The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have seen his glory
The glory of God as Man

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

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

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

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

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

The life that Christ lived while on earth was not the private, individualistic, self-seeking and self-centered life that most of us have learnt from the world. He was led by the will of God and by the Spirit of God. You do not find Him guarding his identity nor working for his security. It was a life of constant pouring of himself into others. He sought His Father’s pleasure in seeking our welfare so, “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

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

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

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

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The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

4. One, Three and Many

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is captured for us in these words of apostle Paul, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” And “…the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

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

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

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

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

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

The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

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?

How Then Should We Live? – Part 3

(Read Part 1 & 2 of the article ‘How Then Should We Live? – As Christ Lived’ and ‘Living the Gospel’ below)

 

3.  “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”

 “Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.  But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.  Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour”. John 12:20-26.

 “Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.  Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day.” John 1:35-39.

One wonders what the Greeks saw. We are not told. But let us make that our plea as well – oh, to see Jesus and learn of Him and follow Him as the early disciples did! We also do no know what those early disciples saw when they went to see where He was living. But whatever it is they saw made them to remain with Him. They remained with Him for the rest of their lives.

But if like the Greeks, someone in our day were to ask us the same question, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus?” What do we have to show? A couple of years ago, a young man who was at our fellowship asked a similar question. He was particularly going through a rough patch in his life. He asked, “I wish God was visible. I wish we could see Him, feel Him and talk to Him in real, even today”. I said to him, “God had appeared once in history in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. There were people who saw Him and wrote about Him. There is no need for God to appear again. But more importantly today, God makes Himself visible through His people, the Church. Church is His body and it is through the Church He makes Himself visible to the world today”. If this is so then, what has the Church to offer to the world today? If people were to ask us to show Jesus or God what can we show them? What does Church mean to most people today? Does it mean a person represented in His people, called the Church? Or does it mean buildings and structures, orders and forms, systems and rituals, programmes and projects, politics, groups and denominations?

One of the purposes of the incarnation of Christ are, that He came to reveal man as much as he came to reveal God and to redeem man. He himself taught that no one can see the Father except him, to whom the Son chooses to reveal (Matthew 11:27). And again in His own words He says that he came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). But it is equally clear that Jesus came into the world to live as man was meant to live. Often this is not emphasised sufficiently when talking about His incarnation. From Adam till date, no one ever lived the way man was meant to live except the incarnate Son of God. It is imperative that He lived as man was meant to live, so that He could be their representative and substitute. Is it any wonder then, that the Bible mentions that during the course of His life upon earth there were at least two instances when a voice from heaven was heard saying, ‘This is my beloved Son in Him I am pleased’. And John writes “…God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (6:27). The first of those instances was before Jesus uttered even a single word by way of preaching in public nor had performed a single miracle. Obviously the divine approval of the Son came based on His life as a son at His home with his family and as a carpenter, not as a teacher or as miracle worker.

The genius of Jesus

One of the chief quests of man for centuries has been to explore what the good or virtuous life is. Philosophers of all hues have tried to define man and how he should live. But the genius of Jesus Christ demonstrated and taught such a life in a span of about thirty-three years. One need go no further than Jesus of Nazareth if we wished to learn how we should live as women and men.  His life was a gracious and mellifluous combination of devotion and dependence upon God, humility and holiness, service and sacrifice for man. One of the first things that strikes you about the life of Jesus, when you read the gospels is that it was so simple, natural and normal. There was a total lack of pomp or show, and no attempt is made neither by Him nor His disciples nor the writers of the gospels to impress anyone. Even the use of His powers to perform the miracles was so natural and matter-of-fact that there was no attempt to dazzle people with spectacular feats. We do not find Him fretting about the daily need of food, clothes nor any of the insecurities that plague most people. He did not have a place of His own to live yet we do not find in Him any sense of insecurity. In fact He challenged with confidence and contentment one who wanted to follow Him saying, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”(Luke 9: 58). He was neither perturbed nor overwhelmed unduly by attention, adulation nor by ridicule and rejection. He lived above all these, on a totally higher plane.

Gordon McDonald writes, “Maybe this is one of the geniuses of Jesus: He knew when to stop, how to refuse the cocktail of privilege, fame, and applause that distorts one’s ability to think wisely and to master self.” It is no wonder then that He challenged people to follow Him. And those who did then and subsequently through history testify about the power of His life. “God became a man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed, and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think of it the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation” – J. I. Packer (1926 – )

The call to follow Christ is not a call to join a religion, or even to join an institution or an organisation or a movement. It is a call to a lifestyle like that of the Lord Jesus Christ. This the twelve disciples discovered soon. They followed Him hoping that they were joining a movement to restore the Promised Land to Israel. They were hoping to be in the forefront of the movement and even to occupy positions of power along with Christ. Not until the crucifixion and the resurrection of their Master, did it dawn on them that they were called to a totally different kind of Kingdom – one with no crowns or thrones or boundaries. Not until then, did the manner of His birth, the kind of lifestyle or the manner of His death make any sense to them. They discovered that there would be no forms to conform to nor procedures to learn nor any systems or structures to build, but to live a life of utter abandonment and absolute surrender to His authority. That to be part of His kingdom was to live in relationship with Him and under His Lordship. That to be in this kingdom was a matter of a different lifestyle – one that is totally counter cultural and counter to all that the world stands for. That one consigns all considerations of security, status, dignity and even the quest for daily bread to a life of faith and trust upon Him. That to follow Christ was not a matter of seeking the securities of the world or to pursue the power or the glamour the world promises. In the light of this one wonders how anyone who understands Christ and His gospel could think of a crusade to deliver the Holy Land as in the Middle Ages. Or for the followers of Christ to pursue the power structures both in religious hierarchies and political systems of the world, whether in the form of ornate ecclesiastical orders of the Roman Catholic Church and other Protestant denominations or the North American Evangelical alliances with the so-called right-wing politics? To follow Christ is not about lobbying for and gaining political power in order to spread Christ’s kingdom. It is not even about gaining global financial clout to influence and control policies of governments for Christ or to exert political or economic hegemony in the name of Christ.  If it were, Christ would not have chosen a bunch of unlettered fisher men from the backwaters of the Sea of Galilee.

What can one say about the rivalries of 1990s in Ireland and the Gulf wars? Or even of the acts of intolerance committed through centuries in the name of spreading the gospel? (Don’t we owe an apology to the world? C. S. Lewis writes, “If ever the book which I am not going to write is written, it must be the full confession of Christendom to Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty. Large areas of the world will not hear us until we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Molech.”) Or about the unseemly alliance between the church and corporate businesses for the overt purpose of global missions and evangelism, but actually fuelled by the insecurities and claustrophobia of the capitalist minds, in the aftermath of the World wars and propped up by a skewed understanding of eschatology?

