(Read Part 1 of the article ‘How Then Should We Live? – As Christ Lived’ below)
2. Living the gospel
At the outset I wish to make two points of clarification – one about worldliness in general among Christians and the next more specifically about why career-driven lifestyles are worldly.
First, an underlying point to what I am saying is, in the words of our Lord, our ‘righteousness must exceed’ that of the religious peoples of the world. Otherwise we have nothing to offer! Gandhiji’s words in a speech to Women Missionaries on 28 July 1925 are true even today, “…although I am myself not a Christian, as an humble student of the Bible, who approaches it with faith and reverence I wish respectfully to place before you…There are thousands of men and women today who, though they may not have heard about the Bible or Jesus have more faith and are more god fearing than Christians who know the Bible and who talk of its Ten Commandments…” This is an indictment that we cannot easily ignore. The problem is that we have defined ‘discipleship’ in such tame ways; it is totally alien to the call of Christ in the gospels. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I must say that regular church attendance and Bible reading, faithful tithing or contributing to ministry causes, honest, hardworking, humble and pious living is not enough, to be a follower of Christ. There are many among the religions of the world who can out do us by a mile on any of these criteria. Anything that shifts our focus from our love and devotion to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, anything we take pride in other than our inheritance in Christ is worldly. The charge is that with all our goodness, churchliness, even our so-called Christian graces popularly known as ‘fruit of the Spirit’, if we value anything that the world values, or live for anything that the world lives for and depend on anything of the world for our security and identity other than what we are and have in Christ, then we have allowed the world into us. So you see the cardinal sin of Christians today is worldliness. The subtlest form of it, as mentioned earlier, is to work for a good testimony. What we seem to actually mean is working for a respectable identity even to be able to say how much God has blessed us. And so we tempt God by asking Him to bless us in our efforts to build our securities, our names and ourselves. We have allowed ourselves to be deceived by our archenemy and swallowed his bait hook, line and sinker with regard to worldliness. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2: 15). So you see the basic difference we offer to the world is the difference in our lifestyles and the values we espouse. If we pursue the same things and value the same things as the people of the world then I am sure we have completely missed the point of following Christ. Unless we have repented from and denied ourselves the things of the world we cannot claim to have been converted or transformed. While the onus is on all of us to be vigilant about the wiles of the enemy, it is clear too, that those who should have watched over us failed. The blame must lie squarely, at the door of our leaders, pastors, preachers and teachers. This hit me hard when I read one of the responses to the first part of this article. I know I have failed in my responsibility towards many of you! I seek yours and the Lord’s mercy!
By allowing ourselves to be carried away by the same pursuits that drive the world we have allowed the world to enter our lives. I assert that career-driven lifestyle is one such pursuit. This is the second point of clarification. One of the ways the devil draws us away from our love for the Lord is by taking that which is legitimate and employing it illegitimately in our lives. This is the crux of the issue in the temptations of the Lord. Working to earn a living is proper and legitimate for all humans and even Christians must do. But in His kingdom teaching, the Lord clearly says:
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them… “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6: 25-34)
The point that the Lord makes here is that our life is more than a pursuit for earning a living. And the Lord says even this He will take care as He does for the birds and the grass. This does not mean we do not work to earn a living but we do not allow it to become a pursuit or be driven by it. It is the people of the world who are driven by it, not the child of God. Therefore it constitutes patent worldliness among us. And the Lord taught in the parable of the ‘sower and the seed’ that it is the ‘cares of life’ that choke the Word of God in us and do not allow us to bear fruit (Luke 13: 22).
Now that the focus is no more earning bread and butter we now focus on seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness. Seeking His kingdom is not about doing ministry. It is not about just evangelism. It is much more than what most of us tend to think. Seeking His kingdom is about allowing God’s rule and authority to govern our lives. It means to seek Him and all that flows from our knowledge of Him – peace, joy, love, righteousness, justice, compassion and grace. It means to seek reconciliation, unity, justice and welfare for all.
