A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 5, Treating Others as Better than Yourself

Treating Others as Better than Yourself

The Bible calls us to “consider others as better than [our]selves” (Phil 2:3). How can this be if we are supposed to begin our stewardship of all God has given us at the most basic level, ourselves? The answer lies in the sense in which God speaks these words. To put others before ourselves can only be done in a certain way. This is a huge hang up for most people, because they think it means something that it doesn’t. But if it meant what part of us thinks it means, life would be very short: You wake up one morning determined to put others first. You feel hungry and start to get out your cereal bowl, but just as you are taking down the cereal, you worry that your neighbor hasn’t eaten. Is it common for them to miss a meal? No, but what does that matter? He has not yet eaten, so you must offer your cereal to him. Plus, you have more cereal.

But wait, what about the other neighbor? Pretty soon there is no more food in the house. No matter, you have money, so you head off to the grocery store, but you get a little sick feeling when you walk in because there are other people there. You will need to pay for all their groceries before you pay for your own. Why? Because they are all to come before you. As soon as you find someone who is not in need of your food, you can eat. But that is just it, with seven billion people in the world, you don’t have a chance.

You might be thinking this sounds crazy and you would never do that. I believe you, but you still think you are supposed to…deep down…although you don’t, because at least part of you knows that is ludicrous.  These two parts are in contradiction.  You’ll never truly live it out, but you’ll always feel somewhat guilty.  This will always hold you back from enjoying what you have or truly giving out of your abundance.  

Let’s consider honor.  If everyone is greater than you, and should go before you, and should be considered to be a better person, then you might as well find a dirty floor somewhere where people are walking by all day and just bow down, face in the dirt, and live there.  But in fact, this would be dishonest.  Everyone is not greater than you.  Some people are greater than you by certain standards.  They might be more loving, honest, industrious, courageous, free in Christ.  They are ahead of you.  They are your equals in intrinsic value because you are both created in the image of God. 

Nevertheless, Jesus does say to put others first and to take the lowest place. He did wash the feet of the disciples, though he considered himself their Lord (Jn 13). He did say that whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Mk 10:43). So why did he say that if it is impossible? Because it is only impossible in a certain sense.

In a completely different sense, on a completely different plane, it is not only possible, but required.

We are not to rank ourselves in order of value. So we are not to take personal power over another. We are not to use others. We are not to violate the rights of others: taking their property, looking down on them, treating them as though they are not our equals, keeping from them equal opportunities, judging them by anything but the content of their character. We are to be just.

And when it comes to ourselves, we are to take our identity from the only place we are truly allowed to, from God and our very being. We have an identity as image-bearers, little “i ams,” and we have identity from Aristotle’s law of identity that says, a thing is a thing. Existence is a pretty profound truth, and as such, makes us matter. Since we matter, we don’t need anyone else to make us matter. We don’t need to elevate ourselves in status with our wealth and stuff, comparing to others and climbing in a class or status system. Class is irrelevant. Status is irrelevant. Being better than anyone else is irrelevant. Only who we are in God and in being/existing is relevant. After that, it is proper to judge ourselves by the ways that God tells us to: character, love, courage, truthfulness, purity. Being and existing according to these qualities is not penance or a way to win with God; it is rather the nature of the abundant life that Jesus died to give us.

So when should I consider others above myself?  When it would be justice to do so.  For instance, you are in a room with your family.  Everyone is reading and quiet. You decide to pull out your iPad and watch TV with no headphones.  There was an unspoken agreement that everyone was being quiet. You have broken it.  You need to have some terms with the others who are sharing the room, and treat each other fairly.  This is right, or righteous.  No one should be allowed to trample the rights of the others.  It is not proper.  

What about the others in the room? Should they say, “No, you are more important than us. Watch your show. We’ll deal with it.” If you were only one person saying that, it might be a Christlike thing to do. Except it could be a little dishonest if you are going to resent the iPad watcher. But as long as there are others there, they are the ones to stand up for.   An agreement needs to be spoken out loud with some ground rules and boundaries.  We’ll be quiet for an hour and then watch TV for an hour.  Again, you can be magnanimous and give up your own claims, but it actually isn’t right to allow them to be rude, to enable them.  

In a similar way, giving your cereal to your neighbor robs him of an important aspect of being, that is, productiveness and finding his own provision, which is something God actually expects us to do (2 Thes 3:10). So when we give to help or serve others, it should not be done in a way that enables them to be less than human. Then it becomes unloving. Once we know this, to continue to do it belies a false motive on our part. Is it manipulation? Do we love feeling needed? Do we not want to make them upset by cutting them off?

Or worse, do we hate ourselves and it alleviates some of our self-hatred?

There is something going on, and it needs to be discovered and rooted out. Human nature is such that for a great many people, even our own semi-adult children, if we allow them to be freeloaders or parasites by our own “generosity,” we harm them, and we are supposed to love them too much to harm them.

Responsible to Rather than for

Much more can be said about helping, giving ,and serving others, but there are many good books and blogs already about it. The only other thing I will say is that we are not to be responsible for other people. Not anyone, not even our own children (at least not in the sense I’m getting at). But we are supposed to be responsible to everyone. Everyone. In what way? We are responsible to others to be truth tellers, courageous, generous (without enabling), loving, kind, patient, but also discerning. We are to show the way to God by being a concretization of the abstraction that is the Christian life. We are to lead all the “horses” to water, but never attempt to force them to drink. The “water” is God in Christ, the truth, righteousness and the kingdom of God. We show it, and we tell it, but we don’t coerce or manipulate others to live it. That violates them and the command of Jesus to not lead like the Gentiles (Mk 10:42).

Furthermore, whatever we say we will do, we do. We understand that the meaning of life is stewardship for the glory of God. Being. Pursuing life for our own sake, for his sake. This is what it means to be responsible to everyone. It shows value to others and puts them above yourself in the proper sense. In this way there are no contradictions. We treat people with integrity and goodness. The outcome of this truthful living is the right outcome. God will get his way, and we with regenerated spirit will love it.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 4, The Outcome of the Truth is the Right Outcome

The Outcome of the Truth is the Right Outcome

One main reason that people lie is that they are attempting to control outcomes.  But outcomes are never really in our control, and thinking they should be is a recipe for misery.  We don’t need to think about outcomes because God is already doing that. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Prov 17:1).  And who else but God even could do that?  Think about it. There are a million, billion, trillion things that God is doing at any given moment.  Your situation affects and is affected by countless other situations involving other people and other processes.  You could never unwind it, at least not 99.9% of it, and the .1% you can see is more than enough to keep you busy.  

So what do we have?  Process.  How we live will determine a lot.  If you want the best outcomes possible, though they are barely predictable, you must walk straight.  You must obey God and move in such a way that is pleasing to him.  Jesus told us exactly how to do that: seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Mt 6:33).  Follow God, and walk.  If you do this, you will love the outcome, thought you had not been able to predict it.  Walk according to principles, in this case, the principle that the outcome of the truth is the right outcome, and you will love what God does; you will be strong, and you will like yourself.  Don’t you want to see what God has in mind for you?  Don’t you want to see what he thinks is the best life for you?  Trust him. 