To follow Christ is not even about ‘going to church’ or about ‘attending a church service’ or about ‘doing the church’ correctly. Today millions are spent to build ornate buildings and for conducting slick worship services, while billions languish in poverty and hunger worldwide. And many Christian preachers, teachers and leaders sponge upon the insecurities and the need for identity and dignity of many in their churches. And I wonder if Martin Luther and others in the forefront of the Protestant movement had protested sufficiently! I wish they did and abdicated all enslaving forms of religion and taught a lifestyle in the footsteps of their Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. For if they did then, today we would not be witnesses to the extremely reprehensible and the stark obscenity of the preachers of the gospel, promising and playing upon the insecurities of the people; enslaving them to a life-time of worldly pursuits to be sought as a form of blessing from God for their ‘faithfulness and godliness’. It is no wonder then that some detractors of the gospel equated Christianity to a religion and dubbed it the ‘opiate’ or a ‘psychological crutch’ of the masses. For that is what we have made it out to be when we enslaved the people to the pursuit of a comfortable middle-class life-style. And baptised it as a blessing from God! Where is the cross today in the lives of Christians? Where is the self-denial? Where is the lifestyle of Christ among us today?

The crux of the theme of the book of Hebrews is Christ. Christ is portrayed as the full and final revelation from God in the first 4 chapters. He is God’s final word to man, therefore pay careful attention to him (2:1) and that by trusting in Him and obedience to Him one finds the true Sabbath rest. And in the next 6 chapters, He is portrayed as the perfect and complete redemption from God for man. In Him is man’s complete redemption and that there is no need anymore for external, physical and man-made forms of enslaving systems. He now rules not by religious systems or through rules and regulations but by a new covenant mediated through His word and by His Holy Spirit. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  (Heb 8:7-12). Therefore, we live by looking to Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb 12: 2).

‘Come…learn of me’

Let us look into the gospels and try to draw a sketch of his life on earth, if we may.

Jesus bids us to come unto Him and learn of Him and promises that we would find rest for our souls. If only we would listen to Him. It is not learning about Him in the sense of gathering information about Him as most of us tend to think. It is to ‘learn of me’ which is about imbibing Him by spending time with and allowing Him the freedom to work in us, to put Himself into us. This is the same as seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. To seek His kingdom is about seeking His rule, His authority, and His control over our lives. It is the same as taking His yoke upon us which is to come under His control, as the oxen under a yoke are under the control of the farmer. This is where it all begins. When God’s rule comes into our lives then the first thing we learn is what Jesus answered the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.

Not by bread alone

One of the sad ironies in the church today is that while claiming to proclaim the gospel, we have settled for something less than what Christ taught and what the early apostles preached and lived for. I refer to the evangelical emphasis on sin and forgiveness from it, as the main focus of the gospel. While this is true, it must also be said that it has led, I believe, to an emphasis on making salvation only a matter of forgiveness of sin and finding a way to heaven. And it ignores totally the aspect of denouncing or denying ourselves of the values and pursuits of the world. This is why we find so many people who claim to be Christian and yet living with the same pursuits and drives as the rest of the world. How can one claim to be a follower of Christ and be comfortable living the way the world does? Nay, in some circles it has been taught to pray and seek security and comfort, power, status and fame as marks of God’s blessing. And that not to possess these was a mark of God’s displeasure. In fact if one were to walk into any church or to a prayer meeting anywhere in the world today, and take a look at the requests for prayer or listen to the prayers offered, most of the prayers revolve around wanting what the Lord categorically rejected in His temptation on the mountain top. I wonder if Matthew and Luke, by recording Jesus’ temptations right at the beginning of their gospels are suggesting that worldliness and the denial of its values and pursuits was a major concern and focus of the gospel of Christ. Ignoring such an emphasis I believe, has spawned several generations of Christians who claim to have the experience of salvation yet without any real change as far as their lifestyles are concerned.

Therefore this is my major concern that we are not only in the world but of it, and also that we pursue every thing in life just as everyone else does. We are driven by the same things that the people of the world are driven with, we live for the same things that the people of the world live for. We are so easily disturbed and are discouraged by the same things that disturb and discourage the world. Unless the followers of Christ demonstrate a different lifestyle, one which is not controlled by the cares and pleasures of life, one which is driven by a totally different value system, we have nothing to offer the world. The gospel we preach would not be gospel at all!

In the temptations Jesus refuses firmly and categorically anything other than God as the source of our strength or the focus of our devotion. He refuses to use God or His gifts for personal gain or to build an identity for Himself. His life was marked by total devotion and dependence upon the Father all through His life. We have discussed this in some detail in my first article. If even Jesus the Son of God needed ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’, how much more we would? One of the most basic and constant temptations in life, as discussed earlier, is to make something else other than our Creator, the source of our sustenance, security, identity and dignity. The world looks for these in wealth and possessions, status and power, name and recognition. The world runs after these. And they are discouraged when they do not get it. Quite often most of them are willing to go to any extent to get these – resorting to corrupt practices, illegal means, and dubious methods. It is an intoxicating pursuit for many. The history of humankind is the history of such pursuits. Jesus was the first among many who broke their power and attraction with clarity and consummate ease when He faced these in His temptations on the mountain top. There have been many men before Him and after who have tried but most of them in general went to one extreme or the other; the extremes of stoicism or Epicureanism, of monasticism or libertarianism. But mark Jesus’ answer to the devil. He does not say, man shall not live by bread at all or all that man needs is the word of God and nothing else. The sting in the temptation was to make food the primary source of His sustenance, which Jesus refused firmly. Food is needed, yes. But the word of God is needed more; because man is not just a physical being but a spiritual being as well. And he basically derive our existence from Him. The genius of Jesus knew where to draw the line.

How does this work out in practical life? Recently in our Sunday fellowship gathering, one fellow brother asked “how can one who is working and earning a regular salary demonstrate his dependence on God”. We do it not only by expressing and affirming our trust in Him both through prayer and gratitude but also by a life of the discipline of self-denial and giving. There ought to be times in the life of a child of God when he, by deliberate action and regular discipline deprives himself of anything that is becoming a source of one’s life, sustenance, security and identity. John Wesley says, “When I have any money, I get rid of it as quickly as possible, lest it find a way into my heart”. A person, who lives by faith, is willing to share and give away sacrificially because he knows his ultimate source of sustenance and security is not his possessions but the Lord. He learns to live by sharing what he has with others because they need what he has. When followers of Christ live this way, those who have gathered more do not have any excess and those who have gathered less do not have any need. It is only then we have something to tell and offer to the world. Otherwise we would just have a religion called ‘Christianity’ to offer, like any other religion of the world.