Friends, I know that many of you are flabbergasted at the issues I am raising. I must confess that I take no pleasure in doing it nor wish to cause any hurts or disturbances to anyone. I have no personal axe to grind against anyone. But I am certainly disturbed to the point of consternation at the way the world has permeated us. I am totally amazed at the extent to which we have allowed ourselves to be done in by the world. We have actually cavorted with the world and continue to do it. When I see well meaning and sincere children of God, by the thousands so sincerely mislead, I am appalled. James writes, “…Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? (4:4, 5)
Now in continuation of the previous article, the second and equally important aspect of a kingdom life-style or 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.” In response to the question about the greatest commandment, our Lord answered emphasising both the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of our responsibility. He gave the second part of the greatest commandment in the same breath suggesting that ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’ is a natural corollary to and a consequence of loving God.
Friends, I feel broken and defeated as I meditate and contemplate this part of my article. In fact I do not think I am eligible or qualified to write about it. I baulk and shudder at the prospect and the implications as I see it at the moment. But I must write, even if my own words should condemn me, in the hope that there would be someone, somewhere who might be willing to obey and do what God and His Son will of us and thus ‘His Kingdom come as it is in heaven’.
‘The 99% of the world’
‘Love you neighbour as yourself’ – has any of us ever done it, to the fullest extent of its implications, except the Lord Himself and a few scattered saints across history?
Friends, the sting is in the ‘as yourself’ clause. What is it that we love to do for our self? What is it that we work for, strive for, pursue in life for ourselves? We work for our sustenance, safety, security, and identity. So loving my neighbour involves that his concerns, his needs become our concerns as well. That henceforth I strive for his food, clothes, house to live in, safety, security, dignity, identity etc. Not in the hope of deriving some benefit or profit out of it but for the sake of the love of God. This sounds the death knell to capitalism, does it not? Whoever said capitalism was biblical! And this is the answer to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. In a world ridden with poverty, hunger, homelessness, disease, lack of basic healthcare, injustice, rivalries and war, what has the follower of Christ to offer? I must confess here, that I hesitate to use the words church or Christian for they do not evoke the right scriptural images anymore! It is not just the nomenclature, but also the image we have projected of ourselves in more recent history, is so alien to the teaching of the Bible. We have made a mockery today of Christianity. Having reduced Christianity to a religion, and the hijacking of ministry by the institutions from the individual and the running of our ministries and churches as businesses and private enterprises – we have lost our voice and our witness. What have we got to offer to the voices being raised globally, against social and economic inequality, high unemployment, individual and corporate greed, as well as corruption in almost all areas of life. The OWS protesters’ slogan “We are the 99%” refers to the growing income and wealth inequality in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. This is true even in other countries of the world including among Christians.
Unless we as followers of Christ take the horizontal dimensions of our responsibility seriously and the call to radical discipleship as the norm, we would have not only lost our witness but we would be in serious danger of losing the presence and the power of God with us. That is if the Holy Spirit of God has not left us already! I am reminded of the words of Watchman Nee in his ‘Twelve Basketsful” that all the operations of the temple during the days of King Saul, were going on as usual while the ark of the covenant (which signified the presence of God among His people) was absent from the Holiest of all. Does it not sound truer today than when he wrote them over 50 years ago? We have all our programmes and projects and national and international conferences going on as usual while the world languishes and gasps for answers.
As I write this, I am watching the 9 PM news on the TV and it is reported that there are over 40,000 homeless sleeping on the pavements and bypasses of New Delhi in 4.5 degrees centigrade temperature. According to conservative estimates there are over 50,000 homeless in Delhi, but unofficial figures are 6 times that number. Why should they sleep in the open when there are so many church buildings, chapels and cathedrals in Delhi, which lie vacant almost every night that could accommodate them? What a sad irony!
Do we really know our Bibles and understand the call of Christ? John the Apostle writes in his first letter, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3: 16-18) No one can claim to love God and be indifferent to his neighbour. And anyone who does not love his neighbour just does not know God. Need one say more! I do not wish to belabour the point further – one has to read John’s first letter to understand the point.
