Principles Are Better Than Laws – Part 5

So far in this series I’ve been thinking about God’s laws, that is, the way God designed things to work properly. This includes the best behavior for us to achieve abundant life as he originally intended it to be when he invented life and existence.

I’m thinking about this, because I’ve developed more and more of a sense that God actually intended for us to have a magnificent life on earth as his image bearers, even going so far as to send his Son to forgive us for our failure to have such a life. This is another way of saying what we are used to hearing: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Why did we choose to fall short (first Adam, and then the rest of us)? That’s a good question, but at least part of the answer is confusion. God is not the author of confusion, but satan is, ergo, we are confused. We are so confused that we think obeying God is about earning his favor so he will bless us. If that is true it is a primitive way of putting it, and one which leads to failure.

If you think that God has given us rules to follow so that we can earn his blessing, then you will be a legalist.  You will assume you ought to follow those rules, but you will constantly battle the desires to do something else instead, and you will constantly feel guilty.  Driven by guilt, you will obey the rules sometimes, leading to pride, and disobey them other times, leading to shame.  

But there is a better way to think about it. This is why I say principles are better than laws. God’s laws are nothing less than principles for living according to the objective reality that he has caused the world to be subject to. God’s rules are simply the principles of reality by which we function best in this world. They are the means whereby we will experience life as abundant. They are the means whereby we will achieve the most ethical success possible and the greatest joy possible. They are the means whereby we can achieve something closer to Jesus’ standard, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees” (Mt 5:20), and “you must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

God has given us grace in that he sent his Son to take our sin, and give us his righteousness, but most people fail to make use of that righteousness to achieve joy and the glory of God (the same glory that we had previously fallen short of).  

In an earlier post I said that being a Christian is its own reward. This is what I meant. But because we fail to see God’s ways as the honest and true ways to live in creation for the greatest life possible, we fail. We don’t have to.

In part 4 of this series I was looking at the first commandment as the first principle.  I wrote about what God does not mean when he tells us to have no other gods before him.  Now, I want to consider what it DOES mean.  I can be brief.  

When God gives the law that he is to be our only God and the most important thing in our lives, he is saying that he is the source of all truth and goodness. Everything that is true emanates from him, from his nature. All the other laws, or principles, flow from who and what he is. He is love, he is truth, he is goodness, and he is all the fruit of the Spirit. To bow down to God is to bow down to reality, to the way things are, and, of course, to the author of all of it.

To bow down to any other is to put something before God. As a person, he deserves our highest praise and allegiance because he is truly the highest and greatest. But it also means putting his ways above all other philosophies, and his morals, including the rest of the commandments, above all other systems of morality or philosophy. The rest of the posts in this series will continue to look at several of those, but for now, we start with the first and best, to love and honor the first and best, God, as the first and best. We honor God and all his ways. Everything else is a derivative of that.

Principles are Better than Laws, Part 1

We’re Christians.  We have laws.  We have the Ten Commandments.  They are not called The Ten Principles.  Still…

Principles are better than laws, even when our principles happen to be laws.  

The nice thing about laws is that they don’t require thinking.  We just have to be afraid of the law giver, and voila, order.  But if you know anything about Christianity, then you know that laws don’t have power to save.  

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Ro 8:3-4).

The law cannot save us because our “flesh is weak.” This means that we may know we are supposed to do something, or not do something, but when we try to obey that law, we fail time and again. We assume that we cannot help it. Isn’t that why Jesus had to die? Because we are so bad at not sinning?

Well, yes, it is. But there is more. Jesus fulfilled the “righteous requirement of the law,” for us who, “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Now what does that mean? I’d like to propose that one effect of walking according to the Spirit is that it makes all our laws into principles. In our sin, the “thou shalt nots, and thou shalts” seem like hard restrictions, keeping us from having any fun in life. But in the Spirit, sin having been “dealt with” by Christ, we are able to see the laws of God as a path to true personhood.

Our destiny is eternity with God that began at our salvation.  We will never lose our free will, but we will one day learn to always choose God of our own joyful volition.  We will always seek his kingdom and his righteousness, because we will have learned that it is the only way to be.  It is the only path to joy, and to pleasures evermore in and under Christ.  It is the only way to truly enjoy the good gifts of God without putting them above him.  