How does this relate to other people?  It relates because, remember, we are in the business of building trust.  As you relate to others it is important that you have integrity.  This means that you must not lie to anyone.  You must act right towards others.  It also means that you must not lie to yourself.  This should be fairly obvious by now.  But the next part might not be as obvious to you: you must not allow others to lie to you and get away with it.  Why?  Because you are committed to truth, and this will serve you well. 

Now we are getting into the realm of courage.  You must walk honestly, but you must also walk courageously.  It takes courage to tell the truth, especially when there will be pain involved.  If you aren’t willing to tell the truth, then it means you either do not trust God, or you have not worked trusting God into the place in your mind and heart that makes your decisions.  It takes constant vigilance and practice to do that.  Dont’ quit.  

But it also takes courage not to allow anyone to lie to you. The simple reason for this is that it will be uncomfortable. If you call them on their bull, they will not like it, and they might not like you.  If they are a worthy heart to get close to, then they will appreciate your honest and brave feedback.  If they are not, you don’t want them around anyway.  If you have up until now lived your life in such a way that you closely monitor people around you for signals about your own worth in their eyes, because you were taught to live that way: people-pleasing, then this will be difficult.  But pressing through and learning to do this will change you like almost nothing else.  

Look at what they said about Jesus:

Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances (Mt 22:16).

This is incredible. The literal translation of that last part is, “for you don’t look at faces.” If you tend toward people-pleasing, then you are an expert at reading faces. Jesus didn’t try. He just said what needed to be said in the most loving but direct way possible. Granted, it can be helpful to see how people are reacting, to read their faces for the sake of understanding their feelings, but searching for approval so that you can form your opinions (which will not be your opinions) is to shirk responsibility for being an image-bearer, because being an image-bearer requires you to have your own opinions, that is, your own judgement, or if you like, discernment.

Knowing this is not half the battle.  It is at best 5% of the battle.  95% percent is in the doing.  Most people know what is right, and yet almost no one changes.  People that live like this, truly righteous and just in their approach to other people, are extremely rare.  Instead they are scheming, lying, manipulating, coercing, evading, resenting, and in the end, hating.  It is a form of hate to treat people dishonestly for any reason.  It is the most loving thing you can do to act in relation to others with total integrity.  

Integrity is a great word.  It means “whole.”  Think of the math word integer, a whole number.  Anything else is fractured and fragmented.  If you are a fragmented person, you will not feel strong, and you will not like yourself much. You will have no good reason to have genuine self-esteem.  You will depend on the approval of others and your ability to hide the truth from yourself.  You can try, but you will fail, and God does not like it, especially after sending his Son to die so you can, among other things, be honest. Have hope; break off the bondage of untruthfulness. 

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Another way to see that value of human life is to realize God’s hatred for murder. From Genesis 4 we see that the taking of a life runs contrary to God’s ways and nature.  The law is crystal clear on the matter.  God reserves the taking of a human life for himself alone.  Even when the state or an army is authorized to do it, it is by the power vested by God to protect an individual entity from doing so.  And if God so values life, so should we.  

Thou Shalt Not Steal or Covet

When considering how to treat others, consider that God tells us in the Word that it would be wrong to take or covet another man or woman’s possessions.  Why? Because it belongs to them.  More accurately, it belongs to God who has given it to them for stewardship.  In that sense it belongs to them, and what belongs to others, we are not allowed to appropriate for ourselves. They have special value by nature of being possessed by one of these image-bearing creatures with intrinsic value and, as it turns out, inalienable rights.  It is not just to take something from someone just because you can.  

Incidentally, this is how we know it is OK to own private property. God’s command to protect it means that he sees it as under our authority.  God gives a lot of credence to what is under the authority of one his image-bearing creations.  Consider that the reason the whole world, including all the people in it, were cursed at the fall was because Adam rebelled, and Adam was in charge of everything.  So Adam went down, and now the “whole creation has been subjected to futility” (Ro 8:20).  “For as in Adam all die.”  The good news is that in the very same way, “in Christ, shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15).  All we have to do is put ourselves under Christ’s authority and he replaces Adam.  Everything owned by a person is considered under a person’s authority.  God protects it with his law so that it is not right to take or covet something that belongs to another.  

Tomorrow let’s look at what the Bible has to say about treating others better than ourselves and how that relates to what we have been saying about justice, dominance, and trading value for value.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 3, Discrimination for the Sake of Justice

I want you to discriminate.  Discrimination is good.  Discrimination becomes a bad thing when one discriminates on the basis of something dumb, like skin color.  The late, great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that he had a dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  I whole-heartedly agree with this dream. It is God’s dream, and if no one ever gets away with anything, then no one ever gets away with racism and discrimination based on race or anything else subjective.  

But discrimination is good.  You must discriminate. If you are ready to get married and looking for who might be a good spouse, you had better discriminate.  Take King’s advice and discriminate according to the content of a potential spouse’s character.  If you don’t, not only will you suffer, but you will commit an injustice, and no one ever gets away with injustice forever.  

How is that injustice?  Because it rewards a person of low character with the honor of becoming your closest kinship, one-fleshness.  It teaches them they can find a spouse and still be a horrible person.  If you meet this person, you should not encourage them to keep being the way they are.  God wouldn’t do that.  God is just. If he were not totally just, he would not have sent his Son to take on the sin of those to whom he intended to show mercy. We are called to be merciful, because God is just, and no one gets away with anything.  We are called to be just, because we are called to be like God.  We are called to forgive, because God reserves eternal judgment for himself alone, and he does not want us to carry that burden. 

What About Trust?

Whoever we come across should be considered a potential friend.  What do we know about them?  They are a human, so an equal in dignity. They are geographically close to us in that moment, so a potential neighbor/friend.  They are either a brother, sister, neighbor (in the biblical sense), or enemy, so they are a person we should love.  So is that enough information to know whether or not we should trust them?  No. 

No? Is that unloving?  Not at all, but trusting an untrustworthy person is unjust.  Did you know that Jesus did not trust people?  John 2:23-24 says, 

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

This tells us that Jesus, though he loved everyone, did not trust them.  He did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.  Wow! Gentle Jesus was under no illusions about the heart of man.  He did not trust them, but he gave his life to them. And that is different.  Does that mean that we should not trust anyone?  No, it does not mean that, but we should trust only those who have proven trustworthy.  Honest people deserve to be trusted more than people we know to be dishonest.  This is just, and it is righteous, and breaking these basic laws will land you in trouble and enable someone else’s unethical behavior.  That would not be godly.  

And we ourselves should be trustworthy. No matter what it costs us.  The outcome of the truth is always the right outcome. First, because God says so.  

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex 20:16).

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices (Col 3:9).

