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.”

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

3. Invisible, unrepresentable, unassimilable

The second area of distortion in our understanding of God and of following Christ is about how we express our faith and spirituality. This has to do with the nature of God as Spirit and therefore invisible.

Os Guinness and John Seele write about the Roman general Pompey entering Jerusalem in the first century B. C. He wanted to see the Jewish representation of their god. On entering the Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem, he found nothing. The inner sanctum was empty. There was no graven image of God. Pompey was stunned and infuriated. Pompey “could invade Jerusalem and carry Jews back to Rome but he could not lay his hands on the Jewish God for his Roman pantheon. What was unrepresentable also was unassimilable. Such a God was intolerable to Pompey. The God of the Jews was an utterly impossible God… He who is, beside whom there is no other — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is also the God and Father of Jesus Christ — is an impossible God.”

The crux of the issue is this. The God of the Bible, the infinite and immeasurable God is also Spirit. Therefore He is invisible. He who is invisible is unrepresentable. He who is unrepresentable is unassimilable. This is what makes the God of the Bible impossible. And His people too are impossible people when they remain unassimilable like their God. But alas, that is not the story of the church in the last 2000 years! We have made that which is impossible, possible – the invisible, visible; the unrepresentable, representable; and the unassimilable, assimilable!. This is our SIN and our GUILT!

How has this come about? This has come about precisely by letting the Christian faith to be represented as any other religion and by adopting lifestyles which are totally antithetical to the teaching of the New Testament.

Within a few decades after the death of the last of the twelve apostles – we started building places for Christian gathering which began to be called sanctuaries or houses of God or churches. We then appointed special people to conduct the services in these special places. Then we gave them a special procedure or liturgy to conduct the services. The insistence on attendance at a church service on Sundays, the giving of tithes and offerings as part of the service as an act of gratitude and worship unto God completed the representation of Christian faith as a religion. We now have religious places, religious people and religious customs and traditions like any other religion. Is this not the reason why we are now reckoned and numbered with other religions of the world?
Neither Christ nor any of the twelve apostles taught nor encouraged any religious system nor any religious custom nor talked about building any religious structures. The New Testament is totally silent on any of this. We might try to read religion into some of the statements of the apostles but no where do they explicitly talk about it.

On the other hand apostle Paul in Galatians 4: 1-7, talks about the Old Testament law and its system as ‘guardians and governors’ appointed over a son while he is still a child. A child is no different from a slave, says Paul. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Later in Colossians 3: 16-23, he argues that several religious practices prevalent among Christians were a mere ‘…shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.’ Suggesting that since the substance is now with us we do not need these shadows any longer.

The Letter to Hebrews leads a scathing attack on all external, physical and temporal forms of religion, religious structures, systems and traditions. The author talks about all the Old Testament forms, traditions, priesthood and sacrifices including the old covenant as a copy, a shadow and now obsolete. “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9: 11). He concludes that ‘the just shall live by faith’ and goes on to draw portraits of people who lived by faith.

It is very sad and unfortunate that these passages from the Letters in the New Testament were interpreted as referring only to the Mosaic Law and its requirements of sacrifices and priesthood. While primarily such an interpretation is correct, my thesis is that the passages and their essence must be extended to include all forms of religion. Because both the Lord Jesus and his twelve apostles make it plain that ‘to follow Christ’ is not to follow a religion but to come under the authority of God as revealed and represented in Christ. This is not a religion but a life in relationship with the God of the universe through the mediatorship of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Christian life therefore is a life of faith. It is represented in the way we live and not by any religious system, structure, tradition or custom. Any teaching or insistence on any practise as mandatory to Christian faith and living makes Christian faith like any other religion of the world. Hence even a legalistic insistence on attendance at a ‘church service’ and the teaching about regular tithing and offering is no different from the insistence by any religion to offer different forms of oblations and sacrifices to appease the gods. All such forms even in the Old Testament were only symbolical, a shadow and were given as guardians and governors in childhood. But now since Christ has come, we now have the substance. We do not need shadows and symbols any longer. We ‘look to Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith’ and live our lives by faith and freedom in Him.

The point I am making here is simply this. We have made Christian faith representable and thus made it assimilable into the surrounding regions of the world. We did this by introducing different forms of practices, customs, patterns, systems, structures whether in the form of buildings or institutions like any other religion of the world. Practically all of us are guilty of it. Some of us have taken it to a religious extreme some of us are a little more circumspect.

Even the groups and congregations who are not affiliated to any mainline denomination and boast of being different from them have lapsed into same religious forms and practices which they originally resisted. Practically all of them began in rebellion to the mechanical and religious forms of worship in the denominations. But in the end each of them turned out to be equally enslaving in the patterns of their worship. And the reasons are the same – a lack of right understanding of the God of the Bible.

Today the world over Christianity is almost assimilated into the world of religions and is considered no different from any other religion. And by pursuing political and economic power we have begun to be counted with the nations of the world unlike the people of God about whom Balaam prophesied in Numbers 23: 9, “I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.”

What more? In many instances apart from creating these different forms, patterns, systems and structures, we have raised these to the status of absolutes. Thus committing idolatry. Because only God is absolute and everything else and everyone else is relative. When that which is relative is given the status of an absolute, we raise it to the status of God.

When we make God and faith in Him representable by anything that is not commanded by Him then we not only reduce God to less than what He is but make Him relative to and comparable with the created and man-made. This too, is idolatry.

To raise that which is relative to the status of the absolute and to reduce the absolute to the status of the relative is idolatry and therefore sin against God. Oh, how many Christian groups and congregations have fallen into this trap by making God representable in some form or the other through the patterns, systems and structures they have created. Or by giving the place of God to these patterns, systems and structures and in some cases to the leaders or the teachers who teach and lead them. Is it any wonder that we have lost our power and our witness?

Some one has said that the human heart is an idol-making factory. Do you now see the subtlety of the deception? In the name of worship and devotion to Christ how often we make our own systems, patterns, programmes, leaders and even churches the measure for everyone. And when you notice that many well-meaning and sincere Christians are in it, one cannot but lament!

The God of the Bible is an impossible God and His people are impossible people too. He is impossible because He is immeasurable. Therefore invisible. Therefore unrepresentable. Therefore unclassifiable. Therefore unmalleable. Therefore unassimilable. His people are shaped by His truth and therefore are uncompromising to all pressures, molds, and seductions. Their allegiance is to Him alone. Their love for Him is unconditional therefore they are unconquerable.

