The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

5. “But a body have you prepared for me”

The One God, who is revealed as Three now manifests himself in the many – the many spread across time, space, history and into eternity!

In incarnation He came down to dwell among men, as Man. But after His resurrection, ascension and exaltation He manifests Himself in the Church, which is His Body. Apostle Paul writes, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Eph 1: 22, 23. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Col 2: 9, 10.

Thus He now lives among men, in His body the Church. Hence the Messianic prayer, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” This Body is not only the body that Christ had in His incarnation but I believe, it also constitutes people ‘called out of the world’ to be His own. Who also are willing to fulfill the Father’s will as Christ, their Master did even if it meant death on a cross.

They have learned to live in communion with God and with one another patterned according to the Triune God – distinct yet one, one yet many. United in communion yet distinct in being. They have learned to give of themselves to God and to one another just as the Father gave away the Son and the Son offers himself to the Father through the Spirit and gives himself to us.

We have thus come to answer the question, how does the invisible God make himself known? What representation God allows of Himself, if He does at all.

Before the coming of Christ. God is represented in his Word. As Moses explained to the people of Israel, “You came near and stood at the bottom of the mountain. The mountain burned with fire that reached up to the sky. There were thick black clouds and darkness. Then the Lord spoke to you from the fire. You heard the sound of someone speaking, but you did not see any form. There was only a voice.” He is known in His voice and in the recording of that voice in written form. This is why He is also known as the Word. And the same Word became flesh and lived among us.

We can say therefore, that God makes himself known both by speaking and in His incarnation as man, not any man but the Man, Christ Jesus. More importantly He now makes Himself known in His people, the Church, people called out of every tribe, every nation, every tongue and every colour by indwelling them. Although this manifestation of Him through the Church now is in weakness, frailty and imperfection, it continues into eternity and all ages in fullness, glory and perfection.

The question about the purpose of incarnation is a crucial one. How we answer it determines how we think about our life on earth and the place of the Church in the eternal plans of God and how she should conduct herself now in the world.

Apart from revealing the Father, the redemption of the human race, the purpose of His incarnation was also to reveal man or to show how man should live. For no man ever lived the way men should live for they all had sinned and had fallen short of God’s glory. Christ in his humanity was the only one who lived as men should live. Only then could He be our representative in order to make propitiation for our sins. The full significance of this can be understood when we look at the fact that the only being closest to God in appearance in the whole of creation is the human, because he has been made in God’s own image.

Therefore the purpose of incarnation is to not only to redeem man but to dwell among them and that the incarnation of God continues in the Church, His body. Apostle Paul’s point in his letter to the Ephesians, is that God has now included even the ‘gentiles’ along with the Jews in His eternal plan of ‘calling many sons unto glory’ and making them part of Christ’s body, the Church, of which Christ is the Head. This is the mystery hidden from ages in God but he, Paul, has been chosen to bring this to light.

This Apostle Paul writes is”…the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Eph 3: 8-11)

“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:7)

Listen to the prophecy of Isaiah which I think basically, refers to the redeemed people of God, But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!…“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (emphasis mine, Isa 43: 1 – 14.)

But all this is a finished act for God. Hence He rests. He rests because, “…his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” Oh, the joy, the beauty and the glory of the unsearchable riches of God in Christ! This calls for falling down before Him in awe, adoration and praise!

Such a divine and corporate dynamic cannot be captured in an institution. What system or ritual or tradition or programme can capture this? Hence it is utterly preposterous and nonsensical to think that we can give representation to God in our systems, structures, patterns and programmes. Nor can a single group or an individual ever think that they can fully capture the divine essence in them. He is known first in His Son. But now, He is known in the body He made for His Son, namely the Church.

But the question is, how does God make Himself known in and through the Church? If God incarnates in His Son, Jesus Christ and if the incarnation continues in His body the Church, then the Church can make God known only when she models her life according to the life of Christ, as revealed in the gospels and expounded by the apostles in their letters to the churches. In this is the WORD among us. A church that is born of the WORD and lives by that WORD and demonstrates the WORD in her life. The WORD embodied in the church!

Therefore Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”. And again, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

To be imitators of God we must ‘mimic’ (in greek the root word is the same for imitate and mimic) Him and love as He loves. We are asked to do this as Christ loved us. This is the kind of representation the Son makes of the Father. And this is the only representation the church can make of the Father. Only thus we shall have a witness that cannot be duplicated by the world. When God’s people begin to live as Christ lived, their witness shines brighter than the noon-day sun. This is the visibility that God allows of Himself. The visibility of lives lived as ‘imitators of God’. The point is, we were already created in the image of God and this image has been restored to us in Christ through redemption.

Only when we live as ‘imitators of God’ then do we not ony fulfill the purpose of our Creation and find meaning and fulfillment in life. But only thus we would be able to give representation to God in our lives and make Him visible in our lives. This is God’s chosen way. As Paul says, it is the “mystery hidden from ages” and “the mystery of godliness” that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Mark the word ‘now’. This is not something that would happen later. This is something that happens now. The manifold wisdom of God is made known NOW to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places! That is when God’s people become ‘imitators of God’ and ‘walk in love as Christ loved us’.

Any other way of representing God would be deficient, spurious and unworthy of Him. If we think we can make God visible in our religious forms, rituals, customs and traditions or in our programmes and projects or even in our material and worldly affluence then we are not only blind and deluded but become stooges of the enemies of God. Rather than being God’s co-workers to build His Kingdom we become collaborators of God’s enemy and become a hindrance to the work of God.