In my next posts, I’ll take the Great Commandment and the Ten Commandments and see if they also work as the Great Principle and the Ten Principles.

Loving the Truth

“19 And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works be exposed.  21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (Jn 3:19-21). 

Jesus said this to Nicodemus a few sentences after he said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” Whoever would believe would have eternal life, but whoever would not “is condemned already” (Jn 3:18).  

To believe in Jesus is to love the truth, the light. Jesus himself was the light of the world.  Jesus is the revelation of who God is.  He is the revelation of right and wrong.  He is the revelation of goodness and evil.  He is the light of all reality.  

This means that Jesus is bad news for anyone who hates the light.  

Jesus is bad news for anyone who likes avoiding the truth about anything whatsoever.  

Jesus is a light shining on the world to show what is there and to expose the true nature of what is there.  

The only way to be in the world is to love the truth.  Love what is right.  Love knowing.  Love reality.  Hate evasion.  Hate darkness.  Hate falsehood.  Don’t hate people, but hate what people do when they lie to themselves and others.  

The only right way to live is to conform to what is reality.  To refuse to conform to reality leads to death.  To whatever degree you fail to conform is the degree that your life will not be working properly.  This is the degree to which you do “wicked things” (v20).  Doing wicked things is synonymous with living by a falsehood.  

To do something “wicked” you need to forget some facts that exist. (‘Facts that exist’ is a redundant phrase, actually). You need to forget that there is a God who cares what you do and sees you. You need to forget that the thing you are doing will likely cause you harm. Maybe you want to get drunk. You must forget that God says not to and that your body has been created to function optimally without too much alcohol.

Maybe you’d like to steal some money from somewhere so that you can buy the things that you think you need more than your integrity. You need to forget, again, that there is a God who cares what you do and sees you. You need to forget that this is not your money, but that it belongs to someone else. You need to forget that you may get caught and punished. You need to forget that God is a God of justice, and that no one gets away with anything false forever.

Maybe you think you need to lie to someone to protect your reputation with them. You need to forget AGAIN, that there is a God who cares what you do and sees you. You need to forget that the person you are lying to is important, and deserves to be told the truth. You need to forget reality and attempt to bend it to your will. You need to forget that it is impossible to do that and that reality always catches up with a lie. At very least, you are now a slave to the one you are lying to.

Maybe you want to merely spend money you don’t have yet. You need to forget that math is not something that is subjective. Numbers are objective. You need to fail to count your money. You need to fail to consider what bills you will have to pay, and what amount of money you currently have, and how much you will realistically make in the near term. You need to fail to consider that you have some long term goals and obligations that will come for you, even if you pretend they are not coming. You need to forget that there is another entity who will not be paid when you default on your commitment to pay for the item that they are now without. And you need to forget that there is a God, who is still totally connected to the reality that you have CHOSEN to evade. You also need to forget that he doesn’t want you finding identity in the stuff you buy, or finding idols in the comfort from the stuff you buy.

Because such a thing as reality exists, your life will only work right if you subject yourself to reality. This is living according to the truth, and it starts with the reality that Jesus Christ came as the light in the dark in order to redeem you from your sins. He came so that you could have abundant life (Jn 10:10). Abundant life springs forth from the honest life of conforming to reality, that is, loving the truth. And when you love the truth, you know that your “works have been carried out in God” (Jn 3:21).

Sin is a Mayonnaise Sandwich

My wife hates mayonnaise.  I asked her what would be something gross to eat, and she said a mayonnaise sandwich.  I asked her if she likes chocolate.  She said yes.  

I said, “If you were hungry and wanted to eat some chocolate would you accidentally eat a mayonnaise sandwich?”  She said, “No.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “Because I hate mayonnaise, and I like chocolate.”  

This conversation happened because we were talking about sin.  Why do people sin?  Why do Christians think they want to sin?  Part of the answer is that they do not know that sin is a mayonnaise sandwich, and righteousness is chocolate.  

In an earlier post I said that being a Christian is, in part, its own reward. I don’t mean that the rewards in heaven for being a Christian aren’t greater than anything we can imagine, but that the “life” (and life abundant) of a Christian is very rewarding and fulfilling if you know what you are doing.

