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A Call to Christians

We invest our hearts, our minds, and our very lives to fulfill our mission. Yet, we are not naïve about the potential self-deception that can turn our personal goals into subtle idols. We are serious about effectiveness because we are even more serious about faithfulness. Therefore, we vow before God and to each other to pursue our mission in a way that is faithful and consistent with a Biblical set of values we believe to be pleasing to God. We embrace the following.

  1. God’s Greatest Truth (which empowers God’s greatest commands)
  2. God Invests in Flawed People to Receive and Carry His Love to Others
  3. The Gospel is about Relationship Not Issues
  4. God’s Creative and Redemptive Intentions
  5. Realistic Optimism about Human Nature

God’s Greatest Truth

According to the Bible, the greatest commands are to love God, first, and then to love each other as we love ourselves. All the Law and the Prophets boil down to that legal claim on our lives.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

Matthew 22:35-40

However, the Bible’s greatest commands are different than the Bible’s greatest truth. The greatest truth of the Bible is love from the other direction. John 3:16 and 17 do not speak of love we ought to give God. Rather, they speak of love that God has given us in spite of the fact that we have NOT first loved God and then loved our neighbor as ourselves.

             Christ comes to us in ways we do not deserve. Receiving God’s love in Christ provides what we need to love others above the love we should have but failed to give them under the Law’s requirement. Christ eventually calls us to love each other and outsiders in the way he has loved us when we were unloving.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

John 3:16, 17

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34, 35

The expectation to love in a way that we are not capable of loving is a problem. We all know deep in our hearts that we have been more self-centered and less caring than what would be ideal (that is, God’s will). And this is where making the distinction between love as a command (the Bible’s greatest command) and love as a gift (the Bible’s greatest truth) makes a difference. I will unpack the implications of this in a later blog. But will now say that the experience of being loved and receiving that love is healing. Receiving God’s gift of undeserved love (which is different than being loved by Him) is what produces the power for us to meet the obligation of love toward God and others. And, ultimately, this is the key to moving beyond that to love others the way God loves us. As I mentioned, I will unpack this more later.

God Invests in Flawed People to Receive & Carry His Love (that is, His Presence)

God’s desire for working on earth with and through people is expressed in the opening pages of the Bible. Genesis 1:26-28 provides a biblical perspective of God’s creative intention.

  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

 Genesis 1:26-38 

Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply with a view toward ruling over the created order under a trusting relationship with God. Historically, the human race has been a drama of fall and divine recovery. The promise of blessing was given to Abraham, the father of Israel. Israel became the people of God but then echoed the human story of fall from God’s grace and intention. Prophets marveled that God would not destroy unfaithful Israel. Elijah thought he was the only one faithful to God and Habakkuk was baffled at God’s patience with unfaithful Israel. Yet, God’s love for Israel was portrayed to a society (for which honor was a life and death matter) by depicting Israel as a wife who unfaithfully prostitutes herself while rejecting a husband who truly and deeply loves (Hosea).

God shattered accepted categories and revealed the scope of his people when he included all nations in the work of the Cross and the Great Commission. All along, God wanted Israel to be a “light to the nations” but Israel was more self-focused on themselves as “God’s people” than focused on God (as the story of Jonah reveals). The church is God’s modern Israel and is pictured in Scripture as God’s Temple to represent his presence within and among us. God’s loving presence is his grace and it is God’s will that he be discovered in the church for the world.

As God’s Temple, we are both the recipient and the carrier of his gracious presence to others. God provides wisdom to the church (James 1:5; 3:17), expects the church to make discerning judgments (Matthew 7:1-6; 18:15-20; Acts 15:1-21; 1 Corinthians 6:1-11), gives gifts to the church to serve others and mature the church (Ephesians 4:11-17), and reveals his presence to the world by the way the church relates to each other in love (John 13:35) – even when we have disputes (Matthew 18:20).

The Bible that begins with God walking with Adam and Eve in a garden ends with a description of God taking up his dwelling with his people pictured as a city (Revelation 21). The final picture of God and his people is an intimate wedding scene picturing the Holy Spirit and the church as groom and bride who invite others into their shared home to join God in his continued work (Revelation 22:17, 21).

Our mission is lived out with a mature awareness of church imperfections – with full commitment to God’s love for the people he loves. We see ourselves as unworthy but grateful recipients of his love made worthy by that very love. We have confidence in God’s confidence for the church.