The only authentic way is the way Christ lived. For He is authentic God and authentic Man in His incarnation! In all this God’s ultimate purpose is THAT CHRIST MAY BE ALL IN ALL!

Listen to the words of the apostle in Colossians 1: 15-23, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” (Emphasis mine)

CHRIST is God’s pattern for man. When God commanded Moses to build the temple He commanded him to make it ‘according to the pattern shown to him on the mountain’. Accordingly the pattern in which we build the church in the New Testament era is CHRIST. Hence Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” The goal of every apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher is to bring God’s people to ‘the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’.

Any other objective in ministry is unworthy of and falls far short of the purpose and the glory of God! If through our work we are not bringing about the ‘unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ among God’s people, then I wonder if we are doing God’s work at all! Rather than building ‘church buildings’ and huge sanctuaries at great costs, how commendable and glorious to spend on building people ‘to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’. The former is comparatively easy. But the later, while it is demanding does not give itself to statistics and reports.

Where are the people who are like Timothy of whom the Apostle writes, “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Much of the ministry today seems to be to work for ones own interests in the name of safe-guarding the interests of the organisation – its security and its identity. For in many instances our own security and identity are bound up with that of the ministries we do rather than our God. Therefore in many instances our ministires have become our careers. Rather than losing ourselves in serving others for the sake of Christ our objectives are often discoloured with self-seeking – career-growth, and self-preservation.

The Son shows the Father to us in the life he lived – in the words he spoke, the works he did and the way he lived. His disciples were to just go and make disciples of all nations by teaching them and constituting them into congregations of God’s called out people or to be local expression of Christ as His body, the church.

In his incarnation Jesus reveals God, reveals man and in the process he demonstrates a way of living which is alien to human nature and thinking. Our nature and thinking is of fallenness which betrays our insecurity and identity-crisis. Therefore all our systems and structures betray the same malady – in our governance, our economics and our institutions. Our relationships, our friendships, and even our fellowships often are plagued by it. But Jesus, as God and as Man demonstrates wholeness and a life totally at rest with Himself and with others around him. Everything he said and did was from rest. He could not or would not be pushed around by others’ attitudes, fears or insecurity.

In his incarnation he teaches us a totally different trajectory of living – of self-denial, condescension, service and sacrifice. It is not the upward trajectory (if I may use the word) of life, like the rest of the world but a downward trajectory of life. It is of God coming into the world as man. The infinite now coming as finite. The great one as simple and the mighty one as helpless. I have tried to capture the thought in the following poem:

We have seen his glory
The glory of God as Man

Great One as simple
Invisible as visible
Immortal as mortal
Almighty as helpless
Rich One as poor
Invincible as vulnerable
Infinite as finite
Sovereign as servant!

We have seen his glory
The glory of the Real Man
Real God as Real Man
Authentic God as authentic man
No more distant, no more far
Neither illusive nor obscure
No more invisible but now
Real, visible and vulnerable.

Visible and seeable
Physical and touchable
Vulnerable yet invincible
Humble yet strong
Beatable yet unbeaten
Killable yet never-dying
Abusable yet not abused!
Small yet encompassing the universe!

He is God but now he is also man
They saw His glory. Have you?

His representation of God is of a loving and caring Father and not of an autocratic despot. Nor of a controlling and dominating ruler.

The life that Christ lived while on earth was not the private, individualistic, self-seeking and self-centered life that most of us have learnt from the world. He was led by the will of God and by the Spirit of God. You do not find Him guarding his identity nor working for his security. It was a life of constant pouring of himself into others. He sought His Father’s pleasure in seeking our welfare so, “…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.”

The only authentic way is to live as Christ lived. As mentioned earlier only when the church demonstrates the same mind as Christ’s or when we begin to imitate God and walk in love as Christ, we would be His true witnesses. Only such people can claim to have the authority to speak for God to the world!

Finally it must be noted that none of us individually can ever represent God fully as Christ did. Only corporately we can ever think of attaining to His perfection as Paul writes to Ephesians. “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,…” It is all of us together – the redeemed humanity, in Christ and as Christ.

As we yield to one another in Him and yield to His working in us, we are transformed to be the people He has called us to be. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

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The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

4. One, Three and Many

The One, the Three and the many sums up all that is in this universe. The One God who reveals himself as three is the basis for all the variety and the diversity in life and the world.

We have seen the implications of knowing God as One. While giving our unswerving allegiance to Him, how to think of Him as three and what implications does it hold for life?

A right understanding of God, especially his tri-personality, is crucial to understanding about the nature of being, the world, the human life, the individual, marriage, family, society, church, missions, tolerance, organisation, governance, economics, global peace, reconciliation and host of other issues pertinent to life and existence.

If there has been one anomaly in the Christian or even evangelical understanding of God, it is in the understanding of the doctrine of Trinity. I must state it here and state it with all the strength that I can muster, that the present state of affairs in the church as individuals as well as, as a community is because of the lack of right understanding of the God, who is revealed in His word as Three. It is because of this lack, the church has gone behind the world and has learnt practically all of its ways from the world – the way we think of ourselves as individuals, our relationships and fellowship, the organisation models and the kind of economics we practise among us.

As individuals we cherish and guard our private, individualistic, self-centered and self-seeking lifestyles. We derive our confidence from our education, position, and money. We have forgotten that we are made for relationships – with God and with others, that to love them is to seek their pleasure.