In my aforementioned post I said that the problem with the older brother in the prodigal son story (Lk 15:11-32) is that he doesn’t know how good he has it.  He thinks it would be fun to go live like his foolish younger brother, as though the life he (the younger brother) has been living in a far country, squandering his money on hedonism (death) and being reduced to eating after the pigs was some great time.  It was not a great time, but a bankrupt existence he was glad to leave behind.

Meanwhile the dad says to the older brother something like, “You and I are always together, and all my stuff is your stuff.  You own the world and have an awesome life, so why are you complaining?”  

Why would we complain about eating chocolate? Why would we think we wish we could eat the mayonnaise sandwich (or whatever food you hate)? Because we are confused. We don’t understand that our purpose on earth is to live. Living entails more than just continuing to breath. God always holds out the choice between his way, and some other way. His way he calls “Life,” the other way he calls “Death.” His way I’m calling “chocolate,” the other way I’m calling a “mayonnaise sandwich.”

According to God’s way there are bedrock principles of virtue that are based in the reality of life and existence with a body and a spirit. Truth, justice, love, productiveness, creativity, purity, contentment, and excellence are all part of God’s way. These are the principles by which through Jesus we pursue our lives, for our own sake, and ultimately for his sake and his glory. Seeking to live accordingly is going to be the most rewarding and powerful way to seek life.

That is what it means to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That’s the chocolate that we actually want, and if we aren’t confused about that, we will never settle for a mayonnaise sandwich. Choose Life and live.

Abide

Almost any discussion I have of the Bible and the commands I am expected to obey ends up at the same conclusion.  Abide.  

How do we obey the Bible when it says to love our neighbor?  

Abide.

What about loving our enemy?

Abide.

What about making sure there is no unwholesome talk out of our mouths?

Abide.

How do we pray more?

Abide

How do we pray more effectively?

Abide.

How do we have peace?

Abide. 

How do we speak the truth, have courage, obey God in anything?

Abide.

How do we Abide?

Jesus said to remain in him, and he will remain in us (Jn 15:4).   We abide when we read the Bible with a conscious mind on the presence of God.  We abide when we dwell on Christ.  It is a Christ consciousness.  We (born-again Christians) are in Christ by virtue of our belief in him, but we are functionally, experientially in Christ by conscious awareness of Christ.  We direct our thoughts in the present moment to his presence, and we go about life.  When we drift, we come back.  We can also call this being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18).  

For the Christian, the real work is abiding. IF we can do that, the rest is easy.

Jesus is a Charismatic Leader, and You Should be One Too

The word charisma in Christianity usually is refers to some aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, especially in charismatic church groups.

But I want to examine the old fashioned meaning of the word and look at whether Jesus had charisma.  I’d also like to explore whether it is something we should seek to cultivate (assuming one can), and if so, how?

To be charismatic is to display compelling charm. It is a word used to describe great leaders. I have mixed feelings about charismatic leadership, because I understand that charismatic leaders are able to lead people to buy into some really stupid ideas. In the church, this happens frequently. Consider all the charismatic monsters in history. Hitler and Jim Jones come to mind.

Assuming that our intentions are to be better leaders and communicators, because we genuinely love people, have no desire to exert personal power over them, and want to be of service to God and mankind, then it may be worthwhile to consider. There is a book I read in 2012 by a woman named Olivia Fox Cabane called, THE CHARISMA MYTH. I am not going to go back and look at it again right now for exact references, but from what I remember, the main point was that everyone can learn to become more charismatic, and that charisma is made of three component parts.

  1. Presence
  2. Power
  3. Warmth

Presence is simply the act of being in the moment. When it comes to charisma, it means being in the moment with another person. When you are present, people notice. This is an attractive quality. The other person feels like they are being seen. There are many ways to cultivate presence, as it is simply a refraining from letting your mind wander, and focusing attention on your subject. My favorite way to do this that I remember from her book is to think of your toes when you realize your mind is wondering. You would not think that would work. But it somehow focuses your attention on the moment, brings you out of your mind and back on the what the person is saying.

Power is the sense that you are a strong and able person.   As this relates to other people, it means that if someone thinks you are a strong or powerful person, then you have the ability to help them.  We are wired by God to see it that way.  This is why we are impressed by strength and size.  Presence and power are linked, because a person who is present, seems also to be more powerful.  They appear unafraid, because they are obviously not preoccupied with fears in their mind.  

