How Then Should We Live? – Part 1

 

1. Career-driven or Christ-like

 

“…as He is, so are we in this world”. 1 John 4:17

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you”. Matthew 6:33

One of the ways to describe the lives of most people today is that they are career-driven and money-driven. This is true of both the followers of Christ and others. This is also true of many, even in the ‘ministry’ today. In fact I must state quite categorically and unequivocally at the outset, that this is what constitutes patent worldliness among us. This is one of the ways in which we ‘conform to the world’ rather than being ‘transformed by the renewing of the mind’.

A career-driven life-style places a high premium on furtherance of one’s career. In a career-driven life-style, going higher, personal advancement and growth is sought after with single-minded devotion. Climbing up the career ladder is seen as positive, dynamic, progressive, and commendable. In the bargain quite often unconsciously, they sacrifice many things, more important in life. Like neglecting of lasting relationships, the inner-life of reflection, meditation and worship, and in some cases postponement of marriages, delayed pregnancy by women etc. In fact many have left homes and elderly, infirm parents, no doubt in search of a living but often in search of better jobs, bigger salaries, better conveniences and prospects.  I must quickly add before I am accused of sweeping generalisations, that many have no doubt taken several conscious steps and at great cost, to care and provide for their parents. Nonetheless, how many marriages have been wrecked by such life styles? And how many parents and elderly are left unattended and neglected in the final days of their lives? How many children have been left uncared for or with nannies/ayahs because of such life styles? At the end of it all, many have succumbed to stress, and stress-related illnesses, job-dissatisfaction, frustration and disillusionment. Some do resort to different esoteric solutions, techniques and so-called stress busters like, exercising, meditation, yoga, health foods etc. Many take to philanthropy or joining full-time Christian ministry, hoping that, it would help. But realise that it is no different in the ministry either. And find that many in the ministry too, go through the same disillusionment and have similar feelings of entrapment. There are many who are genuinely interested to do what is right and live according to the plan and purpose of God. But find no clear guidance as to what is expected to live a Christ-like life. And finding no models or clear paradigms they take solace in the fact that everyone else around is doing the same. So we go as the world goes.  We are like people born in a submarine. We know that the environment is artificial and suffocating. But do not know any alternatives and conclude that this is our natural habitat and try to adapt ourselves to it the best we can. Friends this is not our natural habitat. We are neither created nor called in Christ to live this way. The call that Lord Jesus gives in the gospels is a call to radical discipleship. What is it about? What does it mean to live as followers of Christ today?

Life is more than a career

A dominant paradigm, by which most people live with today, is the career-driven model. Historically, career as the main focus is an offshoot in general of industrialisation, secularisation and modernisation.  These are not bad and we know that these have brought lot of change for the better in the human condition globally. But these have also brought many alien consequences in their wake into the human situation. My question is how far is it commendable and acceptable for followers of Christ to be career-driven? Early in life when I was working at a college, before I began my work as a full-time preacher, an elderly and respectable gentleman and a Christian leader asked me what my future prospects were as librarian at a college. Later, my future father-in-law wanted to know through a mediator, what my future prospects were as an evangelist working with a Christian ministry. I was at a loss for an answer, for I did not live or see my life as a career.  My answer to them was that I was just obeying the Lord and that I was where He intended me to be at the time. And that I would move on as He leads and trust in Him to take care of my future.

Friends, my point is, aren’t we called to Christ-like life-styles or kingdom lifestyles (as one could call it in the light of Christ’s teaching in the NT)? Lord Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you”. And we know what ‘all these things’ refers to from the preceding verses in Matthew 6 – the things that are necessary for our living. It is really unfortunate and scandalous that most parents, leaders and our peers in the church and outside of it continue to think of life as a career, foster it and inculcate the same mindset in others. Life is not about a career that one pursues. Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” And again, “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing…for all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 6:15, 23, 30-34)

What does it mean to live a Christ-like life or to have a kingdom life-style?