We have reduced fellowship in the church to a meeting or a programme. We have forgotten that true fellowship is about sharing the life of God in us with others in such a way that we experience His fullness among us corporately.

I believe that the three major organisational models followed by the different churches globally, namely the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and the Congregational models are an offshoot of eisegesis and not exegesis at all. Besides most of the newer churches and para church ministries have just adopted an organisational style which is purely entrepreneurial. Whatever their origins these are all political structures deriving their power from worldly knowledge, money, position or from the personal charisma and confidence of the leader(s). And all of these are political, monolithic, hierarchical, bureaucratic and nowhere near to anything that you learn from either the God of the Bible or his incarnation in his Son, Jesus Christ.

What can one say of our economics? Everyone of us with few exceptions have adopted lifestyles arising from capitalism. Even our churches and ministries are being run on the same model. Alongwith the entrepreneurship learnt from the world, we do not see the irony with using our gifts to earn profits in the name of ministry. Earning profits from ministry in order to build our own careers is unworthy of anything that is taught in scripture. Patenting our knowledge from the misuse of it is one thing but making it inaccessible to others is another matter. Truth is nobody’s monopoly. It is God’s and must be let loose in the world.

Do you still wonder that our witness is lost and authority weakened? Therefore Jeremiah’s lamentation rings true, “How the gold has lost its luster, the fine gold become dull! The sacred gems are scattered at every street corner. How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay, the work of a potter’s hands!”

The only teaching that can remedy this situation if the church is willing to learn and change, is a persistent and continuous meditation on the Trinity and the incarnation of God in the person of Christ. I do not see any other way. Despite all their claims to personal and corporate success and riches, I personally think that the people of God have been earthbound and rendered spiritually destitute for several decades now. In the words of Jeremiah, the prophet, “Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick. Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field.” For far too long they have been fed upon earthly fare and not the manna from heaven.

“A right understanding of God is the panacea for millions of evils in the world” wrote A W Tozer in his ‘The knowledge of the Holy’. Mortimer J Adler, the General Editor in the 1980s of the Encyclopaedia Britannica wrote in his article on God, “More consequences follow from that one issue than from any other.”

The ontology of being
First, it must be noted that Trinity is not the same as trimurti in Hinduism. Trimurti is a triad of three gods, collapsing into a single form with three faces. Trinity is one God revealed as three persons or subsistence.

While we confess that the God of the Bible is triune, there has been a general tendency to think of him as purely ‘monotheistic’, so strongly and probably in reaction to Greek polytheism or even the eastern dualism, that we often tend to be ‘unitarian’ in our thinking. This needs to be remedied.

The One God is the basis for the Three and the Three the basis for many. If God were One, an unitarian being, then there could be no place or room for any other. He would fill all space, all time, all eternity leaving no room for any other to exist. But God as revealed in the Bible is not unitarian but trinitarian. He is three.

There is room (if such a figure of speech is permitted) within the Godhead for three co-equal and self-expressing beings with free-will to co-exist eternally. Therefore He makes room for not just the universe but for other self-conscious, self-expressing, and rational beings with a free will to exist.

God is ONE yet THREE. It can be said from our knowledge of scripture, the three are in such mutual communion and inter-mingling in their giving and receiving that all differences cease to exist, while still retaining their distinctives and particularity. God is ONE because of the communion. God is THREE because of the room, the space they give each other to exist, to express and to BE. This is another fact of God’s inherent being and gives us the basis for our understanding the nature of being.

The communion of sharing leads to oneness and unity. The giving of room (accommodation) to each other gives each the distinctness and particularity. The oneness does not subsume the distinctness of each nor the distinctness affirmed at the expense of oneness. The individuals do not collapse into each other so as to lose their distinctness or identity nor the distinctness and identity emphasised in such a way as to make communion and oneness impossible.

But for such dynamic relationships of distinctness and particularity yet maintaining unity and oneness there is need for willingness to share, to give and to receive. This in turn calls for submission and vulnerability. This is the ontology of being.

The implications of believing in the Triune God is to live in relationships. To live together in relationships in such a way as to be One is the ontology of the divine being. There is no room here for private, individualistic, and self-centeredness lives. The dynamic by which they live in relationships is the dynamic of love not power. This means there is no exercise of power to dominate or to control in order to bring oneness. Domination and control are the lot of fallen humanity but alien to the divine being. There is voluntary giving of oneself to the other because of love. Love does not seek its own. Love seeks the pleasure of the other. The Son pleases the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son and the Father. The Father gives all authority to the Son. There is no fear of being taken advantage of in the Trinity. Because there is no fear in love(1John 4: 18).

This is the way families and churches need to be constituted – with self-giving love. It is because of love we share and it is because of love we make room for others to be and do. This not by the exercise of power, especially power that is derived from knowledge or money or physical strength but through love. So the basis for our relationships is the self-giving love which enables us to voluntarily submit to one another. Such relations are based on voluntary love and submission therefore these are not structures of power. Structures of power are political structures and are a result of our fallenness. Such structures promise to provide security and identity but in the process are enslaving. But since the people of God are not self-seeking but self-giving they do not form political structures instead they live as a family or as the household of God based on the dynamic of self-giving love and voluntary submission to one another.