Os Guinness & John Seel write, “A central consequence of the vision of such an impossible God is God-centered relativising: God and His truth call into question all opinions, customs, loyalties, and claims that differ from their own… God alone is absolute, so all that is not God is relative… Unconditional obedience to God therefore means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Thus those who confess one God are those who are ready to criticise everything else – nation, class, race, party, power, wealth, ideology, science, government, and church – whenever it threatens to usurp the place of God. After all, there is no other.”

As if giving representation to God in the religious forms and systems were not enough there is one other more dishonourable and repugnant things among Christians today. This is to think that we can give representation to our God through the ‘blessings’ we have garnered from our pursuit of the world. This only shows how biblically puerile our thinking has become. So we have the sad spectacle of many Christians chasing the knowledge, the power and the glories of the world. What more? When Christians think that they can use these ‘blessings’ to serve God, what can one say? It is like Judas Iscariot wanting to fulfill the ‘great commission’ with the thirty pieces of silver he gained from selling His master! Alas, I lament!

We have forgotten that a church or people who have pursued and benefited by the gifts and blessings of the world have no gospel to preach and would lose their witness and authority. We forget that if worldly blessings were the measure then there are more people in the world who have more of the said ‘blessings’ than most Christians. But the saddest part of it is when you see so many enslaved to the world – to acquiring knowledge, wealth and respectability you cannot but lament with Jeremiah, “How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay…Those who once ate delicacies are destitute in the streets. Those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps….”

This is the reason why I wonder, if much of today’s evangelism and ministry were not from guilt than from a true devotion to Christ, notwithstanding the sincerity of those who do it!

It is no wonder that we seem to be producing people in our own likeness through our evangelism and missions. “For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Jesus warned. What a shame if after all our efforts to convert people to Christ we make them more worthy of hell, because we don’t seem to be converting them to Christ but to our structures, patterns and lifestyles. And I wonder if it is to such people Jesus would say, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Oh, the prospect of being ‘banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and of being erased from the knowledge of him who knows all’! (C.S.Lewis) One cannot even imagine how it would be!

But the question still remains, if God is invisible how can he be represented then? What representation does God allow of Himself, if He does at all?

The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

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

Let us first take up the issue of our discipleship to Christ and how it has been compromised. This has happened precisely because we have not understood the implications of knowing God as One!

The Bible is united in its affirmation of God as One. The Jewish Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

What does it mean in practise and what are its implications for life?

We do know that intolerance is born of a monotheistic understanding of God. If God is One and there is no other, then no other god or faith or religion can exist. Generally all who believe in God as monotheistic, express it in the form of intolerance towards all who do not believe in Him. But intolerance is a negative form of expressing the belief and it has no place in Christian faith. The Bible does talk about God as One, but it also teaches that the One God reveals Himself as Three. If three personal beings with free wills of their own co-exist and be so united that they are One then intolerance of the kind that is prevalent in the world today has no room in Christian faith. But what is the right and positive way of expressing our belief in God as One? It is ‘single-hearted devotion’ or as stated in the second part of Jewish Shema and affirmed by Jesus Christ in the words of the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The first of the ten commandments is, “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.” A popular chorus for children restates it as “God is number one. He won’t be number two”. Jesus stated the same in his call to discipleship, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Os Guinness and John Seel write, “To say that there is one God and no god but God is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor simply an article in a creed. It is an overpowering, brain-hammering, heart-stopping truth that is a command to love the only one worthy of our entire and unswerving allegiance.” (Emphasis mine)

Is this not what is missing among Christians today? The right way of expressing our belief in God as One, is unswerving allegiance to him or in the words of Apostle Paul, ‘single-heartednes’ towards Christ. Instead we have begun to live dual lives – a life of faith in God, of following Christ and of pursuing self and the world!

The words of Paul ‘…simplicity that is in Christ’ can also be translated as ‘sincere devotion to Christ’ or ‘single-heartedness towards Christ’. As I said in my first article on this subject of ‘Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority – Riding Two Horses’, rather than singleness of heart we have begun to ‘ride two horses’. Or as Paul says about Timothy in Philippians 2: 19-20 ‘…all seek their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus’. The modern world has made it both easy and very attractive to ‘follow Christ’ and to pursue self-interest, self-preservation, and personal material affluence. This kind of duality among Christians today is so universal, pervasive and entrenched that we hardly notice it and even if noticed we think it is normal and nothing to worry about nor worthy of paying any attention to. It is appalling to see that many well-meaning Christians are living such dual lives and do not see anything wrong with it!

Quite early in my own personal walk with Christ I came across the statement, “No man or woman amounts to anything in the kingdom, no soul ever touches even the edge of the zone of power, until this lesson is learned that Christ’s business is the supreme concern of life and that all personal considerations, however dear or important, are tributary thereto (Dr. Francis quoted in ‘Streams in the Desert’ – Devotion for December 14) Such thinking clearly indicates one’s theology. Stories of men and women who pursued God and made loving Him their primary pursuit in life testify to it.

If we are created by God and bought with the blood of His own Son then surely we do not belong to ourselves. Therefore “…those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” We just cannot live for anyone else or for anything else. To do so amounts to not only violation of the first commandment but also to violate the terms of discipleship to Christ.

In my first article I had written, “Nothing can be more plain than that. We cannot live for ourselves. Period. Not for our own desires, ambitions, pleasures, aspirations, comforts, security, identity, dignity, glory whatever. We cannot live a life of self-seeking. We live for Christ and His kingdom – his pleasures, his desires, his will, his glory and nothing else. The day you and I decided to follow Christ or the day His choice fell upon us, my friends, we have lost all rights to live for ourselves. If you do not like this then you do not understand the gospel or you are still holding on to your self. There is no choice here. Either we follow Christ and give him our total allegiance or we leave and go our own way.”

Os Guinness and John Seel explain that this kind of unconditional allegiance to Christ means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Such people are uncompromising, unmalleable and therefore unconquerable too. Often they are viewed as intolerant because they are intransigent. Their intransigence is born because of their allegiance to God, the One and only, who has revealed himself in the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not the rabid intolerance of the religious fanatic, who bays for the blood of those who disagree. But these uncompromising people do not engage in coercion nor in the extermination of those who disagree with them. But it is seen in their unswerving allegiance or sincere devotedness to Christ and His kingdom.

