Fig Leaves and Broken Pots
Broken pots are a poor source to quench anybody’s thirst, fig leaves are a poor means to cover one’s body nor do they provide a sufficient means of protection from the elements. What is common to these is that man has vainly tried both in different forms over the centuries to provide for himself security and satisfaction.
First, let me explain how it has come about that we are so endemically security-seeking and identity-conscious. The most basic, inherent and endemic needs of man are sustenance, security and identity. While sustenance and security are necessary for his living, identity became an issue as a result of his fall into sin. In fact the main issue in the Genesis story about Adam’s disobedience and fall was about identity – ‘you will be like gods’. And when God came seeking, Adam hid himself. Both the man and the woman were trying to hide their bodies from each other as well. Shame, fear, insecurity and identity crisis are some of the effects of the fall. Man was made to live by trust and dependence upon God – his sustenance, his security and identity were to be found through a life of God-oriented and God-dependent living. But with the fall he lost this orientation and began to seek these from sources that can never truly satisfy him. Man became endemically security-conscious and identity seeking. Most of our problems spring from these two areas. Our problems in inter-personal relationships, communication, issues of understanding, our personality strengths and weaknesses are mostly related to issues of security and identity.
Since the fall, all of man’s efforts and pursuits are geared towards seeking and satisfying these basic needs from sources other than God. Just as Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves we seek to find our security and identity in other forms of fig leaves even today. Jeremiah calls them ‘broken cisterns which can hold no water’.
We know that Jesus was on earth not only as God but also as Man. He lived as man was meant to live. As man he demonstrates for us what man’s response ought to be on these issues of sustenance security and identity.
In his temptations on the mountain he points the way for us. His responses give us the clue. When tempted to make bread the primary focus, his response was “Man shall not live by bread alone”. Bread is necessary but bread alone does not satisfy. We are not made for bread, but bread is made for us. Earning a living cannot be the chief focus of man for in the final analysis we are not made for earning a living alone. The same reasoning can be extended to other areas of life. We could say, ‘Man shall not live by jobs and salaries alone’. ‘Man shall not live by marrying alone’ etc. In the second temptation the devil showed him the glory of the nations and promised to give it to him provided he paid obeisance to him (devil). Jesus answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve”. We cannot find our identity or glory by paying homage to a mere creature. The true and the only focus of our devotion is God and no one else or nothing else. Our glory is in knowing God and relating with him in the right way, not in gaining the riches of the world.
The devil then sought to question his trust in God by tempting him to test God’s faithfulness to care for him and protect him. Would God truly protect him from being hurt even if he jumped from the pinnacle of the temple? What better way to establish his own credentials as God’s anointed? Jesus answered, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God”. It was not only in the temptations on the mountain but also throughout his life on earth he demonstrated the same trust, dependence and devotion to his Father.
As followers of Christ, we are to live by faith in him – “The just shall live by faith”. We depend upon him for our sustenance, security and identity. We are not to seek these in anything else or anyone else other than our loving heavenly Father as revealed by his Son and mediated to us by his Holy Spirit. Since our basic needs are taken care of by Him and that our eternal security is in Him, we now live with confidence and assurance. It is from this vantage point we live lives of vulnerable and expendable service towards one another and towards the world.
Just as the devil offered alternatives to Jesus on the top of the mountain, we are offered several newer alternatives in every age. These alternatives come to us in the form of philosophies, ideologies, theologies and doctrines, religions, institutions, traditions, rituals, different systems and structures, science and technology etc. These are the broken pots which can hold no water. When God’s own people, who knew the fountain of living waters left him and made broken pots for themselves, God lamented.
Trojan horse of economics
Friends, my point is this – God’s people, the church today has gone away from him while claiming to worship him and follow him. We are running after the world to seek our living, security and identity. We are doing this precisely by following the capitalist model of life. The capitalist model of life manifests itself in what is commonly known as middle- class lifestyles. Chief characteristics of the middles class life are – career drivenness or what is known as the upwardly mobile, worldly success and material affluence. Is this our Lord’s agenda for us or is it of the world?
We are seeking our security and identity in and through these. Since we were born into it, we do not see it as from the world. We pray and even seek God’s will to pursue these. Our parents, our teachers, our pastors encourage us to do it. We have interpreted and taught the Bible to support such a pursuit. And those who have attained worldly success and material affluence are feted and celebrated as examples of God’s grace and blessing. Such women and men are even raised to the governing counsels of churches and ministries. We find it hard to think that anything could be wrong with it. And some even have ‘great testimonies’ of how God has lead them in pursuing ‘the world’s agenda for living’.