It can be said of such people, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” (Psalm 133)

Furthermore, the fellowship and relationships even among Christians have become purely utilitarian. We do not want to give ourselves fully to people nor do others want us as we are wholly. We pick and choose who we want, what we want and when we want of others. In the name of professionalism we have become mechanical and distant. And in the name of specialisation we have become choosy, calculating and compartmentalised.

In the Godhead however, they give of themselves to each other, fully, totally, unhesitatingly and without holding back. It’s a free flow of love and life. Relationships in families and the church must be the same.

Such a life is counter-cultural, antithetical to anything and everything that we know in the world. There is no greed nor insecurity nor domination and control in this way of living. But love, health, mutuality and divine fullness.

The dynamic of love also dictates our dealings with one another. Therefore we give ourselves in the service of others as Christ gave himself for us. There is no room here for greed or even the motive of profit-making. One does not serve with the aim of gaining by serving. One serves because one has the ability or the resources that the other is in need of. True love serves freely seeking the welfare of the object of love. Just as God gave away his Son for us and as Christ offered himself up for us. In this is a model for economics. An economics based on the self-giving love of Christ which is different from anything that one can think of in the world.

This is captured for us in these words of apostle Paul, “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.” And “…the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The different models of economics in the world are not derived from Trinitarian understanding of God but from human fallenness. Therefore all such models in the final analysis lead to extortion and exploitation. The church cannot have anything to do with such structures.

God is One, yet Three is the basis for communication, fellowship and relationships. To communicate is not just passing on of information as it is understood in the world today. Communication within the Godhead is the communication of love. Communication of love is not the expressing of emotion or sentiment as we tend to think but it is the communication of their being or the communication of life between them. Which is what is fellowship or communion. God does not communicate in mere words. His words have the force of his being behind them. When he speaks he gives of himself unreservedly, unselfishly, totally, without holding back anything. This is the reason why, God speaking is not information dumping but giving of himself. Hence what God speaks comes to pass. Life is communicated and therefore created. Relationships are born leading to communion of life. Jesus said, “…the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”(Jn 6:63)

Unfortunately much of the preaching in the church today has become information dumping rather than communication of life. This is one of the consequences of fallenness. Where are the signs of redemption then? Information dissemination and acquiring of knowledge is the way of teaching and learning in the world. But when even churches and Christian seminaries adopt the same model, is it not worldliness? No wonder we have so many people with BIG heads! ‘Knowledge puffs up’ wrote the Apostle. Many in the church today are left hungry, unfed, unchanged and gasping for life.

Until we rediscover the Triune God, understand Him and live by the implications of such an understanding, we shall be groping for answers and flounder from one ‘broken pot’ to another and just take whatever is on offer from the world. Is this not the reason why, we have borrowed the organisational models from the world and not from the Triune God. Therefore we have the sad spectacle of so-called ‘management-gurus’ of the world, who are now considered experts on Christian leadership conduct seminars on how to manage our churches. With such gross compromise and worldliness, how can we be witnesses before the world and have the authority to speak for God. I lament!

N.B.: Please read ‘Trinitarian Economics’ and ‘Small is Beautiful’ below in the blog, for more on trinitarian understanding of economics and organisation.

The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

1. A lamentation and a call for God’s people today!

For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
2 Corinthians 11: 2-3.

What Paul feared seems to have come true! The church being deceived and thus the minds corrupted from the simplicity in Christ appears to have come true over the last two millenia. As I argued in an earlier article the subversion of the church, for all practical purposes, is complete.

A lamentation!
How has it come about that God’s own people have lost their witness and their authority weakened among the nations of the world? Here is Jeremiah’s lamentation of the condition of the people of Israel in Lamentations 4: 1-9:
How the gold has lost its luster,
the fine gold become dull!
The sacred gems are scattered
at every street corner.
How the precious children of Zion,
once worth their weight in gold,
are now considered as pots of clay,
the work of a potter’s hands!
Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
like ostriches in the desert.
Because of thirst the infant’s tongue
sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
but no one gives it to them.
Those who once ate delicacies
are destitute in the streets.
Those brought up in royal purple
now lie on ash heaps….
Their princes were brighter than snow
and whiter than milk,
their bodies more ruddy than rubies,
their appearance like lapis lazuli.
But now they are blacker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it has become as dry as a stick.
Those killed by the sword are better off
than those who die of famine;
racked with hunger, they waste away
for lack of food from the field.

Jeremiah’s lamentation of old, is my lamentation today for the people of God, the church!
How has it come about that fine gold has lost its lustre? How is it that the people of God, once worth their weight in gold are considered as pots of clay? And those who ate delicacies are destitute and those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps? How is it that those ruddier than rubies are now blacker than soot and not recognised in the streets, their skin shriveled and sticking to the bones?

Is this not our condition today? Is this not the condition of many churches and many Christians today? Have we no eyes to see? Or have we become so increased with goods gained from our pursuit of the world – what with our state-of-the-art technologies and slick Sunday services and programmes – that we think we are rich and have need of nothing? And do not know that we are wretched, miserable, blind and naked, like the Laodicean church?

Despite all that is going on among Christians worldwide – East or West, I believe the spiritual condition of the church is not in good shape at all. We have become unrecognisable as God’s people and lost our witness. Rather than holding up our reports and statistics, we need to call for fasting and prayer. When Nehemiah heard about the condition of the people and the walls of Jerusalem, he says, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” ‘Wall of Jerusalem was broken’ indicates, the line of demarcation between them and the world, the walls of identity and separation were broken and this is what made Nehemiah weep and pray about. And this is what my lamentation is about – we have lost our identity and therefore our witness in the world, as God’s people. We have become one among the nations, in our worship and our lifestyles, therefore our witness is lost.

