manifesto, where Jesus heads to the synagogue, opens up the scroll of Isaiah and quotes these words. Then he preaches, starting with the words: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
Lots of Reasons
Like I said, I love these words, and this passage as a whole. And I’m not alone – lots of people adore this passage, and rightly so. What I have found odd, though, is the huge diversity of opinion about why this passage is so awesome! (I’m about to use some ‘labels’, which I very rarely do, but you’ll hopefully see why I’m making an exception…)
I’ve heard ‘charismatic evangelicals’ (who place a high emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit) effuse about this passage because of the huge statement that the ‘Spirit of the Lord’ was upon Jesus in order for Him to carry out His work. Wow! The ministry even of Jesus, second person of the Trinity, was empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit. How much more so ours?!
I’ve heard ‘conservative evangelicals’ (who place a high emphasis on the revelation of God through the Bible) speak excitedly about Jesus’ use of Isaiah and His statement that He fulfils it. Fantastic! The ministry of Jesus was heavily rooted in Scripture, and He recognised Himself as its fulfilment. This has all sorts of implications for how we understand both Jesus and the Bible in light of the other.
I’ve also heard the more ‘socially-minded’ (who place a high emphasis on social action and social justice) get very animated about this passage because of the content of the prophecy Jesus attributed to Himself. It is all about liberation and restoration for those who are marginalised and oppressed in one way or another. Jesus is making THAT the manifesto of His ministry. Wonderful!
The problem with labels
Here’s the thing, though: they’re all true! I believe that this passage speaks to each of those things, and we should take each of them seriously. Word, Spirit, action – we need them all.
This is the danger of labels. We can end up defining ourselves so much by one (vital) part of Christian theology or spirituality, that we miss out on the importance of other aspects. How sad to miss any part of God’s revelation to us or any part of His plans for us because we were too focused on just one thing?
The only label that I whole-heartedly and unashamedly apply to myself is ‘Christian’. I use other labels about myself rarely and with reservation. I know how easily I could start to place my identity in being ‘charismatic’, ‘conservative’, ‘Baptist’, ‘socially-minded’, ‘Protestant’… In some ways I am all of those, but they are not my primary identity.
It may sound like I’m saying I have this cracked – far from it! I confess that, while I believe in each of those three points taken from the Nazareth Manifesto (action, Spirit, word), I’d be lying if I said they all actually excite me the same amount. Certain parts of it appeal to me more acutely than the others. But that is because of my personality and my own particular passions. And I refuse to allow myself to limit or shape an understanding of God’s word specifically, or His purposes generally, based on my own personality. I need to embrace the whole of what God has for us and has revealed to us, not just the bits that excite me the most.
And I feel that being too quick to label myself in a certain way would lead me, eventually, to start doing just that.
Reaching for it all
The ideal, I feel, is to try our very hardest to reach for it all. A deep and deepening understanding of God’s word, allowing Him to reveal Himself and His purposes through it. A deep and deepening relationship with the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to equip and enable us into all that He has planned for us. A deep and deepening partnership with Jesus in serving the vulnerable and downtrodden, allowing Him to use us in that transformational work. All of them, all at once.
Reaching for all of it is difficult. It would be far easier to ‘specialise’ as a Christians. But I feel, very strongly, that if I did so it would be a disservice to God.
So if you know me, and you feel I’m starting to do that, please tell me and help to keep me honest.