Listen to the words of Gandhiji again about Christians. When the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Gandhiji replied, “Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.” It’s a gauntlet few of us picked up!
If only we as followers of Christ understood the implications of the call to discipleship by Jesus Christ!
The rich young ruler in the gospels understood it well (Luke 18: 18-23). This is the reason why ‘his face fell down and went away sad’. Most preaching on this story suggests that when he claimed that he kept all the commandments from his childhood, he mentioned only the second part of the Decalogue, which was easier to keep! And that he ignored the first half of the Decalogue. Such an interpretation of the story is possibly right. But my contention is that he understood very clearly the implications of the Lord’s, “Go and sell all that you have give it to the poor and come and follow me”. He knew the Lord was saying to Him to the effect that if he actually kept the second part of the Ten Commandments, how come he was rich while there were so many poor still around!
While the second half of the Decalogue might suggest that we must not do anything that is detrimental to the welfare of our neighbours, the rest of the Torah teaches in great detail the positive aspects of our moral and social obligations. And generally it is easier for us to avoid harm to our neighbour while doing good to them is not so easy.
Remember Jesus was actually saying all this to him in the context of his question, what he must do to inherit eternal life. In the light if this, have we not cheapened the gospel? We have preached the gospel and pronounced those who raised the hand or signed a card as now having eternal life. But what have we given up? Our securities are all in tact. Our structures of power and position are all intact. Our status and dignities are all in tact. You see the gospel of the kingdom of God is not just about saving souls. It is a holistic and wholesome offer of shalom to the whole person, affecting all of his life. And it demands self-denial and giving up of many things on our part. The gospel is not only about offering forgiveness from sin it is a call to leave the world’s values and patterns of living, to deny ourselves, take up the cross and to follow Christ. To follow Christ is to obey his teaching and adopt his lifestyle. This explains why His followers just left whatever they were doing and followed Christ trusting in him to take care of all their needs. We have conveniently interpreted all such scriptures as a call to ‘full-time’ ministry and not as a norm. Such an interpretation suited the religion called Christianity and its institutions but does not do any justice to the calling to a lifestyle of Christ likeness. Today even to say what I am saying is considered strange.
But who can love in this manner? Who can serve in this way? And who can give up for the welfare of his neighbour? Such love and such service involve making oneself vulnerable. Who can make themselves vulnerable for the sake of others?
Paradigm of love – giving more than receiving
It is only the liberated ones who can love their neighbours as themselves. As people who are liberated from the worries of food, security, identity, power and whatever else that engages the mind and the heart of ‘mere mortals’, we must now engage in seeking the welfare of our fellow humans. This I believe is to ‘seek his kingdom’, to ‘seek those things which are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God’ (Col 3:1). This is what it means to ‘reign in life through Jesus Christ’ (Rom 5:17). From the vantage point of living above the world we begin to seek what Christ seeks. He says that he did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). As liberated people we are not dogged by the same fears as others. We are liberated from the fear of the future, fear of being taken advantage of, fear of being looked down upon, fear of losing our respect or dignity or even the fear of losing our life. The history of the human race is of fear of fellow humans. But as people of the kingdom who are delivered from all such fears that plague human kind – we now serve others freely. This is the answer to all the present rivalries and wars among the people of the world for food, water and fuel.