‘What sort of a king could he be’  

Second His life was marked by contentment, gratitude and simplicity. There was an inner contentment in Jesus which was difficult to understand. His family and friends were worried that He should speed up the process of His life mission by being more proactive than He seemed to be. So they were trying to push Him to do things so that He will be known for who He was. His mother tried at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. His brothers tried to push Him to do something that would propel Him to centre stage and what better time and place than the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. His disciples were restless that time was running out and that He was talking about the cross and not about thrones and crowns. But Jesus was living by a totally different drive or was dancing to a totally different tune which others could not hear. Hence He was unfazed or unperturbed by the clamour around. There was a sense of quiet confidence and of contentment in His demeanour which no one could understand.

A person who knows the Sovereign God and knows that his life is in His hands is not worried or perturbed by anything in life. And when he knows and understands that He did not spare his own son for him, he is not worried what happens. Listen to him sing, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8 35-39. This is the stuff of which great missionaries of yore were made. When you think of women and men like Adoniram Judson, John G Paton, Helen Roseveare, to name just a few, you know of what mettle they were made. The kind of life they were called to live and lived with exceptional grace and contentment is nothing short of miraculous. You begin to know that they are like giants and we are like grasshoppers before them.

Think of the simplicity of Jesus, the very manner of his birth and the way He lived and moved among people was so simple and down to earth. A popular song goes, ‘He had no throne or a crown of gold and his palace was only an inn; he worked as a carpenter most of his life; what sort of a king could he be’. How different from the jet-setting, larger-than-life Christian leaders, preachers and the so-called miracle workers of our day. Whatever the justification, it certainly does not fit the Master they proclaim. We have forgotten that God does not bless us with material blessings for us to flaunt nor to hoard. Neither does He bless us in order for us carry them as trophies of our faithfulness and godliness.  He blesses us, so that we share with others. The genius of Jesus knew to draw the line between moderation and excess and He knew that He did not derive His identity from any of the external props offered by the world. He said, “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15). How can a person live such a life of uncertainty and yet be content? Jesus lived in the shadow of the assurance and approval of His heavenly Father and therefore was not swayed by the vagaries of public opinion nor was driven by the pursuits of worlds values. This brings us to the third aspect of the life of Christ.

Ministry…Jesus way

His life was of sharing, service and sacrifice. He says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). Christ’s work was one of natural, normal and spontaneous response to need around Him. It did not matter if it was a large crowd or a single individual nor did it matter how important the person was by world’s standards. So whether it was Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin or the Samaritan woman Jesus served them by speaking and sharing with them His time and teaching. He had time both for the social outcast and the socially high-class, the pauper and the rich ruler. He made no distinction nor counted their worthiness to receive His ministry. His was a spontaneous response of love to need without any consideration of cost or worthiness of an individual. All were worthy to receive His love and service. True love, loves, serves, and gives freely without counting the cost or expecting returns. He was not programme-driven, budget-driven, nor performance-driven unlike most ministries today. He went for one woman, the Samaritan and won the whole village. We today go for the whole village in our penchant for numbers and in the name of stewardship and lose the woman and the village!

Today Christian service is seen and done more as organised or institutionalised work. It must be noted that the success of any organisation depends on its projects and programmes. Programmes and projects are the life of any organisation. And the success of the programmes depends on the budget available and the performance of individuals involved in the programmes. Is it any wonder then that the emphasis in most ministry organisations is to employ slick marketing techniques for raising funds and on charismatic performers with fine social and communication skills to conduct the programmes? While this in itself is not wrong or bad, what is deplorable is that prayer has all but disappeared from our ministry agendas except as a ritual suffix and a prefix for all our activities. And dependence upon the Holy Spirit of God for wisdom and for power is all but gone. Is it any wonder that today’s model of ministry produces fans and not followers, while Jesus made followers who were willing to give themselves away for Him? For Jesus success was not about numbers, budgets and reports. It was about knowing what the Father was doing and doing it upon earth (John 5:19-20). It meant an intimate walk with the Father to know what He was doing at any given moment of time and doing it on earth. So success is not about the quantum of work we do for God. It is about how much God is able to work in us and subdue us unto himself. “…according to the power that works in us,” (Eph 3:20). Ministry is born out of such intimacy with God and is a spontaneous outflow of His working in our lives. I wish to emphasise in this context that ministry is not something that we do for God, but ministry is the fruit of an ongoing walk and intimacy with God, very much like the intimacy between a husband and wife which results in bringing new life into the world. Such ministry cannot be produced by marketing techniques or by management skills. The genius of Jesus knew that being connected to the source of life was the only way to bring forth the fruit of life into the world.

In fact, I must assert that the hierarchical, programme-driven and performance-based organisational models we have adopted to organise our churches and ministries is alien to scripture and borrowed from the world and is an off-shoot of commercialised thinking. This is another aspect of worldliness among us. Let me point out three major scripturally unacceptable practises in our ministries. One, the relationality in these organisations is based on employer-employee, or boss-worker relationality. Most churches and ministries suffer because of such a mindset. Among the people of God relationality ought to be that of a family. A second practise that is unacceptable in this model is that the value of an individual is judged on the basis of one’s performance and the worth she/he generates for the organisation. Among the people of God one’s worth is based on the worth God places upon the individual by virtue of creation and redemption and not on how much wealth she/he can generate nor on any other criteria. A third practise that is unacceptable is the wrong leadership models it has created. Leadership in the church is not about holding positions nor is it about administrative and financial power. Leadership in the church is about the spiritual authority invested in a person by virtue of her/his calling and a personal life of godliness and rectitude. And it is demonstrated in selfless and vulnerable servant hood. Over and above as mentioned in my second article, this model of organising has led to commercialism of the worst kind and much abuse of power.

But apart from the fact that these models of ministry are unscriptural, what needs to be said more than anything is that these structures and systems we have created to do our works, ministry and even to ‘do church’, supplant God from our lives. Whether the administrative structures we create or the physical structures we build, very soon they become the source of our sustenance, security and identity and the focus of our devotion. Thus they not only supplant God from our lives but we begin to live and fight for their perpetuity. I call this the ‘Babel Syndrome’. Alonzo McDonald[1] calls it the ‘idol of immortality’ in his article, ‘The grand inquisitor lives – Idolatry in organisations and management’. He writes, “Whenever immortality becomes the central objective of an organisation, its demise is inevitable. Concern for the self-perpetuation of the institution and the preservation of the status quo is the greatest idol that any institution will face…When continuing existence is sought directly as an end rather than as a by-product of serving wider needs, the dynamics of idolatry lead to deception and disaster for organisation.” (No God But God, Os Guinness and John Seel, 1992). Idolatry of church buildings, its systems and structures and also the different ministry organisations is so widespread among us that we hardly consider it as idolatry. As mentioned, anything that becomes the source of our sustenance, security and identity and the focus of our devotion becomes god in our lives. This is the saddest irony among Christians. In the name of worshipping the true and the living God and of serving Him we have unwittingly become idolatrous. And it must be noted that idols are soon overtaken by enslaving evil powers. And we do not even know that we have been tripped into becoming slaves of the evil one in the name of worshipping and serving God. Is this not what the devil tried to do with Jesus in the third temptation?