Such allegiance or devotedness is what constitutes true worship. Paul calls it ‘reasonable service’ or ‘right kind of worship’. Anything less is not worthy of him. Anything else is not worship but strange fire. Any worship without such unswerving love and devotedness is not worship. There is no religious ritual or custom or tradition that can compensate for this. There is no need for any religious place or sanctuary where this worship can be offered. It is given in the life of the individual in spirit and in truth.

Let me bring in a parallel from the book of Exodus. God sent Moses to Pharoah saying, “Let my people go that they may worship me”. But Pharoah would not let them go. He reasoned that they were not kept busy enough with work and therefore they wanted to go on a day’s journey into the desert to worship. First he said they could worship right where they were. Later he said that only men could go and leave the rest of the family behind. He increased their work so that they would not have time to think about worship. I believe we have a modern-day Pharoah in our work and employment. Our employers and employment keep us occupied with work so that we do not give single-hearted devotion to Christ. Or they would have us treat work as worship! Or even work as mission! Or work-place as fishing pond to fish men for Christ! There are a thousand and odd ways the world and its system would want us to be bound up with, so that we do not give unstinted love for Christ. Our God would have none of it. Either we love Him whole heartedly and follow Christ wholly or serve Mammon and the world!

Anyone who wishes to be faithful to his call to follow Christ can never be totally comfortable in the world. Nor can they be comfortable working in any of the organisations and corporations today including church and ministry related works. Any prayer seeking to be comfortable in the world is a wrong prayer.

Oswald Chambers writes, “Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ…The greastest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him…The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Hm.” Only when our discipleship to Christ is understood this way and we are willing to give such unswerving allegiance to him, can we recover our calling and our witness. Without this our own discipleship to Christ would be suspect.

Do you now see, why I say that our condition today is lamentable?

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”

How Then Should We Live? Part 4

Read Part 1,2 and 3 below…

4. Lifestyle of faith

Most of the God-talk, the talk of ministry and the talk of being Christian around us today, is just that. Just talk and no walk! And I include myself in it. For all practical purposes and practically everywhere, what we all have ultimately settled for, is to pursue our concerns of security and identity even while claiming to be following Christ and ‘doing ministry’. We use God to serve us on the pretext of serving Him! Practically all our problems that we face in our churches and ministries are related to these pursuits. We will serve Him and follow Him, as long as He allows us to build our securities and identities. We rationalise and protest, we fight and quarrel, we victimise and play the victim, and we politicise and divide when our agendas and pursuits are not served. The politics we play, the leadership problems we have, are all to do with the same pursuits, in the final analysis. I am reminded in this context a quote from Os Guinness’s book, ‘The Call’. Thomas Linacre (1460–1524), founder of the Royal College of Physicians and a distinguished Oxford humanist, was so troubled after the reading the four gospels, he said, “Either these are not the gospels or we are not Christians.” I believe what he said is as true today almost six centuries later as it was during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII in 15th century England albeit, possibly for different reasons.

Let me address two or three objections my readers might bring to what I am saying. The first is that I am making huge generalisation and painting all Christians with the same brush. I must admit that it is true to a large extent. I am making huge generalisations because what I am saying in these articles is generally true of most of us globally, barring a few stray exceptions among us. We have become so much adapted to the modern lifestyles and are so used to the comforts and conveniences of modernity that we hardly understand nor practise our calling to follow Christ, truthfully. Os Guinness writes, “Hardly any Christians are world-denying these days…On every side we see Christians pursuing the rage for relevance, whether seeking the respect of the “cultured despisers’ of the gospel, reaching out to the contemporary “unchurched” with a “user friendly” gospel, or just enjoying the comforts of the age. For many believers the Christian life is now a good life: it simply “goes better with Jesus” even if there is no God and no Resurrection. The result is a series of adaptations of the Christian faith to modern man, that are a capitulation with few rivals in two thousand years.” (The Call, Os Guinness, 2003)

One of the most blatant and universally common adaptations of life to the world, among Christians is the career-driven model of life. This is so common that today even ministry is viewed as a career, as argued in my first article. What is so disquieting is that, it is taught and practised so brazenly even by most pastors and leaders. We spend hours in praying for God’s blessing on our pursuits not realising that we are asking Him what He has so distinctly proscribed(1 John 2: 15-17; James 4: 1-4). The call to follow Christ sounds the death knell to all our ambitions and aspirations for personal or organisational power and glory. It means an end to all kinds of self-aggrandisement and for all prospects for coming up and making it big in life. Don’t we know that anyone who takes up the cross to follow Him must be willing to die on that cross?

The second objection I hear is that I am proposing a perfectionist few of Christian faith. I wonder how anyone can make such an objection. I am not talking about perfectionism. I am talking about obeying Christ and following him whole-heartedly. We do not read anywhere in the gospels, Jesus lowering the terms of His call to follow Him. There are no discounts or rebates offered for discipleship. Instead Jesus challenged people to first count the cost and only then to follow Him (Luke 14: 25-33). Do I hear some say, “What about the thief on the cross?” I hope that it does not reveal the thieving mind to somehow sneak in into heaven at the end, without any cross and cost! The problem with our fallen nature is that when we are bent upon doing what is wrong and evil, “…the mind turns from reason to rationalisation” as Dallas Willard points out. Our heart is desperately wicked as the Bible tells, so when we are cornered, rather than accepting that we could be wrong. It finds ways of explanation, excuse and if possible escape from doing what is right. Or to justify that what we are doing is right.

Take heed, how you build

A third objection could be about my credentials or authority. What authority do I have to question so many and across the board especially when so many well-meaning, godly men and women have done so much for so many centuries? Am I not being arrogant or simply a charlatan? To answer the objection, let me point that we cannot be our own judges. How can the accused be the law-enforcement, the lawyer and the judge? It is no wonder that we justify ourselves! We must all stand before the bar of His Word now (Matt 7: 21-27) and later before His throne. “…But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:10-15). We are called now, to take heed how we build. It will be too late at the final judgment.