Last Sunday as we discussed what Christmas meant to each one of us Ashra, a 7-year-old girl in the group answered – Christmas is about giving more than receiving. How true! God the Father and His Son, Jesus gave away more than what they receive from us. True love loves, gives, serves freely without expecting anything in return but also receives from others whatever they have to offer without making any demands. This is the Trinitarian way of loving. Father gave us His Son, freely and the Son offered Himself up for us all. Jesus taught,
“Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6: 30-36)
If the church understood this and followed the early church to practise love in all its implications at least among its own we would have been in a position to offer the world a new economic paradigm today, the paradigm of love. We give as God gave because of love and for no other reason. We give because we have something that others need. We give unselfishly and unreservedly to build and bless others. We also receive in humility and submission to one another acknowledging that others have what we need. True Christian fellowship is sharing the life of God in us with each other. It does not mean just gathering together for meetings and programmes to listen to nice sermons. It is not just to listen to stories of God’s goodness and answers to prayers or for some godly gossip. For the early church in Acts 4-5, fellowship was about sharing God’s goodness with each other from what God has given them in His grace. This is why no one had any lack among them (Acts 4: 34). Living by the paradigm of love is not about socialism as some might think. It is not about living in communes. It is about living by the rule of love, the agape love of God. Loving others to the point of giving and sharing what we have not because we can generate capital from it, but because the other needs it. If the church lived by the rule of love, then we would be salt and light in the world. We would have provided an alternative to the global economic chaos today.
Isn’t this the answer to the question people are raising about economic inequality? This could have been the answer today to the OWS clamour. If we rediscovered our true calling in Christ and practised it, the rich would no longer be rich and the poor no longer poor. It would be like the manna collected in the wilderness. Those who collected more did not have it in excess and those who collected less had nothing lacking. If all of us in the world discarded and gave away to the destitute, every piece of extra food, clothing, shoes, vessels, furniture and even vehicles, anything that lies around in our homes unused for a period of time, would that not be an answer to global poverty? If such a thing were to happen, we may have to shut down some industries for sometime and what a relief that would be to the strain on earth’s resources and to the cleaning up of the environment!
One of the saddest ironies among us today is that we have begun to think that God blesses us so that we can splurge to indulge our carnal selves or to flaunt our riches or hoard them as securities for the future. When even ‘churches’ put their monies into bank deposits while many among their own number are enslaved to poverty and debts, one wonders if we have understood the gospel at all!
Listen to two church fathers from the 4th century AD. John Chrysostom (347-407 CE) talking about the true meaning of stewardship argues, “This is also theft not to share one’s possessions…Just as an official in the imperial treasury, if he neglects to distribute where he is ordered, but spends instead for his own indolence, pays the penalty and is put to death, so also the rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want. So if he spends more on himself than his needs require, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. For his own goods are not his own, but belongs to his own fellow servants…I beg you remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.”
I am reminded, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12: 48).
Basil of Caesarea (329-379 CE) preached, ‘That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.’
Ministry – a response of love
Our response of love to the need around is what constitutes ministry. Christian ministry is service rendered by every follower of Christ in relationship with His Lord, as a normal, natural and spontaneous response to need around. Ministry was meant to be a response of love of the followers of Christ to the need of the people around. It is not something done by experts or specialists. In fact all of us are called to serve in this manner. But as mentioned earlier, institutions and organisations have hijacked it from the individual. The result is that, today ministry has become programme-driven, budget-driven, charisma-driven and performance-based. The success of a programme depends upon the performance of the individuals. And success is measured in terms of numbers, statistics and financial returns. We thus reduce individuals to mere statistics. And even the way we relate with each other in our ministries is hierarchical and not as brothers and sisters in the family of God. Although we address each other that way, though in recent times such addressing is on the wane, we do not live or treat each other that way. If we did, why would there be such disparities in the remuneration between the boss and others. This is how ministry that was meant to be a response of love is subverted. The organisational models, the management principles we have adopted to run them and the strategies we employ to do our works are all, of the world. And hence I call it as one of the great scandals of Christianity and is another form of worldliness among us.
Actually if we simplified our understanding and practise of fellowship and ministry then we do not even need the large structures we have built at monumental budgets with money often given by the poor, in the name of serving them. But which actually have become ghost structures later and in most cases have invariably become the focus of debilitating politics. Many bemoan the emptying of large cathedrals and ‘churches’ in the last century in Europe and elsewhere and lying vacant now. So be it. Church is not something that happens in cathedrals and buildings. Church must go back into communities and the streets of our cities and be the salt and light there and respond to need among people. Only then we would be the witness we were meant to be.
