Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 HCSB)
So much has been and is being said about the Bible that I worry anything I add to the discussion won’t really be worth the time. A pastor friend of mine sent me a video of a guy making fun of the American Christian argument for marriage. The lyric could be summed up as “I want a marriage like they had in the Bible…” sung with one voice doing all the key parts of a quartet. While I thought it was funny, the significance of his argument came through loud and clear: Christian will find it difficult to prove the American version of marriage from the Bible. Now while the dude got one fact wrong (Jehu had Jezebel thrown off the balcony not Ahab) his point is well stated and poignant.
The Christian conundrum is pretty hard to argue if in fact we try to debate on commonwealth–or may be cosmopolitan–terms. The Middle Eastern–and especially ancient ME–view of life is a mystery to most of us and quite foreign to modern thought. Unfortunately, the entire Bible is written from this perspective. Yet it shouldn’t be. Most contemporary Christians accept at face value much of what they read in the Bible and as sacrosanct truth to be adhered to without question. I don’t think it’s that simple. For us to understand what is being said we need some idea of what the connotation is of any conversation, right? I mean, if I come into the middle of a conversation without knowing the topic first and begin giving advice it might by some miracle of chance be right on but is more likely to hold no resemblance to reason or intelligent input. Too often we don’t listen before we speak to our shame. We Christians may not like the questions the world throws at us to answer but we must deal with them intelligently and with some sense of humility. I believe our job is to take the principle mores of the Bible not the ethnic or cultural customs of the era as such.
The freakish nature of our world is that we all think we have something to say in the oddest places. I’ve given advice to people without considering all the factors involved and later wondered why they even took it to heart. There’s a particular arrogance which comes with any strongly held viewpoint, at least in the human experience. I listen to some Christian apologists and marvel how easily they criticize those who think outside our box. It’s as if we believe (and far too many of us do) everyone should see our God as THE truth of the universe without question just because we do. At the same time I look at the other extreme and wonder what’s all that different besides holding a different opinion about what’s true, since many of them approach it the exact same way they criticize theists for doing.
Paul’s assertion about the believers in Corinth being the rejects of their society could be seen several ways but the one I prefer, because to me it makes the most practical sense, is he wanted to make the point of how far the gospel brought them. The message of Jesus ennobles, educates, calms, expands the mind and heart of any who accept it. If it doesn’t do any of these things for a person’s outlook, the understanding of the good news has gotten skewed by the world’s vision somehow. Anyone who becomes closed minded or emotionally distant–or any number of things which supplant the fruits of the Spirit–misses the point of Jesus mission. One simply cannot mix the world’s vision of the cross and Jesus as the Christ with what He claimed is His stated mission and expect to get a clear vision of the gospel message. Religiosity presents the same problem.
Now what does all this have to do with the wisdom of the cross?
The cross reversed the winning logic. It simply changed the parameters by which we, as Christ’s followers, understand how the war against evil/sin is fought in the world. The war is for hearts not countries, lands or power. The cross was God’s ace in the hole, His secret weapon upon which we are to pattern our lives. The power of Christ goes to the crux of the problem; the hub of reason’s source; the center of the issue to completely adjust one’s thinking about who we are and where we stand in relation to Him, first, then the rest of mankind. When we grasp the significance of “turn the other cheek” for example, we don’t become the world’s whipping posts but strong-minded followers of the way of love. Evil cannot conquer the heart which has been bought by the love demonstrated on the cross.
Fanaticism and paranoia, as well as a host of other problems the world experiences, melt down in the presence of the white hot heat of Christ’s love through the Holy Spirit. The contrast between religiosity and the gospel grows more pronounced every step for the gospel brings freedom not only from sin but to think. The very notion that heavenly wisdom closes down the mind is antithetical to the message of Christ. Jesus quotes the book of Proverbs often in this teaching, which shows He honors knowledge and wisdom, both of which promote understanding and learning.
A Christ-follower never forces the gospel on others. No where in the NT will we read the disciples forcing through social, political or the threat of war anyone to accept Jesus as the Way. It is simply not to be found in the message anywhere. Has it been done in His name? Absolutely. Have those doing so used Scripture to justify their efforts? Without a doubt. But the Christian’s command structure doesn’t justify such methods. We are to be children of peace, our weapons the methods of the cross. The apostles preached without requirement or coercion.