I have no doubt that the Lord has used so many women and men of God and the organisations raised by them for the salvation of many and the building of His kingdom. Yet I must point out that the fact that God graciously uses our weak and faltering efforts is no excuse for us to continue to do what others have done all along, without any reflection and introspection. We must constantly reflect and learn from the mistakes of the past and move on towards the model He has Himself set for us in His own life on earth. My only concern and appeal is that we not only focus on the goals and objectives of serving the cause of God’s kingdom, but also to see that the ways and means we employ are also derived from the scripture and are in alignment with the values of His kingdom. Otherwise we would be employing, tools borrowed from the world and designed by the devil to do the work of God. This is precisely what the devil wanted Jesus to do in the temptations on the mountain top, as explained earlier in my articles. Quite early in my life I have learnt that the fact that God uses us is no guarantee that everything is alright with us. He uses and blesses our efforts to get his work done for reasons and purposes only He knows. But we must always be waiting on him to know and see if we are following in His steps and doing as He wants us to do. Finally about my authority and credentials, I have none except what prophet Amos claimed in Amos 7: 14-15: “…I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet…Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock…” That is my only claim to any authority, apart from sincere but faltering efforts at following Him for nearly forty years of my life.

Removing the old, bringing in the new

The letter to Hebrews ends with the statement that God is shaking up everything that can be shaken in order to remove them so that, that which cannot be shaken may remain (12: 26-28). What is it that God is shaking up in order to remove? And what is it that God is brining in which cannot be shaken and which remains?

The drift of the whole letter indicates that God is shaking up the old order of things in order to bring in the new. He is removing the old form of worship, the old covenant, the man-made structures, the external, that which is physical and a shadow of the real. He is bringing in the real, the heavenly, and the spiritual. He is removing the temple worship, the never ending sacrifices which needed to be offered year after year and which never made anyone totally righteous. The priesthood was only a shadow of what Christ was to do upon the cross, a perfect priest of a perfect sacrifice offered in the very presence of God, the Holiest of all. How was all this going to be mediated to the believer? It was through a new covenant. The terms of the new covenant were that God would now work through His Holy Spirit by putting His word into our hearts. And therefore, how are we to live? There are no more animal sacrifices to offer. No more temples to attend. No more any need for priests to mediate for us. In fact there is no need for any ecclesiastical orders or for any kind of standard liturgies to follow, in order for man to approach God to worship Him or to live our lives pleasing to Him. Ecclesiastical orders and liturgies might have been of use to some in the past and they might still be helpful to many. To the extent these do not become enslaving forms they might still be good. No doubt these have been devised as helps with good intentions by godly men and women and are based on the teaching of the scripture. But we are now called upon to live by faith, “The just shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38). It is very unfortunate that the Christian world has reverted back to man-made systems and structures in order to worship God. It is a sad irony that while we talk about being the ‘temple of the Holy Ghost’ we still build sanctuaries and demand attendance at those physical structures as a mark of faithfulness and devotion unto God. This is the reason why I assert that the darkest day in the history of the church was the day when we began to build physical structures and began to call them sanctuaries or places of worship. Is it not true that it was this practise more than any other that has made us more like any other religion of the world? And that it was this more than any other that has brought in all kinds of ills that plague us today – our politics, our divisions, and everything else that we needed to run them. Whether the management systems or the organisational models that we borrowed from the world to run our systems and structures.

How do we live then? The just shall live by faith and not in fear is the answer of the letter to Hebrews.

Most of us live by fear – fear of people, fear of future, fear of disease, fear of death, fear of losing our dignity and name, fear of losing our securities and so on. But in the Bible we are called to live by faith – faith, not just for justification but we must learn to live our whole lives by faith. In chapter 11, the author sets forth for us what it looks like to live by faith. We shall explore three men and their lives of faith mentioned here in Hebrews 11, and draw lessons about them from other parts of the scripture as well. But we must address a few popular teachings on faith before we begin to explore the life of faith of Enoch, Abraham and Moses.

Faith as positive thinking

There are three very popular teachings on faith which need to be clarified in this context. These have become very popular over the last fifty years or so. These are generally known by catchy slogans – The ‘power of positive thinking’, the ‘power of positive confession’ and the ‘seed-faith movement’. The first one came into popularity through the book of the same title and a radio talk hosted by Norman Vincent Peale in 1960s. The teaching views faith as positive thinking. It is what most management students learn about the importance of perspective – the ‘glass is empty or full’ tool. That one should not look at the negative aspect of the situation but to look at the positive. His book became very popular even among those who are not Christians and was read by millions across the world. Later Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral fame, Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen are among the other most popular televangelists who have successfully used this teaching combining it with scriptures and have built multi-million dollar ministries. There is a lot of simple common sense in what they teach. The subtlety is in the using of biblical texts to buttress what they say. But it does not constitute the gospel of Christ. Their books and talks, in my opinion can be categorised as purely motivational. Schuller and Meyers books are very popular and are read by many people across the world.

Faith as positive confession

The power of positive confession or positive speaking or the Word-Faith movement school, has sprung up as an offshoot of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. It combines the positive thinking teaching of Peale with scripture which teach about speaking out what you believe. One such texts is the one Jesus taught, “I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17: 20). Positive confession/speaking teach about claiming in prayer and speaking out boldly in faith what you claim. That what you speak out and say out loud will be done because you are speaking out what you believe to be true. The power of positive speaking is about speaking directly to the problem, sickness and need, and not necessarily to God in prayer. The most popular among those with varied shades of the teaching are Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Paul (David) Yongi Cho, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps, Morris Cerullo, Andrew Wommack, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, D. G. S. Dinakaran, his son Paul Dinakaran in India and a host of other small time and regional preachers across India. Most of those listed above have gone on to build huge personal empires in the name of ministry. Some of them live very lavish and opulent lifestyles, quite often with the gifts given by many unsuspecting, sincere and simple people. They justify such lifestyles as a blessing from God. The point is you do not see the cross or the lifestyle of Christ in their lives.