 

The Gospel is About Recovered Relationship Not Issues

Jesus, according to Scripture, places reconciliation of relationships above worship (Matthew 5:23, 24).  Paul specifically states that the Kingdom of God is not about what one can eat and drink but is more about relating to each other in ways that advance Christ’s work of the cross (Romans 14:17-21; 1 Corinthians 9:8-13).  Paul worked with the Corinthians to change the questions they were asking from “who is right” to “what expresses the love of the cross?” The Corinthian’s question leads to human declarations of winners and losers out of abusive human arrogance; Paul’s question is based in the spirit of the Cross.

  We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.  But the man who loves God is known by God.  . . . We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.  . . . But not everyone knows this. . . . Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?  So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 

1 Corinthians 8:1-12

The Gospel is not that God was right and we were wrong. The Gospel is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15) in spite of the fact that I was an enemy of God and did not deserve his love (Romans 5:7, 8); and this allows us to draw near to God even when our own hearts condemn us (Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:18-21; 5:13). The biblical picture of the Gospel is not that God finally convinced us we had the wrong conclusion about whether or not the Sabbath should be applied this way or that, whether real worship is expressive or meditative, or whether elders or ministers have the most power. The Gospel is about God overcoming our alienation from him due to our own sinfulness. We were at fault, but He overcame our fault through the giving of Jesus for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

God’s people have tended to get distracted from his work over petty issues for centuries. We must place the emphasis of the message where Scripture places it rather than on proving we are right on all the issues. We believe God’s presence is found in our love for each other; not in those who win the argument about singing the new songs or the old ones. Most believers intuitively recognize that worshipping God is a major dimension of spiritual life. Since the Bible places one’s worship to God below our relationship with each other then we must value relationships at a very high level if we are to faithfully fulfill our mission.

The task of our mission, ultimately, is about a relationship between the human race and God and the resulting way we treat each other. Since God himself reaches down to us (Psalm 113), then we must reach down, across, and even up to each other. We believe the reason for our failure to reach down, around, and up is because we do not see God clearly; and, we consequently do not see ourselves clearly.

 

God’s Creative and Redemptive Intentions

God’s work in the world involves human work. This is a “high partnership” theology which assumes that God is very active in the world but that he expects people to join him. He expresses this purpose in the fact that he has given gifts to people for ministries in the church and in the world.  Although he does not have to, he simply chooses to have us as a part of his ongoing work.  Partnership with him was his intention in Creation and it surfaces again in his plan of Redemption including humans as carriers of the Gospel.

  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 1:26-28, Emphasis mine, RW

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”           

                                                                                       Matthew 28:18-20

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”  Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Revelation 22:17-21

The fact that God works through humans to accomplish his will on earth is also seen in the Incarnation of God through Mary, the Bible as a book from God written by human hands, and the significant list of people who can be added to one’s list of faith heroes after reading the Bible (you cannot think of the Exodus without thinking about God . . . or Moses). God partnering with inferior beings to accomplish his work in the world shapes the way we fulfill our purpose.

Realistic Optimism about Human Nature

We understand people, primarily, from a spiritual perspective as being a paradox. People embody both the Divine Image and sinful corruption.  We face human challenges with hope because of the divine possibilities of people as well as with realism because of the sinful possibilities within them.  We do not expect people to be free from problems. Yet, we legitimately expect all Christians in all places to grow as carriers of God’s presence to others. People have been problems to themselves from the beginning of time. We predict that will be the same tomorrow. We live a tension between what we can be at our worst and what we can be at our best.

People, sinfully, try to use the God-given capacity to “rule” to exploit others for purposes of self-advancement or self-protection from others. The same capacity that allows us to manipulate others also makes it possible for us to genuinely love and influence others. We must surrender ourselves, consciously choose to be doves as wise as serpents (Matthew 10), and exert our “ruling capacity” the way God does.

 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule . . .

Genesis 1:26-28

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

                                         Romans 3:23

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  

                                                                                                                                                            Matthew 10:16

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked.  She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”  . . . When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:20-28

Understanding this dynamic about human beings will prevent people who care from becoming cynical and it will prevent them from being burned by unrealistic optimism. Seeing the tension here also explains much of how people use power … especially when they deny that they use it. I will unpack more of that dynamic in a later blog.

We are optimistic about people because God’s investment and creative design signals potential. Because of sin, we are not surprised that this potential is not fully reached. We are optimistic because of the Divine Image and we are realistic because of sinfulness; both of which we know in ourselves and others. We are not surprised when people travel to and explore other planets nor are we surprised when people become the only threat among created beings who can literally destroy our entire planet. Therefore, we accept our own call to live lives of powerful influence that is respectful, non-manipulative, and exercises power in a godly way.

Randy Willingham

Published inOur World

2 Comments

  1. Eli Blazeff Eli Blazeff

    I love my Bible bra. ?

  2. Very interesting. Would like to hear more. Some over my head but grasping some. Thank you.

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