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.

The Is-Ought Dichotomy

Can we know what we should do by observing facts?  Hume was the philosopher that asked this question.  

Can what “is” tell us what we “ought” to do?  

Hume saw a gap between facts and morality.  In other words, there is no way to know what to do by what we see to be the knowable facts of the world around us.  

Poison will kill you or the person to whom to sneak it.  So does that mean you should not give poison to someone?  Hume said we would have to know more, and what we could know would not be a fact, but an intuition.  

But I disagree with that.  

I agree that we have to have a moral code.  But I don’t agree that it must be based on intuition (or even faith).  When people intuitively know that they should not kill someone, I think there is actually a fact hidden in there somewhere.  We are being driven by facts as we see them.  But for most people, we are not aware enough of what our “facts” are, and so we don’t put them in the proper order.  Some facts are more important than others.  Getting this right will bring order and peace to your life. 

Fact: Poison is dangerous to your body and can kill it. 

Is this the most important fact in the situation of whether to eat poison, or even give it to someone else?  No, it isn’t. 

Fact: Staying alive is good.  

Is this the most important fact? It is a more important fact that the first one, but it is not the most important fact, because, why is it good to stay alive?

Fact: My life is my goal. 

Is this the most important fact? No, but is it the highest so far? It is not the most important fact because it sounds more like a value. It is only a fact (and a value) if it is a derivative of a hard fact. Here it is that hard fact.

Fact: I exist. 

This is almost the most important fact, and it is extremely important.  The fact that I exist means that I must value my existence.  But here is an even greater and higher fact.

Fact: God exists.

This is the highest fact and it gives meaning to the second highest fact (for me) that I exist. My life is a reality in God. He has given it to me. He has called me to live. I must live for him, because he is the highest fact. The Bible calls this his glory. My life is also my glory. Christians believe our sin at the beginning was to fall short of glory, God’s glory; which was our glory as his created image bearers.

You would be fair to ask me why I believe God exists. I’ll post that another time, but I think it is rational to believe it, especially the Trinitarian God of the bible. I have looked at the preponderance of evidence for the existence of Christ, the resurrection, and his claims to be God in the flesh. I think there is enough evidence to take it seriously. I also believe that Christianity as the Bible actually teaches it lines up with the facts of reality and the way things truly are. Then, without being able to see Jesus in person, I admit that here I go on rational faith. I should also mention that I have witnessed many miracles. This is also for another post.

So the fact that God exists (I AM), and has made possible the fact of my own existence (i am), means that there is no is-ought dichotomy. There is no gap. A fact of existence comes with a built in purpose. Everything that has life “works” for its own flourishing. Why? Because it must. Why must it? Because it exists. Does any living thing not work for it’s flourishing? None, except man, of course.

We are so confused that we often work toward our death.  This is to fall short of the glory of God.  This is to be subhuman (not animal-an animal would not work for its death).  This is evil.  

All humans naturally work to live, but since the vast majority do it unconsciously, they except false facts, which lead to false values that lead to death. However, since they also know on a deeper level that they must work to live, they walk in constant contradictions: anxious, confused, fearful, depressed, falling way short of the glory of God.

Even Christians get this wrong. We are thankfully saved by grace for “abundant life” (Jn 10:10). Jesus got this right, and he passed on to us the benefit, or the imputed righteousness. Jesus truly lived so that his death actually paid for our sin of never truly living, which is an affront to the Creator, and earns us his right wrath. This is why Jesus came. Put your faith in him. Close the is-ought gap and derive your moral ethical code from the facts (try these on for size).

You will truly begin to live when you start knocking down the contradicdtions, when you start aligning your goals with your abundant life, and stop all the sin. That is, stop all that leads to death. You were made to live forever, but most will die forever.

If this is your first time to my blog, I highly recommend starting with my two oldest posts and reading them from oldest to newest.

How Not to Glorify Yourself

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,

    lest you take part in her sins,

lest you share in her plagues;

5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,

    and God has remembered her iniquities.

6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,

    and repay her double for her deeds;

    mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.