Another obnoxious practise in the church today in the name of ministry is to do business and to earn capital on the gifts of grace or spiritual gifts imparted to us for the sake of serving others. The practise is so common today that even to talk about it sounds preposterous. Unless Paul was preposterous too in claiming that he did not indulge in ‘peddling the word of God’ or that “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by labouring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:33-35)
A step further down in the subversion of mission and ministry, is the creation of a strange hybrid in the church today. It goes by an oxymoron called Christian business. Those who try to do it end up being neither good Christians nor do good business. We are called not to do business with the world. We are called to live counter to the culture around us and yet serve them in love.
Living the gospel
One of the most powerful and graphic demonstration of this love is in the incarnation of the Son of God. This has been so commercialised and ritualised as celebrated today globally that it has lost all its meaning and purpose. But nothing can match the profundity of Paul’s description of it or if tradition is to be believed the hymn of the early church which captures the thought so graphically,
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2: 5-11)
In Philippians 2, Paul sketches four portraits of people who served others for the sake of love – Jesus, the trailblazer, who emptied himself to point of becoming a servant and even unto death for the sake of our welfare. Paul was willing to pour out his life as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of the Philippian Christians. Timothy selflessly gave himself for their welfare. And Epaphroditus risked his life in order to care for Paul. It is evident that to have the mind of Christ is to be concerned for the welfare of others. We will be of no service to God or of any usefulness in His kingdom unless we learn to make ourselves vulnerable. Self-emptying, making oneself vulnerable are at the heart of not only incarnation of the Son of God but at the heart of the nature of God. Hence He creates, He communicates, He reveals, He relates, He loves, He gives, He serves and receives. It is only when we begin to do the same, giving of ourselves to others, we begin to understand ourselves. Fellowship is possible only then. Ministry happens and people are blessed. This brings shalom.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. His mind was of voluntary self-emptying, vulnerable service and vicarious sacrifice. Only the one who can deny himself or empty himself of the privileges of power and position can truly serve others. In a world where grabbing or grasping on to or holding on to status symbols, and the trappings of power – it is not easy to empty ourselves. And the organisational models we have copied from the world to run our ministries and churches foster a mindset of bureaucracy, power and status consciousness. It is almost forgotten today that leadership is not about administrative and financial authority or about designations and the trappings of power. True Christian leadership is a calling and it is about having spiritual authority, which comes by a life of prayer, humility and rectitude. Talking about the need for self-effacing men in leadership A. W. Tozer wrote, “Until such men return again to spiritual leadership we may expect a progressive deterioration in the quality of popular Christianity year after year till we reach the point where the grieved Holy Spirit withdraws like the Shekinah from the temple and we are left like Jerusalem after crucifixion, God-deserted and alone.” There is great need for a new type of leader among us today. We don’t need big men but small men, who are pliable in the hands of God. We need men today who will not build themselves but build others and are willing to recede into oblivion. The world needs people who are not here to make a living or build a career, men who know that their living comes from the Creator of all and the Father who knows our needs and are willing to serve for the sake of love as our Lord and Master did. We need people who make a conscious and deliberate decision to remain small, who can say like John, the baptiser, “He must increase and I must decrease”. Such people live their lives considering it worthwhile and expendable in and for the welfare of others. May the Lord raise an army of them!
And finally listen to the words of Gandhi, “To live the gospel is the most effective way, most effective in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. …Not just preach but live the life according to the light…. If, therefore, you go on serving people and ask them also to serve, they would understand. But you quote instead John 3:16 and ask them to believe it and that has no appeal to me, and I am sure people will not understand it…the Gospel will be more powerful when practiced and preached.”
In another context Gandhiji responded to Stanley Jones, “First, I would suggest that all Christians and missionaries begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice it without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity….”
Do I hear you say – it is a hard saying who can live this way?
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:60-69)
We are called to walk the narrow way and few find it – “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14).
“He who has ears to hear let him hear”. May the Lord give us ears! Amen.