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another (Eph 4:25).

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out (Prov 10:9). 

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about honesty.  Furthermore, there are countless biblical narratives about a person who lies, and it always comes back.  No one ever gets away with anything.  Bending reality is not possible.  The cost always comes. 

But even if you did not believe in God, you should be truthful for the sake of practicality.  There is a reason that all religions regard truthfulness as a virtue. There is a reason why you get upset when you feel you have been lied to. Simply, faking in any way denies what is actually real.  Just because you lie about something doesn’t mean that the real truth ceases to be true.  If you lie to your spouse about how you’re feeling about the marriage, the truth festers and keeps torturing you. If you lie on your company reports, the actual numbers are somewhere refusing to lie, and they will come back to haunt you.  If you lie to yourself about your health problems, you will die young.  

Another major cost of dishonesty is your own self esteem.  Self esteem psychology gets a bad rep because of the ill conceived efforts of the education system of the last few decades to generate self esteem out of thin air.  This phenomenon is itself a lie.  Telling someone they are good when they are not objectively good, is a lie, and they know it, even if you have taught them to repeat the lie.  This doesn’t work.  

What we should be doing instead is teaching our children that they are intrinsically valuable to God because he created them in his image. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are ways to be judged in character, and the road to actual esteem for oneself is to travel that road honestly and courageously.  Self esteem is a good thing, but free self esteem is a lie, and we all know it.  You are valuable.  God made you.  That’s no small thing, and the fact that he made you in his image is a tremendous discovery.  But, because you are an image bearer, you have to make choices concerning how to live, and you will hate yourself if you don’t choose righteousness.  

It is true that many unfortunate children are taught that they are no good intrinsically.  They had bad care-takers who tore them down.  But these were also lies from the fools who we were forced to believe.  It is this problem that the self esteem movement is seeking to correct.  It is combatting the one lie, that you are a bad boy or a bad girl fundamentally, with another, that you are a good boy or girl, apart from anything you do or any character flaws.  No, you are intrinsically valuable, but you must choose to be good or bad.  

As Christians we know that the difficulty of the choice springs from the sin in our flesh.  The first facing of the truth is to repent and turn to Jesus. He has paid for our dishonesty with his blood and made a way not only for us to be forgiven for it, but to become different. He has given us a new nature and the ability to change the habits of dishonesty that have so wrecked our self esteem.  In Christ, we can learn to be truthful, and we will strengthen as we, like true image bearers of the I AM, make righteous choices that will impact our esteem of ourselves. 

Tomorrow let’s explore further the idea that we don’t need to obsess about outcomes. Those belong to God, and as I’ll explain tomorrow, “The outcome of the truth is the right outcome.”

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 2, Justice and Value

Yesterday I wrote about horizontal versus vertical relationships and Jesus’ call not to “exercise authority” over others in part one of a multi-part post about how Christians should relate to other people.  Today I want to talk about the concept of “Justice,” a word that I’m sure we misunderstand quite a bit. 

Justice (Value for Value)

After part one of this discussion you might be thinking, “I understand that we aren’t supposed to dominate others, and that we are equals with everyone we meet, but what about all the verses that say I’m supposed to make myself lower than everyone?  Aren’t I supposed to put everyone above me?”  Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  And Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:26).  You already know that no one is supposed to be your head, that no one is supposed to personally dominate you.  But how should you see others?  How should you look at other men and women who you are supposed to “consider better than yourselves?”  

The word justice is the right word for beginning this thought process. God has created us in his image. He is perfect.  A key part of the Gospel message is that God’s justice is impeccable, perfect.  Because of this, he had to send his Son to die for us, to redeem us, justify us, save us.  The fact that God’s justice is perfect means that the justice in the universe is perfect.  It doesn’t always seem like it, and indeed, the Psalmists complain about that (Ps 58). But time is the key ingredient. No one ever gets away with anything.  This is why confession and repentance is so crucial. By confessing and repenting you can clear the decks. Your confession is your not getting away with it.  The universe, that is, the creation is a just place because the Creator is just.  When we live in his image and pursue abundant life as his delegates, we are to pursue justice.

Justice is a misunderstood term.  Social Justice means many different things to many different people, but very often it has the unfortunate circumstances to be misapplied.  When there is a perceived injustice, often well-meaning people seek to correct it. There is nothing wrong with the desire to correct injustice, but because we are so twisted and broken, we often create greater injustices by our attempts.  Social justice and how to go about it are beyond the scope of this post, but for my current purposes, I’d like you to see justice in light of how we relate to all people around us.  

Honesty, integrity, and love must go together in each and every single, solitary interaction that you have with a fellow image-bearer.

Your spouse, your children, your friends, coworkers, neighbors, highway sharers, shoppers, and anyone else, deserve your integrity and love.  This means that when you face them, whether it is for one half of a second, or until death do you part, you must be just in your interactions.  You must be honest.  You must trade with them horizontally, value for value.  You must remember that God loves them more than you do.  You must see them as God sees them, an image-bearer with the potential to be saved.  You must show up on their radar screen with total integrity.  

Those Closest To You

Remember that part of what we have been created for was relationship.  Everyone you interact with is a relationship of some distance.  You cannot be equally close with everyone, so you have had to make some choices.  One the one hand, you should treat everyone the same.  Everyone deserves your honesty, your courage, your kindness and love, your exhibition of the image of God, that is, your Christlikeness.  Everyone deserves your integrity and your authenticity. And this is not for their sake alone, but for the sake of justice, and for your sake. If you have to pretend in any sphere of your life, you will be damaged. The less time you can live being your true self, the more difficult it will be to live the life that Jesus was trying to give you when he died for you and told you to lose your life to find it.  When you are being your most honest yet loving self, you are “finding your life” (Mt 10:39).  

Let’s see what this looks like with your spouse. If you don’t have one, imagine that you do.  You approach the relationship as someone whose identity is in Christ.  You know who you are. You know where your happiness lies. You did not get married in order to become happy. You got married in order to share your happiness with another, and to accomplish God’s purposes with someone who you have entered into a one-flesh, permanent-for-this-life union, most likely (but not definitely) for the sake of producing godly offspring for the glory of God and the good of the world.

With your identity, that is, your sense of self, and your purpose and happiness rooted already in God, you come to this person ready to give love and support and ready to trade value for value. Does this sound like a business transaction?  It is similar in kind in that true value is not a zero sum game.  Capitalism gets a bad name because of those who engage in it dishonestly in order to steal from others.  But that is not capitalism. It is theft. It is crime. True capitalism can and should be perfectly loving.  Consider that you have an old drill you don’t need because your friend gave you a new and better one. You don’t have room in your garage for two, so you decide you need to get rid of the old one.  You thought you might give it to your other friend, but it turns out he has a better one already.  You also realize you’d like to take your wife out for dinner, but you don’t have the money set aside for that. Maybe you could sell that drill you don’t need anymore to someone who needs it and has expendable income he’s been saving for a drill.  You advertise online and within a day you get an offer that is acceptable to you. You meet up and trade the drill for dinner with your wife. You no longer have the problem of an extra drill and no money for dinner.  Your “customer” no longer has the problem of no drill.  Value has been created by the fact that not only has neither party taken advantage of the other, but dinner for you and your wife is more valuable to you than the drill was.  The drill is more valuable to the other guy than his money was.  To top it off, your wife, who gave up nothing at all, gets treated to dinner.  