Listen to the words of Vinoth Ramachandra in his book. ‘Gods That Fail’, “This is seen in every human project: once a project acquires a certain size and becomes invested with human dreams of ‘progress’ or of ‘liberation’, it attains a life of its own, dragging human beings and societies in its wake. It is also seen in the mega-corporations and bureaucracies of the modern world. No one is any longer in control. There is no one who bears responsibility when things go wrong. Having surrendered our hearts, individually and collectively, to idols, we become enslaved by demons.” This is true both with most governments of the nations of the world, the mega-corporations, of Christian institutions and church structures. Today, how many Christian organisations and churches have become enslaving systems for hordes of Christians worldwide. What a tragedy? What a shame! How scandalous! Do you wonder now, why we talked about the four major scandals of Christianity in my first article?

The genius of Jesus knew how to avoid such idolatry. He knew the sting in the temptation brought by the devil and therefore answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” One wonders at the confidence of Jesus when He said to His disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel. He did not give them a structure or an organisation. They were to trust in Him and go. Their living, security and dignity are all given to them as inheritance in Him. They were to go empowered by the Holy Spirit. The only structure that Paul taught for the churches to have, was the simplest, of elders and deacons with oversight confined to the immediately local and not regional, national or global. The church government was to remain essentially and functionally local and personal. I believe, wherever and whenever the structure exceeds the local, it lapses into an enslaving system of idolatry. And wherever and whenever they lapse into idolatry, the Holy Spirit of God withdraws and their effectiveness for God is lost. The history of the Church is littered with such structures. But sadly, we do neither see nor learn from history and so even the best among us continue to trip and fall into the same lure of bigness, greatness and power offered by the evil one in the name of larger influence and greater effectiveness. And lose all influence and effectiveness in the bargain! I believe this is true with so many great and godly men and women in history. Those who began so well, both in the ministry, the business and governments of the world, men and women who were simple and modest in their beginnings but as they grew they fell into the same lure of getting bigger for the sake of greater effectiveness, influence or power. This is the ‘Babel syndrome’, to make a name and reach the skies. Quite often as Paul writes, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.”(Phil 2: 21). The third temptation of Jesus is about this – greater reach, influence, power, name and glory. God’s pattern is for simple, immediate, personal and relational ways of helping, serving and reaching others. Today in the context of globalisation the temptation is much greater. How many great men and women brought growth, development and comfort to so many yet in the process created structures and systems which later have become enslaving and oppressive. How foolish we are! Oh, that we would sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of Him a little of His genius! Nay, a little of His gentleness and meekness!

Holy God, incarnate Man!

A fourth facet of the life of Christ to look at is His purity of life and righteousness. The purity that Jesus taught can be summarised in two of His statements in His teaching to His disciples. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” and “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:8, 20. The purity taught by Jesus is heart purity and not ritual or external piety; purity of thought, motive, purpose, and action. He had no patience for the Pharisaic righteousness of external, man-pleasing and ritual purity.

But we are running ahead. We must pause and get a right perspective about this whole subject of purity and holiness. If Jesus is who He claimed to be then we must first look at what it means when the Bible talks about God as holy. What is meant by the holiness of God?

The first thing that comes to our mind when we talk about holiness is purity or moral perfection. But it is not the only meaning or the primary meaning of the word. Scholars tell us that it is a difficult word to translate and foreign to most languages. The primary meaning of the word has to do with uniqueness or of being different or separate. R. C Sproul tells us that it comes from an ancient word which meant ‘to cut’ or ‘to separate’ (The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul, 1985). He suggests that it could be translated as ‘a cut apart’ or ‘a cut above the rest’. So when we talk about God as holy, we are saying that He is a cut above the rest. He is different and separate from everything and anything we know among all creatures. Holiness is what makes God, God. It is what distinguishes Him as God, separate or different from all humans.

When we meet other humans, we are at home with them because we have so many things in common and so many things that we can compare and be comfortable with. But when we come face to face with God, how does it feel? When you find that there is nothing in Him with which we can compare ourselves or nothing common between us, how does it feel? Listen to what Isaiah the prophet says when he came into the presence of the holy God. Before this he had so much to say about the people of Israel, how hypocritical and how sinful they were and he calls down God’s wrath upon them. But now,

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6: 1-5).

“Woe is me, for I am undone!”…what kind of response is this?  Till now he had not seen anything like this. All that he has seen so far was what he could relate to and was at home. But the holiness of God, that was something different from all that he knew so far. And now he felt totally devastated, undone or dismantled! This is what happens when the finite, mortal and fallen human comes face to face with a holy God – devastation, dismantlement! When we come face to face with Him, all our patterns of thinking, being and doing are undone! The structures and foundations on which we have built our securities and identities come crashing! The hollowness of our inner being is exposed in all its stark nakedness. Ruth Haley Barton writing about what happens when we spend in silence and solitude in the presence of God says, “Perhaps we glimpse an ego-driven self that is bent on control and image-management. Perhaps we see an empty self that is hungry to fill itself with approval of others. Perhaps we glimpse the broken self desperately seeking to preserve its identity as one who has it all together. Or maybe we see a wounded self that has spent untold energy seeking healing where healing cannot be found”. (Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton, 2010). We stand exposed in his awesome presence and we cry, “Woe is me, for I am undone”.

It is only when our spiritual poverty is exposed and disbanded, when the masks we wear are cracked open and the false props on which we have built our securities and identities are undone then we are ready to be put together by Him in grace. Only then do we really begin to recognise and say in utter helplessness and utmost sincerity, “I am what I am by the grace of God”. A person, who has understood the holiness of God, also understands the grace of God. And such a person knows what it means to live under grace. He learns to live in utter dependence upon God and will be totally devoted to Him and not on anything else or to anyone else. He also lives in that confidence and assurance. Such a person is not swayed by anything or anyone in this world. No cost is too big. No barrier is too strong and no glitter is too attractive to draw him away from his Lord and Master. He does not chase the ephemeral riches, the mirage of success or the sheen of dignity offered by the world. Such a person would be ready to walk the way of his Master. He would be able to live through any uncertainty. Listen to the words of such a man, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christwho strengthens me.” (Phil 3: 7, 8; 4:11-13) When was the last you heard such language from our preachers and leaders today or from the rank and file of our churches?

But, if God is holy and His holiness is His infinite superiority, transcendence, above anyone or anything that we know among all created beings then how does it work out in the life of Jesus Christ on earth? How does it show in God incarnate?