One of the subtler ways in which worldliness manifests itself these days among Christians is in the form of ‘doing ministry’ or being ‘called into full-time ministry’. This is another way by which many believers try to find their security and identity rather than in Christ their Lord. They begin to look for it in ‘ministry’. I believe that actually ‘the call’ they are talking about is the call to radical discipleship. This is the primary call given to every follower of Christ. But it is mistaken for ‘call to full-time ministry’. In fact in the Bible you do not find anything called ‘full-time’ ministry. There is the primary call to belong to God in Christ and then there is the secondary call of a specific task or role that the Lord gives us to fulfil in the church and the world. In the context of institutionalisation of the church and ministry the secondary call began to be viewed as ‘full-time ministry’. But many confuse the primary call to follow Christ totally as the secondary call and therefore talk about ‘being called to do ministry’. So ‘doing ministry’ can become another form of the fig leaf and broken pots of the world. Our satisfaction does not come from the ministry we do but from the Lord. Neither can we find our identity in the fig leaf of ministry but in the Lord. We think anything will do if we can avoid radical discipleship! Church in its present form and Christian organisations do provide plenty of such fig leaves. And many seek their security and identity through ministry and for many it even becomes a matter of pride!
When you are in the business of seeking security and identity from anything or anyone other than God, then anything and everything becomes a source for pride and none of them sufficient enough to satisfy. Even humility becomes a matter of pride! Simplicity becomes a matter of greatness! A little can become a lot to boast about! Any fig leaf is good enough to cover our shame and to drink from a broken pot is not a problem as long as it is a pot! We try to add leaf after leaf and hop from one broken pot to another in the hope of finding satisfaction! But to return to the Lord and take up the call for radical living? Ah, that is for the first century Christians, we think, not for us in the 21st when the whole world is waiting to be feasted upon!
Two questions that need to be answered at this point. Why is the capitalist model of life or middle class dream worldly? And what is Christ’s agenda for living?
History teaches us that since the early part of the previous millennium there have been sweeping changes in the world. The process of modernisation began with industrialisation and the development of science and technology. This has brought in changes in the way we think about the world and life. Scholars tell us that most of these changes came about as a result of Christian thinking. The precursor to all these was the printing press, which made the Bible available for all to read. But several other scholars believe that Christianity gave rise to modernity and it was modernity that was responsible for subverting Christianity!
One of the major contributions of the modern world is Capitalism. Capitalism has become so pervasive that it has practically seeped into every area of life today and its effects are seen practically in everybody’s life. It has made goods, services and conveniences possible and available to people at a scale never dreamt of before. It has certainly raised the incomes of many and has contributed to overall economic and financial growth and development. This has changed the life of man for good in terms of scientific and technological development and economic well-being.
But it has also changed the way we think about life. It has given rise to what is known as the middle class dream. It has made the pursuit of money, material prosperity attainable, desirable and primary objectives of life. It does provide us some financial security and identity by giving us a social status. Therefore we pursue our careers with religious zeal. Today it is not just the average Christian but many churches and ministries are being run on the capitalist model. Churches have shown servile obeisance to it and has sold its birth right for a broken pot of capitalist broth!
What are the chief ingredients of the capitalist broth? The Concise Encyclopaedia of Economics, defines capitalism as economic individualism and that its basic premise is the pursuit of self-interest and the right to own private property. Economic individualism? Pursuit of self-interest? Right to own private property? Are these good and desirable Christian ideals?
Do you now wonder why so many of us who claim to follow Christ and to be part of His body, the church have no qualms whatsoever to be self-seeking, self-preserving and possessive about what belongs to us and about our churches and ministries? Of course we justify it as good stewardship.
Recently a friend’s son got into an IT job in a multi-national company in the US. When he received his pay check at the end of the first month, he was surprised to find that 37% of his income was slashed as tax. In order to avoid the tax, now he has to invest in an insurance and a house eventually. But the job is only a 6 month contract. How does he continue these commitments if his contract is not renewed and does not get another job immediately? Or would it be possible for him to accept the tax deductions and be content with the money he gets into his hand? How would the world look at him if he did that?
Actually this model of life is like an economic Trojan horse – once allowed, it unleashes a hoard of foot soldiers who gradually undermine our commitment to follow Christ!