This is how capitalism should work, on the basis of justice and value for value. Why is this so?  Because that is how God designed all just relationships to work.  I’m not saying that a marriage or friendship should be modeled on a business transaction. I’m saying that a right relationship is a right relationship.  An honest relationship is an honest relationship. It makes no difference whether two people are married or meeting one time in a parking lot to trade cash for a drill.  How you show up as a true human is the very same. The only difference is in the degree of closeness.  

So with my spouse, everything should be totally honest.  I also believe that I should love everyone, especially her.  So all my interactions with her are not only to be honest, but loving.  I should want the very best for her for the sake of justice and righteousness in all our interactions.  This costs me nothing, because no godly transaction is zero sum, meaning it is not win-lose.  It can only be win-win, and value can only be created, not diminished, when conducted this way.  If you conduct all your relationships the same way, the only difference being the commitment to closeness with those you’ve chosen to be closest to, you will have all great relationships, especially your marriage relationship. 

Tomorrow let’s look at the word “discrimination” and see if there is not a good way to discriminate that is just.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 1, Horizontal vs. Vertical Relationships

Relating to Others

In the beginning God created a man.  He was alone. God said that it was not good that the man was alone, so he gave him a wife.  You might think that having a wife was the answer to the problem.  It was not. It was the beginning of the answer. It was step one.  But the real answer came about two hundred years later when these two had built a society.  God made man in his image to lovingly relate to other people.  Adam and Eve had to create other people, who would create other people, who would create other people. In their long lives they had time to see most of the known world populated with their family before they died.  This was God’s plan when he said in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” 

Part of being human, then, is doing life with others.  God in himself is three persons, so he could not make man, who is one person, like him in his image without giving him community. So that is what he did, starting with Eve.  Then he gave him children, grandchildren, great grandchildren for many generations.  These families formed communities.  After the flood and the Tower of Babel, these communities spread over the face of the earth.  Now there are continents, countries, regions, states, cities, suburbs and villages, neighborhoods, and households.  At every level the principles of relating to one another are the same, but the distance between people is closed as you work your way inwardly, both because of the number of people at each stage, and the geographic location of people in relation to one another. Even in our modern globally connected world, this still applies.  

So it is important for the Christian, the image bearer, to learn the principles for relating at each of these levels. Psychologists have said that every emotional problem humans face is an interpersonal relationship problem. Remember my earlier post about the man who escaped his problems by hiding in the woods for over twohttps://formyownsake.com/2020/05/https://formyownsake.com/2020/05/15/manifestations-of-a-broken-image-pt-3/ decades. He knew all his problems were interpersonal relationship problems, but he just didn’t know what to do about it. God helps us if we are willing to listen and do the hard and courageous work of transformation. If we allow God into our lives in these areas, relationships will become a source of joy and a part of our abundance of life.

Horizontal vs. Vertical

In the kingdom of satan, relationships are hierarchical. Everybody knows it. Jordan Peterson, a psychologist of recent internet fame, says people are like lobsters, looking for their place in the status ladder, always challenging for a position higher. He is completely correct. In this world it is ‘dominate or be dominated.’ Human history is the history of who dominated whom. Many of us are evaluating people as soon as we meet them. Unconscious or consciously we are asking, “How do I measure up to this one? Could I win a fight with him” (Guys ask this, women might ask, “Am I prettier than her”)? Our real question is, “Am I any good?” And the vast majority of us will use the people around us to answer that question.

This is what the disciples were getting at when they argued about who was the greatest.  Yet somehow they knew Jesus wouldn’t like it (Mk 9).  This is what James and John were getting at when they had their momma come and ask Jesus to give them the two highest positions in their kingdom.

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:20-28).

After telling them that they have no idea what kind of burden such a position would bring, that of drinking from the same cup of suffering as Jesus, he says to the disciples who were indignant because they didn’t think to get their own moms involved to get them a position (not really, but maybe),“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”  Notice he doesn’t say that they are too domineering, or that the Gentiles necessarily abuse those who they lead. What he says is they lord it over them, which means they take a position of lordship, and they “exercise authority.” They take a position of authority.  What’s so bad about that?  It sounds perfectly natural. There are leaders, and there are followers.  Don’t there have to be?  Well, yes, and no. 

Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you.” You will not lead that way. You are different from the world. The world does what is perfectly natural for people and lobsters, but you are not natural people, you are spiritual people, supernatural people. Your relationships will not be characterized by dominance.  Your identity will not be characterized by your place in a hierarchy.  This will have massive implications for how church should be done, but rarely is.  Jesus has made a powerful statement about the way humans are to relate to one another.  

Even in a situation where positional authority is recognized, personal authority is not proper.

In short, no man should have another man as his leader, meaning, as a person who can dominate that man with his personal power, especially not in the Church. Early twentieth century psychologist, Alfred Adler called this the difference between horizontal relationships, and vertical relationships.    

According to God, all relationships should be horizontal, except for our relationship with him.  That one is completely vertical. His ways are higher than our ways. His glory is and always will be greater than our own.  He is in charge, we are not in charge of anything except what he alone gives us charge over.   But with other people, it is a different story.  When I am face to face with another man or woman, we are equals in dignity. We are equals in intrinsic value.  Why? Because we are both created in God’s image, and that is a great honor.  We don’t share dignity with animals. They are lower than us.  Even the majestic ones who would eat us, are considered by God to be lower than us (Gen 1:26).  In a relationship with an animal, all humans rank above them.  Your dog is not your son.  He is your dog, and he will thrive if you treat him like one.  But the people in your life should be treated as humans, equals, and you should expect, demand, that they will treat you the same. 

Are their hierarchies?  Yes. Are their rulers and governments? Yes.  Does God call us to obey authority? Yes.  Ok, so how then are these people over us our equals?  

Because their authority over you is not personal, and has nothing to do with who you are intrinsically.

It has to do with what power has been vested in them by God.  If the state gives someone authority over you, like a police officer, then it is actually vested by God.   If the company gives a manager authority over you, then it is vested by God. It is true that the company CEO or board of directors is the one who gave that manager authority over you, but it is institutional, and limited in scope.  You may have to submit to him concerning the job, but only under certain moral parameters, and only according to what is reasonable under the contractual agreement that you have with the company.  Though this is your boss, you have a horizontal relationship because you are trading value for value.  You might be allowing him to direct you, but only if he (or she) keeps up his end of the bargain and pays you what he agreed to pay you, and treats you in a way that is appropriate.