In the gospels we read that the lifestyle of Christ unnerved many. It does even today. The sense of purpose He demonstrated at age of twelve must have been as awe-inspiring to His parents as to the religious leaders listening to Him. Those words do not seem to be that of an over-confident immature young boy trying to be a man or of a precocious adolescent. Very few among men can boast of such clarity and confidence even after many years of woeful searching. His sense of contentment and joy was so enviable and contagious that a rich young man ran to Him to learn the secret of His zest and verve for living. By all standards the rich, young ruler as the gospel records tell us, was far ahead of Jesus in all the worldly attainments and in the acquiring of social and economic status symbols. Yet he realised that this Jesus, who had no house to live in or any money even to pay his taxes and surrounded by a few rustic fisher men had something that was missing in his own life. He must have been convinced that the eternal life that Jesus was talking about must be what He possessed and demonstrated so fully, and what he himself was lacking and needed badly.

The scribes, Pharisees and the teachers of the law were left dumbfounded on several occasions by not only the depth of His understanding of the law, of life and righteousness but the ease with which He talked and lived suggested that it was His natural habitat. Many times both the people and the leaders marvelled at His sense of authority and confidence when He spoke and taught about God and the law. You do not find in Him any sense of insecurity either with regard to His physical needs or about life even when He stood before Pilate. He suffered no crisis of identity when He moved with the socially unacceptable or when He bent down to wash the feet of His disciples. He had no throne, no crown no armies yet He ruled in life as a true king. In the demonstration of His love, compassion and service there are few peers in the history of man. He was as involved with life as He was detached from its cares and pleasures. He was as engaged with the needs, the pains and sorrows of others as He was disengaged from their opinions and pursuits. Jesus was hardly concerned about His image or His looks. Isaiah in His prophecy probably gives us a glimpse into His physical appearance, “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”(Isaiah 53:2). One wonders where Jesus learnt His homiletics. No one seems to have taught Him the importance of grooming! What can one say about the current rush for image-makeovers and the pre-occupation with the narcissistic? Or of the performance-driven ‘preachers of the gospel’ preening in their cosmetic glory! Surely He lived above the rest around Him then and far above any we know now.

But let us take a look at two areas of His teaching that emphasise His own holiness and His expectation of His followers. The first has been alluded to at the beginning of this section.

Much of the teaching on purity among Christians today revolves around piety or godliness, which are interpreted in very narrow terms of religiosity; of church attendance, regular offering and tithing and in generally being good. I assert that such teaching is superficial and reflects bhakti or religious duty as taught in all religions. What does it mean when Jesus calls for a higher righteousness than that of the Pharisees? He not only meant the higher interpretation of the law which He gave in the Sermon on the Mount but it also means a lifestyle totally different from the way the world lives. Today in many cases among Christians that emphasis is missing. What is totally unacceptable and scandalous is that today even among many so-called Christian circles, dishonesty in relationships, lying, hypocrisy, compromise and plain deception are condoned as unavoidable in a fallen world.  Piety has never been so grossly misunderstood in the history of the church. Godliness or piety meant moral purity, personal holiness, sensitivity and compassion towards the needy and the suffering. The pietism of the 17th Century Europe emphasised “Bible-centered moralism that emphasised personal conviction of sin, repentance, conversion and a new existence in Christ. The forgiven Christian would manifest Christ in his or her daily life through personal holiness and sensitivity to the needs of others.”(Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture through the ages, Robert G. Clouse, Richard V. Pierard, Edwin M. Yamauchi, 1993)  But today the emphasis on personal holiness and separation from the world are so widely neglected.

That brings me to the second area of holiness that was taught by the Lord. Holiness is to be separate or to be different from the world. Jesus taught very plainly and categorically that the pursuits of the people of the world cannot be the pursuits of the people of His kingdom. If as Jesus said “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” how can His followers be engaged or be immersed in materialistic pursuits of amassing wealth and getting richer and richer in this world? And if “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” then how can they pursue the identities and the glories of the world? Listen further to His teaching about the Kingdom. He taught that when invited to a party, not to occupy the place of honour but rather to take a lowly place. And when you throw a party do not invite those who can invite you back but the simple the poor and those who cannot invite you back. And further,

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.  To him who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.  And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.  Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:27-38.

All this suggests that the holiness and righteousness that Jesus taught and demonstrated was not only moral purity but a lifestyle that was superior and different from any that was known in the world then and since. Such a lifestyle demands that we have no concern for our personal security and identity. Since these are met in Christ and therefore we learn to live above such concerns. But such a life could be lived only in the shadow of the assurance of security and acceptance we have in Christ.

It is not only unfortunate but also scandalous that we have taught and lived such a tame gospel. The lifestyle of the Kingdom of God as taught by Lord Jesus Christ is so much different and superior to anything that we know in this world. This is true holiness.

G. K Chesterton lamented, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” It is no wonder then that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “In truth there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” I think it is because of that reason we fail to see the true difference of the life that Jesus taught and lived. And it is the reason why, I believe, even to write about it is so difficult. As I developed the thoughts in this article that was my experience and challenge; to write about something that we do not see in anyone around nor is it something that is normal for us.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, apostle Paul warns, “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.” (11:2, 3). For all appearances this warning of Paul seems to have come true today. We are so enamoured by the gifts and blessings of the modern world that we hardly understand the nature of our calling to follow Christ and seem to have given ourselves liberal discounts on discipleship to Him! We are so numbed by the comforts and conveniences of the world and are so drunk on them that we do not even see or understand how far we have drifted from the model that Christ has given us in His own life on earth! We have been deceived and corrupted from the simplicity and the purity in Christ.

So to the question, how then should we live? The answer is simple and clear ‘Live like Jesus, the Man’. But to live as Jesus lived, we must immerse ourselves in the gospels with the plea as that of the Greeks who came to Phillip, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ and be willing to ‘learn of Him”, His life of devotion and dependence upon the Father, of contentment, gratitude and simplicity, of sharing, service and sacrifice and of holiness, righteousness and justice.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honours of Thy name.

Jesus! The name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

Ecce homo! Behold, the man! Amen.

He lived among us!

(A poem)

The creator of heaven and earth

He whom the heavens cannot contain;

How was he contained in a womb?

Or be laid in a borrowed tomb?

He was born among us, as us!

He lived with the mortals,

The infinite and the immortal;

With man he made his dwelling

For 33 years humbly willing,

He lived among us, for us!

He ate and slept like the rest of us,

Hated and slandered as one with us,

Yet not hating as any among us,

Living as man in order to show us.

He lived among us, as us!

His gentle touch brought great solace

To the broken-hearted, words of grace;

As cool waters to a parched soul,

To the hypocrite, as scorching a hole.

He lived among us, as us!

Where do you live – they wished to know.

Come and see – if you would follow.

Birds and foxes, burrows and nests,

The Maker of heavens has no place to rest.

He lived among us, as us!

