“What should we do then?” the crowd asked (3:10 NIV).
John preached God’s message of grace. The Lord Jesus was on his way to save his people from their sins (cf. Luke 3:6; Matthew 1:21). Salvation was the joyful news! However, the people needed to prepare to meet the Lord. For this reason, John preached a baptism of repentance—a change of heart that would produce a godly change in a person’s way of life. This is the correct context in which to read verses ten through fourteen. “What should we do then?” They needed direction.
Please understand very clearly that seeking guidance from the Holy Scriptures concerning how to please the Lord and to walk worthy of our calling is not legalism! Believers, because we have changed our hearts, turned, and trusted the Lord, live according to grace. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and desire his glory. We want to know and to live a way of life that is consistent with glory. The grace of the coming salvation in the Lord Messiah teaches the hearts of those who listen to deny ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:12 NIV). John was a prophet who declared the word of God. The repentant people sought knowledge about the kind of changes the good fruit of would produce in them. This is the “doing” they spoke of, a doing not to earn grace but to respond joyfully to grace.
John gave practical examples of the changes that true repentance in the heart produces. Notice that the examples are consistent with a person’s calling in life. The idea is that we should think through changes in how we do our work, and our family and community life. Since I have been a pastor and teacher for many years, my repentance, for example, should bear the good fruit of ministering to people in a kind, loving, parental way (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Let’s listen to John’s examples, and then think through the changes that should be seen in our lives and work.
- Be a sharing neighbor (3:11). This is general instruction. The second greatest priority is, as Jesus quoted the Torah, Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). This requires us to share our resources to those in need. However, an essential perquisite is being aware and involved in the lives of our neighbors. How can I know that my neighbor needs a tunic, if I do not know my neighbors and their needs? We must forsake the hyper-individualism of our culture. God has designed us to be part of a community, even at the cost of making a community. By the way, this should be on our hearts when we start new churches or small groups or Bible studies. How can we make a new community out of a group of people? Sharing a tunic with someone means that you or I have one less tunic, right? What have you given to a neighbor that cost you more than a price of a week’s groceries? Do we know the happiness that Jesus points us to (Acts 20:35)? Sharing with others is a fruit of repentance.
- Keep away from greed (3:12-13). We are taught to acquire more for ourselves. This is usually connected with the line “to enjoy your retirement”. I just searched the Bible for that phrase (these Bible apps are great time savers!), and guess what? God says nothing about providing for a pleasant enjoyable retirement. The tax collectors for the Romans could collect whatever they could coerce out of the taxpayers. Rome only cared that they brought in what was required. A tax collector could enrich himself off the sufferings of the people. John told them to only take what was a fair amount. What is the fair amount that the Lord has provided for us? Are we growing rich while others suffer?
- Don’t abuse but learn contentment (3:14). Roman soldiers could easily misuse their power. The Jewish people were especially vulnerable. They were easy prey for those who wanted to enrich themselves. John told them to be content with their pay. We also are to learn contentment. Some subjects in school were harder to learn than others. Learning contentment is a tough one. Christ’s power is available to help us learn this subject (Philippians 4:12-13).
John’s practical instruction to his hearers still speaks to us. Meditate on his words to the crowds and consider how the Lord wants your repentance to bear fruit. The fruit will be seen in your treatment and relationship with other people.
Grace and peace, David