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The Scriptorium

The Cure of Contraries

Meet the discipline of penance. Luke 3.10-14

Luke 3 (3)

Pray Psalm 72.1-4.
Give the king Your judgments, O God,
And Your righteousness to the king’s Son.
He will judge Your people with righteousness,
And Your poor with justice.
The mountains will bring peace to the people,
And the little hills, by righteousness.
He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy,
And will break in pieces the oppressor.

Sing Psalm 72.1-4.
(Martyrdom: Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed)
O give the King Your judgment, Lord, and righteousness Your Son;
and let Him judge by Your good Word the need of everyone.

Let now the mountains ring with peace, the hills in righteousness.
Let justice rise, oppression cease, and all the needy bless.

Read Luke 3.1-14; meditate on verses 10-14.

1. What did the people ask John?

2. How did John reply?

In the monasteries of medieval Ireland, a sincere effort was sustained to encourage holiness. Naturally, this involved much time in prayer and meditating on God’s Word. But it also involved the discipline of penance, which is that part of repentance where Kingdom life replaces self-life so that love can flourish. The old monastics had a saying: “Contraries are by contraries cured.” That is, if one was found to have in his life a behavior contrary to the Word of God, he would confess his sin and declare repentance, after which his mentor or soul friend would recommend steps to take contrary to that sinful behavior to reestablish the ways of righteousness.

This is what we see John doing here. The people want to know what they must do to repent truly (v. 10). John gives an example. If you have two tunics and you know your neighbor has none, then you are acting contrary to God’s love to keep both for yourself. The right contrary step to take is to share a tunic with your neighbor (v. 11). Cure that contrary, sinful behavior of self-love by a contrary action of neighbor love.

To the tax collectors, John was indirect. They probably charged a bit more for taxes and skimmed from their neighbors. It’s one reason they were so hated. John doesn’t say as much, but by telling them to collect only what is due, he hints at their practice and calls them to forsake all stealing (vv. 12, 13).

The same for the soldiers. Soldiers could be known to take advantage of civilians and to grumble about their pay. John told them to stop such behaviors and learn contentment (v. 14).

Whatever in our lives is contrary to God’s Law must be eradicated by confession and repentance. This will involve penance as well, taking up new behaviors which, because they are contrary to sinful practices, can cure those sinful ways so that we may increase in holiness.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
The absolute Spirit-filled genius of John’s response is that he spoke into each person’s life. He did not say to the people: “You should be better soldiers.” Nor did he say to the tax collectors: “You should be better doctors.” And to the soldiers he did not say: “You should be better hairdressers.” He told each one how to be better in the job and life that they had. And he most certainly did not say: “You should all become pastors or some kind of professional believer.”

Rather, he called each one, right where they were, to be Christ-ones to those in their Personal Mission Field. “But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk.” “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called” (1 Cor. 7.17, 20). And in that calling we are to be salt and light to those we know there.

And when we are confronted with our own sin, we are to deal with that sin, and turn away from it. In our own sphere. In our own life. Dealing with the sins that so easily beset us there. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12.1).

We have this promise from God as we strive to cure our sinful behavior by contraries: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13.5).

If we asked John what we should do to show God and others that we have repented, he would speak to each one of us right where we are, in our personal circumstances, and our work, in our Mission Field. And the Holy Spirit can certainly inform us how to do this: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jms. 1.5).

We are all different, in different walks of life, and different circumstances; but we all have the same Law to follow (Ex. 20.1-17; Matt. 22.37-40). The other beautiful part of John’s response is this: when we each one are living in the Kingdom of God and living out His mandates, each one in their own Personal Mission Field, then everyone benefits. And that is when the Church becomes “the joy of the whole earth” (Ps. 48.2).

For reflection

1. How would you explain the idea of Personal Mission Field to a believing friend?

2. What is penance? How does Romans 12.21 help you in thinking about this question?

3. Being a Christian means living for Jesus right where you are. Everywhere you are. How should you prepare for this each day?

A true feeling of repentance produces in the mind of the poor sinner an eager desire to know what is the will or command of God. John's reply explains, in a few words, the fruits worthy of repentance… John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Luke 3.10

Pray Psalm 72.12-17.
Pray that the Lord will help you to repent of any sins, and that He will use you today as an agent of His grace, to bring the Good News of His Kingdom to others by your life and words.

Sing Psalm 72.12-17.
Martyrdom: Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed)
The Lord the needy rescues when he cries to Him for grace.
All they who suffer violence find mercy before His face.

Let Christ be praised and all the gold of Sheba be His right.
Let blessings to His Name be told, and prayers made both day and night.

And let the earth abound with grain, let fields His fame proclaim.
And may our King forever reign and nations bless His great Name.

T. M. and Susie Moore

You can listen to a summary of last week’s Scriptorium study by going to our website,, and clicking the Scriptorium tab for last Sunday. You can download all the studies in our Luke series by clicking here.

Two books can help you understand what the Law is and why it matters. The Law of God is a compilation of all the laws, statutes, and precepts that fit with the Ten Commandments. It’s an excellent tool for daily reading and review. The Ground for Christian Ethics explains in dialog form how the Law fits in Christian life. Order a free copy of each of these by clicking here and here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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