To reveal the Father, He did come,

Redeem the lost and take them home;

Stripped and wounded by those he would save,

Nailed to the stake, yet he forgave.

He died for us, as us!

In the garden, fetters lay shattered;

Death and sin forever vanquished;

Men and angels rejoice he is God;

Raised to the heavens, as Lord.

He arose, to live in us!


[1] Alonzo L. McDonald has several decades of management experience in professional firms, government, media and in large and small businesses. He is a former U.S. ambassador, a former White House staff director, and a former faculty member of the Harvard Business School.

 

How Then Should We Live? – Part 2

(Read Part 1 of the article ‘How Then Should We Live? – As Christ Lived’ below)

2. Living the gospel

At the outset I wish to make two points of clarification – one about worldliness in general among Christians and the next more specifically about why career-driven lifestyles are worldly.

First, an underlying point to what I am saying is, in the words of our Lord, our ‘righteousness must exceed’ that of the religious peoples of the world. Otherwise we have nothing to offer! Gandhiji’s words in a speech to Women Missionaries on 28 July 1925 are true even today, “…although I am myself not a Christian, as an humble student of the Bible, who approaches it with faith and reverence I wish respectfully to place before you…There are thousands of men and women today who, though they may not have heard about the Bible or Jesus have more faith and are more god fearing than Christians who know the Bible and who talk of its Ten Commandments…” This is an indictment that we cannot easily ignore. The problem is that we have defined ‘discipleship’ in such tame ways; it is totally alien to the call of Christ in the gospels. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I must say that regular church attendance and Bible reading, faithful tithing or contributing to ministry causes, honest, hardworking, humble and pious living is not enough, to be a follower of Christ. There are many among the religions of the world who can out do us by a mile on any of these criteria. Anything that shifts our focus from our love and devotion to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, anything we take pride in other than our inheritance in Christ is worldly. The charge is that with all our goodness, churchliness, even our so-called Christian graces popularly known as ‘fruit of the Spirit’, if we value anything that the world values, or live for anything that the world lives for and depend on anything of the world for our security and identity other than what we are and have in Christ, then we have allowed the world into us. So you see the cardinal sin of Christians today is worldliness. The subtlest form of it, as mentioned earlier, is to work for a good testimony. What we seem to actually mean is working for a respectable identity even to be able to say how much God has blessed us. And so we tempt God by asking Him to bless us in our efforts to build our securities, our names and ourselves. We have allowed ourselves to be deceived by our archenemy and swallowed his bait hook, line and sinker with regard to worldliness. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2: 15).  So you see the basic difference we offer to the world is the difference in our lifestyles and the values we espouse. If we pursue the same things and value the same things as the people of the world then I am sure we have completely missed the point of following Christ. Unless we have repented from and denied ourselves the things of the world we cannot claim to have been converted or transformed. While the onus is on all of us to be vigilant about the wiles of the enemy, it is clear too, that those who should have watched over us failed. The blame must lie squarely, at the door of our leaders, pastors, preachers and teachers. This hit me hard when I read one of the responses to the first part of this article. I know I have failed in my responsibility towards many of you! I seek yours and the Lord’s mercy!

By allowing ourselves to be carried away by the same pursuits that drive the world we have allowed the world to enter our lives. I assert that career-driven lifestyle is one such pursuit. This is the second point of clarification. One of the ways the devil draws us away from our love for the Lord is by taking that which is legitimate and employing it illegitimately in our lives. This is the crux of the issue in the temptations of the Lord. Working to earn a living is proper and legitimate for all humans and even Christians must do. But in His kingdom teaching, the Lord clearly says:

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them… “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6: 25-34)

 

The point that the Lord makes here is that our life is more than a pursuit for earning a living. And the Lord says even this He will take care as He does for the birds and the grass. This does not mean we do not work to earn a living but we do not allow it to become a pursuit or be driven by it. It is the people of the world who are driven by it, not the child of God. Therefore it constitutes patent worldliness among us. And the Lord taught in the parable of the ‘sower and the seed’ that it is the ‘cares of life’ that choke the Word of God in us and do not allow us to bear fruit (Luke 13: 22).

Now that the focus is no more earning bread and butter we now focus on seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness. Seeking His kingdom is not about doing ministry. It is not about just evangelism. It is much more than what most of us tend to think. Seeking His kingdom is about allowing God’s rule and authority to govern our lives. It means to seek Him and all that flows from our knowledge of Him – peace, joy, love, righteousness, justice, compassion and grace. It means to seek reconciliation, unity, justice and welfare for all.

Friends, I know that many of you are flabbergasted at the issues I am raising. I must confess that I take no pleasure in doing it nor wish to cause any hurts or disturbances to anyone. I have no personal axe to grind against anyone. But I am certainly disturbed to the point of consternation at the way the world has permeated us. I am totally amazed at the extent to which we have allowed ourselves to be done in by the world. We have actually cavorted with the world and continue to do it. When I see well meaning and sincere children of God, by the thousands so sincerely mislead, I am appalled. James writes, “…Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? (4:4, 5)

Now in continuation of the previous article, the second and equally important aspect of a kingdom life-style or Christ-like life is that such people live their lives considering it worthwhile and expendable in and for the welfare of others. As we live by, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ we are also reminded in the same breath, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In response to the question about the greatest commandment, our Lord answered emphasising both the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of our responsibility.  He gave the second part of the greatest commandment in the same breath suggesting that ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’ is a natural corollary to and a consequence of loving God.

Friends, I feel broken and defeated as I meditate and contemplate this part of my article. In fact I do not think I am eligible or qualified to write about it. I baulk and shudder at the prospect and the implications as I see it at the moment. But I must write, even if my own words should condemn me, in the hope that there would be someone, somewhere who might be willing to obey and do what God and His Son will of us and thus ‘His Kingdom come as it is in heaven’.

‘The 99% of the world’

‘Love you neighbour as yourself’ – has any of us ever done it, to the fullest extent of its implications, except the Lord Himself and a few scattered saints across history?

Friends, the sting is in the ‘as yourself’ clause. What is it that we love to do for our self? What is it that we work for, strive for, pursue in life for ourselves? We work for our sustenance, safety, security, and identity. So loving my neighbour involves that his concerns, his needs become our concerns as well. That henceforth I strive for his food, clothes, house to live in, safety, security, dignity, identity etc. Not in the hope of deriving some benefit or profit out of it but for the sake of the love of God. This sounds the death knell to capitalism, does it not? Whoever said capitalism was biblical! And this is the answer to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. In a world ridden with poverty, hunger, homelessness, disease, lack of basic healthcare, injustice, rivalries and war, what has the follower of Christ to offer? I must confess here, that I hesitate to use the words church or Christian for they do not evoke the right scriptural images anymore! It is not just the nomenclature, but also the image we have projected of ourselves in more recent history, is so alien to the teaching of the Bible. We have made a mockery today of Christianity. Having reduced Christianity to a religion, and the hijacking of ministry by the institutions from the individual and the running of our ministries and churches as businesses and private enterprises – we have lost our voice and our witness. What have we got to offer to the voices being raised globally, against social and economic inequality, high unemployment, individual and corporate greed, as well as corruption in almost all areas of life. The OWS protesters’ slogan “We are the 99%” refers to the growing income and wealth inequality in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. This is true even in other countries of the world including among Christians.