7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,

    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,

since in her heart she says,

    ‘I sit as a queen,

I am no widow,

    and mourning I shall never see.’

8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,

    death and mourning and famine,

and she will be burned up with fire;

for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” — Revelation 18:4-8

Part of my message to Christians and everyone else is that you were made in the image of God.  That means something philosophical about how you should see yourself and everyone else.  An image bearer is an amazing thing.  All image bearers are amazing because of the God whose image we bear.  

God made you.

He made you in his image.

You exist. 

God does everything for his own sake.  

This is logical.  Who else is going to do things for God’s own sake?

He does everything in for his own sake because he exists.  He is a fact.  When he acts, he must act to do what he wants to do, and what he feels he must do according to his nature and his purposes. 

This is to his glory that he does that.

You, bearing his image, must act the very same way if you are going to be philosophically honest. If you don’t acknowledge this, you will still act as though you believe up to a point.

Why?  Because you must.  You are not an organism that instinctively cares for its needs.  Amoebas do. Plants do.  When the resources are there, plants reach out their roots and leaves and take what they need.  Animals are higher order and more complex.  They do the same thing by instinct.  They get hungry, so they get hunting.  Their sensory perceptions move them according to their impulses.  

But people are different. Because we are image bearers of God, we think and reason like God. Being a human is a burden. It requires logical thinking. We feel impulses toward pleasure seeking and the avoidance of pain.

But we, unlike animals, cannot trust that those impulses are telling us the truth about what is important.

On top of that, we have sin in our flesh.  As mysterious as it all is, there is something to the idea that our first parents achieved in their rebellion a dark “knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 3).

In order for us to know which impulses to follow, and which to ignore for the sake of something better for us, we must think (See footnote). This is how we are like God. We have to have a way to know how to make decisions. God makes decisions in alignment with his nature, and his purposes. Every single solitary thing he does and says falls into line with who he is. Even his purposes are subordinate to his nature, or his being.

What I mean is, he does nothing illogical. He does nothing imperfect. Everything about him, even though “his ways are higher than our ways” (Isa 55:8-9) makes sense from this perspective. Consider that he loves justice, truth, love, mercy, goodness, and perfection. We are not perfect like him, but because he is perfect, he cannot sit by and allow us to continue in injustice, lying, hatred, cruelty, badness, and impurity. If you went somewhere and saw someone doing something awful to someone else, and you did nothing about it, you would be wrong. You would be showing a weakness of character. Perhaps it would be cowardice, or you know you do the same things, or you just don’t want to care about other people.

Imagine that God sees all of our sin, because he does.  He must respond rightly to it because his character is completely good, and perfect.  He cannot NOT respond.  So there is wrath for sin combined with his perfect love for the sinner.  What did he do in order to forgive sinners, while maintaining the standards of his character?  The answer is that God the Son, Jesus Christ, came and lived perfectly, then died for the sins of the world.  Anyone who believes in him and repents will be forgiven for their sins, no matter how grievous.  

That is totally logical.  Most forgiveness is painful, the cross showed exactly that.  

The cross happened because God makes decisions in alignment with his purposes. His purposes fall underneath the reality of his nature, his character, the facts of his personality. This is also called his glory (Isa 45).

You should live the same way.  In fact, you will.  In sin you fell short of the glory of God (Ro 3).  Jesus died to restore you to glory.  Glorification is your destiny in heaven.  Does this mean you will ever eclipse God’s glory?  Not remotely.  No matter how high we could rise, the Creator always is more glorious than what he has created.  Michelangelo is more glorious than the Sistine Chapel, Frank Lloyd Wright is more glorious than Fallingwater, and God is more glorious than the Grand Canyon, the Aurora Borealis, or you.  

So because we exist, and because we must act according to our purposes, which must line up and fall under our nature and character, we must work hard to know what is true and what is right.  Our purposes will become evident as we make decisions about who to be.  This is what it means to act like God.  God is perfect and doesn’t need to work on it.  We are imperfect and must first put some serious thought into the matter, and then we must learn to take control over our impulses.  