The message of Jesus Christ crucified is death to the preservation of the world’s ideal of self and resurrection to God’s new creation. The death we die is spiritual first before the physical means anything at all. God spoke the original universe we know into existence from nothing as far as we understand it. Nothing into something means there were no raw ingredients hanging around to make it. Thus the message of the cross is in the very make up of the universe itself.
The essence of Paul’s message above is simple: God takes that which isn’t and makes something. It’s far too easy to brag about human accomplishment when all the ingredients are there to make something a success–like the cross. A famous musician can draw attention to issues he or she cares about whereas us “unknowns” struggle to get our neighbors to care about what we believe is vital. Yet God chooses to use us to affect the world.
The math of heaven becomes evident when we think about the apostles’ standing in the world they inhabited. These were obscure men in an obscure and mostly despised country occupied by a nation which looked on them with disdain. Their teacher and mentor was an unknown rabbi from a small village on the outskirts of the Jewish territory. His influence only went so far as the borders of Israel’s economy and He died as scapegoat of the political elite. His views were exceptionally Jewish, defiant only in their simplicity, and focused on grace, mercy, love and justice. At the time of Jesus’ existence other teachers were far more influential, well known and effective than He could ever think of being.
Yet these powerless men changed the world as we know it and set in motion a Way of life which stood in contrast to the norms of every society of that era and since. Think about recent famous Christian apologists and teachers. Who taught them? Who brought them to the place where they could speak with such passion, depth and insight into the spiritual? Do you see what is wrong with our take on what makes a person special? The man or woman who taught Charles Spurgeon shares in his success and reach. The man or woman who influenced Billy Graham shares in his successes in God’s view because it isn’t about the fame or influence but the heart. The man who mentored Dwight L. Moody shares in his disciple’s later success by God’s estimate of things. Humans, of course, don’t remember his name but God does.
I lived in South Africa for only 3 1/2 years. In that time I met some of the most beautiful people who would influence my life ever after. Two women touched me in profound ways for which I am forever grateful. One was Mrs. Rice (at least I think that was her name) who saw in me potential for great things as well as warning me to be faithful to the greatness God placed in me for His work. She wasn’t speaking of fame or fortune but influence.
The other was a motherly woman who spoke into my life only twice. The first time is just an image of a home open to all the kids on the street where she reigned as queen of love and acceptance. She reminded me so much of my own momma that I began to call her that–which is probably why I don’t remember her real name. Once, at a retreat set in the YFC campgrounds outside Johannesburg, we got into a deep conversation about beliefs. I think it was the next day when she spoke to me again. I had been sharing my views from the denomination I grew up in most enthusiastically the day before and she looked troubled when we parted. I thought it was just because I had been so profound that she was doubting her own position. But nope! She came to me and asked permission to speak into my life. Her words struck me like hammer blows, “Please don’t take my word for this, Jonathan, but go pray about it and if I’m wrong, I will be happy. But I think you have a lot of denominational pride.”
She went on to say a few more things but that message (not the exact words since it has been nearly 30 years) stuck and shook me up. That night I agonized over this issue because my denomination dominated my life. The next morning the truth stood out crystal clear: yes, I did. I went back to her and confessed it. To my recollection she didn’t look triumphant or pleased with herself, instead she smiled and said something to the effect of, “God wants us to be His alone and free.” Much more was said most of which I probably internalized and forgot the exact words, but I lived the message after that.
Human institutions while necessary for organization and concerted effort are not as important to God as they become to us. Of course He will use them but only when it will affect the heart neither He is limited to or by them. Paul’s declaration of God’s desire to use the despised, rejected, obscure and un-noteworthy of humanity to accomplish the message of the gospel just reinforces the miracle. The doctrinal emphasis most of us get caught up in misses the point of the gospel as far as I’m concerned. The message of the entire Bible is meant to correct our treatment of others and reconnect us to God versus give us a performance based life. Love is the foundation which secures the rest of our choices, attitudes and behaviors to Christ, the corner stone.
The cross is not a symbol of cool example of martyrdom but a demonstration of sacrifice for others those who follow Christ are emulate in the way they treat others. It states emphatically our lives belong to love first–or Love, as another name for God. Love as an emotion is not god but God is love, and I would dare to postulate that one of His names is Love. I can’t emphasize enough how the cross changes the way we think, reason, and live. Sacrificial love is not about dying physically as much as it is about dying to our ties to human attitudes and methods.
Next blog entry I would like to take on the wisdom of the cross by using the Sermon on the Mount, for I believe Jesus explained it best.