When and how has this come about?

This has come about precisely because our worship and our understanding of God became distorted.

And the call to the people of God today is the same call that God sent to the church at Laodicea, through His servant John the beloved while he was on the island of Patmos,
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

Or the same call as given by Haggai, the prophet

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord.” (Hag 1: 7,8)

What needs to be lamented about more is the fact of how deficient our understanding of God is and has been for several centuries. I believe that the words in Revelation 3: 18, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire” and the words of Haggai, “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber” imply similar meaning.

I believe, that the prophets are calling us to seek to have intimate understanding of God, to have personal dealings and experiences with Him and to build our lives and the lives of others based on such intimacy with God.

Even a casual observation of the present condition of many Christians and churches worldwide makes it quite plain that our theologies, namely our understanding of God is very shallow. Hence our worship distorted, our witness weak and our behaviours diseased. The present condition of the loss of Christian witness and authority is because of a deficient understanding of God. And if we are to reclaim or recover our witness then we must rediscover the God of the Bible in such a way that not only our behaviours are healed but we regain our witness as God’s people in the world. We must seek to understand God in all His glory as revealed to us in His word as well as in the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In what way have we been deceived and our minds been corrupted, in the words of apostle Paul? In what way have we been led away from a sincere devotion or single-heartedness to Christ? And what is it that has weakened our witness and made us lose our authority?

Broadly I believe, it has happened in three different areas – both in individual lives of Christians and corporately as church. In the individual lives of Christians this has happened at the level of our discipleship to Christ. This is because of a lack of understanding of who God is and why he makes such demands on us or why the terms of discipleship to Christ are so stringent.

Corporately it has happened at two different levels – in how we express our spirituality in relation to God or at the level of our worship and the second in relation to the way we live in the world. I am referring specifically to the way Christian faith has been reduced to the level of a religion like any other religion and the inroads that modernity or modernisation, as it is known in history, has made and impacted the way we live undermining our calling to live as Christ lived. These two influences have a python-like stranglehold over the church today.

I shall establish how these influences have had a devastating effect on the church and its witness because of a deficient understanding of the God of the Bible and His incarnation in and through His Son, Jesus Christ.

In the rest of my article, we shall seek to understand the implications of knowing God as One, knowing Him as Three and knowing Him as incarnate. In doing so we shall have arrived at knowing how to reclaim our Christian witness and authority among the nations of the world.

NB: To Follow:

2. God is number one. He won’t be number two

3. Invisible, Unrepresentable, Unassimillable

4. One, Three and Many

5. “But a body have you prepared for me”

He Who Has Ears To Hear…3

Trinitarian Economics

Enoch Era

Several questions come up when we talk about an economic model for the people of God. Should they have separate or different economics? Can they not just live in the world and try to be as Christian as they can within the system rather than talk about different economics? All that it needs is that we demonstrate better integrity, honesty and accountability. Learn to be more generous. Live simple lives. Do not be greedy like the world and so on. But if it is just about integrity, simplicity, generosity and being good humans then there are many in the world who would put us to shame on these criteria. It is not just enough to have some social graces and being good humans by the standards of the world. On the other hand, who defines what being human is about?

The point is, it is not just enough to have a few social skills and live socially acceptable lives. This is not what constitutes our calling. I believe that the word of God and the life and teachings of Christ and his immediate followers, show us a totally different way of living. Totally counter to the cultures and systems of the world. We do not have to follow the world and pursue the middle class dream. We do not have to be career-driven or be upwardly mobile. I assert that if we do not learn to live differently and teach it to others, then we do not understand the call of Christ to follow him and we do not have a gospel.

Called to be different

The meaning of holiness in the Bible demands that we live differently from the rest of the world. Apostle Peter exhorts us in his first letter, ‘…as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (v 15, 16). I believe that in our teaching in the church, we have emphasised more on moral purity as holiness. Although we are told that it is not the only meaning of the word. For all practical purposes the average Christian understands holiness as in terms of morality. But we need to remember that moral purity is only one dimension of the meaning of the original word. The original meaning both in Hebrew and Greek is about being different or separate. We are called to be separate or different from the world. We cannot be doing and living the way the world does and expect to be known as followers of Christ and we cannot expect the world to be attracted to Christ. The call is to be like Christ. To attain unto him – surely, steadfastly and progressively.

The word of God teaches us that we are given all that we need in order to attain unto Christ. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world…”[1] He has given us His word to learn from, His Holy Spirit to teach us, the Church and its teachers and the power of His resurrection to empower us.  I believe that anyone who would ‘diligently seek Him’ will find Him. May the Lord help you and me to be such seekers!

It must be said that although our theological heritage is Trinitarian yet we have tended to lean more towards a rigid monotheism[2] sometimes bordering on the monistic[3]. Although Christians had accepted and affirmed the Trinitarian understanding of God from early centuries of the Christian era, to this day they tend to lean more heavily towards a rigid monotheism. From this single anomaly arise a host of unhealthy practices and deviations that have plagued the church and as a result our witness to the world. The tendency towards individualism to the neglect of the relational or family as we see in western societies is one such unhealthy trend. If as it is claimed, Capitalism was a result of Puritan thinking then I believe that it too falls under the category of unhealthy deviations. My suspicion is that the tendency towards individualism has its roots in Capitalism if its definition as ‘economic individualism’ is accepted. Capitalism and its basic premises, the pursuit of personal interest and right to ownership of private property have fostered radical individualism in those who followed it.

