What does a passage (Matthew 25:31-46) about the sheep and the goats have to say to us? How can it help us be better prepared to face a new year?
God has expectations for us. He has expectations for all of his creation, and he will judge us on the basis of his expectations.

What will be the standard for this judgment? What does God expect of me? The good news is this final examination is an “open book examination.” He has laid out his expectations.

His expectations are all about relationships. Ultimately, he will judge on the basis of our relationship with God through Christ.

But, our relationship with the Son of Man is tied to our relationships with each other, and more specifically, our relationships with “the least of these brothers (or sisters) of mine.”

It is easy to be generous to our family; however, the real test of our relationship with God is how his presence impacts our relationships with “the least of these.”

We all have our list of “the least of these.” They are the people who are outside of our circle of compassion and concern.

Obviously, it could be some of the same ones Jesus mentioned, but it could be another race, nationality or ethnic group.

They might be individuals of another social economic group, someone with more or less education, people in another political party, or people from another culture or lifestyle.

We need to throw away all these lists that divide us and acknowledge we are all children of God.

Compassionate and serving love is the fruit of genuine religion. By this fruit one’s true relationship to God is revealed.

Remember the question that confronted Jesus in Luke’s Gospel? What must I do to inherit eternal life? It is the same question. What does God expect of me?

In response Jesus said, Love God with all you are, and love you neighbor as yourself! The follow-up question was, Who is my neighbor? Jesus then told the parable of the Good Samaritan, and he encouraged the inquirer to go and do likewise. Go and live like this man.

God’s judgment always surprises us. He sees things so differently than we do. One of the characteristics of true saints is that they forget themselves in service to God and others.

Ironically, those on the right and the left hand in the parable respond to the king’s statements with the same question. When did we see you?

The loving in the parable could not imagine their service as a service to the king. They did not anticipate a reward for their actions. A genuine child of God loses himself or herself in loving service.

The unloving are so unobservant and their religion is so routine that they never thought of Jesus as being tied to the least of these.

Their faith was only a religious activity or a list of things to believe. They had separated Jesus from the routines of their daily lives and their everyday interactions with other people.

Their insensitivity is revealed in their question. If you have to ask “who is in need,” then you do not understand the nature of our Savior.

Christ goes about every day among the poor and the imprisoned. He lives among all “those people” we try to avoid.

The bond between Christ and every person in our world is closer than any human tie. The pain experienced by the least of these moves the very heart of our Savior.

The Christian life is not primarily a list of things to believe. It is about a relationship with God through Christ that forever changes us.

This relationship changes all of our other relationships. It actually enables us to begin to see the least of these.

In John 14, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

I have come to believe what Jesus really meant was we were not merely to believe he was the way, but we were to adopt his way of living.

Jesus said, My way of living is the way to God. The Message translation of the prophet Micah’s words (Micah 6:8) says it like this:

“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.”

JimHill is executive director of Churchnet – A Baptist Network Serving Churches. A longer version of this column appeared previously on his blog, OurFirstPriority.

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