Unless we as followers of Christ take the horizontal dimensions of our responsibility seriously and the call to radical discipleship as the norm, we would have not only lost our witness but we would be in serious danger of losing the presence and the power of God with us. That is if the Holy Spirit of God has not left us already! I am reminded of the words of Watchman Nee in his ‘Twelve Basketsful” that all the operations of the temple during the days of King Saul, were going on as usual while the ark of the covenant (which signified the presence of God among His people) was absent from the Holiest of all. Does it not sound truer today than when he wrote them over 50 years ago? We have all our programmes and projects and national and international conferences going on as usual while the world languishes and gasps for answers.

As I write this, I am watching the 9 PM news on the TV and it is reported that there are over 40,000 homeless sleeping on the pavements and bypasses of New Delhi in 4.5 degrees centigrade temperature. According to conservative estimates there are over 50,000 homeless in Delhi, but unofficial figures are 6 times that number. Why should they sleep in the open when there are so many church buildings, chapels and cathedrals in Delhi, which lie vacant almost every night that could accommodate them? What a sad irony!

Do we really know our Bibles and understand the call of Christ? John the Apostle writes in his first letter, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3: 16-18) No one can claim to love God and be indifferent to his neighbour. And anyone who does not love his neighbour just does not know God. Need one say more! I do not wish to belabour the point further – one has to read John’s first letter to understand the point.

Listen to the words of Gandhiji again about Christians. When the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?”  Gandhiji replied, “Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.” It’s a gauntlet few of us picked up!

If only we as followers of Christ understood the implications of the call to discipleship by Jesus Christ!

The rich young ruler in the gospels understood it well (Luke 18: 18-23). This is the reason why ‘his face fell down and went away sad’. Most preaching on this story suggests that when he claimed that he kept all the commandments from his childhood, he mentioned only the second part of the Decalogue, which was easier to keep! And that he ignored the first half of the Decalogue. Such an interpretation of the story is possibly right. But my contention is that he understood very clearly the implications of the Lord’s, “Go and sell all that you have give it to the poor and come and follow me”. He knew the Lord was saying to Him to the effect that if he actually kept the second part of the Ten Commandments, how come he was rich while there were so many poor still around!

While the second half of the Decalogue might suggest that we must not do anything that is detrimental to the welfare of our neighbours, the rest of the Torah teaches in great detail the positive aspects of our moral and social obligations. And generally it is easier for us to avoid harm to our neighbour while doing good to them is not so easy.

Remember Jesus was actually saying all this to him in the context of his question, what he must do to inherit eternal life. In the light if this, have we not cheapened the gospel? We have preached the gospel and pronounced those who raised the hand or signed a card as now having eternal life. But what have we given up? Our securities are all in tact. Our structures of power and position are all intact. Our status and dignities are all in tact. You see the gospel of the kingdom of God is not just about saving souls. It is a holistic and wholesome offer of shalom to the whole person, affecting all of his life. And it demands self-denial and giving up of many things on our part. The gospel is not only about offering forgiveness from sin it is a call to leave the world’s values and patterns of living, to deny ourselves, take up the cross and to follow Christ. To follow Christ is to obey his teaching and adopt his lifestyle. This explains why His followers just left whatever they were doing and followed Christ trusting in him to take care of all their needs. We have conveniently interpreted all such scriptures as a call to ‘full-time’ ministry and not as a norm. Such an interpretation suited the religion called Christianity and its institutions but does not do any justice to the calling to a lifestyle of Christ likeness. Today even to say what I am saying is considered strange.

But who can love in this manner? Who can serve in this way? And who can give up for the welfare of his neighbour? Such love and such service involve making oneself vulnerable. Who can make themselves vulnerable for the sake of others?

Paradigm of love – giving more than receiving

It is only the liberated ones who can love their neighbours as themselves. As people who are liberated from the worries of food, security, identity, power and whatever else that engages the mind and the heart of ‘mere mortals’, we must now engage in seeking the welfare of our fellow humans. This I believe is to ‘seek his kingdom’, to ‘seek those things which are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God’ (Col 3:1). This is what it means to ‘reign in life through Jesus Christ’ (Rom 5:17). From the vantage point of living above the world we begin to seek what Christ seeks. He says that he did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). As liberated people we are not dogged by the same fears as others. We are liberated from the fear of the future, fear of being taken advantage of, fear of being looked down upon, fear of losing our respect or dignity or even the fear of losing our life. The history of the human race is of fear of fellow humans. But as people of the kingdom who are delivered from all such fears that plague human kind – we now serve others freely. This is the answer to all the present rivalries and wars among the people of the world for food, water and fuel.

Last Sunday as we discussed what Christmas meant to each one of us Ashra, a 7-year-old girl in the group answered – Christmas is about giving more than receiving. How true! God the Father and His Son, Jesus gave away more than what they receive from us. True love loves, gives, serves freely without expecting anything in return but also receives from others whatever they have to offer without making any demands. This is the Trinitarian way of loving. Father gave us His Son, freely and the Son offered Himself up for us all. Jesus taught,

“Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6: 30-36)

If the church understood this and followed the early church to practise love in all its implications at least among its own we would have been in a position to offer the world a new economic paradigm today, the paradigm of love. We give as God gave because of love and for no other reason. We give because we have something that others need. We give unselfishly and unreservedly to build and bless others. We also receive in humility and submission to one another acknowledging that others have what we need. True Christian fellowship is sharing the life of God in us with each other. It does not mean just gathering together for meetings and programmes to listen to nice sermons. It is not just to listen to stories of God’s goodness and answers to prayers or for some godly gossip. For the early church in Acts 4-5, fellowship was about sharing God’s goodness with each other from what God has given them in His grace. This is why no one had any lack among them (Acts 4: 34). Living by the paradigm of love is not about socialism as some might think. It is not about living in communes. It is about living by the rule of love, the agape love of God. Loving others to the point of giving and sharing what we have not because we can generate capital from it, but because the other needs it. If the church lived by the rule of love, then we would be salt and light in the world. We would have provided an alternative to the global economic chaos today.