Some of the other unhealthy practices and deviations are in our understanding and treatment of nature; our approach to evangelism and missions; on issues of tolerance[4], our understanding and practise of governance both in the way we constitute and run our churches and organisations as well as government at large and in the way we do our economics. For the purpose of the present series of article I shall confine myself to the issues of economics and governance. I shall write how our Trinitarian understanding of God impinges on economics in the present article and on governance in the next article.

How does our understanding of God’s Trinity[5] affect our understanding of economics? According to The Concise Encyclopaedia of Economics[6] the term Capitalism is actually a misnomer, a derogatory term used by the socialists. But the original term was ‘economic individualism’. Its basic premises are the pursuit of self-interest, the right to own private property and investment commensurate with returns. We shall presently see how an understanding of God as Triune obviates any scope for economic individualism.

It is generally accepted that different forms of Capitalism existed in earlier periods of time. It became a dominating form of economics in the west following the demise of feudalism in the middle ages. It is also believed that Capitalism was born as a result of Puritan thinking. Men like John Lilburne (1614 – 1657) had used the parable of talents taught by Jesus to teach free market economy a hundred years before Adam Smith (1723 – 1790). Adam Smith, considered to be the godfather of Capitalism, wrote his path breaking article on Capitalism, ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’.

Trinity and economics

As we begin to formulate an economic model for the people of God a few scriptures come to mind,

Genesis 1: 26, 27

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

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.

1 Corinthians 6:19, 20:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Trinitarian economics is about agape economics. I call it Agapeconomics. We know that Agape[7] is the Greek word used in the New Testament to denote God’s love. Therefore agapeconomics is the economics of divine love expressed in the Godhead and expressed by Him towards humankind. It is the same divine love that we ought to demonstrate towards one another in Christ and towards the world.

What is this ‘divine love’ and how is it expressed? The essence of the divine being is described as LOVE – “God is love” says Apostle John. God’s love is selfless, self-giving and does not seek its own. Divine love loves, gives, shares, serves freely without expecting or demanding returns. The only expectation is the expectation of good for the recipients of love. He does not expect returns in terms of profits or gain to Him. He needs no profits or gains. He is complete in Himself and does not need anyone or anything to make Him complete.  Therefore He gives of himself unreservedly, without holding back. He gave away His One and Only begotten Son.

Love, in its very essence is ‘outgoing’. In this sense we can say that God is ‘other-centric’. This means He is not self-centred or inward looking. Within the Godhead there is a constant flow of life among the persons of the Trinity. God gives to the Son and the Son gives back to the Father through the Holy Spirit. (Refer John 5: 26, 27; 1 Cor 15:27, 28; John 17: 21, 22; and Col 2:9) It is the communion of love by which whatever God is, is shared equally, infinitely and eternally unhindered between the persons of the trinity. There is a constant sharing or flow of life such that none of them is more full or complete than the other. Just as each one gives so that the other maybe complete, He gives of Himself to make us complete too.

God suffers no insecurity or identity crisis. If He did then He would not be God. Since He suffers no such personality defects as we do. He is totally outgoing to the point of making Himself vulnerable without any fear of being taken advantage of or of losing anything. Therefore He incarnates not just as man but to the point of becoming a servant and dying on the cross. He has nothing to lose and He will never lose anything. He is totally unassailable, untouchable and unchanging in His deity. Therefore He loves freely, fully and eternally.

One of the most beautiful and breath-taking statements from scriptures which explains to us the economy of divine love (Agapeconomics) is, “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.” 2 Corinthians 8:9. (When I read these words in the context of writing this article and began to look at them from the perspective of economics, I needed to pause and bask in the richness of these words. I searched out different songs that I know both in the English and Telugu hymnals and enjoyed how these words have been captured in poetry and song. It took me several days to come out of that reverie.)

We are made rich in the sense of being given fullness in Christ. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Col 2:9, 10). Rich in order that we do for others what Christ has done for us. If we are created in the image of God, then we are to be as ‘other-centric’ as God is. ‘Other-centric’ not in the sense of fear of others or controlled by others opinions but in the sense of outgoing love for the good of others. Since we are secure in Him and are given a new identity in Him, we can serve with freedom and true love without any fear of being taken advantage of or of any insecurity. This is part of God’s image in us and is restored to us in redemption. As stated in an earlier article, it is from this vantage point of fullness, of security and identity in Him we will be willing to make ourselves vulnerable and expendable in the service of others.

Since the final outcome of victory is guaranteed through the resurrection of Christ, we serve others with no fear of losing anything. When every member in the context of the local church, the local expression of the body of Christ, lives and serves in this manner then all of us will be served. In such a group the rich will not get richer and the poor will not be poorer. This is what constitutes true fellowship, koinonia (Gk). Fellowship is not about conducting or attending meetings. It is about serving one another with true out flow of love such that the ‘fullness of God’ in us flows into one another. Thus meeting each other’s needs. Working for the good of others also means that we do not work with any self-interest or to build our securities and identities in the process of serving others. There is no middle class dream here. There is only the dream of making others rich in Christ.

