WHERE IT ALL BEGAN (Part III)
WHY MANY RELIGIONS SHARE THE SAME PRINCIPLES
When Jesus’ parents found Him as a young boy in the Temple amazing the elders with what He knew; and later in His life when two Temple guards were sent to arrest Him but came back saying they had never heard any man speak like this man, it was a clear sign that something Jesus was saying astounded the listeners. Not that they had never heard it before, but that they had never heard it explained this way before. What was the subject that caught their attention, something that had been going around for a long time during the period between 800-200 B.C.
There was an earlier teacher who espoused some of the same principles and ethics. He was known as Kong Qui or K’ung Fu-tzu, but we know him better as, Confucius. He was born on August 27, 551 B.C. in the northeast area of China called, Lu State. Little is known of his childhood. Some say he was born into a royal family, but his own story defies that since he had to work his way up to the top. Others say he was born in poverty, but that does not fit his own account about early studies at the age of fifteen. His teachings, which were copied down by his students, are preserved in the Analects, and focused on creating ethical models of family and public interaction, and setting educational standards. When his life and times are studied, it is clear that Confucius also lived during a time of ideological crisis in China.
What amazes many who study the teachings of Confucius for the first time is how closely his philosophy harmonizes with those of Socrates, Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth. The four never met each other; never read each others writings, and none of them ever wrote a book. Yet their words and models of ethics and virtues have affected the world like no other philosophical quartet.
Confucius believed strongly in “studying.” Not just reading, but studying what is being read. To study means to apply the mind to the acquisition of knowledge through reading, investigation and research. In other words, there’s a difference between “reading” a book and “studying” a book. The two subjects that fascinated Confucius in his studies were History and Literature. These, he said, are a must to anyone who desires to grow intellectually and mature into becoming a role model and teacher of others. How many times did Jesus tell His opponents to go back and study the scriptures again because they had not understood it sufficiently to put it into effect properly (see Matthew 23.) But a time came after Confucius was gone that a group called “Legalists” opposed the teachings of Confucius, saying that mankind could not think on his own but must be guided only by those in charge who knew what was best for them. This would sound to familiar to Jesus who encountered the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians with the same attitude.
If Confucius had a motto, it was, Practice what you preach. “By doing so continuously and faithfully to the principles you’ve learned,” Confucius taught, “you will eventually find The Way.” In Chinese it is referred to as “Tao.” For Confucius, “The Way,” meant walking in the truth on how to live a virtuous life. We find the same reference to “The Way” in the Acts of the Apostles (9:2; 19:9, 27; 22:4; 24:14, 22.) So it was fixed in men’s minds during this period that there was a “Way” to live and conduct oneself so as to give purpose and reason for living. Confucius said that any virtuous man will have deep reverence for at least three things: (l) He will reverence what Heaven decrees, (2) He will reverence great leaders, and (3) He will reverence what the saints’ have to say. But one astounding proverb from Confucius is this: “When worshiping God, one must feel as if He were visibly present.”
Furthermore, this virtuous life for Confucius involved the following four things:
The Virtue of Wisdom: Confucius taught that wisdom is knowing what needs to be done. Furthermore, he noted that the ultimate goal of any seeker of truth, is wisdom, because wisdom is only found in knowing the truth. Even Jesus stated, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Confucius continues: Having wisdom means that we understand these absolute values to the point that we can apply them to our daily lives. The ripening of wisdom continues as a person gains more and more knowledge—the accumulation of facts and information. With experience, this knowledge is then applied to living out those principles so one can obtain a Good life. In fact, wisdom consists of knowing how to apply the Good to Life; if not, then knowledge becomes worthless. It must be understood, that Wisdom does not necessarily come with age. Just look at Jesus, how wise He was at a young age. If you look up the word “wisdom” in the Gospels as it relates to Jesus, it will open your eyes to how our Lord viewed it.
The Virtue of Justice: For Confucius, passivity (remaining silent because of our own needs) in the face of injustice is in itself an injustice. Always keep your word, but be practical (for there are times when keeping one’s word is wrong because it may harm others). At the heart of all justice is Honor, because it rests on integrity and courage. Arguably, a litigious culture like ours today does not fully appreciate the meaning of justice, because legality often circumvents the foundation of justice. In John 5:30 Jesus gives us a definition of His concept of justice, “I don’t do things on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.”
The Virtue of Courage: Now Confucius says that with courage, which is a fundamental human value, we demonstrate the willingness to stand up and say what is just and true. With courage, we do what needs to be done, steadfast in the truth as we understand it, not allowing fear to hinder our course. When we have an understanding of what is just, it takes courage to uphold what is right. Wisdom is also essential to courage, for without wisdom an individual doesn’t know what he or she should defend. If there was anyone who showed courage in what He believed and was willing to defend it with His life, it was Jesus Christ.
The Virtue of Moderation: Finally, Confucius points out that the virtue of moderation provides a guide to living: nothing in excess; nothing carried to extremes; nothing pushed so far that it becomes harmful or wrong. To Confucius, moderation is the secret ingredient of the four virtues that brings the virtues of justice, courage, and wisdom together, ensuring that they work in harmony. With moderation, we come to know when justice turns into legality. With moderation, we can see when brutality replaces courage. With moderation, we can discern when we are accumulating knowledge for knowledge’s sake rather than letting knowledge ripen into wisdom. Jesus is very clear on this in His teaching in Luke 12.
When we examine the teachings of Jesus as found in Matthew 5:3-12 we find a similar theme as that of what Confucius taught.
3 “God blesses those who are humble and realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who grieve when they make a mistake, for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are considerate of others, for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will get to know God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Therefore, Justice, Courage, Wisdom, and Moderation are four all-powerful virtues that require a lifetime of study and daily practice. Many great minds believe these four virtues to be a guide to a life of freedom. Even after God’s communication with mankind changed following what happened in the Garden of Eden, He did not stop communicating with His creation. But it would take a special effort for Him to get man’s attention so that what He said would become Gospel. That’s why He sent His only Son to do the job. No wonder Jesus declared, “Yes, I am the gate (Way). Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:9-10.)
But unlike Jesus, Confucius, Socrates, and Buddha never pointed to themselves as “The Way.” They did not found a religion or establish a church. They did not die on a cross for the sins of mankind which was accepted by God as the only way for sins to be forgiven, and they did not rise from the grave victorious over death. As the writer of Hebrews said so eloquently, “In the past God spoke to our people through the prophets. He spoke to them many times and in many different ways. And now in these last days, God has spoken to us again through His Son. He made the whole world through His Son. And He has chosen His Son to have all things. The Son shows the glory of God. He is a perfect copy of God’s nature, and He holds everything together by His powerful command. The Son made people clean from their sins. Then He sat down at the right side of God, the Great One in heaven. The Son became much greater than the angels, and God gave Him a name that is much greater than any of their names.”
So no matter what has been said or taught in the past, when the Son came He came to put God’s final stamp of approval on what He wanted mankind to know. There is no need to look for some new divine teacher in the future. The Word has come in the flesh, and the Word is eternal.