A life given over to God

Simply put, it just means to live like Christ. A kingdom life-style is characterised by devotedness and dependence upon the Father. Jesus lived such a life of devotedness to God and the fulfilling of His will. In His devotedness to the Father, He lived by dependence upon Him. His devotedness is seen in His answer to Mary in Luke 2, ‘…I must be on my father’s business’. He was tempted of the devil to be drawn away from this. His own parents and brothers tried to push Him to do what they thought He must be doing. They were concerned that He will remain unknown, unsung and unsuccessful if He did not go and show himself to people. In other words, they were trying to make Him do something that would propel Him to center-stage. He could dazzle people with His powers and grab their attention. Unfortunately, a closer look at the church and the ministry situation worldwide seems to suggest that many have succumbed to this temptation. Even the devil hinted it, by asking Him to jump from the pinnacle of the temple, an unmistakable way to prove God’s commitment to Him.  And the people would know who He was. People too tried to take hold of Him to crown Him king. He constantly and consciously resisted such pressures.

His dependence on the Father is revealed in His words, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (Jon 5:19). The cardinal sin of man is that he does not accept his contingency. But he wants to live independently without any reference to God. Jesus, as the last Adam and as One who was going to live as man was meant to live, was going to reverse this. He affirmed when tempted of the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God”. So the first and the foremost thing in a kingdom-lifestyle is love for God and dependence upon Him as Christ has shown. Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”(Jon15: 3-5). Living by the word of God is the key to dependence upon Him.

Devotedness and dependence on God is not about religiosity – regular church-attendance, faithful offering and tithing, taking active role in ‘ministry’. It is not even about holding offices in the church or ministry hierarchies. It is not about giving donations for worthy causes. It is not about wearing on one’s sleeve, the faith, religion or self-righteousness in the garb of a good testimony. Today we seem to be blowing our own trumpets on the pretext of sharing our testimonies, or striving to or positioning ourselves to be seen or recognised as godly. Devotedness and dependence upon the Lord is about discipleship. It is about taking up the cross and following Him, (Matt 16:24). This actually means to reject or spurn all that the world has to offer. When we look to the world for our sustenance, security, and identity and allow these concerns to control our lives decisions, then we have allowed the world to be our lord. The call to take up the cross and follow the Lord is a call to abandonment of life to follow and obey Him. It means actually a death knell to all aspirations for power, position, security, identity even our sustenance. All these are left in His hands and He becomes the source of all that we need – this I believe is the meaning of the words – ‘…and your Father knows that you need these things’. We, no more think of life as a career. But we treat life as given to us in His grace both in creation and redemption. We learn to live under that grace with gratefulness and submission. We live for Him and please Him alone. Paul writes, “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” (2 Cor 5:15). And Paul continues, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (1:21).

Such a life is marked by a refusal to make anything that the world has to offer as the source of ones’ strength or the focus of one’s devotion. Jesus teaches us this in His encounter with the devil in the desert. He refused to make bread the primary source of His sustenance and strength. While bread is needed, it is not the only source of one’s sustenance, and “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” He refused to make power and the glory of the world the primary focus of His devotion or pursuit. The world has so much to offer to us and demands allegiance and devotion to attain them. Jesus rejected, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” The glamour, the glitter and the privileges of power and position are very alluring, and quite often intoxicating. The follower of Christ refuses to make any of these the source of his identity or security or to ‘boast of what he has and does’ (1 John 2: 16). The third temptation was a masterstroke and one subtler than the earlier two. The devil wanted Jesus to test if God was equally committed to Him. This is what the subtlety in it is: whenever we declare our love and devotion to the Lord, we are tempted to test God’s faithfulness or commitment to us. This comes to us in the form of ‘what will happen to God’s name’ or ‘what happens to our testimony’ and so on. From the Lord’s response, we learn that we should not attempt exploits just for the sake of testing God’s power, goodness or faithfulness. In the case of the friends of Daniel (in the Bible), we see that they were even willing to leave a margin for God not to come to their rescue. But they were not going to compromise on the issue of worship. They were not being presumptuous about God’s intervention. They did what was right for them and left the consequences to God. There is no point in trying to defend or raise a testimony for God. He can defend Himself well and knows to guard His name. He needs no assistance from us. But many times we try to help God presumptuously as Uzzah did in trying to protect the ark from falling and was stricken dead (2 Samuel 6). (I wonder if Uzzah’s story is the story of many in the ministry and others too, today – stricken spiritually dead in trying to help guard God’s glory).