This is what it means to be an image bearer of God. The name of this blog is For My Own Sake. Let me be clear: I believe in doing everything for God’s sake ultimately. His glory is my chief end. The pursuit of my own “glory” is merely my attempt to come to terms with the reality, or the facts of reality. I exist. I must live. God has appointed me to live, and so that is my job. My life is my penultimate purpose, God being my ultimate purpose.

This has major implications. In my decision making, I must think of this. What does it mean to make my life one of my highest purposes? It means seek out the truth, and come under it. Believe what is true on every level that there is, starting with God, all the way down to the truth about what is going on in my life. For instance, last week I noticed a soft spot on my roof under the shingles. I would have enjoyed evading that truth. I would have liked to keep pretending there was no problem. But instead I spent a few brutal days racing against the coming rainstorm, pulling up shingles, replacing boards, and reshingling. I am not handy, but I had to do it. It was 90 degrees and very humid. I hated every minute of it, but since I didn’t want to pay someone else to do it, I had to. Because the truth was that my roof was rotting under there. To pretend it wasn’t happening would not change the fact.

You can think of a million examples. You evade the truth about your marriage until it is too late. You evade the truth about your rebellious tween, until it is too late. You evade the truth about your high blood pressure, until it is too late. You evade the truth about the shady business practices of your employer, until it is too late and you are in trouble with him. But God never evades the truth. He is unable. Your job is to learn to become unable to evade the truth.

Image bearing also means becoming unable to:

  • Hate
  • Be anxious
  • Avoid responsibility
  • Deny forgiveness
  • Hoard wealth
  • Steal
  • Shun Christian community
  • Seek the praise of men, doing things to be seen
  • Exasperate your children
  • Dishonor your parents
  • Kick the dog

This list is unending.  

This is how we should seek our own glory, by being like God in that we know we must choose to do things to promote our own life, because God has assigned us to do that, for his glory. So, this is why I say I do things for my own sake, for his sake. I do things for my own glory for his glory. But the Bible is clear about what that does not look like. Look up at Revelation 18:4-8. This is a personification of Babylon, a great, yet evil city we may be seeing now, but most likely is yet to come.

Verse 7 says, “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says,  ‘I sit as a queen…’”

There is clearly a wrong way to glorify yourself.  It has to do with seeking the praise of others, and seeking power over others.  It is seen as an affront to God, and a challenge to his position at the top of creation. Why is this bad?  Aside from the fact that the queen, the city, was full of evil and depraved behavior, it defies logic and truth for someone to set themselves up higher than God.  You cannot be higher than your maker.  It warps the structure of reality to pretend so.  In the Bible, God is offended by that sort of thing, because he cannot be otherwise.  He is the most glorious thing, so he must sit at the top.  To do any less would be dishonest of him, and he cannot be dishonest, because he cannot go against his own nature.  

Most people seek glory by showing off, by controlling others, and by trying to feel important. That way is bankrupt and will lead to judgment and also will come with a fair amount of misery in this life.

But God would have you seek glory by learning what is true, and applying the truth to your purpose of living your abundant life in God. Use your brain every day to make decisions about what is best considering the truth of reality. What are the facts? How should those facts be considered as you prayerfully plan your course? This is good stewardship, and according to the Bible, God loves it, and loves to bless those who practice it. I feel compelled here to end with a prayer:

Father in heaven, I pray for anyone who has read this far that you will teach them to be like you, to be glorified in the right way, by trusting Jesus for salvation, and then taking responsibility for their life as an image bearer of you. Help us all to live according to your ways, and that our nature would become more and more like yours. Teach us to do everything for the sake of our abundant life, and to do nothing to be seen by others, or to take power over others. Amen.

Footnote: I owe some of my thinking about making my life my purpose and the necessity of thinking to the philosophy of Objectivism and its founder, Ayn Rand. Rand was not a Christian, and I do not endorse the complete philosophy of Objectivism, but I have found the logical propositions helpful, and I have not found any “reason” in Objectivism to disbelieve in the resurrection.

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 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.