Christ’s Love, My Rights, and a Free Society

The Human Problem

Our world is a messy place. The Christian worldview sees the human problem through the lenses of a great catastrophe and a great cost-at-the-cross. The catastrophe ripped humanity from their deep satisfaction found only in the communion of God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The by-products of this fellowship were innocence, honour, and trust. But on the other side of the great catastrophe human relationships separate from the communion of God deteriorated into schemes to manage guilt, shame, and fear. (I am indebted to Roland Muller for his work on harmartiology in The Messager, The Message, and The Community.)

The great cost is death and it is ultimately seen at the cross of Jesus Christ as God enters into the catastrophe in fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Jesus shared the Father’s will to ignite a spiritual rebirth in the hearts, minds, and souls of people who will gracefully receive His redemption, the forgiveness of sins, accomplished through His body on the cross. Now, the Holy Spirit sent to all who receive Jesus, will give them a new heart and a new spirit.

When I read the news and listen to people affected by violence and the competing pulls on freedom—license and legalism, I try to listen through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our yearning for honour is satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. Our cries for justice are  satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. Our seduction to power is satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. For at the Cross, we believe, Jesus through weakness becomes the source and object of our faith, hope, and love. And in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the Heavenly Father validates the life and work of Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection He establishes our hope for His full redemptive work in all Creation.

 

Roman Problems

This hope is tested by complexities of the human heart and the diversity of people. For example,  when Jewish Christians returned to Rome after the Emperor Claudius’ death, they returned to  the fellowship of Gentile Christians in the city. Apparently there where conflicts as some may have felt disrespected and shamed by the Gentiles who had created patterns and circles of comfort that did not consider their needs. Its into this conflict of honour and respect that Paul writes the book of Romans contained in our Scripture. Gentile Christians who had no qualms buying, eating, and serving meat from the local butcher were offending the Jewish Christians who took issue with the source. The local butcher on the corner probably received his meat from the priests of local temples dedicated to the Roman gods. This “meat sacrificed to idols” offended the Jewish Christians. (See Romans 14 and 15.)

Paul writes that as believers under the grace of God in Christ Jesus, they are all free to receive with thanksgiving any meat. But if the “weaker” of faith is offended, the “stronger” of faith out love can choose to go without meat or to seek to satisfy their brothers and sisters who need the care at this point in their journey with Jesus. Love is the capacity to suspend what I want or need in order to meet the needs of another. And on the other side of the problem, when I don’t get what I want, love is nurtured in the community by choosing to forgive the offence.

Such restraint in the fullness of their freedom, is a demonstration of the love of Christ in the fellowship of believers. And it must be said, even as followers of Jesus, redeemed by Him, we do not do “this” easily or even automatically. It might not be automatic for some to accept the pluralism and diversity that Christ allows. It comes with struggle. People long for respect and honour. People long for freedom. These two longings clash when there are competing visions of rightness. The dignity and sanctity of life cherished in the Gospel will be cast aside when offence and the longing for power are mixed in the crucible of greed. Under the cloak of justice people imagine that if they have their way or have their vengeance, things may be set right and people will learn their lessons. That’s a deception.

 

Rights Restrained by Love

The struggle then, is to enter into the love of Christ and extend it to those who believe and even to those who do not believe. What love might constrain me to limit my rights? What love would compel me to lift up those who are alienated in my society? What love would govern me and compel me to enter into the tension of religious liberty for all? Jesus never required His followers to defend His honour or His kingdom with violence. In fact, Jesus teaches us that we are blessed in the face of such opposition to Him, His Gospel, and to righteousness. He says,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:9-12

Jesus goes on to command His followers to the most extraordinary application of the virtue of love. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44 This is so hard, as enemies ultimately believe their world would be better without you.

 

Questions for a Free Society

It is my conviction that the pattern of love in the church can be extended to others. You might be tempted to call it the secularization of love. But the desire to extend this love is actually a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham to create a people who will be a blessing to all the nations. Now the church shares the vision of being a blessing to the societies in which it resides.

Our “free” society in the West, is not the starting place for Christian thought. Christ is and the church is our starting place for understanding the leaven of the Kingdom of God. When I get to our “free” society in my thinking I get there with a recognition of our common longings. And its because of the restraints of love in the fellowship of Jesus’ Church, that I see challenges for us all in a pluralistic and “free” society. These questions are not new. But they are always current.

How shall we govern our rights with love?

What posture shall we take in society towards each other as we hold competing systems of truth?

How do we turn enemies into friends?

How do we protect each other from the lawlessness of blood-thirst?
How will we grieve with those who grieve and celebrate with those who rejoice?
How will we include outsiders in such a way that they become insiders?
How do find agreed upon values and a narrative of the future to move towards together?

How do we treat tension and conflict as a good symptom of two or more high quality but competing demands without desiring the annihilation of a people because “they are the problem” or abandoning our most ideal values?

Orientation, Lines, and Shouting in the Office

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25And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.26For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. Galatians 3:25-29

 

 

One of my kids was bullied, shamed, yelled at, and banished by a teacher for not colouring in the lines. It was awful. If I could have, I would have erased the lines on the paper and used them to draw a new vision of education all the way from the office to the classroom.