Being in a horizontal relationship with this person means that he or she is not better than you just because their institutional position is higher.

Even the police man only has authority over you within certain parameters. The laws of the United States don’t give him absolute power over your life. The laws, in fact, protect the individual from the power of the state. The state, including the police officer, must be just, or they lose their authority. Your relationship with the police, the judge, or the President of the United States, is horizontal. They are not personally over you. They are not better than you intrinsically. They may be more competent, for now, or they may represent a higher institutional authority than you, and representing the institution, they represent God so long as their rules are just, which means that they are in accordance with Scripture and logic, whether they acknowledge that or not. But, they are not over you.

But why do we feel like they are? Because it is natural to feel that way. It is natural in our flesh to feel our lack in the face of a stronger personality. That is why Jesus had to teach the disciples a way of thinking about leadership that went opposite of the world’s way. Not so with you. You will not “exercise authority.” No using natural means to gain power over others. No standing between people and God, which is what happens when one lords it over another, and exercises personal authority, human, natural authority.

The head of Christ is God. The head of man is Christ. 1 Cor 11:3-13 says it is disgraceful for a man to wear a head covering, because it is a sign of authority, such as a wife would wear who has a husband, who is her “head.” But no man has another human as his head. No man is to have another human standing in between himself and God. Some of those in ministry see themselves as holding that position, we’ll discuss this more in a future post, but for now I’ll say they are sorely mistaken, and they do a great disservice to the people they serve if they think that way. Jesus said it would be different in his Church.

I will continue this series in several parts about relating to other people. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to continue the conversation. I welcome your comments.

How the Holy Spirit Helps us Grow and Have Abundant Life

The Holy Spirit 

Bearing spiritual fruit is part of the reward of abundant life. Jesus promised his disciples that he would go to the Father and send them an advocate, a helper, a comforter, the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16).  Before they received the Spirit, the disciples were struggling. But Jesus told them as he was ascending into heaven, in Acts 1, to wait in Jerusalem for the promise before they went off to preach and make disciples of all nations.  He had something for them, something crucial if they were going to succeed not only in the continuation of Jesus’ ministry but in living a fruitful Christian life.  

Consider what the disciples were like before they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Luke tells us that they were still arguing amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest after Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, and according John, had washed their feet, partially in an attempt to teach them the value of humble service to one another.  Then soon after, Judas arrived with the guards to arrest him, at which point the disciples scattered, abandoning him. Even Peter, who swore to go to prison and die with Jesus, denied three times that he even knew him.  

But after Pentecost it was an entirely different story.  These men were filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered for miracles, for preaching, for courage, and for obedience in righteousness.  What happened?  The Holy Spirit had been poured out and filled them, taking up residence in all believers.  Consequently, we are no longer enslaved to sin.  The Bible teaches that we once were slaves to sin. This meant we almost had to sin.  But now, when we are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit on conversion, we do not have to sin. Can we?  Yes. Must we? No longer.  The extent to which we will be able to abstain from sinning is directly related to the extent to which we choose to walk by the Spirit in us. How much do we choose to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph 5:18)?  When Paul directs us to be filled, he is not talking about something we have no control over, such as when the Holy Spirit manifests himself in us by some physical manifestation like “tongues of fire,” or a physical sensation, or a miracle such as healing.  

He is talking in that sense about being mindful of the Spirit in us and being mindful of Christ.  He is talking about submerging ourselves in this new reality called the “newness of life” that our newly regenerated Spirit loves but our flesh still shuns. He is telling us to take control of our flesh by submitting our minds to God and his Spirit inside of us.  He is calling on us to acknowledge the amazing power to change and obey God, loving our enemies, forgiving those who’ve hurt us, living out the truth and righteousness of Christ, and obeying everything he commands. Ask God to help you to be full of the Spirit at all times. 

Abundance of Life 

What now? What was the original intent of I AM? 

Taking the reality of our creation and assignment and applying the grace of God and the Spirit of God to actually do it, how then shall we live?  What does it mean to die to self and to live abundant life?  

Over the course of your life, in your sinful fallen state, you have been at the mercy of your fleshly impulses and the forces that shaped you. By “forces” I mean parents, culture, experiences, characteristics, and things like that.  Along with that, you have made a trillion choices in your life that have shaped you into the self that you are today. Even if you have been saved, born again, you are still impacted by the past.  The secret that most people refuse to believe is that the past, the old self, can be completely let go of, or more precisely, killed.  Jesus said we had to die in order to live. He said we had to take up our cross daily.  He said we had to lose our life to find it.  

This is a great mystery in some ways, but in other and more practical ways it is quite simple.  You have an old way of being which included your old way of thinking and interpreting the world.  Christ would like you to have a new way of thinking about the world and yourself in it.  This is the life that he wants for you.  If you have put your faith in him for salvation, you are saying that you believe that his way of seeing things is the right way, that he truly existed, died on the cross (because it was necessary), rose from the dead, and is coming back again. If you believe this, your sins are atoned for and you are going to heaven.  But that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily become very different in this life. In heaven, it will be easy to change, and you will in an instant. But if you think you should wait until then to become like Christ, then you don’t get it at all.  You can change starting now. Eternal life starts now. Abundant life starts now.  

Choose it. Ask God to help you choose it. Thank him when you have made the choice. But do your part. Believe you can change, and then do it. How do you see the world now?  Go back to the beginning of this message and re-read it. If it is not your default worldview, make it so. It is biblical.  Choose life. Choose to be a small “i am,” a creator in the image of the Creator who is your Father in heaven.  Choose to be courageous. Choose to live for God, for good, for others, for you, and not for the opinions of others (which is different than living for others).  Inventory your beliefs about the world. If they don’t match the Word of God, change them.  Inventory your beliefs about yourself. If they don’t match the Word of God, change them. Have courage, and do it. 

It is that simple. How you relate to the world is based on what your view of it is. Change that, change yourself. We’ll come back to this concept again and again over the course of this blog. Next, we’ll learn to understand what we can about how we are called to relate to others, and how the way we relate can lead to a deeper and higher quality experience of the abundant life that is its own reward.

Choose to Grow

Anything that is not growing is dying.  We are made to grow.  The very idea of lif life, especially abundant life, means that it is necessary to grow.  Sometimes, because of events in your life, growth is automatic, but most of the time, we have to choose to grow. 

You are saved by grace and reckoned as righteous by Christ’s sinless perfection.  But you still have to grow.  If you don’t like it, consider that Jesus was perfect, but still needed to grow. This may surprise you, but it’s true.  

The Bible says that he was made perfect through suffering (Heb 2:10). This begs the question. What was he before he was perfect?  In a sense, of course, he was already perfect.  Like a baby is perfect but still has a long way to go toward growing up.  In fact, Jesus was a baby at one point. As such, he could not talk, could not walk, could not do anything.  Like all babies, he had a long way to grow.  One day, his consciousness, that is, his ability to perceive, developed just to the point where he could build some minor concepts.  He would have been sitting there looking at the other kids who were slightly older than him, and he would have noticed some things. First, that they were a lot like him.  Two legs, two arms, hair, fingers, crying, eating, pooping.  He would realize that unlike the family goat, he had a lot in common with these kids.

