The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras recommended, “Do not say a little in many words, but a great deal in a few.” That’s good advice for writers and public speakers. Here’s another helpful rule: Don’t speak in generalities; be specific. Don’t say “a few people” if you mean five astronauts. Don’t say “a long time ago” if you mean December 24, 1865. Don’t say “in the near future” if you mean 10:30 next Wednesday morning. If your prescription from the pharmacy vaguely recommends, “Take this medicine with a great deal of water,” should you drink a cup or a gallon?
Are your prayers filled with vague generalities or specific confessions, thanksgivings, and requests? It’s good to pray, “God, bless the missionaries,” but if you ask for ideas, your missionary friends will list specific suggestions about how to pray for their families and their ministries.
In response to a general question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told a story about two specific individuals: the traveler beaten up by thieves and the Good Samaritan who came to his aid. According to Jesus, the general rule, “You shall not commit adultery,” implies a specific warning about the hazards of a lustful gaze. The general principle, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), shows that sin is widespread and damaging; but it also applies specifically to the selfish thoughts you entertained in your heart last night and the harsh words you spoke to a coworker this morning.
The congregation nods in agreement when the preacher says, “Your body is the temple of God,” but would they say “Amen” if he gets more specific? What if he declares, “Gluttony damages God’s temple, so we shouldn’t treat overeating as if it’s a joke”? Or take the gentle-sounding phrase, “Love one another.” That sounds good as a general rule, but when it’s time to apply the principle specifically, love makes uncomfortable demands: “Quit gossiping. Stop demanding your own way. Be kind to people you find annoying.” In general, Christians know we should be generous; but specifically, when is the last time you and I gave up something we enjoy in order to assist someone who barely has enough to survive?
The Breadth of God’s Forgiveness
By viewing sin in general terms, we avoid confronting our specific faults. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable prayed in general, prideful terms—mainly reviewing his own record of good deeds and reaffirming his moral superiority over others. The tax collector, however, was painfully and specifically aware of his shortcomings, so he cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Here’s the good news: “God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13). Did you catch that? “All our sins.” Big and little ones. Public and private ones. Past and present ones. General and specific ones. Repulsive and socially acceptable ones.
It’s great to know the Lord forgives sin in general, but when we come to him in repentant faith, his grace covers the everyday specific sins that trip, trap, and tangle us up. He forgives sin—both general and specific—“nailing it to the cross” (v. 14).
God doesn’t just love the world in general. Individually and intimately, thoroughly and graciously, specifically and with great detail, God loves you.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.