Faith as sowing seed

The ‘sow and reap’ or the ‘seed-faith’ teaching also falls into the same category. Seed-faith was first taught by Oral Roberts. Later several picked up on it, teaching people to give or sow in the church or the ministry of the preacher, in order to reap a harvest of blessings. The ‘sow and reap’ or’ seed-faith’ teaching is generally based on 2 Corinthians 9: 6, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” If one reads carefully the context of what Apostle Paul is writing here, it becomes very plain that his emphasis was not on the reaping at all. It was in order to encourage liberal giving to send relief to the needy Christians in Jerusalem; the Apostle is giving the illustration of the farmer who sows liberally. Paul was appealing them to give liberally neither to support the work he was doing nor to maintain a rich lifestyle. If one reads 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 the tenor of Apostle Paul’s appeal makes it plain that, giving should not be encouraged to the point where the giver is put under the stress of poverty nor the recipient under the stress of riches or luxury. Good giving should lead to equality and not to inequality or to uphold the lavish lifestyles of the pastors and leaders.

All these teachings prey upon the fears and the need for security and identity of the people and promises well-being, wealth and prosperity in the name of Christ and His gospel. This encourages and enslaves people to the pursuit of the securities and identities of the world. Exactly what the Lord Jesus said the people of His Kingdom should not be seeking. There is practically very little emphasis on the need for repentance from sin. There is no teaching about the lifestyle of faith, or of the cross which includes self-denial and sacrifice. If self-denial and sacrifice are taught at all, it is taught so that people should deny themselves and give liberally to the ministry of the teacher or the evangelist. Such preaching is not biblical and misleads many from the truth of the gospel. It brings great reproach to the name of Christ.

But the lifestyle of faith looks totally different from any of the above teachings. Let us now turn our attention to Hebrews 11.

 

He walked and he was not!

In Genesis 5: 24 it is written that Enoch walked with God. And Hebrews 11: 5-6 says, “…he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

It must be pointed out that when the Bible talks about faith it does not mean the general spiritual or mental ability to believe. When the Bible talks about faith, it means the response of trust and commitment that a person shows towards the revelation of God or to the Word of God. First, the object of faith is in focus. It is faith in what or whom? It is faith in the God who speaks or reveals Himself. Such faith is seen in trusting the person you believe and giving off of yourself to Him at any cost and against all odds. It means relying or leaning upon Him. These are the first steps in the life of faith. This is what marks each person mentioned in Hebrews 11. And this is what draws God’s attention and approval.

Third, the life of faith is demonstrated in diligent seeking or desiring. It is not enough to claim that we believe in God. But it must show in the way we live and the changes we make in order to seek Him and know Him. Diligence is about putting effort into, or bringing in the needed disciplines to know God. To discipline means the willingness to deny ourselves of anything that hinders. It means saying ‘no’ to certain things but saying ‘yes’ to Him, to His claims and to His demands over us. So the life of faith is a life of discipline. It is a life which puts in, regular and honest effort to seek Him and to know Him. It could mean spending in times of silence and solitude with Him. It means setting apart times of prayer and Bible reading. It means making sacrifices and denying ourselves in order to please Him.

“Can two walk together, unless…”

Enoch walked with God – to walk with another involves agreeing with that person as written in Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Walking with another means intimacy, friendship, agreement and pleasing. It is no wonder then that the Bible says that Enoch pleased God. And their intimacy was such that God took him away to be with Him. He is one of the two people in the whole Bible, who did not see physical death as known to us. But, if walking means agreeing together, then in a walk between two unequals who must agree with whom? Obviously the lesser must agree to the greater. In this walk of Enoch and God, Enoch must agree with God. But what is it that we have to agree to, in order to walk with God? I can think of two major areas where we must agree with God, in order to walk in intimacy with Him. The first is His sovereignty and the second is His holiness.

Anyone who wishes to know and walk in intimate relationship with the God of the Bible must at some point come face to face with His sovereignty. Because He is God, His authority and His control over everything is final and supreme. And since He is the One and only, and no one else beside Him, His supreme command in the words of the Lord Jesus is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt 22:37-38). This means that we are not our own, we belong to Him. That we have no rights only the responsibility to live for Him and to please Him. Does it sound autocratic? Does it seem enslaving? But that is what we are made for. Living for Him, in love and obedience is our safe haven. As the birds are made to fly and the fish to swim in water, we are made for Him, to live, to move and have our being in Him. As the strings of a guitar find their meaning and music in being tied at both ends, we find our freedom and fulfilment in being bound to Him alone. And everything else and anyone else that tries to take His place must be eschewed.

Os Guinness & John Seel write, “To say that there is one God and no god but God is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor simply an article in a creed. It is an overpowering, brain-hammering, heart-stopping truth that is a command to love the only one worthy of our entire and unswerving allegiance…Unconditional obedience to God therefore means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Thus those who confess one God are those who are ready to criticise everything else – nation, class, race, party, power, wealth, ideology, science, government, and church – whenever it threatens to usurp the place of God. After all, there is no other.” His is a call to absolute submission and obedience. Either He is Lord of all or not lord at all! He brooks no rivals, nor any defiance.

Dismantling and redefining

Second knowing Him in His holiness brings us to a shattering and dismantling discovery of ourselves, that there is nothing in us that can make us acceptable or pleasing to Him. Anyone who has come face to face with the Holy God cannot be the same anymore. The holiness of God shatters all images we have of ourselves. The images that I have of myself, as a good son or daughter, a good spouse, a good preacher or teacher, a good leader or any other role that I play in life – all these, when compared with the Holiness of God, are shattered. I begin to see that I have not been and done what is expected of me and that I have failed to meet His mark. We cast ourselves at His mercy, broken. But He reaches forth in grace to redefine us, to be reconstituted into the image of His Son. Such a person begins to live in the shadow of God’s grace. All his credentials are laid upon the cross and all that he is now is defined by the grace of God. Hence he says, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14). We learn to live in meekness and gratefulness. When we deserved judgement, He showed mercy. What more can we demand of Him. How foolish we are to complain, to sulk or to demand that God do as we wish? Listen to the words of a man who understood grace, “For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king. Yet you set your servant among those who eat at your own table. Therefore what right have I still to cry out anymore to the king?” (2 Samuel 19: 28). That is why, I wonder if they are talking about the Christ of the New Testament gospels, when people brag and take pride about who they are and boast about what they have and do and still claim to be followers of Christ! And how can anyone who understands the grace of God fight for positions of power in ‘church hierarchies’ as is often the case in our churches and ministries? Anyone who understands the grace of God and lives in the shadow of it, cannot but be meek and grateful for whatever lot he is given in life.