 

Now, I know we like our lines. They bring us some measure of comfort and normalcy. We feel threatened when someone colours outside the lines.

 

And here’s a truth, the Gospel has erased some lines we like.

 

Do you claim Jesus as Lord? If yes, get your social eraser out.

 

Paul is inviting the Galatians to a Gospel Orientation. The lines have been redrawn. Who’s in and who’s out? Who’s up and who’s down? In Christ Jesus we are in the family as equal partners no matter our race, status, or gender. The implications are dramatic. A new social code has been written through His blood. When we resist the pull of the Gospel against our social and cultural conventions that oppress and limit people based on race, status, or gender, we are fighting Jesus. We are neglecting the common ground at the foot of the Cross bought through His blood.

 

So what to do? Raise the bar of the conversation. The Apostle Paul keeps pointing to the dramatic realities of the Gospel and acting accordingly. Let’s do the same!

 

You are what you do.

Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13-17

13Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Observations:

Peter continues to address the challenge of being a Christian under pressure, in a hostile environment.  His theme is suffering even while doing good.

Peter tells the disciples who are under pressure to
–not fear their agitators.
–to honour Christ the Lord as holy in their hearts
–to be prepared to make a defence for their good behaviour by sharing the “reason for the hope that is in you.”
–to do so with gentleness and respect, keeping a good conscience.

It is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Application:

We can see the difference.  You are what you do.  Not just what you think and feel.  Donald Miller observes that the only story people know about you is what you do, not what you think.  Peter envisions a community of disciples of Jesus who stand out because of their good behaviour.  Their goodness, what can be seen in their relationships with people, cuts against the grain of their society.  In fact the general crowd may call the disciples’ good “evil.”

When confronted for the behaviours that people can see, the disciple of Jesus is to be prepared to give reasons for the hope they have.  This is a profound observation.  Goodness, quantifiable “holiness” flows out of the heart and mind that has been captivated by Jesus.  It flows from the daily confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  Hope has reasons.  Why else would we bother to go against the tide of public opinion and view of what is normal?  People don’t know what’s in your heart and mind until you tell them.  But they may not care about what you know until they care about what you have been doing… or not doing.

Do followers of Jesus really rush in where angels fear to tread?

Hope has its reasons?  Our hope is wrapped up in the Gospel of Jesus wherein we have seen the grace and truth of the Father’s love for us.  Jesus the Son of God, according to the Scriptures, born of Mary, ushers in the Kingdom of God, killed on the cross for the forgiveness of sin, buried in the tomb, raised on the third day to new life, ascended to the Father’s right hand, and now giving the Holy Spirit to empower His church, shall return someday in fullness of glory to judge the living and the dead and usher in a new heaven and new earth.

Hope has its reasons.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father can you see the difference?  Infuse our hearts with the hope of the Gospel so that we have reason for acting and living differently according to the holiness of your Son Jesus Christ.  AMEN.

 

Work Orders: Who’s the boss?

Work Orders:  Who’s the boss?

In respect to Labour Day here are the notes from Sunday’s talk at Cityview.

The Big Idea:  Who you work for makes all the difference:  people or the Lord Jesus.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord you are serving.
Colossians 3:23-24

1. The church is distinctive within society as a community of people because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ.

“Since, then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”  Col 3:1

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”  Col 3:11

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

2. Work constitutes an enormous slice of our lives in society in terms of time but also in terms of identity.  Society in the Mediterranean world of the New Testament had a general classification of people as slave or free.  Our application bridge today for the text is to read for insight as employees or as employers.

God wants you to know that WHO you work for makes all the difference!  When we work for Jesus our Lord:

We are responsive to our employers.  Vs. 22

We go beyond “eye service” and “people-pleasing.”  Vs. 22

Our work style is characterized by sincerity, singleness of heart, and passion.  Vs. 24

No matter the job, it is a job done in service of Jesus.   Vs. 24

No matter the job, it is a job done in service to Jesus.   Therefore it is worth doing with attentiveness and excellence.  Vs. 23  (In a free society we are also called upon to weigh out the matters of integrity between the Lordship of Jesus and what we invest our lives in as work.)

3. When Jesus is the boss, you can count on a reward—an eternal reward.

“…you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”  Col 3:24
4. We all, employees and employers, stand before Jesus as He judges what we have done.  Vs. 3:25, 4:1  Salvation is according to grace.  Judgment is according to works.  God impartially judges employees and employers—no favoritism.

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  2 Corinthians 5:9-10

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.”  1Pet4:17

5. Question:  What does the quality and the attitude of your work reveal about the allegiance of your heart?

6. Take action:  The critical distinction between the community of Christians and society is the issue of “Who’s the boss?”  Set apart Christ as Lord (1 Peter 3:15)  The apostolic instruction on living in society flows from instruction on living in Christian community.

Christ is your life.   New community in Christ.   Households & Society.

Col 3:1-8                           Col. 3:7-16 Col                        3:18-4:1

People grow in Christ when they are ready, especially when they already have two ways of life in place:  1.  relationships with the community of Christ—the church and 2.  habitual life in the word of Christ.

“ Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another …  Col 3:15-16