But these other kids were slightly different than him. They didn’t crawl anymore.  That one there used to crawl, but now she’s doing something similar to his mother and father, the big people.  She is walking on two legs, upright. That created a longing in toddler Jesus.  Was it insecurity?  No. He was morally and emotionally perfect.  It was not sinful envy. But it was longing.  This new desire formed from the understanding that he could not do something, although he wanted to.   So, the next time he was able to pull himself up onto something, he took a step. 

What do you think happened to the glorious Savior of the world then? I think he crashed to the ground, and maybe he cried, until his adopted father, Joseph, having proudly watched the whole thing, came over, patted his head fondly, and stood him back up.

This likely happened again and again, until one day, Jesus was no longer a person who needed to learn how to walk. He had gone from a perfect being who crawled to a perfect being who walked. And this is one of the wonderful things about being a human. You can always grow, and the fact that you need to does not necessarily mean that you are less than perfect as you are. I am not saying you are perfect, but the fact you have to grow doesn’t prove that you are not perfect. It only proves that there is something you can learn, something you can grow in.  And to understand this is pure joy.  Have you ever seen the look on a baby’s face when he or she walks for the first time?  If you want to know what delight looks like, there it is.  

Now, by the way, this is a good time for a complicated thought:  What else usually happens in this moment that intensifies the emotion?  The baby is there and mom, dad, brother, sister, other sister, Aunt Peggy, and the UPS guy all happen to be there when this happens and what do they do?  They go crazy. They clap. They smile. They yell, “Good job! You’re amazing!”  The difference between you and Jesus is that somehow, perfect baby Jesus delighted in his accomplishment, and you (and I) got taken over by love for the praise of man (unless you are a lucky sociopath).  

This confuses everything.  Along with stern disapproval when they didn’t like what we were doing, we learned to do things to please others, or, we learned it was impossible to please others as much as our hearts wanted to, so we gave up and rebelled, which is two sides of the same coin of living for other people. There is a right way to live for others, generously, Christlike, and there is a wrong, and much, much more common way.  

But for now, just understand that growing is a part of life, and I would say a fun part, a rewarding and fulfilling part. Mastering things that were once hard is a superpower for building self-esteem and confidence.  

Wait!  Doesn’t that make it an idol?! Don’t preachers say that I need to find my esteem and confidence in what Jesus has done, and not what I do?

Now can you see why so many Christians are messed up?  We are hardwired by God to love a life of growth, but because of sin and bad (but well-meaning) parenting, we trade that for a life of seeking approval and praise from others.  And it is true that our primary identity is in Christ and in our Creator, after whom and by whom we are designed.  But here is an interesting question:  Did Christ build a false identity around walking?  Did he start announcing to everyone on Facebook that he was a walker? Did he go out and buy all the trendiest walking gear, shoes, ski poles with rubber on the end, T-shirts and bumper stickers for his car that announce to the world what he was about, walking.  No, he did not make an identity or a religion out of his new skill.  We would have done that, because we were born in sin, and so were our parents. But Christ did not. He was perfect.  

But that does not mean that mastering the skill didn’t give him some self esteem and confidence that informed his thinking when he noticed the next deficit.

Talking

“Why does it seem that the older kids seem to be saying something to each other? All I say is goo goo ga ga. What if my mom is actually trying to communicate with me and is not just making random noises? I need to learn. I am compelled to learn.” And just like you, learn he did. Then it was using the bathroom somewhere besides his diaper. Eventually it was using a mallet, and a saw. Joseph, his earthly adopted feather, was a carpenter. I’m sure that fairly early on it was reading Hebrew, then understanding the law and prophets so that by twelve Jesus could lose time in his Father’s house in Jerusalem conversing with the scribes about his Father in heaven. The Bible tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature” (Lk 2:52).

And then what does it mean that he had to grow perfect through suffering?  Perfect in what way if he was already sinless?  It seems to mean that he had to suffer in order to be prepared for the ultimate suffering of taking on the sins of the world as the sacrificial Lamb of God.  Tortured. Broken. Filled with the filth of sin, which he had never experienced—my anger, my lust, my envy, my hatred, mine and yours and Adam’s and everyone else’s.  He had to endure a temporarily broken fellowship with his beloved Father in Heaven who had always been with him.   

Jesus was grown into the ability to endure all this.  He did not want to do any of it, but it was what he came to do.  In the garden of Gethsemane he even prayed that the cup of God’s wrath would pass if possible, but it was not possible.  God had to be just and the justifier.  There was apparently only one way to wipe the great sin of the world away, and God had been preparing the consciousness of the Hebrews for hundreds of years with the law and the sacrificial system.  It was time, and Jesus would say, “Not my will, but yours be done.” 

For you and I it is no less a process of growth to become what God made us to be.  Jesus deals with the sin in us, but we still have to grow spiritually. We are already perfect when we believe and put our faith in Jesus’ work to save us, repenting of our sin.  We are made into a new creation having received the righteousness of Christ as sure as he received in himself unrighteousness of us.  But we need to grow. You are perfect, but you need to and you can grow.   

See yourself right, and see your need for growth right.  Fellowship (verb) with God, abide in him (Jn 5:4), and look for what is next. What is he doing in you?  Do you still have unforgiveness? Grow. Do you still have anger?  Grow in love.  Do you still worry?  Grow in peace and trusting God.  Do you still find yourself seeking approval?  Grow in looking to what God has already done and to your own honest evaluation of yourself.  

Work with God on the things you see that need to change, and learn to delight in progress the way you did as a baby learning to walk.

But you are not alone in this. You have teachers. You have brothers and sisters in Christ. You have examples to follow. You have the Bible to learn from. And best of all, you have the Spirit of God living in you, by whom you can live and grow by his strength and direction. Choose growth and choose life. Let’s talk tomorrow about how the Holy Spirit enables us to do this.

How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 6, Anxiety and Freedom

Yesterday in part 5 we started to look at how Jesus wants us oriented when it comes to finances.  We saw that greed is evil, money is neutral, and it should be handled as though all we have belongs to God, because it does.  Today we’ll go on to what Jesus says next in relation to all that about trusting God for provision.  If Jesus is restoring mankind and the world, then part of what he is restoring is a trust for God to provide such as Adam had in the garden of Eden before the fall.  Jesus says is like this, in Matthew 6:25-34:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious 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? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Verse 25 says, “Do not be anxious about your life.” And the section ends with verse 34, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”  So see this first as a command. No command of Christ can be bad for us.  So, no anxiety about provision.  Does this mean we sit on the couch, watch TV, and wait for someone to show up at the door with money, food, and shoes for the kids?  No. It does not mean that.  Look at the last part of verse 25: “Is not life more than food…” Is not life more than food. Don’t be anxious about your life. This goes back to where we started at the beginning of the book.  God has assigned to us life. Life is what was broken when Adam rebelled. The wages of sin is death, the absence of life.  Restoration in Christ is abundant life. We are called to joyfully, faithfully, and trustingly pursue life. But now we see that this does not mean pursuing wealth.  We are to pursue work for God’s sake, but trust him for money.  