Unfortunately the present life structures both in the world and the church do not allow us to live such lives. They want us to conform to the patterns and values of the world. And whoever doesn’t conform is rejected as unfit, unimaginative, passive, and unworthy of the world and the church in its present state. This is the reason why, friends, we are called to ‘go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach, for here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come’ (Heb 13: 13-14).

I am not suggesting that working to earn one’s living is wrong or worldly. But the question I am raising is – what is it that is driving us today. My point is that people who are Christ-driven are marked by a life of quiet confidence in the loving and gracious providence of God. While they do work to earn a living, they are not controlled or driven by the values or the criteria set by the world for success or fulfillment. They do not depend for their security or their identity upon what position they hold in life or on the size of the pay packet, or on the kind of house they live in or the kind of clothes they wear. Those considerations do not control their decisions nor do these drive them. For they know that, “… what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16: 15)

In fact Bible nowhere teaches that life must be seen as a career. But life is viewed as a sacrament lived in worship and submission unto God as revealed in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. The best examples one can take from scripture are those of Joseph, Esther and Daniel. A careful reading of all the three stories reveals that they were not driven with the desire to rise to the top in the nation. In fact, it becomes clear at the outset that they were led into those situations in which they were, not out of conscious striving. But by either others’ spite as in the case of Joseph or because of geo-political reasons, beyond their control. It mattered not what position they held. What mattered or what controlled them was their faithfulness to the God they knew. Their faithfulness was not a carefully practiced or consciously pursued project with the aim to be blessed by God. In other words even their loyalty to God was not used calculatingly to position themselves for later blessing. This is the reason why; I believe we do not see them fretting the challenging trials. We do not find any overt celebration or gloating when they were rewarded and raised to the top. They were neither dejected nor elated by adversity or exaltation. There is no mention of any form of feeling that they have been vindicated.  You find in them a quiet assurance about God’s loving care and goodness. They just did what they felt was right in the situation and left the consequences to God.

Not as a scandal

One of the greatest scandals of Christianity is that we have reduced it to a religion. Being a Christian is a matter of a relationship and not a religion. We are called to a living relationship with the God of the universe as revealed in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead we have begun to think that Christianity is just a matter of religious duty, a mere performance and a fulfilling of certain traditions. As long as we fulfill those religious duties, we think it did not matter how we lived. This is the reason why, for many it has become just a church-attendance, giving tithes and offerings and contributing a bit to ministry, hoping that God is sufficiently appeased.

The second greatest scandal of Christianity was to build places of worship. We, then created ecclesiastical and liturgical forms, as if worship was a matter of ritual, performed by a select few on a particular day, at a particular place and in a particular way. Thus reducing worship and fellowship to a programme conducted or performed as a spectacle to be watched mutely by spectators and to be enjoyed as consumers. And it is almost but forgotten that Christian worship is a life-style. We must now offer every thought, word and action as worship unto the Lord, every moment of the day. Such that, the love I show to my neighbour is because of my love and worship of the Lord.  Thus the way I live and the way I respond to my fellow-human beings is the service I render unto God for the sake of His love. Christian fellowship is about sharing the life of God in us with each other thus enriching, building and equipping one another in the Lord. Ministry then is something that every follower of Christ would do in relationship with His Lord, as a normal, natural and spontaneous response to need around. It is not the job of qualified specialists. This brings us to the third greatest scandal of Christianity, namely the institutionalising of ministry.

