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Bible Correspondence Course

17. The Great Teacher — Faith and Action

From the very beginning of His teaching, Sayyidna Isa bin Maryam (his peace be upon us) was seen as a threat by the Jewish religious authorities. Those that followed Sayyidna were confused by the different ways in which He and their teachers interpreted the Tawrat. The religious teachers taught a religion that was about rituals and outward formality. However, Sayyidna Isa bin Maryam taught about life-changing faith, which was radically different.

1) The Sabbath

The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week; a day that the Jews have always kept especially holy. This principle of setting apart a day for rest was ordained by God. Yet the Jews added all kinds of other rules, forbidding many activities to take place and in this the Sabbath lost its real meaning.

Sayyidna Isa Kalimatu'llah told people that on the Sabbath all good work must continue. He, for example, deliberately healed people on that day. On one such Sabbath He stood up among the people and challenged them: "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?"[1] He then healed a man right in front of them all. Some Jewish leaders were so offended that they started to plan to kill Him[2], but Sayyidna Isa bin Maryam did not stop doing good because of this. As we considered in the last lesson, it was on a Sabbath that Sayyidna healed the paralysed man at the pool of Bethesda.[3] As a result of this the leaders made further threats on Sayyidna Isa bin Maryam’s life.[4]

Sayyidna Isa Kalimatu'llah wanted to teach people two things. Firstly, that God is most merciful and compassionate no matter the day of the week. Secondly, that people should not set up religious laws that are created by men, and not by God. Sayyidna taught constantly that honouring God was the most important thing.

2) Prayer

Sayyidna Isa bin Maryam frequently spoke about prayer. He said that if we pray only in public, so that people can see how religious and pious we are, then we are hypocrites, for God is not interested in such prayers. He said, "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men..."[5]

His instructions were that worship of God should be in spirit and truth.[6] If our minds and hearts are not right, all our prayers are hopeless.

Sayyidna Isa Kalimatu'llah also said that we should not pray using many words over and over again, thinking that God will listen due to our many words.[7] Some people had many set prayers which they would simply repeat at high speed, off their tongues. Sayyidna Isa al-Masih taught that such prayers are of no benefit, for when we pray God looks at our hearts.

3) How should we Pray?

Sayyidna Isa al-Masih gave an example of prayer, which is sometimes called ‘The Lord's Prayer’; you can find it in Matthew 6:9-13 (See also Lesson 14).

Sayyidna Isa Shafi'u'llah did not mean that this was the only prayer that we should pray. Rather He was giving us an idea of what true prayer should be like. This prayer can be used as a pattern for others. It contains four helpful aspects: 1) worship of God 2) a request to God that His rule should come on earth 3) a plea for our physical and spiritual needs 4) and a plea for forgiveness and deliverance from evil.

Sayyidna Isa did not instruct us to pray facing Jerusalem or in any other direction. Nor did He give instructions about the movements of our bodies during our prayers. As Sayyidna Isa taught, God is more interested in the motives of our hearts.

Prayer changes things. The Bible does tell us to pray in faith, but also that we should put our faith into action. God will listen to our prayers, and will help us in our difficulties. He will answer our prayers in the way that He knows best.

When Christians pray to God, they do so in the name of Isa al-Masih, because this is what Sayyidna commanded them to do. God first approached us in the name of Isa Shafi'u'llah. Sayyidna Isa Himself said, "My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."[8]

4) Fasting

The question is often asked: "Why do Christians not fast?" Christians however do fast, but they do not fast in the same way Muslims do during Ramadan.[9] Sayyidna Isa bin Maryam said:

"When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).

Sayyidna Isa stressed that both prayer and fasting are about the inner motives, not the outward appearance. Fasting is something private and should be carried out between the individual believer and God.

In the light of Sayyidna Isa’s instructions fasting teaches us self-control; not only to control the desire to eat, but other worldly desires as well. When we find this difficult we should pray and find our strength in Isa Ruh-u'llah.

Fasting does not bring forgiveness

People may pray and fast but still lack forgiveness. In the Bible we read of a man named Cornelius, who was a God-fearing man with a good reputation. He fasted and prayed, yet lacked forgiveness. Because of his good intentions God sent Peter, an apostle of Sayyidna Isa to talk to him. Peter spoke to him about Isa al-Masih: His perfect life, His sufferings, and His death on the cross. He told him about Isa al-Masih’s resurrection and His return as judge. It was not until Cornelius believed in Isa al-Masih as Lord and Saviour that he found forgiveness.[10]

5) Giving

The Pharisees of Isa bin Maryam’s day were very concerned about giving to God exactly one tenth of all their income, even down to a tiny quantity of herbs. In fact they were neglecting what was really important by displaying to others their giving to God. Sayyidna Isa bin Maryam said:

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).

6) Love one another

Sayyidna Isa al-Masih taught that generous love for others is pleasing to God. To make this point He gave the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan

Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:30-37)

Many people today talk about the need for good relations between people of different backgrounds and ethnic origins. Long ago, Sayyidna Isa Kalimatu'llah gave this one principle: "Love your neighbour as yourself."[11] Not only are the people next door my neighbours, but so is the stranger who travels with me for a short while on the bus or train.

This generous love is supremely shown in Isa al-Masih’s life, by the giving of Himself to save humankind.[12] Let us follow His footsteps in love and truth.

References:

  1. [1] Mark 3:4
  2. [2] Mark 3:6-16
  3. [3] John 5:1-15
  4. [4] John 5:16-18
  5. [5] Matthew 6:5-6
  6. [6] John 4:24
  7. [7] Matthew 6:7
  8. [8] John 16:23-24
  9. [9] Matthew 17:21, 1 Corinthians 7:5, Acts 13:3
  10. [10] Acts 10:1-48
  11. [11] Luke 10:27
  12. [12] 2 Corinthians 8:9

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