Christians can and do educate themselves and work to earn a living as others do but they do not do it for the sake of pursuing the middle-class lifestyles. They refuse to engage their lives to build personal securities and identities. They do not make material affluence and worldly success their goal in life. They do not make this their agenda. Their only objective is to grow in Christ and to ‘have the mind of Christ’ so that they can serve others for their good. This is the meaning of ‘seeking the kingdom of God’. This kingdom spreads not by building structures, chapels and cathedrals but unobtrusively, silently as the ‘leaven, leavens the whole dough’[8]. This is Agapeconomics, the economy of the Kingdom of God.

This is what we have been redeemed for and this is how the church is expected to live and demonstrate. Only then we would have lived the gospel and only then we would have a gospel to preach. Otherwise the world sees no difference in us except the difference of language, traditions and rituals – nothing but just another religion. Is this what our Master gave His life for – to create another religion?  Just as there is no comparison between Christ and any other gods and goddesses or even with any other founders of religions there has got to be no comparison between the followers of Christ and the rest of the world. We are called to be holy as He is holy. Holiness is about being separate and different with no comparison and peers in the world.

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” sang Miriam of old. The church today sings, “There is none like you” about Lord Jesus Christ but hardly anyone looks at us and says there is none like the people of God! Balaam prophesied about the people of Israel, “Behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!” (Numbers 23: 9). Are we living as ‘people dwelling alone’? Are we ‘counted among the nations’?

The dynamic of sharing

Let me explain why economic individualism is not for the people of God. The offshoots of economic individualism are pursuit of personal interest and right to own private property. The other extreme people tend fall into is collectivism or economic socialism. In socialism, any rights the individual might have, are subsumed by the collective. For the people of God it is neither individualism nor collectivism. Colin Gunton writes, “Individualism is a non-relational creed, because it teaches that I do not need my neighbour in order to be myself.” While collectivism denies the individual the distinctness of identity and particularity but that only the collective exists.

To be created in the image of God means, we are created with individual distinctness but also to be relational. God is one yet three. The three persons of the Godhead are distinct as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet they are one God. They are one because of the communion. We talk about them as three because they are addressed as distinct in scripture yet as one. They give room or space to each other to be distinct.

Each one of us is created as individuals and possess a unique identity. This does not mean we become individualistic. Individualism is a result of the fall of man into sin. Though unique and distinct as individuals yet being relational is essential to be human. We are individuals meant to live in relationships with one another. We find our meaning, identity and joy in being related to God first then with one another and with nature around. The very nature of our being is to be relational. This is our true ontology.  No man can live by himself without any relationships either with other humans or even with nature and find meaning[9]. Even when we are incorporated into the body of Christ we do not lose our distinctness as individuals nor do we lose it in eternity[10]. So when we share, give and receive from each other the individual is never subsumed into the collective. Being created in the image of God means we retain our distinctness as individual persons just as the three person of the Trinity are distinct. But since his image in us is being relational, by willingness to accept, share, receive from and give to each other we acknowledge our need and dependence of others. In order to give and receive one has to be distinct and separate from the other we do not coalesce and merge into each other to the point of losing our distinctness. Neither do we affirm our distinctness to the point of independence from everyone else.

In the body of Christ we live in submission to the head of the Body, Christ and in submission to one another. This is voluntary. There is no force or coercion to submit to anyone not even to Christ. Giving to and receiving from one another is voluntary as well. There is no compulsion or enforcement. So the body of Christ is a body of individuals who voluntarily live in submission to Christ and to one another. They live with the dynamic of constant sharing and receiving from each other such that no one is more full or complete than any other. We do care for our own interests but realise that our interest are served in serving others. When every member in the body of Christ lives with this understanding everybody’s needs are served. So any form of individualism nor pursuit of personal interest are out place among the people of God. It is with the fall we have developed feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. The redeemed people of God must be those who are in the process of being healed from such feelings. Those who are experiencing such healing must begin to live this way.

Furthermore 1 Corinthians 6: 19, 20 tells us that we are not our own, we are bought with a price and therefore belong to God. How can those who do not belong to themselves pursue self-interest or have any right to property? It is said about the early followers of Christ in Acts 4:32, “…no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Whatever they are and whatever they have belongs to their Master and they can only hold it in trust (stewardship) for Him and dispense with it as He pleases.

Investing into other’s lives

Another major tenet of capitalism is investing and profit-making. It has been claimed that a meditation on the parable of talents has taught us about how to invest our resources as good stewards. Vishal Mangalwadi in his book ‘The Book That Made Your World – how the Bible created the soul of western civilization’ writes that the birth of modern industrial capitalism was celebrated in 1851 at the first World’s Fair at Hyde Park in London. He writes about Cyrus McCormick’s horse-drawn reaper as one of the chief American contributions at the Fair. He tells us that the inventor of the crop reaper, a precursor to mechanisation in agriculture, was influenced by the parable of talents taught by Jesus.  He writes how the parable was one of chief sources of McCormick’s understanding of stewardship as spirituality. He concludes, “For McCormick, turning five thousand dollars into ten thousand dollars was being a good steward, which, on Jesus’ own authority, was synonymous with being spiritual.” Does stewardship mean doubling our investment? Can the parable of the talents be used to justify profit making? Is this what Jesus is teaching in this parable?

