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Noblesse Oblige

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Noblesse Oblige

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When Moses struck the rock in the wilderness instead of speaking to it, God punished him by not allowing him to enter the Promised Land. Can this really be grounds for such severe punishment? After all, he hit a rock, not a human being. He didn’t hurt anybody. Why such a big deal?

This is highly instructive. It might not have been a big deal in terms of the sin, but it was a big deal in terms of the sinner.

The French have a term for it—noblesse oblige—literally “nobility obligates.” It means that honorable behavior above and beyond what is expected of commoners is an obligation of persons of high birth and rank.

Rabbi Avi Shafron, editor-at-large of Ami magazine wrote something similar: “Chosenness isn’t a trophy, a bed of laurels, on which to proudly rest…Being chosen is less a badge than a charge. It is not a reward for any achievement, but an obligation to achieve.” The great principle is that the strong are to help the weak and the concept of civilization depends on everyone sharing the responsibility. This is a biblical principle (Romans 15:1).

In the lives of the disciples we can see this principle in action. Paul was a chosen vessel for God (Acts 9:15). That choosing did not give Paul any special bonuses in life—in the very next sentence, God said, “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Paul received many abilities and power from God so he could do the work God asked of him—he was able to bring healing to people and was protected from death on several occasions, though he had to go through many trials and troubles.

No doubt there is no greater example of one who had the greatest position—the noblest, but who gave it up for the sake of those who needed help, than that Jesus set. John writes about the Logos (the Word) who was with God and was God—but was made flesh for the suffering of death for our sakes (John 1:14). Jesus Christ, for the joy that was set before Him, suffered hardships and suffering (Hebrews 12:2). Part of that joy was in serving mankind.

God shows that He did all that He could possibly do for the benefit of those He was reaching out to help, which is the most selfless act ever done for others. Because He first laid down His life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers in Christ (1 John 3:16). Most of the world would probably say the opposite—the higher you go, the more you are above the law, can ignore the rules and get away with things. But according to the Bible, the higher you go, the more is expected of you for two reasons: Firstly, you should know better, and secondly, you are supposed to be an example for others.

The Christian calling is a “supreme honor” and a “supreme burden.” That is the way of God. God does give special gifts, but those gifts are to be used for the benefit of the rest of mankind. It is the obligation of all who are chosen.

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