Ministry was meant to be a response of love of the followers of Christ to the need of the people around. But institutions and organisations have hijacked it. The result of this is, ministry reduced to a project, a programme, a strategy, a performance, to reports and to statistics. Today many so-called ‘full-time workers’ and others in the church rank and file think, that serving God is a matter of occupying positions in the church hierarchy or ministry organisations. This has led to further reducing of ministry to a career. Therefore for many, ministry has become just a source of earning a living, building securities and raising identities. The lifestyle of faith and dependence upon God has become a mere token.

The fourth major scandal of Christianity was to reduce church and ministry to a business. We have begun to adopt all the means and methods of a capitalist corporation, of earning returns commensurate with the investment. Anyone with an ounce of a gift wants to go commercial in order to capitalise. This has spawned a whole industry of books, magazines, audios/videos, gospel trinkets etc.  Ministry today has become more of a private enterprise, with increasing dependence upon technology, management skills, professionalism, personal charisma, publicity, packaging and marketability of the promoters. It is a sad irony that Christianity reduced to religion, an institution and a business offers us all that the devil offered Christ in His temptation in the desert. We have blindly and dumbly succumbed to his wiles. The point is that there are many who live nice ‘Christian lives’ – pious, honest, hardworking, simple, humble, ethically and morally sound for all external appearances. Yet when it comes to world’s values, methods, models, structures and systems, we have capitulated. We are as enslaved as any others – to the pursuit of our careers, to the preservation of our names, to the guarding of our power and position, to the amassing of and gloating about our possessions.

This is how the source of our sustenance and strength has shifted from the Lord to the pursuit of a career in the name of earning a living. The focus of our love is the power and glory of money, position and status. The source of our pride shifted to our achievements, attainments and acquirements, to be talked about as testimonies of how we have been blessed for our faithfulness and piety. It must be noted that anything that supplants our devotion supplants God from our lives thus taking His place. And anything, be it an institution, a career, a church and ministry when it takes the place of God becomes an idol we worship and are enslaved by it. Evil forces very soon overtake idols and we end up being controlled by them. We begin to dance to their tune, tunes of convenience, compromise, complicity, respectability, and expedience rather than to the voice of God. This probably explains our petulant behaviours and eccentricities when our idols are disturbed. In our quest for identity, security, respectability and power we have sold our birthright like Esau. In our desire to find life, we have lost it (Matt 16:25). Today we are reduced to being mere slaves when we were called to be the sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The net result is – despite all our structures, programmes, and activity; we stand indifferent or helpless and powerless in the midst of gross need all around. The words of Jeremiah the prophet in chapter 2 probably ring more true today than to the original recipients, “Is Israel a servant? Is he a home-born slave? Why is he plundered? The young lions roared at him, and growled; they made his land waste; his cities are burned, without inhabitant.” (Jer 2:14-15)

Is this what we have been called to? Is this what the God of the Bible wants of us? Is this what the Christ of the gospels taught? Is it not a strange form of Christianity we see around us today – one where even our Lord would be unfit, unwelcome and unwanted? Whatever happened to true discipleship, worship and ministry?

Not as slaves but as heirs

Are you asking the question, “What must I do now? I am in this particular situation…I know I have compromised…I am in a mortgage…I have to pay my bills…children’s education, housing loan, medical bills, food, groceries etc, etc” Friends, I am with you in this journey. Many of you who would read this article have known me and do know me still and I am sure that you understand that I am not talking theory or idealism. Many of you know my calling and my way of life. I have been walking in Christian faith for close to four decades and have been a preacher of God’s word for over 25 years. All along I suspected that there was something wrong or missing in the general Christian situation and the way churches and ministries have been going on. I know I have not always lived to the measure of my knowledge nor have been a good example. I am learning and endeavouring to walk this path as I encourage you to do the same.