But power and presence alone won’t make someone charismatic. They must also be warm. That is, they must also seem to like you. Why does this translate as charisma? Because here is a person who will be important to your life. They are powerful and warm. This means they are able to help you, and not only are they able, but, since they like you, they are also willing.

Think of the charismatic people you know, and you will realize that they are present, powerful, and warm.  They may lean more heavily on warmth or power, but they will definitely have a measurable amount of both.  

Christ the Charismatic Leader

Christ was charismatic. We don’t think of him that way because he did not try very hard to win people. He was not a salesman, or a manipulator of people. He was perfectly authentic (which was part of his power). But let’s look further at how he displayed naturally the three components.

Presence

Jesus walked in the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. He prayed for hours at a time to his Father in heaven and stayed constantly focused on what the Father was doing. His mind was not wandering and worrying. He was always absorbed in what he was doing and who he was with. He took the time to see the person he was with. Consider the leper who came to Jesus for healing. Jesus was moved with compassion and he healed him. Those who are not present are not able to be moved with compassion.

Power

The Bible is clear that Jesus is powerful. Consider the effect it had on his disciples when he displayed power over the water that turned to wine, or the power he had over the weather, or his fearlessness in confronting the powerful Pharisees. The disciples came to understand very early that Jesus was powerful. This is why they were so shocked and dismayed when he refrained from saving himself from crucifixion, and overthrowing the Romans and the Jewish establishment.

Warmth

And there is very little doubt that Jesus loved everyone. To meet his gaze would have been to receive all the love in the universe. He loves you. He will not fail to help you in your need. In John 15:9, Jesus says,

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”

And he loved us to the ultimate degree when he died for us, because of his love for us.

The Gospel

Consider the Gospel. Jesus became present with us when he came down off his throne in heaven.

He displayed power over satan, sin, and death with his perfect life, and his atoning death.

He did this because he loved us.

What About Us?

So if you would like to become more charismatic you can practice the three components. There are ways to do that, and many books cover those topics.

OR…..

If you are a Christian, abide in Christ (Jn 15:4). Simply walking in Christ for real will increase your charisma. Do it for God’s sake, because it is what you were made for. As you take on the likeness of God, you will necessarily become more like him in presence, power, and love (warmth). In fact, I’d say that if you see you are lacking in one of these areas, you can see it as a sign that you need to reorient yourself to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33). In other words, abide in Christ. You will become more powerful as you walk in his authority and courage. You will become more present as you seek HIS presence, and you will learn to love as he loves, becoming a warmer person.

The truth is, you did not have to know any of this, and pressing into your relationship with Christ would cause it to happen anyway. But if you are a leadership nerd like me, you hopefully found this enjoyable and helpful.

If you are new to my blog, I’d be honored if you would start with my first two posts. They are here and here.

Life Together

As a pastor, which in my context means one of five elders of a local church who happens to be the one who goes by pastor and works full time at the church, I am obsessed with biblical Christian community.  I have been a part of several iterations of Christian life together, and these range the gamut between practically communal, to a church on an interstate exit where some members live an hour apart from one another. What I have learned to this point, is that what is more important than the style and quantitative aspects of community, is the mindset toward Christian community. In short, how does one think about the experience?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the Christian pastor who was executed for trying to help assassinate Hitler) has been my tutor in this area, and I have read his magnificent Life Together dozens of times. I am planning to hand copy the book next, so that I can work toward memorizing every word. It resonated with me twelve or fifteen years ago when I first read it in the midst of church planting, and it has shaped my thinking more than any other book outside the Holy Bible (because it is so biblical). So if you have read it, you will see where I am coming from. If you have not read it, stop reading this, and go find a copy. Read that.

If I were to boil down the book to the single most important point, it would be this: Christian community is a reality in Christ. One participates in it by faith before taking any concrete steps toward deepening the relationships. If a group of people are gathered for the sake of worshiping God, growing in faith, taking the ordinances (Lord’s Supper and baptism), fulfilling the Great Commission, and that group is centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then it is a church family. 

It is a local expression of the world-wide, across time, in Heaven and on Earth, Body of Christ.  God has assembled it. That church is a gift from him to the members. Whatever shape it is going to take will be by his grace, and for the sake of his glory. Ours is to be thankful for the fact of its existence, and for whatever it might look like at any given time. The relationships are bound by Christ and what he has done. The members are connected by the Holy Spirit. Christ is the center, and we are bound to it by faith. We are bound to each other by faith and faith alone.  