Isn’t this the answer to the question people are raising about economic inequality? This could have been the answer today to the OWS clamour. If we rediscovered our true calling in Christ and practised it, the rich would no longer be rich and the poor no longer poor. It would be like the manna collected in the wilderness. Those who collected more did not have it in excess and those who collected less had nothing lacking. If all of us in the world discarded and gave away to the destitute, every piece of extra food, clothing, shoes, vessels, furniture and even vehicles, anything that lies around in our homes unused for a period of time, would that not be an answer to global poverty? If such a thing were to happen, we may have to shut down some industries for sometime and what a relief that would be to the strain on earth’s resources and to the cleaning up of the environment!

One of the saddest ironies among us today is that we have begun to think that God blesses us so that we can splurge to indulge our carnal selves or to flaunt our riches or hoard them as securities for the future. When even ‘churches’ put their monies into bank deposits while many among their own number are enslaved to poverty and debts, one wonders if we have understood the gospel at all!

Listen to two church fathers from the 4th century AD. John Chrysostom (347-407 CE) talking about the true meaning of stewardship argues,  “This is also theft not to share one’s possessions…Just as an official in the imperial treasury, if he neglects to distribute where he is ordered, but spends instead for his own indolence, pays the penalty and is put to death, so also the rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want. So if he spends more on himself than his needs require, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. For his own goods are not his own, but belongs to his own fellow servants…I beg you remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.”

I am reminded, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12: 48).

Basil of Caesarea (329-379 CE) preached, ‘That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.’

Ministry – a response of love

Our response of love to the need around is what constitutes ministry. Christian ministry is service rendered by every follower of Christ in relationship with His Lord, as a normal, natural and spontaneous response to need around. Ministry was meant to be a response of love of the followers of Christ to the need of the people around. It is not something done by experts or specialists. In fact all of us are called to serve in this manner. But as mentioned earlier, institutions and organisations have hijacked it from the individual. The result is that, today ministry has become programme-driven, budget-driven, charisma-driven and performance-based. The success of a programme depends upon the performance of the individuals. And success is measured in terms of numbers, statistics and financial returns. We thus reduce individuals to mere statistics. And even the way we relate with each other in our ministries is hierarchical and not as brothers and sisters in the family of God. Although we address each other that way, though in recent times such addressing is on the wane, we do not live or treat each other that way. If we did, why would there be such disparities in the remuneration between the boss and others. This is how ministry that was meant to be a response of love is subverted. The organisational models, the management principles we have adopted to run them and the strategies we employ to do our works are all, of the world. And hence I call it as one of the great scandals of Christianity and is another form of worldliness among us.

Actually if we simplified our understanding and practise of fellowship and ministry then we do not even need the large structures we have built at monumental budgets with money often given by the poor, in the name of serving them. But which actually have become ghost structures later and in most cases have invariably become the focus of debilitating politics. Many bemoan the emptying of large cathedrals and ‘churches’ in the last century in Europe and elsewhere and lying vacant now. So be it. Church is not something that happens in cathedrals and buildings. Church must go back into communities and the streets of our cities and be the salt and light there and respond to need among people. Only then we would be the witness we were meant to be.

Another obnoxious practise in the church today in the name of ministry is to do business and to earn capital on the gifts of grace or spiritual gifts imparted to us for the sake of serving others. The practise is so common today that even to talk about it sounds preposterous.  Unless Paul was preposterous too in claiming that he did not indulge in ‘peddling the word of God’ or that “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by labouring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:33-35)

A step further down in the subversion of mission and ministry, is the creation of a strange hybrid in the church today. It goes by an oxymoron called Christian business. Those who try to do it end up being neither good Christians nor do good business. We are called not to do business with the world. We are called to live counter to the culture around us and yet serve them in love.

Living the gospel

One of the most powerful and graphic demonstration of this love is in the incarnation of the Son of God. This has been so commercialised and ritualised as celebrated today globally that it has lost all its meaning and purpose. But nothing can match the profundity of Paul’s description of it or if tradition is to be believed the hymn of the early church which captures the thought so graphically,

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2: 5-11)

In Philippians 2, Paul sketches four portraits of people who served others for the sake of love – Jesus, the trailblazer, who emptied himself to point of becoming a servant and even unto death for the sake of our welfare.  Paul was willing to pour out his life as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of the Philippian Christians. Timothy selflessly gave himself for their welfare. And Epaphroditus risked his life in order to care for Paul. It is evident that to have the mind of Christ is to be concerned for the welfare of others. We will be of no service to God or of any usefulness in His kingdom unless we learn to make ourselves vulnerable. Self-emptying, making oneself vulnerable are at the heart of not only incarnation of the Son of God but at the heart of the nature of God. Hence He creates, He communicates, He reveals, He relates, He loves, He gives, He serves and receives. It is only when we begin to do the same, giving of ourselves to others, we begin to understand ourselves. Fellowship is possible only then. Ministry happens and people are blessed. This brings shalom.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. His mind was of voluntary self-emptying, vulnerable service and vicarious sacrifice. Only the one who can deny himself or empty himself of the privileges of power and position can truly serve others. In a world where grabbing or grasping on to or holding on to status symbols, and the trappings of power – it is not easy to empty ourselves. And the organisational models we have copied from the world to run our ministries and churches foster a mindset of bureaucracy, power and status consciousness. It is almost forgotten today that leadership is not about administrative and financial authority or about designations and the trappings of power. True Christian leadership is a calling and it is about having spiritual authority, which comes by a life of prayer, humility and rectitude. Talking about the need for self-effacing men in leadership A. W. Tozer wrote, “Until such men return again to spiritual leadership we may expect a progressive deterioration in the quality of popular Christianity year after year till we reach the point where the grieved Holy Spirit withdraws like the Shekinah from the temple and we are left like Jerusalem after crucifixion, God-deserted and alone.” There is great need for a new type of leader among us today. We don’t need big men but small men, who are pliable in the hands of God. We need men today who will not build themselves but build others and are willing to recede into oblivion. The world needs people who are not here to make a living or build a career, men who know that their living comes from the Creator of all and the Father who knows our needs and are willing to serve for the sake of love as our Lord and Master did. We need people who make a conscious and deliberate decision to remain small, who can say like John, the baptiser, “He must increase and I must decrease”. Such people live their lives considering it worthwhile and expendable in and for the welfare of others. May the Lord raise an army of them!

And finally listen to the words of Gandhi, “To live the gospel is the most effective way, most effective in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. …Not just preach but live the life according to the light…. If, therefore, you go on serving people and ask them also to serve, they would understand. But you quote instead John 3:16 and ask them to believe it and that has no appeal to me, and I am sure people will not understand it…the Gospel will be more powerful when practiced and preached.”

In another context Gandhiji responded to Stanley Jones,  “First, I would suggest that all Christians and missionaries begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice it without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity….”

Do I hear you say – it is a hard saying who can live this way?

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:60-69)

We are called to walk the narrow way and few find it – “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14).

“He who has ears to hear let him hear”. May the Lord give us ears! Amen.