Having been reconstituted and redefined His command now is, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:16). And we are called to go outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Heb 13: 13). We cannot be comfortable anymore living the way the people of the world live, pursuing the things that the people of the world pursue. As Jesus said, it is the gentiles who run after them, not the citizens of His kingdom (Matt 6: 32). Like the people of Israel about whom prophet Balaam prophesied, “I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.” (Num 23:9 NIV). Listen to Os Guinness & John Seel again, “Or at other times, again, the moral demand makes us uncategorisable. Marching to a divine drummer, we are often out of step with others. Condemned to be seen as outsiders, mad, possessed, odd fellows, dangerous, “we are the imposters who speak the truth…the penniless ones who own the world” (2 Cor 6:8, 10, NEB). But the same absolute demand is also what makes the impossible people unconquerable.” It is no wonder then that God took Enoch away. A man who agrees with God to be able to walk with Him in intimacy cannot be comfortable, living in a world that rejects Him. It is because of this reason I believe, apostle Paul writes that he desires to depart and to be with Christ (Phil 1: 23). How can the followers of Christ, live the way the people of the world live? Is it not disquieting, that God’s people are so comfortable living the way the people of the world are living? Does that not reveal how far removed we are from knowing and walking with Him, as Enoch walked with God?

He went not knowing where!

The record of Abraham’s walk of faith in the book of Genesis is a cornucopia of lessons for the life of faith. He is an epitome of a man of faith. We shall explore three aspects of the life of faith of Abraham.

A brief overview of the life of faith of Abraham reveals that, there is an element of uncertainty built-in, into the life of faith. This is implied in the statement that Abraham went not knowing, where he was going. The call of God to Abraham came with such clarity and authority that there was no room for second guessing or side-stepping it. He was certain about the One who spoke but uncertain about the details and the destination. When God speaks you must obey, you cannot not obey. This is true for every follower of Christ. The summons to follow Him was very clear for the early disciples. They forsook all and followed Him. Os Guinness writes, “As Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted, ‘The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.’ They did not consider his claims, make up their minds, and then decide whether to follow – they simply heard and obeyed. Their response is ‘a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus.’ The call is all. Jesus is the reason. The only way to follow is to leave everything and follow him. Here is a call that makes short work of all our questions, objections, and evasions. Disciples are not so much those who follow as those who must follow.” And Eugene Peterson explains, “…”faith” – trusting obediently in what we cannot control, living in obedient relationship to the One we cannot see, venturing obediently into a land that we know nothing about.”(The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson, 2007). When have we seen anyone following the Lord this way in our times? Our modern lifestyles do not allow for such obedience. We want everything to be reasoned, analysed, planned, budgeted, programmed, and booked in advance. Implicit and unquestioning obedience is hard for us.

But I have known one such man who lived and obeyed implicitly. Bakht Singh(1903-2000), was a man who came to know the Lord personally while studying in Canada in late 1920s. He was known to have lived in such intimacy with God. He would narrate many such experiences in his life when he went according to God’s word, unplanned and unprepared. He would tell of how God took care of every detail as he went in obedience. When he came back to India in obedience to God’s call to preach the gospel in India, he had no place to live in Bombay (now Mumbai) and no money to buy food as his father, a Sikh, refused to entertain the converted son in his home in Lahore. Bakht Singh was forced to live in uncertainty and yet enjoyed the peace and glory of God’s presence with him on the streets of Bombay. His motto in life was to know the will of God and to do it. He was a man who taught the importance of listening to the voice of God. I grew up under his ministry till my mid20s. But unfortunately today we hardly know such intimacy with God nor can live with such tentativeness in life.

God demands and deserves such obedience from us, because of who He is. We let Him control our lives. We let Him make the decisions and move or stay and accept people, circumstances and even possessions in life only as He allows and at His command. After many years of teaching, I have personally learnt to say to God, “Lord, I will take what you give. I don’t want what you do not give – people, possessions, circumstances and even ministry opportunities. I will be content with whatever lot you would allow me in life.” Like the servants of David always ready to obey, “And the king’s servants said to the king, “We are your servants, ready to do whatever my lord the king commands.” (2 Samuel 15:15). Isn’t our Lord, the King greater than David? Does He not deserve such allegiance? If we cannot trust the One who died for us, who else can we trust?

Living as strangers and pilgrims

Second, faith in God leads to a lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. We are not called to or promised settled lifestyles. This is implied in the call of God to Abraham and the call to discipleship to Christ.

“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb 11:9-10).

We are called out of the world to be part of His kingdom. And as long as we live in this world we find it hard to settle down. There is tentativeness in the lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. They do not live settled lives as far as their professions, residence and the things they acquire are concerned. They do not amass wealth and possessions and become rooted to a place to such an extent that they cannot uproot and move on at the Lord’s command. Friends we are called to be people who ‘Go into the world to preach the good news’. Even if we were to build or own a house for any reasons, we do not allow it to become a hindrance to move on at the Lord’s command. The modern world does not allow us such lives. Although the modern world made lives very mobile and made it easy for people to move across the globe yet the basic human instinct is for security and settled lives. The career-driven model, the security and identity seeking mind prevent us from living the way of strangers and pilgrims. In fact, for many in India settling down in life – finding a well paying, stable and permanent job, being married and owning an own house – is a major pursuit. For the follower of Christ the idea and the practise of settling down in life with a permanent job and a permanent residence ought to be odious. His hold over everything in life has to be tentative. Why such a lifestyle? First we have no ‘continuing city and we wait for one to come, and we are called to ‘Go’ into the world and yet not live the way the people of the world live. How did Abraham handle it? By building altars and making regular sacrifices. There is in him a constant giving up and moving on. Each place he went or each time he strayed, he built an altar, he sacrificed as a mark of giving up and as a mark of rededication and moved on at the Lord’s command. Eugene Peterson writes, “Abraham was a veteran in the sacrifice business…Each altar became a place of prayer: “Is this the way God commanded and promised, or is this a version of the command and promise that I have customised to my convenience?” At each altar he learned a little more, acquired a deeper discernment, a sharper insight into God’s command and promise in contrast to his innate wilfulness and indulgence but also in contrast to the anti-faith world of Ur with its ziggurats. Altars built at many a crossroads, a life of repeated sacrifices, each sacrifice an act of discernment, separating the chaff of illusion from the wheat of promise.”