The first thing one must do is praise God for the church, and be thankful that we are not alone.  We should be thankful for whatever it is, because it is nothing short of a gift. It is not ours to judge, but to participate by faith, trusting the God who gathered this local church to make it into whatever he desires it to be, as the members participate as faithfully and thankfully as we are capable. 

The Bible says to “work your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Our salvation is a reality in Christ, but we are to work it out after taking that on faith. This means that we will look to him every day in order to conform to the likeness of Christ, growing all the days of our lives, and it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).  We start with a reality, our salvation in Christ alone, and work it out, knowing that God is the one working in us.  This is a mystery but we know it is good.  

Christian community is the same.  We are bound in our local church by faith. It is a reality in Christ.  Our relationships are Christ centered.  We’re not bound by any commonality or fondness but Christ.  Then we work for the rest of our lives to close distance with one another in a faithful way, thanking God for the privilege of Christian fellowship.  Here are the steps: 

  1. Thank God for what you have, no matter how paltry it seems to you.
  2. Pray for closer connections.
  3. Reach out and give of yourself and build some friendships primarily on the love of God in Christ. If these friendships can’t handle conflict, disagreements, annoyances, you didn’t center them on Christ.
  4. Go back to steps 1-3 until you die or Jesus returns.

Concretization of the Abstraction of God

Jesus concretized God. Man is supposed to concretize Jesus.

When God created the universe and the earth, he did not consider it to be complete unless he gave the creation a way to know him and what he is like. God is a real person. He is invisible, yet concrete. But to most of us he is more of an abstraction. We can’t see him. We can only see evidence of him. His kingdom, the kingdom of God, is such an abstraction that Jesus never explicitly defines it, rather saying what it is like: a mustard seed, a man on a trip, a father with two sons…

But in the days of creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Not being a Hebrew scholar myself, I can look up the word and see that the word God uses for image is the same as that of idol. The kind of thing we are not to do, make an image of God to worship it, God has already done in man, not so that we could worship it, but so that we and the rest of the creation could know something of what God is like.

In man in his unbroken, un-fallen state, we can see what God is like. He may have been only a concept before, but now he is concrete.  Righteousness is an abstraction, but the way man was called to live on the earth was concrete.  The same goes for holiness, justice, and love.  To see these abstractions in a concrete reality, one should be able to look at any human on the earth.  

But that is not what we get from looking at humans on the earth, because the image is broken.  Now, to try to see what God is like from looking at his creatures will be misleading, to say the least.  God is love; we hate all the time.  God is joyful; we are often depressed.  God is purposeful; we are purposeless much of the time.  God is selfless; we are selfish.  God is truth; we are liars.  

Because of this difficulty, humans who wanted to know God had to do the best they could by looking at the best of humans, the goodness of creation (broken though it was), and studying the law he gave to Moses with their depraved minds and experimenting with ways to keep it.  

So, understandably, by the time Jesus arrived on the earth, there was much confusion about what the Father was truly like.  But when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14), the world got a clear picture.  Philip said to Jesus, “‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:8-10)? Philip was a disciple of Jesus. Imagine the confusion of those who would oppose Jesus.

Nonetheless, Jesus came and restored the image of God in man, by showing the Father by his life and his own nature, which was the Father’s nature.  In 1 Corinthians 11:3 it says that the head of Christ is God, and the head of man is Christ.  

Our Part in Concretizing the Abstraction

Once again, the world is faced with the problem of abstraction.  Many things are said of Christ, and he has been portrayed in many ways, some more faithfully than others.  The Church has the responsibility of being the body of Christ, the physical expression of him in this age.  Christian men and women who make up the Church are also called to continually grow in their capacity to image Christ and so image the Father.  

I like what happens in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

I pray that others could see my boldness and my actions, my commonness, and recognize that I am with Jesus!  I pray that for you too. 

Here is how Jesus said it: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

Boldness and love are two of the ways in which we can demonstrate the image of Christ and his Father in us, and these we display by receiving the free gift of life in Christ on the cross, and by walking according to his Spirit that he has put in us.  

Then, when they recognize you are different, that you have “been with Jesus,” share the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Ro 1:16).

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.