We are to pursue life, and that means pursuing something specific.  Jesus tells us the answer in verse 33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  What things will be added?  Whatever you actually need, because “your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (32).  So what is this “seeking the kingdom and his righteousness?” 

In short, it is everything.  It is looking to abide in Christ in every second of every day. It is seeking to be present with him in his presence.  It is “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).  It is walking in him. It is looking to fellowship with him as we pray without ceasing and, in him, pursuing the activities and work that he puts before us.  When we can learn to abide with and in him, obeying him, and living for him, we will not only experience perfect peace, but we will see him provide everything he knows we need. And if he doesn’t know we need it, we don’t need it!  

How about “his righteousness?”  Seeking his righteousness is seeking his ways, his principles and living accordingly. This is why he has given us his word (more in chapter 7) and his Spirit. How much time do you prayerfully consider his ways of truth, honesty, integrity, love, generosity, faithfulness, and joyfulness?  How much energy do you put into understanding and obeying his commands? Seeking life is seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness, or his right ways, and trusting him completely as we carry out our calling as productive, faithful, image-bearing stewards of whatever he puts in front of us.  If you devote yourself to God, and what he has for you to work at, money, provision, and perfect peace will be a forgone conclusion. 

What is antithetical to perfect peace? Anxiety. Perfect peace and anxiety do not exist in the same person at the same time. One is godly, and one is not. One comes from faith, and one comes from fear. One comes from God, and one comes from satan.  I think probably most Christians rarely experience perfect peace because, first of all, Jesus’ instructions about it are too simple for them, and second, that word, perfect. Because we know that we were born so sinful that we needed Jesus to die horribly for us, and because we know that we still have sin indwelling our flesh, and we confuse our self with our flesh, we assume that anything with the adjective perfect could not apply to us. This is unfortunate and a great victory for satan. 

The truth is, it is God’s desire for you to live in freedom. It’s part of the blessing of the true Christian life. God holds out life, peace, joy, spiritual and personal power (I don’t mean power over people, but over the darkness), and most of us say, “That’s ok, I’ll settle for your grace and an eventual trip to heaven. Then we live 80% like the world who is in darkness. Satan loves it. God doesn’t, but he allows it because though he could make us follow him, it only matters to him that we choose for ourselves. I’d like you to understand that if you want to, you can grow in these things. In fact, this is the true point of discipleship, growth in Christlikeness. Usually we think that means reading the Bible more, praying more, and maybe going to church more. But it doesn’t mean those things. It means more freedom. Seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and grow.

How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 5, Anxiety about Provision

In part one of this post, we learned of the Gospel and the restoration that Jesus bought for us on the cross. We learned about the atonement that Jesus, fully God and fully man due to his birth to a virgin by the Holy Spirit, accomplished, bringing us peace with God.  This was the most crucial step toward healing the world and mankind of the effects of the fall and Adam’s rebellion. 

We learned that Jesus paid for all our sins, and that he showed us what it truly meant to be human, what it was supposed to have meant all along to be an image-bearer of God put on the earth with authority to create and rule.  When we believe and put our faith in Jesus, he causes us to become a new creation, no longer enslaved to the sin that bound us and kept us from pursuing life for the glory of God, or our own sake, and more importantly, for his sake and his glory.  Because we have been made new, we can begin to live the way God intended.  

Then we began to look at the sermon on the mount to see what Jesus considered to be the mindset and attitude of a godly image-bearer.  We learned that the inward condition of the heart is more important than the outward actions.  In general, our outward actions will be a reflection of our inward state. But in our fallenness, we often have some dishonest and selfish reasons to put on an outward show.  Whether it is about controlling anger and lust, giving or fasting in secret, taking oaths, loving our enemies, or anything else, why we obey God is more important than that we obey him.  True belief will lead to an obedience that is not done for the reward of the praise of men.  Rather, true belief leads to an obedience born out of the certainty that to obey God is the abundant life. It will lead to good results, but more profoundly obedience is the good result.  It is the reward, because it means that we are free from the necessity of sin, or what Jesus called, “slavery to sin” (Jn 8:34).  

Seeking the Kingdom

Now we will look further into the sermon on the mount, away from deeds practiced to be seen by others, and into states of being, states of the heart.  Look now at Matthew 6:19-21:

19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

And then, in 24:

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Now Jesus is talking about one of his favorite subjects, money. He doesn’t seem to be speaking of it in the same terms as he was in Matthew 5.  There the emphasis was on the nature of giving and why you should not give to charity in order to be seen by men.  Here it seems Jesus has in mind the heart attitude that loves money for its own sake.  Whether the issue is the desire for luxury and comfort or security and status, the issue is the same. You can’t take money with you into heaven, and you cannot serve money and the accumulation of wealth without becoming a slave to it, a worshiper of it.  And if you worship money, you do not worship God; in fact. you will despise him for getting in the way of your money-making.  

You may have heard that money is evil.  It is not, just as it is not the root of all evil.  “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6 ), but even then, you need to understand that money itself is neutral.  Here’s what happened. When men accumulated on the earth, they likely struggled with one another because of sin. But at some point, sinful though they were, they realized that they could trade with one another value for value.  One had a pig he didn’t need, and the other had a bundle of spears he wasn’t using. “How many spears will you give me for this pig,” said one.  “Twelve,” said the other. And they made a good trade. The pig was more valuable to the new owner because he needed it, and the same goes for the spears.  At some point, someone figured out that they could substitute metal and jewels for products, because it was hard to carry a pig to the spear market every time you wanted to shop.  But if a pig is worth three pieces of metal, then the pig farmer could carry twelve small pieces of metal that would represent four pigs.  This is much easier than carrying four pigs.  And money was born.  

Money wasn’t in itself a problem, because you could be as greedy for pigs or spears as you are for money.  Love of money is the problem, because greed is the problem, and money is usually associated with it. But if you took away money and currency and still had bartering, you’d still have a greed problem.  The love of money may be a root of all kinds of evil, but greed is the root of evil concerning money.  Jesus used money. Jesus was not evil, so he used money in a way that was not evil.  

Now that that’s out of the way, what is Jesus warning against? It seems that, although Jesus often addressed the issue of accumulating wealth for the sake of appearances and status seeking, here he seems to be speaking simply of the security that one feels will be attained by the accumulation of wealth.  In this case, the admonition is against laying “up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (19). The reason has to do with the heart.  Profoundly, he points out in verse 21 that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Instead he counsels to lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.  It’s easy to think that Jesus simply means give all your money away to charity and you’ll be rewarded in heaven.  But we know that God expects us to provide for ourselves (2 Thes 3:10), and for our families (1 Tim 5:8). We know that if our rent is due Friday, but we get paid Monday, we need to save our rent money at least until Friday in order to be good stewards and show good character to our landlords, reflecting well on the God we serve.  