But many reason, was not Abraham a rich man? Did not God bless him with a rich herd of livestock and a host of slaves? What is wrong about acquiring wealth? Yes, but Abraham also was always ready to sacrifice, give-up, to pull up His roots and move on. How many of us would be ready to disturb our settled lives and move on if God commands us to go to a troublesome spot in the world? How many of our pastors and leaders would? First, as pointed out in my earlier articles, God does not bless us in order for us to flaunt, nor to hoard. He does not bless us in order for us to roll in luxuries while many around languish in destitution and poverty. He blesses us so that we share with those who do not have. We must learn to give sacrificially and bless others with what God has blessed us with. The practise of giving up and sacrificing begins right from the time Abraham left Ur. First he had to give up his homeland, then the family – his father and brothers. He had to let go off his nephew and unselfishly deny himself the choice of a fertile land. And later he firmly rejected the spoils of war in Genesis 14, “But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’”. (v 22, 23). Elisha demonstrated this when Naaman, the Syrian commander offered him gifts in gratitude, “But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. (2 Kings 5:16).

The wisdom of knowing what and when to accept or when to refuse gifts from people, is rare among us. The blight of ill-gotten wealth has ruined many followers of Christ. It is not becoming of the followers of Christ to flash, flaunt or gloat over their wealth or achievements. While being grateful to God for letting us have more than other unfortunate neighbours, let us not use our riches, or our status or anything else as symbols of our greatness. We may use the treasures of ‘Egypt’ but we may not make a ‘golden calf’ of it. Remember Nebuchadnezzar. Despite being warned through a dream he bragged, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). While the word was still in his mouth, his kingdom was taken away from him and was driven into the forest to live like a beast for seven years until he lifted up his eyes to the heavens, acknowledge and praise God’s authority over him. May it not be that some among are stricken with the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar.

Tyranny of the love of God!

What is the tyranny of the love of God? How can love be terrifying? Does it not say that there is no fear in love? To understand it one must stand with Abraham on Mount Moriah. The son of his love bound to the altar. His trembling hand raised and poised to slay him to be offered as a burnt offering unto God. But before that you must endure the ‘agonising’ journey, trudging along with the son born in his old age. Can you see his heart in painful turmoil that he would soon, part company with his son? With his own hands he must put an end to his life for whom, he waited into his old age? No, you must start even before that. You must start on that fateful night before he began his journey, when the word of the Lord came to Abraham and agonise with him about the kind of God he has followed many decades ago. How many sacrifices he has made? How many things he has left behind? How many years he has waited trusting the God who spoke? We do not know what went through Abraham’s mind that night or through the journey or as he raised his hand to slay his son. He has endured many a test. He would yet endure any other trial sent by God, but this one? How can he kill his own son and offer him as a burnt offering? What kind of a God is He? But the record in Genesis is silent about all that. Abraham knew what the test was about. He did not waver and we do not find any hesitation. He was robust in his faith. He knew the God who he believed, trusted and followed all these years.

The Holy Spirit of God gives us three brief glimpses into the heart of Abraham about the fateful event. One in Genesis 22: 5 – Abraham tells his servants to wait while he and the boy would go and worship God and that they will come back. They will come back? How can they come back if he was going to slay his son? The second glimpse is given to us in his answer to his son. When asked where was the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” The third glimpse into his heart is given to us in Hebrews 11: 17-19 – By faith Abraham concluded that God was able to raise Isaac up even from the dead. What faith and confidence in the God he knew!

The tyranny of the love of God is this, that he brooks no rivals. This was the test for Abraham, a test that was like none other which he had endured thus far. If God alone exists and there is none other beside Him, then no one else or nothing else can be loved, worshipped, sought or pursued except Him. No one else and nothing else can control, guide, lead or drive us except Him. Not careers, not the promise of wealth, not the prospect of settlement nothing can be loved or pursued. No green pasture is green enough to attract us. No glitter is strong enough to draw us. Everything else and anything else must be subservient to our love for God. Even the son of promises must be sacrificed if he comes between us and our love for God. For the follower of Christ, His call is clearer, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14: 26-27).

God tested Abraham. But Abraham responded with worship. Hence his answer to the servants – we will worship. True worship is an expression of love and obedience to the One who alone is worthy of such love and obedience. And such worship is too sacred for the public eye, hence the servants needed to stay back. They cannot go to the top of the mountain. They cannot assist him in this worship. They cannot see what was going to happen, understand and remain silent. They must remain at the foot of the mountain. It was a matter to be settled between him and his God. It was extravagant worship in response to the extravagant love of God. The world does not understand such love and such a sacrifice. His God had loved him, provided for him, and taken care of him all along his life’s journey. He had kept His promises. And Abraham knew that He will still keep His promise to make a nation for him through Isaac. He concluded that God will raise up Isaac from the dead! So Abraham honoured God by believing and obeying Him. But who can worship God acceptably? What can mortal man offer equal to the honour and the glory of God? Abraham knew, even the offering of his son as a burnt offering was not enough for the honour and the glory of God. Such an offering must come from God, himself! So his answer to his son, “God will provide for himself the lamb.” What a father! And what a son! And much more – what a God! His God did not let him down. He did provide the lamb. Oh, but subsequently in history, He did not spare His own Son for us all! So that, we can worship Him in truth and in spirit. And Paul asks, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8: 32).

This brings us full circle back again to the words of our Lord and Master, “… and all these things shall be added to you.” Do not run after ‘all these things’. It is the gentiles who run after them – what shall we eat, what shall we wear, where shall we live? The citizens of God’s kingdom live above all these, for he will ‘freely give us all things’ pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1: 3, 4). Our sustenance, our security, our identity and everything else we need are promised and given to us as inheritance in Christ. When we trust in Him for all these and live in such assurance and joy then we shall have honoured Him truly. This is worship that is worthy of the name, the nature and the glory of God. Such worship delights God and brings down the promise of His covenant blessing, “In blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you… In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

Friends, where is such trust and obedience unto God these days? If we claim to be worshipping God and yet are driven by the things that drive the people of the world, I wonder if we understand true worship. Where there is no such trust and obedience as that of Abraham, anything that passes for worship today among us is mere noise! And anything that goes on in the name of missions and evangelism is but lip-service if we do not honour God with an extravagant love as that of Abraham. Becoming a blessing to the world is an outflow of such worship. Any worship that is offered and any ministry that is done, if it lacks the trust, obedience and sacrifice as that of Abraham lacks the presence, the provision, and the pleasure of God.