So now if you are asking the question, “What must I do”, my first answer is to repent. Repentance entails that we turn around and away from anything else that has become the source of our identity, security, sustenance and strength or anything that has replaced God in our lives. Whatever it is, we take pride in – ‘of what we have and do’ (as it says in 1 John 2:16) must go or must be repented of. This is what denying ourselves and taking up the cross means. Second, it means learning to live by faith. Faith means learning to live with certain unpredictability, uncertainly and risk but with trust and hope in the Risen Lord – “Because I live, you will live also”, are His words of assurance.  But many times when we hear a teaching of this kind one of the responses is of fear – of survival, security, other’s opinion, fear of losing the conveniences, comforts, fear of the future, fear of losing power etc. This was the response, probably, of the rich young ruler in the gospels, when he heard what was expected. He was sad and walked away (Luke 18: 18-23). The best way to handle fear is to take out the sting out of fear by taking it to its logical conclusion – the worst that can happen to us is death. And death for a follower of Christ holds no fear for our Lord overcame it and broke its sting.  Another response one can show to a teaching of this kind is to rationalise. One of the rationalisations we use is that it is a matter of interpretation that one does not have to be so radical or be idealistic but to be practical. Another way to explain it away is to talk about it as a matter of calling, that all are not called to such a lifestyle. I must point out to all such, that these are nothing but just rationalisations to avoid the cost of obedience to the Lord. Jesus said, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” The more we hold on to our security, identity, dignity and power, the more surely we lose it. But the more we are willing to deny ourselves these things and let them go, trusting and looking to Him, we gain them or find them.

Another surer and better way to handle fear is rediscovering and focusing on the love and greatness of our God – which means worship, meditation and praise, engendering such life. If the Lord were the focus of our love and worship then we would celebrate along with the Psalmist the gracious providence of God as our loving and caring Shepherd (Psalm 23). And our boasting would be in the Lord alone and not in our wisdom, or riches or strength (Jer 9: 23-24). For we owe it all to His grace and along with Paul would declare, “I am what I am by his grace” and that “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3: 7-11).

Such a life is liberating. When your security and identity comes from the Lord and not from what the world or the people around have to offer, you are released from the effort or the struggle to please anyone. You will not strive even to guard it from being snatched away. When your fulfillment and joy doesn’t depend upon how much you produce or possess, but on the grace and acceptance of God, then all efforts to prove your worth cease. And you will rest in his assurance that your are, ‘accepted in the beloved’ (Eph 1:6).

John Chrysostom (A.D.347-407) was a man who knew such liberation. He was Bishop of Antioch. His fearless preaching on repentance so offended Empress Eudoxia, that he was banished to an island on the Black Sea. Read his answers to the emperor during his deposition. When warned that he would be banished from all human contact, the bishop replied,

“You cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.”

The Emperor threatened, “But I will slay you,”

“No that you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.”

“Then I will take away your treasures,”

“No, but you cannot. My treasure is in heaven, and my heart is there also.”

“But I will drive you away from man, and you shall have no friend left,” continued the Emperor.

“No, and that you cannot, for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me.” And finally he added: “I defy you; there is nothing you can do to hurt me.”

Such language is not for a few ‘super-spiritual’ Christians but it must be the language of every follower of Christ. There is nothing in this world that can overwhelm them. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:37-39) Such is the language in Psalm 23 – the psalmist’s need of sustenance, security, status, identity, recognition and fulfillment are all met in the divine Shepherd. So he can confidently end his song with, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This is our natural habitat!

But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favour He shows
And the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet
We will sit at His feet
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do,
Where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey. Amen

This brings us to the next major thought about the kingdom lifestyle. The second and equally important aspect of a Christ-like life is that such people live their lives considering it worthwhile and expendable in and for the welfare of others. As we live by, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ we are also reminded in the same breath, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

 

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