By, Isam Itson III
Recently I was listening to a lecture given by the British theologian, John Barclay. He told the story of a poor, single mother who was watching her son and his friends descend into a life of drug fueled gang activity in one of London, England’s public housing towers. In response, she opened her home to them as long as they were not carrying drugs. In a matter of months they disbanded their gang and committed their lives to following Jesus Christ.
When she and her son were interviewed by one of the national news shows, the reporter commented that she had done more for the youth in her public housing complex than any government agency had ever accomplished. Her son commented that his mother didn’t shove the Bible down their throats. She just lived it out with them. Those other young men were a threat to her son’s life. By embracing them, God used her, to save their lives. In the process the lives of everyone in that section of government housing were effected for the better.
That reporter saw what God wants everyone to see when they encounter followers of Jesus Christ. They saw the power of God’s Spirit at work through someone making a real difference in the lives of the people in her community.
The mystery of the gospel is that God made all of the different groups of people on the earth to live as the one people of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Our God given ability in Jesus Christ to sacrificially live together as one people in spite of our ethnic, cultural, and socio economic differences, is a testimony to all of the spiritual powers and humans in positions of power, of the wisdom of God to transform lives. When we trust and honor the power and wisdom of God and fight past the fear of death, loss, and deprivation that keeps us from honoring God and his love for all people, God is glorified through us.
Typically this type of sacrificial commitment is limited to the people with whom we most closely identify. Our families, friends, and social and political allies. Everyone else is on their own, or worse, represents a threat to our personal success and well being. By contrast, within the Church, through faith in Christ, our sacrificial commitment is meant to extend to everyone who submits to God as we encourage each other to honor God’s love for all people, even our enemies.
This radical departure from social and political norms is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It reveals the wisdom of God to all of the social, political, national, and spiritual powers that seek their own advantage, for social and cultural supremacy, no matter the cost to others. Their goal is maximum benefit to themselves or their group, at minimal cost to themselves, no matter the cost to the people outside of their group. Sound familiar? The Apostle Paul wrote about it like this Ephesians 3:7-10,
“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
The manifold wisdom of God is one of those Bible phrases you only hear in church. It simply means that God’s decisions impact multiple areas of our lives, all at once. God’s wisdom takes into account all of the areas of life that seem to be in conflict and brings them together in Jesus Christ.
When we are not preoccupied with fear and anxiety for our own concerns we are free to honor God’s love for each other. I will pursue my life in a way that honors your value without fear of my personal deprivation, social indignity, or physical death. When we do this together as a group of people within our local churches and between our congregations we serve as a testimony to the love and wisdom of God that surpasses human understanding within our surrounding communities.
How do we make a difference like the single mother in our story? How do we show the world the wisdom and power of God’s love to overcome the rivalries and conflicts that rip at the fabric of our societies and destroy our lives? First we give ourselves to Jesus Christ. Then we give ourselves personally, directly, and sacrificially to each other.
We open our hearts and make real time with people who do not look, act like, or agree with us. Just like the eternal Son of God did when he submitted himself to the Father and was born as the man, Jesus of Nazareth. He left heaven and lived among us, on purpose, to honor God’s love for us. In the process showing us how to spend our lives in gratitude to God and honoring the depth and breadth of God’s love for others, no matter that it cost him his reputation and his life.
We are called to imitate the life of Christ. I give my life for you so that you can give your life for others. This is the life God created us for. No threat or actual experience of deprivation, harm, or death can separate us from the love of God we experience in Jesus Christ. Or in relationship with each other.
Rather than separating ourselves in opposition to each other, God encourages us and shows us how to unite in his love toward each other in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s the love, faithfulness, and kindness of God embodied in our active, immediate relationship with other people, that leads people to repentance.
Giving all we have to God, holding nothing back, and helping others do the same in the name of Jesus, is the life we were made for. No other social, national, or international policy imposed by law or enforced by the state can bring about the peace of God in our world. So, we have to ask ourselves some hard questions as followers of Jesus Christ.
Do we want to personally and actively join God in this work in Jesus Christ? Will we purposefully build relationships with people who make us uncomfortable? Are we willing to join our lives with theirs so they can join their lives with ours, in Jesus Christ? Are we willing to listen to them until we understand the challenges they face? Are we willing to seek and discover the way through their circumstances and challenges in prayer and mutual, personal, sacrifice? Are we willing to intertwine our lives with theirs, in their environment?
God did not call us up to heaven. God reached down from heaven and entered our world and lived as one of us in Jesus Christ. Are we willing to lay aside the pursuit of our rights, possessions, and privileges to enter the world of others in his name, in the same way, for the sake of the people around us, for the glory of God? It’s the only way to make a real difference.
Next, we learn how to prepare ourselves to meet this challenge.