If you decide to be part of the system then you got to be in the rat race to be upwardly mobile – hard-work, salary increments, incentives, promotions, investments, taxes etc. It gets very difficult to avoid any of these. It is rare for anyone to tell his boss that she or he is happy with the current salary and wishes to forego the annual increments for a time or that one is content with the present position in the company and that they did not wish to be elevated in the present position. Once you are in, you have got to be upwardly mobile or you will not survive in the system or end up being discarded. You are forced to pursue self-interest! Once you are in the race for the middle class dream – you get entrapped and enslaved and the deeper you get into it the harder it gets to get out – an economic and social quagmire indeed! I do know that there are many Christians who endeavour to make a battle of it and try not to be sucked into it. But the question is, is the pursuit of self-interest and the chasing of the middle class dream agendas given to us by the Lord?
The question is, who has set the agenda to pursue the middle class dream? Who has told us to be upwardly mobile in our careers and that worldly success and material prosperity are godly objectives to live for?
The Kingdom model
Read what the Lord says about the agenda for living? What is the teaching of the Bible? What criteria must control the people of God in their decision-making? Should it be money? Three portions of scriptures come to mind at this point:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious 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? 26 Look at the birds of the air…Consider the lilies of the field… O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
2 Corinthians 8:9:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Philippians 2: 4-8:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
According to the teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, those who worship God do not worry about life’s basic needs. It is the ‘gentiles’, the people who do not know God and do not belong to his kingdom who worry about life’s needs. If as the American Economic Association defines economics as ‘the study of how people choose to use resources’ then capitalism is the choice of people to use their resources in order to make profits. If economics is about how people make choices to invest their resources then the above passages from scripture are classic passages on economics for the people of the kingdom of God.
Our choices and decisions of life cannot be made on the basis of, how much we earn, how safe or secure a job is, what kind of clothes we wear, where we live, how much and what we study and any other aspect of life. Our choices and decisions of life will be made on the basis of our worship of God and not on the basis of security-concerns and identity-consciousness. We are to be led by the Spirit of God and not by financial considerations or any other criteria. In Matthew 6: 24 and 25 we read, “You cannot serve God and money. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…” This means that the one who worships God does not worry about the basic needs of life. He knows that the God he worships cares even for birds and grass and He will surely provide for him. He does not worry about these things therefore he does not live for these. His life decisions are not made on the basis of these things in life. He does not allow these to become the basic pursuits of his life. The corollary truth is that if we worry about them and allow these to become the main focus and pursuit of life we are worshipping money and not God. There is no middle ground here and no middle class dream of upward mobility or worldly success.
From the above teaching we can deduce that the capitalist model, the middle class lifestyle, the career-driven life cannot be the cornerstone and driving force for living for the people of God. This is the reason why I say, to live the middle-class dream and the career-driven life is of the world. It is the agenda set by the world and it is not for the people of God.
The passage from the Sermon quoted above also teaches us about providing for the future. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Certainly Jesus is not talking about a literal ‘tomorrow’. If he did, then it would be difficult to provide for clothes that last only for a day! But I believe, he is talking about not hoarding for several years or generations as many have done. He is teaching us a lifestyle of faith in a heavenly Father who cares for us and knows our needs. Such a life does not allow for hoarding money and possessions as future securities. It is completely out of question in a world where there are so many around us who cannot afford a square meal a day. When churches do it, it is scandalous, especially when its own contributing members cannot afford a decent living! I believe often what we hoard rots as the manna rotted when the children of Israel hoarded for the next day. Our wealth rots in the form of court cases over property disputes or spending on issues of ill-health!
Finally if we are not to be upwardly mobile as the others in the world or be driven by our careers and that the middle class life that most of us have adopted is worldly, how must we live then?
A clear and categorical answer to it is, we must live by faith. “The just shall live by faith” as explained above in this article. The lifestyle of faith is for every follower of Christ and not just for pastors, teachers and preachers.
What should be our objective in life? The Lord Jesus said. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” To seek His kingdom is not about ‘doing ministry’ but about seeking His rule and authority in our lives. We must allow his rule to inundate us instead of the world. We must allow Him to subdue us. As the yeast spreads to ferment the whole dough so also must His kingdom spread in us and through us to others. First it must spread in us then to others. When this begins to happen you will live by a totally different economic model and drive, an economic model of the kingdom of God.
Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,
But, ah, the waters failed!
E’en as I stooped to drink they fled,
And mocked me as I wailed.
Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me;
There’s love and life and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee.
Note: Please look for my next article on Trinitarian Economics.
 About the primary and secondary call look for my post “They do not fear in the day of drought” under the main title of “Values for life” on my blog: https://rupanthar.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/values-for-life-4/
 I have explained in detail the ‘Lifestyle of Faith’ in my book “How Then, Should We Live?” You can read the same on my blog. The book is available on request.
 Look for my next article ‘Trinitarian Economics’ on the economic model for the people of God.
 Emma Frances Shuttleworth Bevan 1827-1909