In poker, a ‘tell’ is a subtle, but noticeable change in a player’s behaviour. A flushed face, or an unconscious attempt to hide cards may indicate a strong hand. A brash, vocal exchange may be used to hide a weak hand.
Christ was a master of interpreting spiritual ‘tells’. He could say on first meeting the guileless Nathanael: ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ (John 1:47). Nathaniel had a reachable spirit, unencumbered with those layers of self-deceit that justify the status quo in our lives.
This is borne out by the ensuing conversation: Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?”. The answer: ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ astounds Nathanael to the point of declaring Jesus to be the Son of God!
The same can be said of the Samaritan woman at the well: ‘Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?’ (John 4:29)
In each case, the spirit was open and reachable: seeing no reason not to accept Christ at face value. They subject Him to no more reasonable scrutiny than elsewhere in their lives.
In contrast, although several Jews accepted the miracles, they lacked complete emotional engagement and asked for a sign from the sky. They only went as far as to accept Him as an exceptional prophet, but no more. They wore a mental straitjacket that blunted His impact on their resolve. For this reason, John records of Christ, ‘But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man’ (John 2:24,25).
Imagine having to admit, ‘I could have gained more insight into God’s love, compassion and authority, but Jesus doesn’t trust me because I have spiritual commitment issues’. Their acknowledgement was half-hearted, lacking complete emotional surrender. Sadly,they were not part of his inner circle: He did not entrust himself to them.
‘For the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1: 6-8)
As for the ‘tell’ that disguises this ambivalence, consider Simon the Leper. He extends as much measured hospitality towards Jesus as you would expect at a Middle East peace summit. Only enough as to prevent offence. Christ contrasts his sceptical reluctance with the emotional gratitude of the forgiven prostitute: ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’ (Luke 7:44)
This feast is a turning point. Judas openly criticizes the extravagant waste of costly perfume. He now realizes that the mission is more about Jesus himself, than some immediate social or political agenda against injustice and poverty. His disappointment will turn to lethal hostility in a few days.
So what do Abraham, Lot, Rahab the harlot, the widow of Zarepta and Dorcas have in common? They all demonstrated exceptional practical kindness towards the saints: those who publicly side and work with God against the spirit of the age.
To extend the warmth of human comfort towards those commended to us by their loyalty to God: ‘Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts. 15:26) is ample demonstration of our faith.
‘That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
It’s fresh like Spring, you want to sing,
You want to pass it on’
As Paul said after stern words: ‘Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case - things that accompany salvation’ (Heb. 6:9)
The reason for Paul’s confidence is in the next verse: ‘God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.’ (vs. 10). In practical faith, they had despatched disaster relief through the apostles to alleviate suffering during the famine predicted by Agabus, the Jewish prophet (Acts 11:28)
‘No washing my feet,
No oil for my head,
No tears for Christ’s brethren,
Such cold faith is DEAD!’
May Jesus reveal the ‘tells’ of dead faith. May He rouse us all to a lively commitment in showing genuine hospitality, alleviating hardship among his brethren in these difficult times!
I want to ask any who read this to feel free to drop me an e-mail whereby we can begin to share your burden, be it financial or otherwise. It’s time for me to pay God’s love forward.