I wonder if Jesus’ parable can be interpreted to draw lessons about spirituality and stewardship in terms of investment and returns. In fact not all parables are allegorical to draw several lessons from different points in the story. Jesus taught in parables to teach about the kingdom of God. Generally a parable communicates one and only one important aspect of the kingdom of God. Unless Jesus himself used the parable to teach more lessons we do not have the warrant to do so. The parable is given to us in Matthew 25: 14- 30. I believe that the emphasis of the parable is upon the man going away on a journey and returning to take account of what he has given to his servants. The parables in Matthew 25 must be read in the context of the previous chapter. Matthew 24 is about the signs of the end times. The disciples asked him questions regarding his coming back again and the signs of the times. So the parable of the talents is about Jesus going away on a journey like the man in the parable and coming back again to take account of what he has given to his servants. Drawing any other lesson from the parable causes injustice to the way parables are to be interpreted.

How must the servants use their talents then, so that the master is pleased with them? This, I believe, is taught in the verses following the parable from verses 31-46 and is implied in the words of the Lord at the final judgement, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (v. 40). Whether Capitalism is the result of Puritan thinking or not and whether it is based on the parable of the talents or not, the parable certainly is not about investment in order to double the returns. If we read the parable and the succeeding story about the final judgement together, we learn that it is about investing into the lives of others so that their needs are met.  This is how we can ‘lay-up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal’[11].

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.”

People of God cannot be hoarders. I believe no one who claims to be a follower of Christ can be richer than his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are blessed with resources more than others, it is not for our profligacy nor for our indolence but in order that we share with those who do not have. Read about Job in chapter 31, how one of the richest men of the east lived. It is not just the early church but early man too lived by sharing what they had with those who did not.

A degenerate vine!

I learnt about agapeconomics about five years ago. Looking back I think Lord has been trying to teach this to me since a long time. But I guess I was dull headed and lost in the world, thinking about everything in the categories of the world. Since the time I learnt it I have changed the way I live and work. People ask me if I am doing ‘faith ministry’. My answer is, “It is not faith ministry but it is love ministry”. I serve others because of love. And true love serves freely without expecting anything nor demanding anything. True love does accept and receive service from others. I now make my services and my resources available to anyone who needs it – including my sermons both in audio and written form, free of cost. I have decided not to use my resources to generate capital from it. Lord has and is taking care of all my needs ‘according to His riches in glory’[12]. Although this has been my understanding and attitude since the beginning, I have begun to put it into practise much more consciously since last 5 years. I have begun to consciously avoid doing anything with security or identity concerns. A few of my friends have been influenced by this teaching and have started living and serving in the same way.

Agapeconomics can and must be practised at least among the people of God. Those who claim to follow Christ must live as he lived and do as he did. It is not possible for the people of the world. But it is possible within the context of the body of Christ.

For all practical purposes we know that Capitalism is on the decline. This is increasingly becoming true more than ever since the financial meltdown of 2008. In the name of development we are actually eating up into our future. The pace of development is so fast that we do not allow for the natural process of replenishment of earth’s resources. This has led to serious environmental imbalances globally brining in unprecedented climate changes everywhere. Today we are practically hurtling down the hill of development at break-neck speed as if the brakes have failed! We do not know how to stop. If anyone attempts to stop he or she is considered anti-development and anti-national. We are actually eating up into our future. Very few countries in the world today are without a debt and several in Europe, South America and Asia are on the brink of financial bankruptcy.

The Occupy Wall Street movement born in 2011, at the Wall Street in New York was about growing income and wealth inequality in the US between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. Their slogan was “We are the 99%”. Does the church have an answer to these question of inequality in the world? Could the church rise to the occasion and show a different way of living to the world? A different economic model? If there is anyone it has to be the people of God. But if the people of God themselves are lost in the pursuit of the world and its riches how can they be a model and what hope is there for the world?

Hence the divine dirge,

“I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21).

Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Note: If any of you is interested in exploring and learning more, I will be glad to be of any assistance. Please also look for my next and final article in the series, ‘Small is beautiful’ on incarnational model of institutions, structures and governance.

[1] 2 Peter 1: 3. 4.

[2] Christian Theology is monotheistic for sure but it is Trinitarian monotheism that is, One God yet Three Persons. So it is not a rigid monotheism where there is no plurality in the divine being as in the case of Judaism and Islam. Trinitarian Monotheism affirms unity and plurality in the divine being – this is unique to Christian theology and is a result of God’s revelation. Please look for my meditations on Trinity, to be released soon.

[3] Monism is the philosophical view that only one impersonal element constitutes all reality. In other words all reality is one. Everything in the universe comes from and goes back into one ultimate reality. All differences and distinctions are illusory. Most Eastern religions are monistic.

[4] Read my article ‘The Myth of Absolute Tolerance’ and related articles on my blog: https://rupanthar.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/the-myth-of-absolute-tolerance/

[5] Colin Gunton’s writings have been of great influence in my understanding of Trinity. Notable among them are ‘The Promise of Trinitarian Theology’ and ‘The One, The Three and the Many’.

[6] http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Capitalism.html

[7] It is not the English word ‘agape’ meaning wide open.

[8] Matthew 13:33.

[9] Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) tried but he lived with nature and made frequent forays into human habitations as well. You just cannot live alone!

[10] Unlike in Hinduism, where after a series of cycle of births the individual merges with the impersonal principle of life or soul called Brahman and loses his/her identity. To escape the cycle of births and merge with Brahman is moksha or salvation.

[11] Matthew 6:20.

[12] Philippians 4:19.

How Then Should We Live? – Part 2

(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.