The inhabitants of this world are divided into groupings, based on common relationships. People choose their friends according to relationships and common understanding. Christianity is now identified according to denominational identity, but this is a clear violation of Christ’s teachings. We have to consider Christ’s model, whose ideas cannot fail.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”(Matthew 5:43-47 NIV).
The above Scripture needs application, but how possible can that be, in the current Christian environment? Loving one’s enemies implies removing enmity from one’s vocabulary. The Bible is clear in that Jesus fellowshipped with anyone, regardless of background. There was no one who Jesus avoided, as long as in need of His service.
He entertained fellowship with those who later crucified Him; just as He also fellowshipped with tax collectors. No one could not access the services of Jesus. In other words, Jesus provided a model of how Christians should behave in this world of sin.
He became the only person ever to live in this world, extending love to enemies. He castigated pretenders, but that did not mean He hated those pretenders. Jesus never turned away anyone who sought service from him. He satisfactorily answered questions, with answers that would become a basis of our understanding, today.
He even entertained a Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), against Jewish traditions. For purposes of providing a lesson on relationships, at one stage Jesus crudely interacted with a Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon:
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment (Matthew 15:21-28 NIV).
Although some people might take Jesus as having been unkind to that Gentile woman, the opposite is true. He used those unsavory words, as aligned to the Jewish traditions, in their relationship with non-Jews, to clarify an issue, that would reveal His standpoint. In His entire teachings, Jesus never discriminated against anyone.
Even the idea of teaching in parables, hiding the secrets of God’s Kingdom, was based on love. Becoming a Christian is not a casual matter. There is no love in encouraging the raw public into Christianity. The grand decision to follow Christ requires counting the costs.
Jesus considered the welfare of the individual; hence, His exhortation that one should count the costs, before following Him. Christianity requires surrendering everything before one can commit himself to following Christ. There is patent danger in deciding to be a Christian, without considering one’s circumstances.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30 NIV).
There would have been no danger for that woman, had she picked up an offense concerning the unsavory words of Jesus. Without the Holy Spirit, humans are spiritually safe. What harms the physical body is harmless, compared to what harms the spiritual person. This is why Jesus said it is necessary to count the costs.
And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32 NIV).
Nothing appears wrong with celebrating, after being called into Christianity. But, this is different from blindly adopting Christianity without counting the costs. There is warmth in associating with Christianity. But there is an aspect of counting the costs that needs careful consideration, before committing oneself to Christianity.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:11-13 NIV).
Sadly, very few Christians are aware of the fact that it is the few who are chosen, rather than the many. Most evangelists, in their quests for recording high numbers of converts, encourage as many to become Christians. The newly converted are accepted with pomp and fanfare, but unaware of what is involved.
Jesus preached in parables to discourage those blindly seeking to follow Him. Jesus represented the new, not governed according to world systems and standards. The idea of governance in God’s Church is of Christ. Everyone is free to accept the calling, as long as willing to forsake everything, to follow Christ.
All those desiring to follow Christ, based on their understanding cannot be discouraged? If loving enemies, according to Christ’s teaching, how can one shun those desiring to be part of his ministry? Those people belong to Christ, as long as declaring to be of Christ.
Different opinions, ought to be handled only by clearing the misunderstood words in Scriptural texts. The first thing is to appreciate what Jesus said about leadership in God’s Church? When clear of Jesus being supreme, there is no room for division.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted(Matthew 23:8-12 NIV).
Jesus belonged to a group of Jewish worshippers who could not understand Him. They constantly sought to oppose Jesus at every juncture, invalidating His teachings. But He used Scriptures to answer those with the quest to find Him guilty.
Although having found Jesus not guilty of any crime, the Jews had to turn to propaganda to execute Him. Jesus found it unnecessary to even hire legal experts, for His defense. Those whom He calls His brothers would go through similar experiences:
Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:20-22 NIV).
The persecution that Jesus experienced would not be coming from those outside the Jewish community. There had not yet been any organized Christian religion, at that time. The Jewish religion was still dominant, so the priests remained in charge, concerning matters of worship.
The New Testament Bible had not yet been compiled so the Old Testament had been the only canonical reference. When confronting Jewish persecutors the apostles would be referring to the Old Testament, and not necessarily to what Jesus taught.
For purposes of getting an idea of how Christianity should be governed, the experience of the apostles gives us a guide. They remained in the oppressive environment, where the High Priests were still in charge. They received persecution because they regarded themselves as of Jewish religion.
It was only in gentile areas, where the converts had no connection with Jewish laws that some structures had to be formed. Paul had to instruct Timothy, suggesting ideas of Church governance. Bishops and deacons were appointed to instill order. But this was necessitated by the fact that those gentiles were yet to be grounded in faith.
Although having committed themselves to follow, the majority of them had not yet fully understood the implications of conversion. At least today’s Christians are privileged to read the material containing Jesus’ teachings. Gentile Christians did not have anything to fall back on, except hearing everything from paul’s teachings.
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NIV).
Those people were still raw, showing that they could not be taken as a model for Christianity. The only way Christians can adopt a perfect standard today is by looking at what Jesus taught. The structure of God’s church is not discriminative, requiring all Christians to be under Christ’s governance, regardless of differences.
The Jews were still stuck in what was no longer applicable. The Gentiles were stuck on their gentile customs. This created some confusion among God’s people. The apostle Paul had to come up with a methodology of how to handle such confusion:
“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord can make them stand”(Romans 14:1-4 NIV).
Paul clearly shows that there is no need to argue about how one perceives things, as long as answerable to Jesus. He is perfectly in line with Jesus’ utterance that no one should judge another, viewing things differently. Each is directly answerable to Jesus Christ.
The idea of structural partisanship is alien to Christianity. It is of this world, just as it appeals to those of this world. Christians are governed directly by Jesus. Each is persuaded to act according to the calling, as Jesus individually directs him/her to behave. The idea of loyalty to a particular grouping did not originate from Jesus. It serves only the physical interests.
A Christian provides service to others, wherever they are found, at any given time. A Christian harbors no enmity with anyone, including those baying for his/her blood. Failure to understand this has reduced Christianity to another religion of this world.
The most important component of Christianity is unconditional love. Christians should behave just as Christ behaved, on this planet. The only thing making this sound impossible, for most Christians, could be the aspect of tradition and a sense of belonging.
The idea should be to let Jesus lead the way, although understanding that this cannot be an easy endeavor. But Jesus never stated that Christianity would be an easy undertaking. Christianity implies volunteering to be an alien, in a land that the person has been acquainted with, since birth. Like Jesus, Christians are those feeling at home with every human on earth, regardless of background.
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope.
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