It was the lack of trust and obedience on the part of the people of Israel during their journey in the wilderness that prompted God’s displeasure and censure. A reading of Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 makes this very plain. Hebrews 3:12 – 4:10 reads,

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief… For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it… There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

If you notice carefully the unbelief was about their lack of trust that God could provide food and water and about their safety through out their journey. The same issues of sustenance, security and identity of the people of Israel, they always wanted to be like the rest of the nations! Why can’t they be like other nations of the world, was their frequent complaint. This is what led them to murmur against Moses and rebel against God. This is what made them to want idols to worship like all others. And they wanted a king like other nations of the world. They were not satisfied with God as their King.

I wonder if the same displeasure and censure of God is upon us today as well! There are many among us who claim to have salvation but do not have the experience of entering into His rest. My contention is that the lifestyles we have adopted as followers of Christ fall far short of the trust and obedience that it demands. Our career-driven lives, and chasing the securities and identities of the world undermines our trust and obedience to Him. We are woefully like the people of the world. Unless we learn to repent and restore our trust in Him, we will not experience the Sabbath rest promised in Christ. True worship leads to such blessing.

He saw Him who is invisible!

We learn from Moses that the life of faith leads to making choices. In Heb 11:24-28, it is written about Moses, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

It must be noted that this is not blind faith or dumb faith. This faith was based on God’s word or His revelation to them. Words such as, concluding as in case of Abraham, choosing, esteeming, refusing, and enduring in case of Moses suggest that it was not unreasoning or unthinking faith. They had the option of rejecting but their faith lead them to choose correctly and properly according to the revelation and the understanding they had of God. Their faith involved the engagement of the mind to weigh and to make the right judgement.

One question that bothers many is how come people heard the voice of God with such clarity in those days and why don’t we today? I believe they lived in such pristine times and there were so few influences over them that they recognised when God spoke to them. In our day we are bombarded by voices from all around, the voice of family, friends, public opinion, and our own fears and so on. We give ear often, to voices of convenience, expedience, fear, comfort, greed, procrastination, sheer laziness and a host of others. Today we are exposed to so many external influences. We find it hard to hear the voice of God. This is why the diligence of seeking Him and bringing in the needed disciplines of silence and solitude are so very important for us to rediscover and to hear the voice of God.

We learn from Moses, that faith in God and the desire to please Him leads to a refusal of anything, everything and anyone who do not give allegiance to the One and Only God. Faith in the one and Only Holy God chooses affliction, poverty, loneliness, solitude, rejection, and even loss rather than stand on the same side of that which is antithetical to God and His word. It is for this reason Moses refused the identity of being called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose to be counted with the people of God. He rejected the treasures of Egypt and chose affliction, rejection and the prospect of becoming the future Pharaoh of Egypt. When you choose to bow down to the One and Only Holy God and His Son, you choose to stand against and in conflict with all other authorities.

This was what made Martin Luther to take a stand against the Papacy. When dissuaded by friends from appearing at Diet at Worms, the simple monk responded, “I am determined to enter the city in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, though as many devils should oppose me as there are tiles upon the houses at Worms”. And later when standing trial and challenged to recant from all that he taught and wrote, he answered, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

These men feared God more than they feared the political or religious authorities of the day. They knew their God and therefore they took a stand and carried out great exploits for Him. When you see today among many followers of Christ, a casualness of faith, the lack of discipline, and the abject surrender of many to the allurements and the seductions of the modern world, you wonder if they understand the call of Christ, or the gospel and the meaning of the cross. Os Guinness writes, “Faith in Christ will regain its decisive authority in the modern world only when we who follow Christ fear God more than we fear the powers and favours of modernity – when we hear God’s call and are so captivated by his summons that we say with Luther, as the earliest printed reports add, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” And again he writes, “Clearly God’s impossible people are never troublesome to other authorities unless they are mastered by God’s authority…Thus for followers of Christ who have the consuming passion to be His, entirely His, at all costs and forever His, the present cultural captivity of evangelicalism is a scandal and a sorrow that is also a test of love.”

And finally about the lifestyle of faith in the God of the Bible, the I am who I am God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ: in the letter to Hebrews we read, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country…And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise” (Heb 11:13-16, 39-40).

The lifestyle of faith leads to the conviction that nothing is final or complete until he comes in all his authority and glory and therefore lives with hope. They wait for the full and final revelation of the kingdom which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. This is their blessed and glorious hope. The certainty of their hope is in the resurrection of Christ, their Lord. And so in that assurance they continue to live and serve Him until He comes. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58).

O happy bond, that seals my vows

To Him Who merits all my love!

Let cheerful anthems fill His house,

While to that sacred shrine I move.

It’s done: the great transaction’s done!

I am my Lord’s and He is mine;

He drew me and I followed on;

Charmed to confess the voice divine.

Now rest, my long-divided heart,

Fixed on this blissful center, rest;

Nor ever from they Lord depart;

With Him of every good possessed.

High heav’n, that heard that solemn vow,

That vow renewed shall daily hear,

Till in life’s latest hour I bow

And bless in death a bond so dear. Amen.

Does it sound hard? “You shall not say ‘too hard’ of everything that this people call hard; you shall neither dread nor fear that which they fear. It is the Lord of Hosts whom you must count ‘hard.’ He it is you must fear and dread” (Isaiah 8:12-13, NEB).

 

 

 

For further reading:

(Notes and quotations are mostly taken from the following resources)

Guinness, Os, The Last Christian on Earth (Ventura: Regal, 2010) (Formerly published as The Gravedigger File:Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church, IVP, 1983).

Guinness, Os, The Call (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003)

Guinness, Os and Seel, John, No God but God: Breaking with the idols of our Age (Chicago: Moody, 1992).

Peterson, Eugene, The Jesus Way (London: Hodder, 2007).

Clouse Robert G, Pierard, Richard V and Yamauchi, Edwin M, Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture through the ages (Chicago: Moody, 1993).

Barton Ruth Haley, Invitation to Solitude and Silence (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010)

Sproul, R. C. The Holiness of God, (New York: Guideposts, 1985).

Ramachandra, Vinoth, Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission (Cumbria: Paternoster, 1996).

Willard, Dallas, The Great Omission (Oxford: Monarch Book, 2006).

Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751.

 

 

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.