“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish”(Matthew 18:12-14 NIV).
Misunderstood, the above Scripture could make Jesus very unreasonable. How can a good shepherd leave the ninety-nine sheep at the mercy of the wolves while looking for just one, lost in mountains? Logically, this appears unreasonable. But Jesus is revealing something more profound than such simplicities.
To comprehend, one needs to appreciate the background under which Jesus uttered those words. Jesus was focusing on spiritual matters, not identified by location. Having been granted the Holy Spirit, the person attains safety. Hence, parables are not meant to be understood by everyone.
Jesus used this, intending to stress a point on humility, as the only component required, to attain salvation. A similar utterance was when admonishing those despising the converts with appalling sins. Their point of argument was that Jesus should not be merciful to those having been embroiled in sinfulness Luke 15:1-7.
Such people comprise the ninety-nine, exposed to more danger when considering the principle of humility. A poor sinner, recognizing the condition of sinfulness, attains mercy. Like the lost sheep in the wilderness, he gets served, whereas the complacent ones, assuming being safe, would lose out.
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”(Luke 7:47-48 NIV).
In Matthew 18:12, Jesus intended to warn those regarding themselves as superior to others. He was warning against offending the spiritually weak. The possibility of offending others is caused by the categorization of Christians. It is not possible to offend anyone when viewing each other as mere humans.
The allegory of tying a millstone on the offender’s neck, before throwing him into the deep sea, makes it impossible to recover, even when skilled in swimming. The recently converted are also vulnerable, when considering the danger alluded to, in the previous installment. See [Christianity is the most dangerous faith].
The example of a millstone on one’s neck is intended for emphasis, requiring avoidance of offending another fellow Christian. Generally, humans love estimating one another, according to what they see physically.
Jesus reveals that it is possible for the one considered to be the worst sinner to receive salvation ahead of the ninety-nine, assumed to be in safety. What is recommended is for the ninety-nine to remain behaving as though still in the wilderness, like the lost sinner. The warning is against assuming to be senior to other Christians.
This leaves no room for complacency in Christianity. One may assume being senior, with documented service in the Church. But how does one relate to the newly converted—with a disgusting record in sinful conditions?
All forms of condescending are strictly inapplicable in Christianity. Jesus is not a respecter of persons. A considerable number of years of service cannot justify despising the newly converted, where the unchecked seed of all evil, which is pride, plays havoc.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16 NIV).
The above Scripture reveals that rewarding the saved does not consider seniority. It supports the principle of reversing the idea of the merit consideration. This underscores the importance of consistency in practicing humility, agreeing with the statement: “The Greatest among you will be your servant”(Matthew 23:11 NIV).
Rewarding the last, ahead of the first, is necessitated by servitude. Commonly, it is the laity, stepping on each other to please the Bishop. Jesus’s purpose is to flatten all forms of ego. Although there is an aspect of a double-aged sword, as this should not be interpreted as infering that juniors should, accordingly, despise elders.
Christ comes first so that whatever is said by any person considered to be senior in the faith, should be weighed against Christ’s word. Worshiping seniors in the Church was never instituted by Christ, regardless of the charisma of those seniors.
“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).
Being elevated can be exciting in Christianity. But this cannot be the case when appreciating the words of Jesus. The most important consideration to bear in mind is what Jesus taught, as descriptive of Christianity:
He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight”(Luke 16:15 NIV).
Clearly, “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight?” Suppose one gets excited about being given a position of deacon, or whatever rank, in the church? As long as living in this world, it is important to keep this datum in mind. “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”
This does not suggest spurning such promotions. There is nothing wrong with accepting such positions of authority, as long as aware of the responsibility going with them. But, what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12, shows that the respective Christians are not absolved of responsibility in the Church.
This means that each individual Christian carries some form of authority, in the Church. The person might not even be aware of this reality, due to being clouded in the assumption that the Bishop is the only senior who deserves to be worshiped.
Paul likens Christianity to human anatomy. Which part of a human body deserves to be despised, or adulated? Even the hair, though needing trimming, now and again, serves its purpose. We know that we love each part of our body’s limbs, similarly.
It is impossible for a person to love his eyes more than his feet. Jesus takes care of His Church, similarly, to how one nurses his own body. Rank structures, whose bad results are manifested in the ugly realities in the environment, are of this world.
Jesus treats everyone the same, as long as each fulfills the requirements of the allocated responsibilities. If a hand or foot, one would not be expected to take the role of hearing. Neither can eyes boast of doing what feet cannot do or vice versa.
God’s Church is a spiritual organism, expected to function according to God’s authority. Another way of judging between true and false Christianity is where Church leaders are accorded more respect than others. The apostle Paul attempted to viciously address this with the Corinthians, struggling with this carnality.
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ is emptied of its power”(1 Corinthians 1:13-17 NIV).
This kind of behavior is the one that cripples the effectiveness of the Church. Through authoritarianism, Church leadrrs give themselves the power to superintend over others. This incapacitates the other limbs. God’s Church allows leadership, according to the segmented talents, right across the believers.
Paul mentioned that Christians should be transformed, as to think differently from how the world behaves. This means appreciating being peculiar. Christians should behave peculiarly, rather than conforming to worldly behavior.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Humble Service in the Body of Christ
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Love in Action
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord (Romans 12:1-11 NIV).
Such Scriptures cannot appeal to most known Church leaders in this world. But God’s Church is led by Christ Himself, using whomever He pleases, at any given time. However, the traditional structures, describing Church organizations, may not be wrong, after all. But there should not be superlative consideration of respect attached to overseers, thereby violating Matthew 23:8-12.
Division in Christianity signifies the reality of misapplication of Scriptures, principal of which is the assumption that some Christians are superior. Others would be quick to point fingers at who would be wrong. But the formula is not about which organization is true, or false, necessarily. Each individual Christian carries the responsibility to obey God, which may not necessarily be according to the pastor’s prerogative. Christians should take instructions directly from Jesus, whose body is the Church.
It could as well be by God’s design that Christianity is divided. But when considering that Christ cannot be divided, Christians would focus on serving one another. Clearly, it is the leadership appetite that causes divisions among Christians.
Nevertheless, if every Christian becomes willing to take Christ’s teachings, seriously, such confusions become eliminated. Peculiar as Christianity is supposed to be, fighting for positions cannot be associated with it. No one is despised and none is adulated above others, in Christianity.
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.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99