Furthering Christ's Ministry in a Divided World
- Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Now I realize that our part in His ministry of reconciliation will manifest in different ways in each of us. For some it may very well be working in the nursery or singing in the choir or visiting the sick. For others it may be writing or teaching. But for all of us, everything we do must be centered in the ministry of reconciliation, calling people from death to life, and we must understand it is His ministry and not ours. Without that clear understanding and corresponding behavior, we will not be faithful ambassadors who are fulfilling the task that has been committed to us. Nor will we be walking in the you-first life of Christ.
All of our ministry takes place in the context of relationship. As the saying goes, there are no Lone Ranger Christians. We are a body of believers, interconnected with and interdependent on one another, so that we may fulfill Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation. As we begin to understand the connection between reconciliation and relationship, we also begin to understand how God has gifted and equipped each of us individually to carry out our part in this awesome ministry that has been entrusted to us.
People who are not yet reconciled to God and to His people are, whether they realize it or not, looking for a way to connect, a way to develop and sustain healthy, fulfilling relationships. Questions like “What’s your sign?” And “Haven’t we met somewhere before?” are nothing more than futile, impotent attempts to do just that. And yet, those very questions can be an opportunity for us as Christians to address the searching and need in their lives. We simply have to allow ourselves to be compelled by the love of Christ to step into those openings and risk whatever results may come our way. Sadly, that’s where the process most often breaks down.
Applying the Golden Rule
So how do we practically apply Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation, to which we have all been called? Jesus said it this way: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
This verse, commonly known as the Golden Rule, epitomizes the kingdom law that is at the heart of all relationships. If this kingdom law were understood and put into practice, it would revolutionize society. The problem is that few have understood this law; even fewer have actually put it into practice. Of course, we can’t expect those without hearts of flesh, who are not subjects of God’s kingdom, to live by His rules or laws. But what about those of us who have already been tranported from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son (see Colossians 1:13)? How faithful are we in applying this basic kingdom law to relationships? Do we willingly and regularly place the needs and desires of others ahead of ourselves? Do we model a you-first life to a me-first world?
But I can’t help but think that if we did, hurting people would be more likely to go to a church rather than a bar for help. If we did, unbelievers would think of us as joyful people rather than critical ones. If we did, the world would be more apt to see God as an unconditional lover rather than a judgmental, unmerciful ogre.
Author Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace?, tells the story of a homeless prostitute in such dire straits that she couldn’t even feed her two-year-old daughter. When asked why she didn’t go to a church for help she answered, “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
Yancey then goes on to write:
What struck me about my friend’s story is that women much like this prostitute fled toward Jesus, not away from him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift? Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer feel welcome among his followers. What has happened?
Yancey’s contention is that we have ceased to be amazed by grace, that we take for granted God’s incredible and costly gift of grace that purchased our pardon from hell. Thus we fail to extend that grace to those who need it most.
Yancey explains it this way in the book:
The world thirsts for grace in ways it does not even recognize. . . . Some of us seem so anxious about avoiding hell that we forget to celebrate our journey toward heaven. Others of us, rightly concerned about issues in a modern “culture war,” neglect the church’s mission as a haven of grace in this world of ungrace.
Now I’m not saying that if we suddenly begin extending grace to everyone we meet that they will all fall on their knees and accept Christ. Some people will always reject our message and actively persecute us for it, regardless of our actions. But, if we acted more like Christ, then it would certainly give them less justification to brand us as hypocrites, and a lot more incentive to consider the truth of the gospel.
Fulfilling the Golden Rule is loving our neighbors as ourselves, always keeping in mind that our neighbors include even those who are considered the least in our society. Fulfilling the Golden Rule is as simple—and as difficult—as responding with kindness to someone who is antagonistic toward us, realizing that kindness rather than hurt is what we would like to receive ourselves. It is treating with dignity the one who has sunk to such depths of depravity that virtually all vestiges of the image of God have faded from his being. It is taking the chance to once again reach out with generosity to the one who bit our hand the last time we offered it in love.
Above all, it is the humble realization that we do not have the capacity to do any of these things in our own strength. We have to put God first. Only He can empower us to live above and beyond our own fallen, sinful, me-first nature. And He has done that through His substitutionary death and resurrection and the subsequent sending of His Spirit to live within us. It is that Spirit—the same Spirit who “raised Jesus from the dead”
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