Surely it does mean, to some extent, that we would give money away.  That seems like common sense.  But it also means using the money for what money is used for, which Jesus and his disciples did, but in a way that displays trust in God and keeps him first, our purposes in him second, and money, only as a neutral tool in the process. In verse 24 it says that, “No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money.” If God is your master, then you are his servant.  As his servant, make money your servant, so you can fulfill your job as his servant.  

This really started to make sense to me when I realized something about the responsibility I have at the church where I serve as an elder and pastor.  One of the responsibilities of our elder board is to steward the money that the members give to the church. We pay the rent on the building, staff salaries, insurance premiums, giving outside the church, and a host of other things that a nonprofit “business” like a church needs to operate.  I have a hand in both budgeting that money and spending it.  And, compared to my personal finances, it is a whole lot of money to manage. Over the years I’ve stewarded millions of dollars for the purposes of the church.  Here’s the thing: 

I’ve never once been confused about whose money it was.  It was not mine, although I helped manage it. 

It belongs to God and his church for the purposes that he has called us to in our city. Simple as that. For me to help myself to some of it (I do get a salary by the church.  I have nothing to do with what I am compensated. There are other men responsible for that) would be evil and wrong, theft even. It would disqualify me from ministry and qualify me for prison.  

It occurred to me one day that my personal finances should be thought of in the exact same way. 

My money is primarily God’s money, for God’s purposes for my life. This includes provision for me and my family, investment in business and mission work, and investment for the future care of my needs if possible (retirement), so that no one else has to supply it.  When the leaders of our church are planning and praying for God’s leading in direction for our church and the mission we’re on, profit is never a consideration. Paying the bills is.  Keeping our agreements with landlords and vendors is. Maybe building a reserve amount to have in case of emergency is.  But building a wealthy church is not anyone’s goal, nor should it be.  The same goes for personal finances.  Seeking to make a profit as a good steward is right and good, but trying to rich for the sake of getting rich is never the point. 

With the church’s money we budget faithfully and somewhat conservatively so that we are financially healthy. We follow biblical principles, operate honestly and wisely, and trust God completely. Tomorrow we will look in part 6 at the next section, which shows how Jesus wants his people as individuals to think the exact same way, especially the part about trusting God completely.

How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 4, Freedom

The Praise of Man

Giving in Secret

The last two posts looked at the sermon on the mount to consider Jesus’s prescription for the restoration of men and women on the earth. First we looked at his words on anger and murder, then his words on lust and sexual sin, and we noted the extreme freedom that his viewpoint brings to those who have ears to hear and want something better than what passes in the world for happiness and fulfillment. 

Next in the sermon on the mount Jesus discusses divorce. In light of what he says about lust, this one should be easy.  Then oaths: If you are a truly honest person, you don’t need them.  Then retaliation: Don’t retaliate, because you are free from anger. And, love for enemies: Having this will free you from anger and the need for retaliation. After this, in Matthew 6, Jesus moves into subtler territory and gets at the heart of a prevalent issue in the human condition: Doing things, even religious things, to collect the praises of man.  

First, he addresses the subject of giving.  Most people have a hard enough time making themselves give away any money at all. Often, ministries and charities make use of our fallen nature to manipulate us to give, and that usually revolves around other people knowing what you give.  Whether it is in a church where the pastors make it known that they see who gives what, or it is a philanthropist getting their name on a hospital wing, most know that people will tend to give more in public than they will in private.  Why is this?  There can only be one answer to this question: Because we are giving what we are giving to be seen by men, rather than God. Jesus saw the problem with this and called it out in verses 1-4 of Matthew 6.  He said, to paraphrase, that we should not let anyone see us giving to the needy.  If we “practice our righteousness before other people,” then we will receive the reward we are clearly looking for, the esteem of others.  When we have received that, then there is no more reward to be had by God.  

This is tragic, because Jesus died to set us free from the shame brought on by sinfulness, first seen in the garden (Gen 3:10).  It is this shame that compels us to practice righteousness in order to be seen. These righteous acts are like the fig leaves covering Adam and Eve.  The reward that Jesus desires for us is freedom from this shame. When we are free, then we are free to give in secret. 

The reward that the Father will give us is that of freedom from the bondage of needing the approval of others that we have been seeking to cover our shame, or our sense of worthlessness.  

Rather than fig leaves, Jesus is the animal skins that the Father so lovingly gave to Adam to cover him by his work, instead of Adam’s.  Jesus says to us by his coming and his death for us that we have no need to hide behind the approval of others. When we as Christians give in secret, we reinforce the truth and starve out the lie.  That reinforcement strengthens us at the core, bringing us more peace, more joy, more stability in Christ, more of the good kind of pride, better fellowship with God, because there is less hiding. The reward of the praise of man is a cheap substitute that will not pay off in the end and keeps us from the real prize.  

Praying in Secret

All the very same principles apply in the area of prayer.  If you want to see someone put on a show, put them in a corporate prayer session.  I am a pastor, and I weekly battle the temptation when praying at the end of a sermon to “perform” the closing prayer.  I don’t even realize when I’m doing it!  It’s easier for me to notice when others are doing it.  Granted, it takes a great deal of freedom to become the kind of person who will pray in front of others in the exact same way that he or she prays alone.  You don’t have to want to put on a show for that to be what happens. I would say that for 99% of us, it is the default.  But Jesus shows us here that by refusing to participate in the normal way of doing it, praying, at least partly, for show, and instead just pouring out your heart to God when you are praying with others, or even praying only alone for a while, we will receive a reward from God in the way of answered prayer, and as with the giving in secret, in the way of a strengthening of faith and character.  

Forgiveness 

Next, after teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches his disciples that they must forgive others or they will not be forgiven by their Heavenly Father. This is some strong language.  To fail to forgive others keeps you in the bondage of sin and hell, and proves that you’ve yet to understand and accept God’s forgiveness, either because you don’t think you need it, or you don’t think he is kind enough, or loves you enough to forgive you.  If you are holding any unforgiveness, stop everything and deal with it. God will help you. 

Fasting

Briefly, fasting is a spiritual discipline that can be helpful in learning to abide in Christ.  It is also super impressive to the churchy crowd that is impressed by that sort of thing. Knowing this, Jesus warns against the hypocritical tendency of religious folks to fast and make it clear to everyone how miserable they are because they are so holy and are not eating.  Once again, what is at issue is the bondage of needing to put on a show, for whatever reason, to impress others.  The more you will engage in these sorts of practices without telling anyone, the more you will be transformed into the likeness of Christ.  

The rest of the sermon on the mount deals less with living for the attention and praise of man, and more with an inward heart towards God. We will discuss it further in the coming days.